December 11 – Lennon’s Primal Debut Album

12/11/70: John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band

John Lennon ushered in his post-Beatles career 50 years ago today with the stark, bare-bones, powerful, and sometimes harrowing Plastic Ono Band. Production was credited to John, Yoko, and Phil Spector, though the album bears little resemblance to Spector’s multi-layered behemoth by George Harrison which appeared a few weeks earlier. While all of Lennon’s albums are to some degree self/Yoko/Beatles-referential, his solo debut was a scab ripping primal scream therapy session played out on vinyl, and it became a classic.

John Lennon's Children, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr Honor Legend on 40th  Anniversary of His Killing | Hollywood Reporter

It’s interesting to me how the ex-Beatles waded into their respective post-Fabs lives. Paul secluded himself at his Scotland farm and wrote and recorded the loose McCartney album earlier in the year as an exercise – with Linda’s help – to pull himself out of his Beatles hangover. George spent months in the studio with Phil Spector and a cast of musicians so numerous he wasn’t even aware of all of them for a few decades. The results included songs of lament over lost friendships as well as further declarations of his spiritual aspirations. Ringo’s musical breakthrough was still a few years away. Then came John’s rather minimalist Plastic Ono Band.

John Lennon - John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

There were many indications in the music world at the turn of the 1970’s that the Flower Power era was over, and John put his own stamp on it with this album. His wounds were deep and went all the way back to childhood. He was barely thirty years old but had lived ten lives by 1970. He had entered an alternative, “primal” therapy developed by Arthur Janov which used screaming more so than analysis as part of one’s healing. Two of the heaviest songs feature this element: the opening track, Mother, and side two’s God. The latter is a paring down of all the things he no longer wants, needs, or believes in, from religion to political cults of personality to Elvis, Dylan, and lastly, the Beatles. He only believed in Yoko and himself by that point, and the world would just have to deal with it.

John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band | Book by John Lennon, Yoko Ono | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster

The rest of the album is no less dramatic in its simplicity with John, Ringo, and Klaus Voormann playing the majority of the instruments. Love is a welcomed respite in the middle of the onslaught, but it’s an emotionally draining affair overall from start to finish. Coincidentally, I’m writing this the day after the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s passing. I played Plastic Ono Band before leaving for work yesterday morning and I’m still feeling it. It’s just as powerful as ever.


Side One:

  1. Mother
  2. Hold On
  3. I Found Out
  4. Working Class Hero
  5. Isolation

Side Two:

  1. Remember
  2. Love
  3. Well Well Well
  4. Look at Me
  5. God
  6. My Mummy’s Dead


Remembering December 8, 1980

Despite the circumstances of John Lennon’s death, this really isn’t intended to be a morose post. I can only imagine the multitudes who today are revisiting that moment in time and reflecting upon their own lives, especially Baby Boomers. Lennon’s music adds joy to my life, and when all is said and done, the music is what’s left and I’m grateful for what he gave us. I’ve shared bits and pieces on this topic in previous posts, but today seems like a good time to empty the memory bank.

Beatles John Lennon 1965 shot on We Heart It

Monday, December 8, 1980: I was a nine year old in Mrs. Echelmeier’s fourth grade class. Like most of the other boys in school, I was a football fan, primarily the NFL up to that point in my life. We’d spend every Monday recess during the season talking about the games from the day before and trying to reenact some of the standout plays on the playground. Back then, Monday Night Football was the weekly marquee event. It usually showcased the better teams and got fans through until the next weekend of sports. On Monday nights my usual bedtime was extended to halftime of the MNF game. That particular week’s matchup pitted the New England Patriots – back then a team not often featured on national broadcasts – against the Miami Dolphins. I had no particular interest in the game other than the joy of watching it, which I did. But halftime arrived, and I was off to bed. I couldn’t have imagined the announcement that would come near the end of the game.

1980 Monday Night Football Intro - YouTube

Tuesday, December 9: I shuffled down the hallway to the kitchen for breakfast, which was probably a bowl of Malt-O-Meal hot cereal or Cheerios with cinnamon toast. We had a 12-inch black and white TV on the counter next to the refrigerator with the CBS Morning News on per our morning routine. But this day something was different. Half awake, I looked at the screen and saw grainy footage of the Beatles descending the stairs of a Japan Airlines jet wearing kimonos. The Beatles! Even at that age I loved the band, but seeing actual film of them was a rarity for me. Other footage followed. Mom was silent. Then I heard the news being reported.

