Sunday, January 31, 2010

John Lennon - Stand By Me

(Apple, 1975)

So this is where it was all headed. After a few years of seeming indifference toward pushing his music forward, Lennon sought fetal-position safety in the late ’50s with Rock ’n’ Roll, an album of teenage-funtime covers. He at least does a fine job on these songs, though, with “Stand By Me” – featuring some of his best singing – a worthy choice as single. Also, the cast of thousands on these sessions gives the songs a full-bodied bad-assedness that largely distracts one from the fact that this record is a lazy vanity project originally inspired by a scummy publishing lawsuit. But so it goes. The B-side, “Move Over Ms. L.,” is a blaring Lennon original that fits in well with the rootsy rock he’d receded back into.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

John Lennon - Whatever Gets You Thru The Night

(Apple, 1974)

John Lennon’s white-boy party jam, but not necessarily in a good way. This cocaine sax-shit sounds a lot like something the Saturday Night Live house band would’ve cranked out during commercial breaks around the same time, and Elton John’s AM-pop presence looms disturbingly large over the chipmunk-voiced proceedings. I don’t begrudge Lennon his chart success – this was his LONE Billboard #1 before he died – but it’s hard to get excited about such gutless, sub-Wings horsepoo. “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” makes the execrably new-agey “#9 Dream” (also a single off of Walls and Bridges) seem appealing by comparison, and that’s obviously no badge of pride. And “Beef Jerky”? Just a silly early-R ’n’ R throwback instrumental that’s cute only for including the “Let Me Roll it” lick during its breaks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

John Lennon - Mind Games

(Toshiba EMI, 1973)

Oops! Someone goofed up and pressed the Japanese “Mind Games” single using the “fuck a pig” version of “Meat City” instead of the standard “check the album” edit used on most 45s internationally. Can’t imagine that too many people in a non-English-speaking country would get exercised over a sped-up, backwards obscenity on the B-side of a mid-sized hit, but it’s still an amusing variation and worthy of note. Aside from that and the sleeve (a single-sheet insert that prints the lyrics to both tracks in English and Japanese on the rear), everything else is the same here as on the American release.

Hey. Also. Sunday night I had a dream that I was listening to a trash-punk single that featured the lyrics “Madonna is so mean / Madonna is so mean / Madonna is so mean / She doesn’t even sing her own songs.” And while I don’t know anything about the veracity of such a statement, I think we can all agree that that is the finest verse ever sleep-penned. Poetry from beyond.

John Lennon - Mind Games

(Apple, 1973)

Retreating from the real-world grit of his last few records, Lennon’s back in “all you need is love” mode on “Mind Games,” promoting positive thinking as a means to achieving peace. The lyrics, of course, go a little too heavy on the cosmic fiddle-faddle, trotting out “mind guerrillas,” “the karmic wheel,” and – worst of all – “some kind of druid dude lifting the veil.” Ugh. Still, the music, even with Phil Spector out of the picture, is pleasant and rich – slow, piano- and key-based balladry that sounds more sleekly “adult” than anything Lennon had done previously (“Out the Blue” from the LP is an even better example of this). Switching gears, B-side “Meat City” is a boogie-rocker that, unlike too many of the r’n’r-minded mid-’70s efforts that pad out John’s albums, manages to be fairly enjoyable and memorable thanks to a loose yet heavy funkiness. As a joke, the brief backwards segment at the end of the first verse (“fuck a pig”) is replaced on the single with “check the album.” Tee hee, etc.!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

John Lennon - Woman Is The Nigger Of The World

(Apple, 1972)

Naughty, naughty! The feminist sentiment is noble, and the sax-dominated arrangement ultra-muscular (that chunka-chunk “We make her paint her face and dance” coda is especially terrific), but when your political/cultural/intellectual ally Angela Davis professes to being uncomfortable about your lyric, well… I guess that makes things complicated. Still, writing as a white male nearly 40 years on, I admire “Woman is the Nigger of the World” for being a ballsy, heart-in-its-right-place piece of commercial suicide that has musical appeal well beyond its chorus’s intended shock value. Hard to knock Lennon for following his political 45s pushing peace (“Give Peace a Chance,” “Happy Xmas”) and social justice (“Power to the People”) with one promoting women’s rights. Yoko rounds things out by adding the uplifting reggae-tinged girl-groupisms of “Sisters, O Sisters” on the B-side, and while I would have preferred her zany boogie-fest “We’re All Water” for single release, this one does fit nicely for obvious thematic reasons.

