Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dream is Over: John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band is 40

John Lennon - John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band
John Lennon
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Rating: **** 1/2

In April 1970, the Beatles had officially broken up. However for John Lennon, the end of the band he started had already happened before then. By 1969, he already had a new band: the Plastic Ono Band. The band’s line-up changed constantly but John and his new wife, Yoko Ono, were the two stable members. When the time came to make his first solo album, Lennon wrote very personal songs based on the 30 years of this life. That album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, is widely considered his best album. The album was raw, honest, and heartfelt. In my list of my top 200 albums, Plastic Ono Band ranks at #15. This makes it my favorite solo album by a Beatle. The fortieth anniversary also falls closely to the thirtieth anniversary of Lennon’s murder. This article will go into this classic album.

Although this was Lennon’s first solo album, Lennon had already released a few albums before this one. From 1968 to 1969, John and Yoko released four albums. The first three, however, were avant garde albums that did nothing and are disliked by almost every Beatles fan. Their fourth, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, was better but still nothing impressive. Soon after the split of the Beatles, John and Yoko started primal therapy for four months with the help of Arthur Janov. The therapy had a great affect on both John and Yoko. It then inspired the couple to make their own albums and release them on the same day. For Yoko, her album was experimental and, for the most part on her album, is screaming. For John’s album, he wrote songs about the hard times in his life. Whatever John got out of the therapy, he put into the Plastic Ono Band album, which was recorded from September 26 to October 23. On December 11, 1970 both John and Yoko released their albums both titled Plastic Ono Band. The album covers were almost identical as well. On John’s cover, he is resting his head on Yoko’s lap while sitting under a tree. On Yoko’s cover, it’s the other way around.

The sound you hear at the beginning of “Mother” is of a tolling bell. The song is, of course, about Lennon’s mother. Lennon had a rough childhood. His parents split when he was just three years old. Although Lennon chose to live with his mother Julia, he was placed in the care of Julia’s sister Mimi. When Lennon became a teenager, he formed a new relationship with his mother. Sadly when Lennon was 17, Julia was killed after being hit by a vehicle. Lennon never got to know his father well, although Alfred Lennon lived up until 1976. When Lennon sings this song, you can hear the pain in his voice. Don’t believe me? Listen to the ending: “Mama don’t GO/DADDY COME HOME!”. “Hold On” is a very short and simple song. While writing this article, I’ve just learned that in the middle of the song Lennon says something. I knew this but could never figure it out. According to an author, Lennon says “Cookie” in the middle of the song in reference to Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

“I Found Out” is a song basically about Lennon’s negative view on false religions. He even mentions the Hare Krishna (“Oh Hare Krishna/Got nothing on you”). The song has minimal use of instruments. All you hear is Lennon on guitar, Klaus Voormann on bass, and Ringo on the drums. Speaking of which, Ringo said years later in the Classic Albums episode for this album that he’s proud of his performance on that song. “Working Class Hero” is one of Lennon’s most critically praised songs. The song, according to Lennon in interview with Rolling Stone, about working class people being put or processed into middle classes. The only instrument in this song is John’s acoustic guitar. The song gained infamy on radio stations since it used the f-word twice, which is still bleeped out today.

“Isolation” is probably about the idea of being alone or scared. When I read the lyrics, Lennon seems to be concerned with the future of the world. The song is very piano driven, as is the next song “Remember”. This song is said to be about reflecting on memories both good and bad. The end of the song is interesting: John sings “Remember/Remember/The Fifth of November?”, followed by the sound of an explosion. According to Lennon, this was ad-libbed. What Lennon is referring to is actually Guy Fawkes Night. “Love” is a song with lyrics so simple, it’s beautiful. “Well, Well, Well” is easily the heaviest song off the album. The song has distortion like “I Found Out” and has Lennon screaming at one point. The lyrics are pretty bizarre. I mean how many songs are there that are about eating dinner, watching the sky and revolution? “Look At Me” was written back during the White Album sessions while the closes the album. “God is a concept” sings John, “By which we measure our pain”. The song basically is about what Lennon believes in and it’s not religion. He doesn’t believe in magic, I Ching, Bible, tarot, Hitler, Jesus, Kennedy, Buddha, mantra, Gita, yoga, kings, Elvis, Zimmerman (Dylan) and even the Beatles.

“I just believe in me/Yoko and me”.

The last line in the song: “The dream is over”. The album officially wraps up with “My Mummy’s Dead”, which lasts for less than a minute.

Plastic Ono Band is not only Lennon’s best album but it’s also one of the best albums ever made. With the success of this album, Lennon was able to continue making more music. In 1971, he followed up Plastic Ono Band with Imagine. Imagine was even bigger. While Plastic Ono Band is now 40 years old, it has also been 30 years since Lennon was murdered. We still listen to all of his music with and without the Beatles. I think it’s safe to say that Plastic Ono Band is the statement of John Winston Ono Lennon. Period.

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