Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lennon's Solo Albums Part 1

I'm sorry you guys, I really am. Instead of watching movies and putting up reviews like I thought I was going to, I ended up writing all weekend. I got three whole stories done, which doesn't seem like a lot but they take quite a bit of time to write, even going at a crazy no-sleep blazing speed like I was. Two of them I think are very good and one of them...needs work to say the least. Hopefully I'll get all seven stories done and revised by the end of this month and then I'll have an honest to goodness book finished!
So other than writing what else was I up to? Well, earlier this month I decided to get into The Beatles solo stuff, starting with John Lennon since he was my favorite, I ordered the first three albums he released (All three with Yoko Ono). This was a bad idea. Why? Well for one thing, it's three avant-grade albums. Starting down the road of the decidedly rocky Beatles solo path this way is like putting your foot in the ocean and stepping on a jellyfish: It can be painful and might discourage you from going any further. Lets look at each one individually shall we? Keep in mind that I only know bits and pieces of the history behind these records, being far far removed from the events surrounding their releases.

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (1968)
Oh how to describe the experience of listening to this? There's not really much music here to speak of, it's just two tracks of about 15 minutes each of random noise, bits of dialog, random song snippets, whistling, Yoko and John screaming and banging on instruments...imagine Revolution 9 but a half hour long and not as good. The worst part is that it's not very interesting, its just kind of there and would make great background music for a weird experimental film.
The album is in fact more notorious for its cover art than it's content. I'm not going to post it but if you really want to see John Lennon and Yoko Ono butt naked go here:
I'm not a prude or anything but at that point in time they weren't the prettiest people in the world to look at, to put it nicely.
Bonus track: Yes, all three of these have bonus tracks! They're actually more interesting than the actual albums sadly. This one has the B-Side to the Give Peace a Chance Single, Yoko singing a cute little song called Remember Love while John plays acoustic guitar. This is the first time that I'd actually heard Yoko's voice other than the brief times on The White Album and she really does have a nice singing voice, when she's not screaming that is.

Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With the Lions (1969)

While the first album was just John and Yoko puttering around in the studio till they eventually got bored, shut off the recording equipment and made love, this album seems to be a bit more focused and is split up into actual tracks. It starts off with Yoko announcing "This piece is called Cambridge 1969". Then she starts screaming her head off while John creates walls of feedback with his guitar, for almost a half hour! Seriously, it took up the whole first side of the record! I suppose most people would shut the thing off right at this track and never look back, but lord help me I kind of like it, even though it gets grating after awhile. John's noisy feedback squeals seem way ahead of their time and Yoko...well, Yoko sure has a set of lungs on her!
The second side of the record is a document of Yoko's miscarried child and as such is very very depressing. No Bed for Beatle John is John and Yoko singing pieces of newspaper clippings to each other dealing with the controversy surrounding their first album and John not being able to get a bed next to Yoko in the hospital and having to sleep on the floor. This is followed by five minutes of the babies heartbeat on a loop and then two minutes of silence after it stops. This might seem pointless unless you know that the baby actually died, then it's just very sad.
The record ends with Radio Play which is just someone randomly flipping through a radio so fast that you can't hear any songs, only random clicks, and John talking softly in the background occasionally. It's annoying because your mind keeps trying to make patterns where there aren't any, its all random and non-musical and way too long. I think John was having a good laugh by this point and trying to see what he could get away with.
Bonus Tracks: Both recorded at John's bedside vigil for Yoko: Song for John is a cute Yoko piece, again with John on guitar and Mulberry is her warbling tunelessly while John tortures his acoustic. At least it's actual music and is nice to hear after twelve minuets of random clicks and static!

Wedding Album (1969)

The artwork for this one is rather nice, lots of pictures, press clippings, political cartoons, a piece of "wedding cake", and a reproduction of J and Y's marriage license. Unfortunately the actual content seems rather pointless. The first half is taken up by an over twenty minute piece called John & Yoko. All it consists of is John and Yoko yelling each others names. For twenty minutes. Seriously. They yell loud, they whisper, they use funny voices, they make kissy noises at each other and John eats an apple. It's like if you had two lovey-dovey friends who constantly called each other smooshey names and they recorded an album of it: it's sort of embarrassing and not something you'd particularly want to listen to, at least not for very long.
The second half is called Amsterdam and is a sort of record of the couple's infamous "bed-in" for peace. It's made up of bits of interviews, song pieces, and random noises. I don't see why they didn't just make it all interviews since those were the most interesting parts, or why they had to make it so choppy and dull. I think by this point John was bored with doing "music" like this, the whole album just seems like a big throwaway joke.
Bonus Tracks(All by Yoko): Who Has Seen the Wind was the B-side to Instant Karma and is brief and very pretty. Listen, the Snow is Falling was the B-Side to Happy X-Mas and is sort of schmaltzy, but I like it fine. Finally we have an unreleased version of Don't Worry Kyoko recorded while Yoko was in the hospital before her miscarriage. These aren't great but much better than the actual album.

While not as ungodly awful as I'd always read, theres no reason to get these three albums unless you have to have every album made by every Beatle. If just the thought of Yoko makes you retch, than stay far far away.

Next time: Live Peace in Toronto 1969. Actual music! More of Yoko's screeching! Should be interesting...

Appendium: I was thinking about it and while a lot of the "music" on these three albums is hard to listen to you've got to at least appreciate it on some level. I think it's a tribute to just how popular The Beatles and John Lennon were that he could make not one but three albums like this and still be able to have people listen to his music afterwards. Can you imagine an artist trying anything like this today?


Phantom Spitter said...

Glad to hear you're hard at work on the book! Also glad it'll be an "actual" book instead of one of those web-book things.

Could I do some sort of art for it or something? Like you tell me what you want, I draw it up, if it's what you want then you use it, if it's not what you want then you don't. Whaddaya say? I'll work my hardest!

kurdt said...

That'd be really cool actually! I still have quite a bit of writing to do but when I get closer to being done I'll send you one or two stories and see what you can make from them, sound cool?