Why Japan's 'Beatles moment' still matters, 50 years on - Nikkei Asia

That day at school I heard John’s name spoken in the hallway by my classmates, and it made me uncomfortable. As with the Iranian hostage crisis and the assassination attempt on President Reagan – both of which also happened that school year – big news like that was going to be talked about whether kids really understood what it was about or not. I walked by the teacher’s lounge, cigarette smoke billowing out of it, and wondered if they were talking about it or if they cared. I also wondered who I could talk to about it. My brothers were away at college, and I remember feeling very alone all day. I didn’t cry because I was more stunned than anything. The Beatles were as much a part of my life as Cardinals baseball and, well, just being a kid.

It was probably a borderline odd obsession for someone my age who wasn’t even born until ten months after they ceased to exist as a band. I say borderline because I doubt I was that unique in my status as a young, second generation fan. But in my small town I’m fairly certain I was. If professional athletes were larger than life, then John, Paul, George, and Ringo were mythical gods. And now one of them was gone forever. I didn’t try to make sense of it then because I couldn’t. It had only been ten years since the Beatles split, but it seemed like a hundred to me. John had been in relative seclusion for half that time, so I didn’t really think about him in current terms until Double Fantasy appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Scratched hand-me-down Beatles LP’s and 45’s had made their way from the basement to my bedroom upstairs. Paul’s post-Fabs band was even on the fritz by then. But looking at it as an adult, ten years is a flash. I probably have fast food ketchup packets in my fridge that are older. Lord knows some of my clothes are.

Double Fantasy - Wikipedia

A week or so later my brothers were home for Christmas break, and to this day I associate Lennon’s Shaved Fish compilation album with those weeks. It never left the basement turntable. I soon got my first lesson in mass-media exploitation of a sensational story. I was in a local drug store with my brother Paul when I noticed a large amount of magazines with cover photos of John and/or the Beatles on its shelves. Wow! Neato! I chose one and bought it, but on the way home he explained that the main reason John and the Beatles were on all those magazine covers was to drive sales. I sort of understood, but his face remained on magazine covers all the following year while his new music was everywhere on the radio. We subscribed to Newsweek, and he was soon looking at us from the living room coffee table. I still have that issue, as well as the Rolling Stone issue with John and Yoko on the cover. That cover photo, along with this post’s featured image, were taken the day John died.

Shaved Fish - Wikipedia

By the time I reached high school I had gone through various music phases, including Top 40 and even some rap, but the Beatles and their contemporaries were still my favorites. My senior year I grew my hair (alas, a mullet), and wore round granny sunglasses and one of my dad’s old olive drab army field shirts. My “favorite Beatle” status had shifted from Paul to John somewhere along the line. I guess I connected more with the angst, anger, and social awareness in some of Lennon’s songs by then (not that I didn’t still appreciate a good silly love song…). My few close friends either liked him too or otherwise tolerated me being a Beatles fanboy.

Also by then, the usually cold and gray week or so around December 8 had become an annual period of reflection on John Lennon for me that recurs all these years later. It’s not the only time I listen to his music, but I do go through most of his catalog at this time. December of ’88 brought a sea change to my home life which was compounded by my brother’s impending three year stint with the Peace Corps. He came home for a visit shortly before leaving for Senegal, and he and I watched the then-new Imagine documentary at the local cinema where I also worked part time. Years later I learned that he spent the night of 12/8/80 in his freshman dorm room in southwest Missouri adjusting the late night AM dial on his stereo from left to right and back, listening to live reports on WABC radio in New York and other locations eastward, most of which were also playing nothing but Beatles and Lennon songs. It occurred to him to drop a blank cassette in the player and hit record. He transferred it to CD for me, and it’s an eerie but fascinating homemade document of that sad and shocking night.

