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The solo career of John Lennon

john lennon and yoko ono
John Lennon during Andy Peebles interview, two days before his death

By Stephen Towey
BBC Radio Merseyside Music Reporter

To mark what would've been John Lennon's 70th birthday, BBC Radio Merseyside Reporter Stephen Towey looks back at the music that Lennon released during his solo career.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

His first 'proper' solo album which was 'back to basics' in every sense of the phrase.

Gone were the lavish productions of George Martin and what is left is a tight three piece band comprising Klaus Voorman on bass, Ringo Starr on drums and John on guitar and piano... and not much else.

It's often regarded by critics as his greatest solo work. It's certainly his most influential with tracks like 'I Found Out', 'Mother' & 'Working Class Hero' foreshadowing punk.

Self-confessional songs like 'Isolation' and 'Love' opened the door for a deluge of singer-songwriters in the early 70s who assailed the charts and the airwaves with their deepest innermost thoughts and feelings to the 'n'th degree.

But this album really started the trend big style and Lennon broke the mould again.

In retrospect, it's quite often quite a difficult listen but certainly worth the effort. Lennon's voice is in brilliant shape - its rawness and honesty assailing your senses.

It may well be too self-indulgent emotionally for some but it's worth (re-)discovering if only to appreciate his artistic bravery after 10 years of Fab Fourness to come out with an album like this required huge self-belief and a rediscovered creativity.

Rating: 9/10

Imagine

Lennon called this a 'sugar-coated' version of his first album.

Certainly one of his most accessible albums with the classic title track overshadowed by even better work such as 'Jealous Guy', 'It's So Hard', the bitter, twisted and brilliant 'How Do You Sleep?' and fun jug-band skiffle of 'Crippled Inside' and 'Oh Yoko'.

Lacks the raw energy of the first album but Spector's production and the catchiness of the tunes probably account for its giant sales and enduring popularity.

Rating: 8/10

Mind Games

A big critical disappointment after 'Imagine'. The title track is a tour de force but production is shoddy at times and Lennon's heart and head seem to have been elsewhere during the making of this album .

'Out the Blue' and 'Aisumasen' are high-ish points but if you haven't heard this album you're not missing much.

Rating: 4/10

Some Time in New York City

Lennon attempted an artistic leap similar to the one he successfully took for the first solo album but this time round he fell flat on his pseudo-radical ass with a brilliant concept that ultimately fails pretty miserably on record.

Which is a big shame as his backing band - New York rockers Elephants Memory - had the potential to take him to places he hadn't been for a long time. The music - a mixture of his, and, for the first time on a major album, Yoko's tracks - rocks along merrily with some excellent grooves and riffs.

But the lyrics are - frankly - embarrassingly puerile - which is a shame because the band really fires along in significant direction away from his previous solo work.

Rating: 4/10

Walls and Bridges

An album Lennon himself described as the work of a "semi-sick craftsman", mainly written during his infamous 'lost weekend'... but that's probably a bit harsh.

It was easily his best work since 'Imagine' with a few standout tracks including '# 9 Dream' , 'Scared' & 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out'.

There are admittedly a few fillers but Lennon was at his best when anguished and in conflict (with himself and others) and the album is a pleasant surprise after a couple of disappointments.

Guest appearances by drinking buddy Harry Nilsson, Elton John (on piano for his big US hit 'Whatever Get You Through the Night') and Booker T and the MGs (on the instrumental 'Beef Jerky') help the album chug along happily.

Rating: 7/10

Rock'n Roll

This was Lennon's mainly Spector-producer tribute paeon to his Fifties' heroes - Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly et al.

At times, guilty of over-blown production Lennon is however in fine voice and his versions of 'Stand By Me' and 'Slippin and Slidin' rival the originals. But the sessions were marked by chaotic behaviours from all quarters and it was a miracle the record ever came out given the legal battles and arguments between Spector and Lennon.

The album marked the beginning of his 5 year exile from the music business and his so-called 'house-husband' years.

Rating: 7/10 - stands up ok 35 years after its release.

Double Fantasy/Milk and Honey

He returned to a very changed music business in November 1980 with a joint 'John and Yoko' project 'Double Fantasy'. Surprisingly commercial given his previous form, it was received with disappointment by music critics when it came out to a world more used to punk, new wave and ska rather than middle-of-the-road domestic bliss.

Time has been relatively kind to the music which, certainly on the soon-to-be-released ' Double Fantasy -stripped down' version, shows he had lost none of his vocal power or ability to come up with a strong riff particularly on 'I'm Losing You', 'Starting Over' and 'Woman'.

It's certainly not Lennon at his best but it's an intriguing album for its time and along with the post-humous 'Milk and Honey' points to some interesting musical directions he may have gone along, had Mark Chapman's bullets not robbed the world of a fascinating talent.

Double Fantasy Rating: 6/10

Milk and Honey Rating: 6/10




SEE ALSO
1980: The legend of Lennon
09 Dec 03 |  8

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