Lennon–We Can Work It Out?

I’ve always been in the McCartney camp myself. Yes, he has made some truly shite solo records and ‘Dance Tonight‘ is reason enough for querying whether or not class is permanent, but Sir Thumbsaloft simply has a better voice, to these ears at least. And he doesn’t do that bloody screaming thing. Or give half his albums to Yoko Ono.


Look, there are plenty of reasons for me to elevate Macca above Lennon, but I found myself wondering if I’d ever really given the latter a proper chance. With the recent reissuing and remastering of much of his solo output, it seemed like a good time to do so. The extortionate price of the ‘Signature’ boxset ruled that option out and so I’ve been picking up individual albums over the last couple of weeks. The problem, it would seem, was consistency. I should point out that I write this not for Lennon aficionados, but for those of us who’ve come late to all of this and are trying to make sense of records which for some people are like old friends. An album like ‘Plastic Ono Band’ can sound wonderful and no record collection should be with ‘Working Class Hero‘, but when he veers off into repetitive screaming at the end of ‘Mother’ I don’t care who he is or what feelings he was expressing – he’s simply ruining the end of a decent tune.

Put ‘Imagine’ back in its rightful context – the album of the same name – and a lot of the saccharine baggage of being a media shorthand for peace and love gently drifts away, leaving a simple and affecting opening to a record. ‘Walls And Bridges‘ is, according to the well-thumbed last of Uncut‘s Ultimate Music Guide to Lennon which I picked up in the Harrogate branch of Smiths yesterday, much maligned but, as a newcomer, it’s hard to see why. It lollops along nicely and features two of my favourite tracks of his: ‘#9 Dream’ which belongs on that small but superb playlist of songs you haven’t made yet called ‘Aural Cuddles’, and ‘What You Got’, which I discovered some years ago when it was played in the middle of a set of vintage soul and funk on some obscurist radio show I was listening to at the time. It’s a blistering, swaggering little beast and an overlook little gem, even to this day.

There is a part of me which wishes I could placate myself with career spanning best of boxes – such as the accompanying Gimme Some Truth‘ 4 disc set – rather than being as much of an ‘albums’ man as I possibly can when faced with this particular back catalogue. Would I warm more to Lennon if I just listened to his cherry picked best bits? Very possibly, but it’s just not the way I like to get to know music, even though I suspect this policy is actively damaging the way I engage with one of the defining characters in music.

Once YokoWorld has descended things got trickier and ‘Double Fantasy’ and ‘Milk And Honey’ left me feeling distinctly unsatisfied, displaying as they seem to bursts of Lennon at the top of his game, along with some less remarkable moments… and a load of Yoko songs. They’re not especially bad songs in their own right, but when attempting to submerge oneself in an artist’s output it’s a little like listening to ‘Parklife’ with ‘Stutter’ suddenly cropping up after ‘Badhead’. I know that many of the words I’m writing here are tantamount to sacrilege for many Lennonites, but I’m not going for shock value – I’ve pretty much always felt like this. Macca has released too many turkeys to be truly revered for his solo career – despite some truly wonderful records – whereas Lennon appears to have kept the sheen, despite managing to foist upon the world a less than consistent output prior to his untimely death. I’m not attempting to say that Lennon’s status is undeserved – his role in The Beatles is more than enough to cement that – but this reissue campaign serves to underline that sometimes a decent greatest hits is all you need. In my more pretentious time, I attempted to assert that had John Lennon lived, he’d have sounded like Kula Shaker by the end of the Nineties. On reflection, that seems harsh, but I hope you take my point. There are plenty of decent tracks here but, ahem, I would posit that the number of great tracks is rather smaller. At the risk of being all simplistic and needlessly confrontational, I’d rather listen to ‘Chaos And Creation In The Backyard’. But not ‘Memory Almost Full’. I’m not mad.


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