Legend has it Lennon and Ono spent their first night together working on avant-Garde music before making love.
The result was three albums of experimental music and if “the Wedding Album” (it came with free pics of wedding cake -a case of play the sleeve if ever there was one) and “Two Virgins” were inpenetratable, “Life With the Lions” can be listened to with a sense of wonder. “Cambridge 1969″‘s Ono scretching and Lennon’s feed back is so off putting the half hour track is hard to listen but “Baby’s Heartbeat” is as brave a work as either of these titans would ever accomplish, it is the actual heartbeat of their child before Ono miscarried. For a star of Lennon’s magnitude to share his most private grief is incredible -all cynicism, all opportunism, all stardom, all differences between class and gender, everything disappears in this sharing of overwhelming grief.
This is braver than appearing naked on the cover of two virgins, braver than the sit ins and the be ins. This is awesome artistic genius.
Earlier, during his bed in, Lennon would record “Give Peace A Chance,” a perfect song. Like the greatest of protest numbers everybody can sing along to it, everybody knows the words and the sentiment is so pure and so undeniable it cuts across age, race, religion. One of three no doubt Lennon solo greatest songs ever recorded and of all time.
In 69 he went to toronto and played live with Clapton, Starr and Klaus Voorman for half a real good rock album, and half Yoko Ono screaming in a bag. In 69 it was the picture of self-indulgence though again forty years later you can hear the ideas brimming over but not out yet.
Next: let’s use Ono’s time construction from the anthology “Once upon A time” and let’s grade em for good measure:
“John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” -has ever ever ever a major rock star been this honest, this disturbing, this vulnerable? A Plus
“Imagine” -here Lennon does the same thing with a fillip of love and politics and in a pop setting. Includes the second of Lennon’s greatest songs ever. A +
“Instant Karma” -the third of Lennon’s flat out, no doubt, solo masterpiece songs.
“Sometime In New York City” -sure the live stuff with Elephants Memory wasn’t all that. The rest of it was as clear as a couple in camouflage gear storming the steps of City Hall can get. A-
“Mind Games” -includes “You Are here”. Enough said? A
“Live In New York City” -Que Pasa, New York. A +
The Lost Weekend
“Walls And Bridges” -“I wake up in the morning and I look into the mirror and see… oooo, me”. The price of success in the bloated drunken loneliness of a man whom, like Presley before him, is getting eaten alive by fame. A
“Rock ‘n’ Roll” -among the things Lennon said during interviews to promote “Double Fantasy” was 50s rock was his favorite music. Sure, we don’t need “Peggy Sue,” I’m still glad i’ve got it. And I do need “Ya Ya” and “Just Because”. (As a footnote to history, McCartney’s “Run, Devil, Run” tapped a similar vein for an equally excellent effect). A
“Pussyfootin'” -Lennon produced this for his partner in crime the late lamented Harry Nilson. B+
“Double Fantasy” -so heart breaking it’s hard to listen to now. A
“Milk And Honey” -post-mortem odds and sods. the keeper is “Nobody Told Me”. A
“Menlove Avenue” -end of the road B+
“Once Upon A Time” -better than the Beatle anthology and worth the expense if only for Lennon’s take down of Dylan on his answer song “Serve yourself.” A-
Am I being kind -maybe, too a degree. Still, except for the experimental stuff, there isn’t an album mentioned here you can’t buy without the promise of immense pleasure.
This is living breathing songs for those of us who can’t listen to the Beatles any more. It is the express impression of the personal and the political on a lifetime worth of great, grat rock songs by a great, greater, maybe greatest rock vocalist.
Lennon isn’t great because he’s dead, he is great because he’s alive.
I have enjoyed immensely songs from England’s grime scene (a form of poverty slaughtered, class tortored, drop dead hip hop ) and, personal fave, Wiley hasn’t let me down. Neither has Lady Sovereign, a young, gifted rapper in a league with MIA and Santogold, with a handful of real good songs and a new, self-released, album “Jig Saw”. I am going to see her tuesday at Highline and will have more to say wednesday.