Now here we are, 40 years since John’s passing. The ebb and flow of life continues. I became a father, and my kids are now mostly grown. I visited Vietnam and brought home a small strip of sandbag which I found sticking out of the ground at Khe Sahn (not exactly a rare find in Vietnam, even today). It’s had a Lennon button which reads “Imagine Peace” stuck through it for nearly 20 years. My first born was given a personalized “Welcome to the world!” autograph from Ringo before he ceased giving his signature to fans. His younger brother has developed an interest in this music like his old man. Over the past 25 years I’ve taken the Liverpool tour, which includes Lennon’s childhood home and Strawberry Field. I’ve visited the Central Park memorial of the same name and stood at the gate of the Dakota where John took his last steps. I also accepted many years ago that he was a flawed individual like most of us. And as silly as it might be for a middle-aged person in 2020 to have thoughts about it one way or another, George has gradually become the ex-Beatle I admire the most. But of course it’s all relative.

In recent years I’ve taken the happier route of acknowledging Lennon’s birthday in October as much as the dark day of his demise, but today brings a strange milestone: John Lennon has now been gone the same number of years that he lived. I get it, it’s just a number like 39 or 41. Maybe it’s the history student in me who likes to mentally organize the past, including my own, in terms of dates and years. That theme is the foundation of this blog, after all. But it’s a significant milestone to me nonetheless. Perhaps my rapidly approaching 50th birthday has something to do with it. Maybe in this less than enjoyable year I’m trying to hold on to good memories of the comforts of home and family from childhood, and this anniversary marks an unforgettable occasion that impacted me in the middle of it all.


Desert Island Album Draft, Round 2: Rubber Soul

I’m participating in an album draft with nine other bloggers, organized by Hanspostcard. There will be ten rounds, with draft order determined randomly by round. I was the ninth to select in this round, and I scored one of my favorite Beatles albums.

Bob Whitaker: Three Beatles – Snap Galleries Limited

There was no doubt that my second pick would be a Beatles album. It was only a matter of what was still available to choose from. Twenty years ago, Rubber Soul would’ve been at the top of my Beatles list. Today it’s second by a hair, but I’ll still gladly add it to All Things Must Pass in my fledgling desert isle collection. Rubber Soul is another of their albums which saw two releases on separate labels with different track lists and song totals. I grew up with the U.S. (Capitol) version, which does have its positives despite being two tracks shorter. However, in my adult life I’ve only listened to the Parlophone version which was standard across most of the planet outside the U.S., and for the purposes of the draft that’s the one I’m going with.

Rubber Soul Sessions 1965 — The Beatles in 3D

By 1965 the Beatles were progressing at lightning speed as writers and as individuals, more so than what their heavily promoted mop top image – or what was left of it at that point – might’ve suggested. It’s astounding to me when looking at it in terms of a timeline just how rapidly they evolved. During their month long U.S. tour that summer they met Dylan in New York, dropped acid with The Byrds in L.A. (with Paul famously abstaining for the time being), listened to a lot of Motown and Stax music on the radio, and smoked pot for breakfast (John would even describe Rubber Soul as “the pot album”). They returned to the U.K. inspired to write a new batch of songs reflective of these experiences, which they began recording a short time later in October. Rubber Soul was released – along with its accompanying smash double A-sided single, Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out – on December 3. It was their second album of all original material, still somewhat unheard of in rock and pop music at the time. Whew!

day tripper.jpg

The title pokes fun at themselves for not having “authentic” soul like the American R&B artists they admired, but when the needle hits the grooves, it’s anything but phony. The themes are more serious and much less bubblegum than on previous albums, and for many younger fans whose lives hadn’t changed so drastically and in such a short period of time, this was a shock. There are beautifully written songs of lament (You Won’t See Me, Wait, I’m Looking Through You, Girl), and sentimental retrospection (In My Life). We also start to hear their “later” personalities and influences come to the fore, especially with Harrison. There’s stern advice from “grumpy George” (Think for Yourself) as well as the sweet, jangly sound of his 12-string Rickenbacker on the Byrds-influenced If I Needed Someone (he’s no longer saying “I need you,” but only “If…”). Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), written by John about an extramarital affair and played in the style of Dylan, was not only the first Beatles song on which George played sitar, it was the first rock record to do so, period. This song alone spawned “raga rock” and brought Hindustani classical music – particularly that of Ravi Shankar and his associates – to Western ears like never before. John had laid bare his feelings of despair earlier in the year on his song Help!, but few heard it as he meant it. With Nowhere Man listeners now understood there was complexity behind Lennon’s goofy, sometimes acerbic façade.

