John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band

Part 17 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

You cannot be an indie hipster or geeky music lover without at least some love of The Beatles as well as the solo careers of the mop tops (yes, even Ringo). It simply is impossible – the early Of Montreal albums built an entire career out of the whimsical nature of The Beatles’ track “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” (if we are being honest, this holds true for most of the Elephant 6 roster). Metal came to pass – not by early Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, but by a track called “Helter Skelter” – you may have heard of it. Yes, there are some days that I prefer to listen to The Monkees, but that is just because The Beatles are ingrained into my psyche so deeply – always there, waiting to be plucked out of my brain.

As I was discovering The Beatles in my early to mid teens (something that is repeated with each passing generation I’d imagine) a funny thing happened – the more I sought out solo John Lennon albums, the more I was warned “Eh…it’s not bad. But much of it is just noise, man!”. This didn’t seem right to me – I’d heard “Imagine” of course and “Woman” – how could that be noise? As it turns out, most people were referring to Lennon’s 1st solo record Plastic Ono Band. The more I was warned, the more I wanted to listen to this record (and to a lesser extent, this holds true for Lennon’s 1974 album Sometime in New York City). I remember playing this “noise” for the 1st time and being stunned by the quality of each track. The screaming was simply….awe inspiring (if not a little uncomfortable). Noise? Check. Heavenly noise? Double check. It is now considered a masterpiece, but the critics didn’t always feel that way. For me, Plastic Ono Band is the sound of an artist coming unhinged – letting go of his inhibitions. It is also one of my favorite albums of all time (beating out every single record by The Beatles)

As soon as you are born…

Mother begins the album with an ominous church bell ringing before John starts singing in an emotional plea to his mother. A stripped down feeling to the song. The beat is simple, but incessant – drums throughout the album are by Mr. Ringo Starr who used to play in a band in an earlier life with Lennon. The 1st thing you will notice as the song progresses is that John Lennon really starts screaming the title over and over – part of his primal scream therapy under the guidance of Arthur Janov. One of the best opening songs in history. Key Lyrics:

Mother, You had Me I never had you
I wanted you but you didn’t want me
So I got to tell you
Goodbye , Goodbye

Father, You left me but I never left you
I needed you but you didn’t need me
So I just got to tell you
Goodbye , Goodbye

Children, Don’t do what I have done
I couldn’t walk so I tried to run
So I got to tell you
Goodbye , Goodbye

Hold On an easy-going feeling with John talking about himself in the 3rd person. Drums again are brilliant. Song kicks into a warm melody, with someone speaking “Cookie” into the mic about a minute into it (it’ll make you jump if you are listening in headphones and have never heard it before). No screaming, but emotions are laid bare. Key lyrics:

Hold on John , John Hold on
It’s gonna be alright
You gonna win the fight

When you’re one
really one
You get things done
like they’ve never been done
So hold on

I Found Out angry, angry song with the aggressive feeling coming through with the music – the guitar in particular just sounds…well…mean. I’m going to say it again – Ringo is killer on this song. The song seems to get faster as it goes on, while John spouts off about everything he doesn’t believe in anymore now that “he found out”.

Old Hare Krishna got nothing on you
Just keep you crazy with nothing to do
Keep you occupied with pie in the sky
There ain’t no guru who can see through your eyes

I, I found out!
I, I found out!

I seen through junkies, I been through it all
I seen religion from Jesus to Paul
Don’t let them fool you with dope and cocaine
No one can harm you, feel your own pain

I, I found out!
I, I found this out!
I, I found out!

Working Class Hero a multi-millionaire singing about being a working class hero – seems absurd at first, but John Lennon was a man of contradictions. The anger and pain shine through in his voice, with only an acoustic guitar backing him up. The lyrics are pertinent 40 years later – either praise for Lennon as a visionary or a doom laden statement about the world we live in. A modern-day folk masterpiece.

When they’ve tortured and scared you for 20 odd years
then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
Working Class Hero is something to be
Working Class Hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion, sex and T.V.
and you think you’re so clever and classless and free
but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
Working Class Hero is something to be
Working Class Hero is something to be

Isolation 10 years later Ian Curtis of Joy Division would pen a song with the same title for the Closer album – another artist I love taken from this world too soon. The song starts with an eerie piano refrain before drums kick in to hold the beat down. John seems to be under singing it a bit at first. A minute and a half in, you can see why as the chorus simply explodes with Lennon really singing his heart out.

I don’t expect you to understand
after you caused so much pain
But the again you’re not to blame
your just a human, a victim of the insane

We’re afraid of everyone, afraid of the sun

The Sun will never disappear
but the world my not have many years

Remember a faster beat with this song, soulful signing…feels like it is leading somewhere with the incessant piano. The song finally kicks into a chorus of sorts at 2 minutes in before reverting back to the fast paced intro. The song finally cuts out with a gun shot.

When you were small
How people seemed so tall
Always had their way
Remember your ma and pa
Just wishing for movie stardom
Always , Always playing a part
If you ever feel sad
And the whole world is driving you mad
Remember, Remember Today

Love on a personal level, this song is very, very special to me. It seems like a simple mantra at first – John Lennon saying what love is over an appealing piano refrain. In any other artists hands, this type of thing can come off as hokey – in Lennon’s hand it is a perfectly executed appeal straight from the heart. It never fails to move me. John’s emotional singing followed by a touching piano coda…perfection. Key lyrics:

Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
we can be

Love is free, free is love
Love is living, living love
Love is needed to be loved

Well Well Well the most aggressive song ever recorded by John Lennon, features the harshest screaming I’ve ever heard on record. I simply love this song. John Lennon once said about his guitar playing “I’m not technically good, but I can make it fucking howl…”. Listen to this song and you will see what he means. The bass on this song by Klaus Voorman provides a very nice counterpart to John screaming “Well….well…” throughout the song.

I took my loved one out to dinner
So we could get a bite to eat
And though we both had been much thinner
She looked so beautiful I could eat her
Well Well Well Oh Well

Look at Me an oldie, dating back to The White Album by The Beatles, here given the Plastic Ono Band treatment. A haunting song, alarming in its openness about the doubts John Lennon was feeling. Very strong melody with minimal musical backing given to Lennon allowing his voice to shine. Key lyrics:

Look at me
what am I supposed to be?
what am I supposed to be?
Look at me
what am I supposed to be?
what am I supposed to be?
Look at me
Oh My Love Oh My Love

God one of THE highlights on an album full of them – the song where John Lennon renounces his faith in just about everything ever known to man. Rollicking piano with a killer back beat as Lennon sings with his voice full of nuance, pain, and sadness. The song quickly builds towards a mantra of everything Lennon doesn’t believe in before fading away to an acoustic lament. This is the definition of a perfect song. Lyrics:

God is a Concept by which
we measure our pain
I’ll say it again
God is a Concept by which
we measure our pain
I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me…and that reality

The dream is over
What can I say?
the Dream is Over
I was the Dreamweaver
But now I’m reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I’m John
and so dear friends
you’ll just have to carry on
The Dream is over

My Mummy’s Dead the album ends with nursery rhyme lament set to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”. After the emotional rollercoaster that came before this, it is a welcome relief. Lennon’s vocals seem to be coming through a megaphone, while he strums on a guitar.

My Mummy’s Dead
I can’t get it through my head
Though it’s been so many years
My Mummy’s Dead
It’s hard to explain
So much Pain
I could never show it
My Mummy’s Dead

If you have never heard this album, stop what you are doing and purchase it now. This is one of those albums that will actually change how you view the world in my opinion – a stunning masterpiece. Join me next week as I discuss the self titled debut album by Kings of Convenience.

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