Both tracks are on Sometime in New York City, and, to be honest, I’m not sure why the consensus on the album is that it’s some major discographical blemish. It’s dated, ragged, and ham-fisted, but with the newspaper-themed packaging, Lennon suggests that he’s knowingly creating ephemeral, of-its-moment rock, rather than the Grand Statements of some of his Imagine-era material. It’s a fun, loose LP that reeks of excitement and conviction (no matter how na├»ve), with little of the contrived rock-star posturing of later political-minded pop-celebs. Lennon is willing to look silly on this album – and he occasionally does – but he at least doesn’t try to cloak himself and his music in arrogant, singing-from-on-high grandiosity. The mistakes in judgment and songwriting that pockmark this era in Lennon’s career ultimately come off as charmingly well-meaning rather than self-aggrandizing or self-important. Worth shoving some of it into your ears.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

John Lennon - Happy Xmas

(Apple, 1971)

When John and Yoko recorded this festive – yet barbed – chestnut back in ’71, little did they know the avalanche of gifts that would tumble my way one warm California afternoon in early 2010. Yes, several days ago, I was on a quick trip out west for work, and here are just a few of the exciting junk-shelf freebies I picked up: CD holder from Citrix, playing cards from Yahoo, tote bag from LinkedIn, dominoes from Amazon, laundry bag from InterDigital, sunglasses from Cooliris. “Happy Xmas” indeed! Sure, the Lennons were using their song to challenge listeners to actively do something about ending war and promoting peace, but hey, I got myself a combination reading light/laser pointer from vmware, which is what the season’s all about!

And the music? Spector drags out the Harlem Community Choir for this one, and the sleighbell-boasting production is delightfully rich and echo-y, just as a Christmas song oughta be. Plus: green vinyl! Of all the holiday ditties released by ex-Beatles, “Happy Xmas” is by far the most substantial in terms of musical and lyrical content, and it’s deservedly the most successful. Sure, I guess time could still vindicate Ringo’s I Wanna Be Santa Claus record, but, personally, I wouldn’t take a free copy even if Silicon Graphics stuck it on a USB thingy and gave it out for free at the Stanford Computer Forum.

Monday, January 11, 2010

John Lennon - Imagine

(EMI/Odeon, 1971)

No need to bore you with musings on “Imagine”; not only is it one of the most famous songs of all time, it’s also pretty doggone straightforward in its moist-eyed utopianism. Perhaps very much to Lennon’s credit, what you hear is what you get, and most commentary on the thing is no more than worthless word-diddling. Pairing the track with the dirty, bloozy throwaway “It’s So Hard” makes for a good illustration of the Imagine LP as a whole, as it’s an album where Lennon swings from syrupy ballads (“Jealous Guy”) to nasty personal attacks (“How Do You Sleep”). Overall, it’s probably his most well-balanced, accessible record, and it actually contains a handful of lesser-known songs superior to the two chosen for this 7”. Of minor note is the fact that the absence of a Yoko-composed B-side makes this the first John-only 45 to have hit the racks, and, as such, in a way his first “true” solo single.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

John Lennon - Power To The People

(Apple 1971)

Well. I’ve been accidentally falling asleep on my couch every evening this week like a naughty, lazy fellow, thus the lack of John Lennon reviews. Luckily, the coming of the new year has directed pretty much all site traffic to the entry for “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” so I suppose I can hide behind that fact and get away with some pitiful January sloth. And if it seems too obvious that I’m phoning it in on this one, please note that Lennon was doing the same when he churned out “Power to the People,” his second slogan-based political-pop single. Still, no matter how trite the lyrics, the huge, uptempo, sax-blare Wall-of-Spector backing sells the thing to an astonishing degree. Sonically and thematically, the song fits far better with the Sometime in New York City material of ’72 than with the more personal Imagine songs that were soon to follow, but it works as an over-earnest, one-off stopgap between albums and demonstrates, after Plastic Ono Band, that Lennon had in no way shunned the mass-appeal single-writing process.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

John Lennon - Mother

(Apple, 1970)

Ol’ John’s first LP-pimping single was a bafflingly non-commercial one – the stark, screaming, piano-smashing “Mother” – but, to be fair, what offa Plastic Ono Band WOULD have been commercial? “God,” maybe? Gussied up remixes of “Remember” or “Well Well Well”?? Dunno. At any rate, some concessions are made for radio here, as the opening bell tolls and most of the closing howls are edited out for the 45 mono-mix. Still a poor marketing choice, but a fine bit of post-’60s, post-pop-universalist self-indulgence nonetheless. A shortened version of Yoko’s terrifically nutzoid jam “Why” is on the B, and it suggests that a fully collaborative pop/rock effort between John and Yoko around this time might’ve yielded some truly hot poop. Shame that that wouldn’t happen until Sometime in New York City, when the supporting players were, to the resulting rec’s detriment, of a far lesser caliber.

Oh, and the American picture sleeve for this one is rare as HJECK. Head straight for the mountains if you gots a copy.