69 Years Ago Today … – The Kitty Packard Pictorial

I realize it’s silly to second guess what the Beatles did on their albums, but there are a couple of nicks in Rubber Soul’s vinyl in my view. It’s been written, and boasted about somewhat by McCartney, that they were a very democratic band, and to a great extent they were. Yet at times it was a bit to their detriment. While I wouldn’t have wanted anyone but Ringo as the drummer for the Beatles, looking at it today it seems rather misguided for them to designate a slot on their albums for a Ringo song. What Goes On, if only briefly, disrupts the vibe and flow of the album. Other than perhaps his White Album tracks, Ringo’s songs should’ve been B-sides only. And beginning with their next album it made even less sense as George was writing a lot more yet was still allotted only one or two tracks per record. Additionally, Run for Your Life has a regrettable set of lyrics despite being an otherwise fun track instrumentally speaking. Even John disavowed it later.

BEATLES - Ringo Starr in 1965 Stock Photo - Alamy

1965 was a transitional time all the way around for the Beatles and on Rubber Soul in particular, but not in a way to suggest anything was lacking. Almost everything they did, whether with their music or their group image and as individuals, had a major impact on popular culture. And if one is inclined to hear this album and Revolver as companion pieces as George Harrison did, it could be argued that it was their peak.


May 1970, Pt. 1 – A Tragedy, a Timeless Protest Song, and The Beatles’ Swan Song

Occasionally I’ll scroll through my notes concerning albums and other topics I’d like to write about, and one constant throughout 1970 is that – my opinion only, of course – until about November it was an up and down year with the occasional great album or single release, plenty of o.k. but not quite up to par albums by very good artists, and too much bad news. Sure, this could probably be said about any year, but for me 1970 was very much a yin-yang grab bag – more so than I earlier thought it to be – and May might be the epitome of that sentiment.

Yin and yang - Wikipedia

The immediate lead-up to May set the tone with the U.S. invasion of neutral Cambodia at the end of April. Whether one is hawkish or dovish, it had negative repercussions. From a military standpoint, who knows what would have been the ultimate result if they’d been allowed to continue their pursuit of the roughly 40k VC and North Vietnamese regulars whom they had discovered massing across the border from Vietnam? For those opposed to the war, well, what were we doing in Vietnam, let alone her neutral neighbor, in the first place? We know how it all turned out so I’m not going to write a term paper on the conflict. But the immediate impact in the U.S. of the Cambodian incursion was felt on the campus of Kent State University on May 4, where four students were shot dead and nine others wounded by members of the Ohio National Guard. The tragedy spawned arguably the most powerful protest song ever composed, and it was written very fast by Neil Young and recorded on May 21st by CSNY. Of course I’m referring to the single Ohio, b/w the anguish of Find the Cost of Freedom. It was released the following month, and it feels relevant even today.

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The Beatles – Let It Be (album and film)

On May 8 the Beatles released their swan song album, Let It Be, followed by the release five (U.S.) and twelve (U.K.) days later of the documentary film of the same title. Both releases have been picked apart and analyzed to death over the years by critics, fans, and the band itself, mainly Paul McCartney. Personally, I’ve loved the album probably since before I could speak. This is true of almost all of their records. I grew up listening the weirdness of Dig a Pony and Maggie Mae, not thinking twice about the Spectorization of songs like The Long and Winding Road, I Me Mine and the title track. And as I’ve grown to love the music of George Harrison, his contributions to the album make it that much more enjoyable to me now as I near the half-century point in my own life. From a purely musical standpoint, this album is joy to me. It’s a visceral thing that I can’t really explain, but I know that to varying degrees there are many, many other fans who know what I mean. Let It Be has its own distinctive feel, but it’s just as “Beatles” as Meet the Beatles and Revolver. Perhaps that’s a positive acknowledgement of Phil Spector’s controversial contribution, I don’t know. I do know that the original gets played more often than Let It Be…Naked in my home.

