The four tracks I’ve chosen off Lennon and Ono’s experimental Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions is the only time I have put a lead vocalist other than Lennon, it is the only time where I’ve included an album people who are not huge fans might not recognize it in the least. This is why:
No Bed For Beatle John – This was a tough time for Beatle John and his girlfriend, when not getting busted for drugs they were being considered basketcases for peace, and when they were not being considered basketcases the couple were the objects of heinous racism. It caught up to Yoko Ono, pregnant with John’s baby, and she was rushed to hospital and John, standing vigil, wasn’t provided with a bed. He stayed anyway and they recorded this song, with Yoko reading from the tabloids and John strumming and whispering behind her.
Song For John – Life With The Lions is one of John and Yoko’s greatest albums, it is better than Double Fantasy, it feels as though they were in the middle of breaking through from experimental art to pop music. This bonus track is a terrific folk song.
Baby’s Heartbeat – “a looped infant mortality recording, made with a Nagra microphone, of John Ono Lennon II’s ill-fated actual palpitation”. When it stops, it stops like death.
Two Minutes Of Silence –
Give Peace A Chance – A timeless mantra of peace which finds itself sung everywhere in the world where people protest. Recorded live during the Bed-In, it just boils down to that one hope and prayer. This is genius.
Cold Turkey – Junkie John returned his MBE to protest the UK in Biafra and “Cold Turkey” failing to reach number one in the charts. Masterful blues in a cold sweat of nausea and withdrawal.
Mother – From the flawless John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John didn’t just bury the Beatles, this Oedipal scream of pain buried Julia as well.
Working Class Hero – “As soon a you’re born they make you feel small by giving you no time instead of it all…” Lennon looks right through to the heart of darkness and it would get darker and worse. “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV”. He forgot IPhones.
Isolation – Ridiculously beautiful, “just a boy and a little girl…” it feels like Life With The Lions by other means. Anybody who has been deeply in love can parse it to “just a boy and a little girl” as the only line of defense to a brutal world. One of the great achievements.
God – I buried Paul by other means.
My Mummy’s Dead – Isolation and rejection as a nursery rhyme.
Imagine – The greatest secular hymn of all time. If Paul could write it, Paul would be able to consider himself as great as Lennon.
Jealous Guy – This is an answer to eight years of you can’t do that, it is Lennon realizing what a shit he was.
Woman Is The Nigger Of The World – Stan Bronstein’s sax is so awesome on this song, we lose place of it because the sentiment is so powerful. In 1972, by the way, now it is 2017 and nothing has changed.
New York City – For us New Yorkers? This is the great shout out to our city. A terrific rocker with Jim Keltner pounding it out and is that Lennon taking lead on guitar? Que pasa, Johnny?
Mind Games – Here we find Lennon weakening his grip a little, the album was a disappointment and while it is hard to deny his search for the grail, the simple “love is the answer” is the sort of cliche Lennon writes but twists.
Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out – Broken up with Yoko, this is the song that is almost clairvoyant in its distillation of what will be left of him. “Everybody loves you when you’re six foot in the ground”. So true, and nothing to be done about it. In this movie, Lennon always dies in the end. How about that bridge, how about that as fame made clear. One of the saddest songs ever written, it is “Isolation” isolated.
Whatever Gets You Through The Night – Awesome rocker that returned John to the top of the charts and found him paying off an Elton John bet by performing with Elton at MSG. Backstage, Elton had also invited Yoko and the two virgins… well, the rest is history.
Ya Ya – Lennon took a run at this on Walls And Bridges, but this is better. The Beatles used to cover this excellent Lee Dorsey rocker, and Lennon is just weird enough to make it fantasy rocker time. Best track on that Phil Spector produced soup and nuts.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over If You Want It) – The greatest Christmas song of all time, it is beautiful and it is important. Never grows old, never stops growing.
(Just Like) Starting Over – Unbearably sad now. it is a terrific, smooth boogie.
Watching The Wheels – And that is where we leave John Lennon lost in time, lost to us, as we sit here alone watching the wheels go round and round.
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Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – January 1983 (Volume 14, Number 8)
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