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The Ultimate John Lennon Playlist From An Ultimate John Lennon Fan Part One In Celebration Of His Birthday October 9th…

I’ve spent the past year working my way through McCartney’s solo albums, here a missed electronic experiment, there a half baked classical album about Celtic awakening, everywhere five crap songs to every one masterpiece and four pretty damn swell songs. But I have neglected John Lennon! Since I consider Lennon the better of equals I have no explanation as to why. For the first coupla years of rock nyc I wrote about Lennon every other day, reviewed every single album if not every single song, I am a super fan. For me it goes: Louis Armstrong, John Lennon, Bob Dylan. Recently, my significant other Helen Bach has been in the process of discovering the Beatles on Sirius FM and that had me discussing Lennon again.

Me and you, we love this stuff to death don’t we? But what is there left to say about it? If you’ve read Tim Riley’s “Tell Me Why: The Beatles: Album By Album, Song By Song, The Sixties And After” not much is the obvious reply.  it is much more fun to write about a mediocre song like McCartney’s “The Song We were Singing” than “All I’ve Got to Do”.

My favorite Beatles releases are the first three UK albums,first among equals, right? Though a lot of that is because of Lennon covers of songs by Arthur Crudup, the Shirelles, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry, the Isley Brothers; the Beatles could cover their heroes in glory. Of the Beatles albums, Johnny owned every single one except for Abbey Road. I love Lions, not crazy about Wedding Album and Two Virgins,  I love all of his mainstream solo albums. I passed on all the post-humus stuff, including Live In New York City and Menlove Avenue and the excellent John Lennon Anthology isn’t in my purview …

Let’s say:

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Imagine

Double Fantasy

Unfinished Music No. 2:  Life With the Lions

Rock ‘n’  Roll

Some Time In New York City

Live Peace In Toronto

Walls And Bridges

Mind Games

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins

The Wedding Album

Of the songs I’ve decided to include there  are a lot of covers, plenty of Lennon-McCartney, and one Unfinished Music song in which Yoko takes the vocal.  I couldn’t find “Serve Yourself” on Spotify but included it anyway…

Misery – It sounds like parody except this was at the beginning of his career so what was he funning on? The emotions are so overblown it can’t be serious (listen to that piano flourish? c’mon, it’s parody)… Yeah, no. This is Lennon as Lennon, when he told Wenner some ten years later that “Help” was the first song in which his true self came out, it was complete nonsense. As a jokey devastation or as the real thing, that was how John viewed life and love: right at the extreme.

Anna (Go To Him) – Yes, the original by Arthur “Soldier Of Love” Alexander’s 1962 original is better except Lennon sings it better. I realize it sounds sacrilegious but Lennon just aches on it, on the “every love I’ve ever had” Lennon renders his heart right in front of us. he rips himself to pieces.

Twist And Shout – If the claim is that the Isley Brothers original is weak and the Beatles saved it, the claim is wrong. The Beatles owe so much to the original (co-written by Bert Berns) it’s a dance track and it chugs along nicely in both versions. The Isley’s already had the moving up an octave three piece harmony, the “ah ah ahs”  that became a Beatles signature. The difference is the singing is better on the Beatles version; Lennon sings his voice raw and the band barely contain themselves. If for no other reason, “Twist And Shout” insured Please Please Me belonged to Lennon.

All I’ve Got To Do – Everything about this is masterful but most of all, like “Anna” (proving Lennon learns), he changes tempos as he changes direction, when he wants her around he Is slow and warm, but when she wants him, when “the same goes for me” he is thrilled to bits, he storms on to her. It is so flush of romance and hope, of love and giving, and sex -sure, kissing but even so: it’s the tingling of romantic commitment.

