John Lennon's first solo LP - Plastic Ono Band - has been on my mind a lot. I recently watched a documentary about the making of the album on Netflix. Then caught a blog post over at Alex's place and felt compelled to write something about it here.
When the album was released in 1970 I was a sophomore in high school. For a period of a few years I had detached from popular music and culture and so missed out on most of the hoopla relating to the break up of the Beatles and their individual ventures into solo work. But a few years later when I entered college, I suddenly and vociferously began to investigate the back catalog of the ex Beatles. I made up for lost time and bought everything I could get my hands on. In the span of a few weeks I was introduced to Ram, Imagine, All Things Must Pass, McCartney, as well as some lesser output such as George's odd Wonderwall Music. Friends had warned me that John's early solo output was depressing and tuneless. So I waited a bit before jumping in. But once I did, my perception of John Lennon changed dramatically.
Stripped of the high varnish of a George Martin production, POB immediately took me out into left field. Comprised only of John's raw singing, angry guitar work, pounding piano chords, and the amazing rhythm section of Ringo and Klaus Voorman, there was something so new, so different in these sounds that I scarcely recognized it as John Lennon. Ringo and Klaus formed a nucleus around each song from which John was freed to emote and/or scorch. This was a soul baring exercise from a man who excelled at hiding his true feelings behind layers of words and images. Immediately upon first listen I was captivated. To me the music is liberating and in most cases even uplifting. Even when John is pulling the scabs off of wounds - as in "Mother" - the experience is both devastating and yet cleansing. I understand why he wanted to sing about it.
Overall the quality of the POB documentary was excellent. The interviews were pertinent, most of the interviewees had insights to offer, and the breakdown of the music into single tracks (vocal, drums, etc.) was enlightening. My one complaint is that a few of the songs were glossed over. This was most evident for "Remember", which was barely heard for a few seconds. Totally undeserving of being ignored, as it has some of the most interesting music on the LP. To this day I have not figured out the changing meters. And for the longest time I never understood the last line - "Remember the 5th of November" - which is followed by the sound of an explosion. But thanks for Google I now know that John was referring to an annual fireworks night in Britain which celebrates the failure of a group attempting to blow up King James I. Such a typical John Lennon prank to add this reference.
Did you ever feel so bad, and the whole world is slightly mad. Remember, remember today. Don't feel sorry, how fate has gone. Don't you worry 'bout what you done.
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