I’ll Get You – The flip side of “She Loves You” and the “oh yeahs” are not the equals iof the “yeah yeah yeahs” on the A Side, and the song is borderline sexual harassment that would get him jailed today, but the joy is real and the middle another masterpiece

Please Mr. Postman – “Mister Po oh oh ohs man…” Taking on the Marvelettes is not for the faint of heart, Paul and George carry John along as John breaks apart in agonized fragility and loss: the letter is never gonna show up. It is difficult to imagine that this was teen girl music but that’s what it is, it overwhelms the male ego and then destroys it.

You Really Got A Hold On Me – Cmon, guys, Smokey? Lennon is singing the King Of Motown, the primary songwriter and singer (though not sex symbol) of the sound of young America. How do you cover a man who when he sings a song, that song is simply sung forever. What’s some pasty faced white boy from Liverpool got to add to it? If for no other reason than this one cover there was no one in the UK Explosion a patch on Johnny. I’m ignoring the rest of the Band, I realize, and McCartney’s backing here is absolute genius, he seems so close yet where Lennon is sinking in desire, McCartney is sweetness personified. One of the Beatles greatest moments.

Money (That’s What I Want) – Tim Riley’s writing on this song is the best writing in the book. He differentiates Barrett Strong’s ode to financial security with the Beatles howl of freedom, and while he overestimates the latter (I will aways consider them better on Girl group) his point is very well taken.

I’ll Cry Instead – The Lennon move into a male feminist as exemplified by “Women Are The Niggers Of The World” is taken in comparison to this terrific country shuffle where he wrecks revenge on the female sex. Yes, the definition of misogyny. I bet if you could be bothered to analyze half of those sexual predators getting it in the ear right now, you’d find a future history similar to this story.

You Can’t Do That – Yet another greatest Beatles song ever, Lennon is in a jealous rage on this one, and so over the top he is a ringer for Othello imagining his friends laughing in his faith at the girl’s perceived infidelity.

Day Tripper – I’ve gone out of my way to skip both the “We Can Work It Outs” and the “She Loves You,” unless (like “A Day In The Life” and “One After 909”) it simply couldn’t be done, I mean no songs where the boys each wrote their own parts and also no songs where they clearly co-wrote them. So no “Eight Days A Week” for instance, I essentially ignored the Beatles as a  singles band because of that. Here is an exception to prove the point. Who wrote that guitar lick that L&M ride ceaselessly to its conclusion?  It is really magical, you can hear it in yourself. The song is a very clever pun: a Day Tripper is a one day railway ticket to the suburbs and back, tripping is a drug reference as well, and it is all about a girl, of course. Still, that lick…

I’m A Loser – Off Beatles For Sale, Considered by many to be their worst album (whatever that means), the boys look exhausted,  they don’t have enough material for an album so they go right back to Hamburg for a ton of covers, there is a huge country flavor to the album and yes it seems to be running in place, awaiting the follow-up. I chose three songs off the album so that tells you my opinion. Lennon portrays himself as a sad self-portrait for a man in the prime of his life with huge success already and yet to come. At least he admits it’s his fault with that “pride comes before a fall” line.

Mr. Moonlight – Consider to be the worst Beatles song ever, I am baffled by the assessment: Lennon simply couldn’t sing this old Dr. Feelgood And The Interns song any better. That first wail to open it is magical, and nobody has ever done sincere insincerity any better than Lennon. He was a master at it.

I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party – Lennon goes country and the best country song they ever wrote. The first song I ever learnt on guitar, a three chord wonder such a pleasure to sing. That “there’s nothing for me here so I will disappear” rhyme never gets old, the punchline “if she turns up while I’m gone please let me know” will have you crying to yourself, and the “I still love her” hook is a complete ace. From their worst album? Pah.

Nowhere Man – One of those characters that the Beatles peopled their songs with, the Walruses and Meter Maids, but it kinda began here: an extremely intelligent piece of social engineering  and Lennon is seeped in compassion and empathy. This is the only song I chose off Rubber Soul, an album that includes “Norwegian Wood” and “In My Life”… but really, what on earth is there to say about “In My Life”? Plus “Run For Your Life” is one of his lesser pieces of misogyny…

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