Phil Spector

As for the movie, it is what it is. It’s a dreary and bleak document of the greatest band of all time in the process of breaking up, but with a great soundtrack. The first time I watched it as a kid was in the late 1970’s, and I remember thinking “This is gonna get better, right?” Fast-forward 50 years, and we’re about to be offered a new and improved Let It Be documentary, currently scheduled for release September 4, titled The Beatles: Get Back, directed by Peter Jackson and compiled from 55 hours of unused footage from the sessions. Prior to writing this post I revisited an earlier post on the 50th anniversary of the rooftop concert in which I expressed enthusiasm for the then-recently announced Jackson project. We’d been assured that, while it will show the group in a more positive light than the original film, it won’t be revisionist history. I still assume that will be the case, but I must say I’m getting a bit of a skeptical feeling after reading some recent quotes by Paul, Ringo, and others about how rosy and warm the new film is after they viewed it for themselves. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what restoration magic Jackson has done with the footage, most of which presumably most of us have never seen. And if it’s on film then whatever moments of love and brotherhood are shown really did happen. And that’s good to know. (I’ve deleted an additional paragraph on this topic. I’ll save it until I’ve actually seen the damn thing.)

50 Years Ago: 'Let It Be' Movie Captures the Beatles' Final Days


Peter Jackson’s Beatles Documentary Gets a Release Date

How Peter Jackson’s new version of ‘Let It Be’ will shatter your view of The Beatles




January 30 – Beatles on the Roof

So, this happened 50 years ago today…




We’re also starting to get a good idea of what to expect with regard to the 50th anniversary of the Let it Be documentary. I actually find this to be exciting news, as it will shed a different light on the project. I don’t think it will be a revisionist light, as there’s no reversing the fact that the group was slowly dissolving while being filmed, but it will apparently illustrate that the Get Back sessions in January of 1969 as shown in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original film weren’t dreary and depressing all the time. There were 55 hours of unused film taken that month! I don’t care if Yoko’s in 99% of it – she was there a lot, after all. I just hope Billy Preston gets his due. And, fear not, we’ll also get the original film, restored in all its bleak glory.






January 13 – A Meanie of a Soundtrack

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine (soundtrack)

To anyone who may scoff at the notion that what the Beatles pulled off during their relatively short existence was anything less than miraculous, and that they were under constant pressure to produce more, more, and more, I offer the example of the sometimes unfairly disregarded soundtrack to the animated film, Yellow Submarine, released this day 50 years ago (January 17 in the UK).


The soundtrack contained four “new” songs, two previously released tracks (the title track had been around for almost three years), plus George Martin’s orchestral score on side two.  Its release was delayed so that it wouldn’t interfere with their double album release in November of ’68. The film and album were considered a contract obligation, hence the Beatles didn’t give it the full studio treatment after spending many contentious hours in the studio over the previous two years. Negative to ambivalent critical assessments of the album are a reflection of the group’s attitude toward the project. But is it really an album to be dismissed? Personally, I feel the four previously unreleased songs alone make it worthwhile.


George Harrison’s much-maligned Only a Northern Song had been rejected for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This turned out to be a good decision, as its replacement was the slightly less-disparaged Harrison track, Within You Without You (as fun as it can be to play the Beatles revisionist “what-if” game, I would never remove Within You Without You from Pepper!). As will surprise nobody who knows my music tastes, I love both of those songs. Yes, Only a Northern Song is cranky George complaining about his place on the group’s songwriting ladder, but it’s a trippy number with a cool organ and sound effects. It fit in well at the time it was recorded, but was already somewhat outdated (by late 60’s standards) by the time the soundtrack was released. McCartney’s All Together Now, written with old dance hall calls for a singalong in mind, may not have been his most creative songwriting effort, but again, look at the standard he had set for himself. Paul considered it a throwaway, but if ever one needs a peppy tune to get a jump-start out of a malaise, this is it.


George’s It’s All Too Much was inspired by the Summer of Love vibe, and is one of my favorite Beatles songs of all time. To me, it’s a perfect combination of grungy guitar, flower power, and a typically positive Beatles message. In my mind, the song’s psychedelic musical soul mate is the Byrds’ Eight Miles High. I only wish they were both ten-plus minutes long.* George’s song was originally eight minutes long but trimmed to a still lengthy for the era 6:25. Only a Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much were all recorded in early 1967. Only John’s Hey Bulldog, which he liked but said was about nothing, was recorded in 1968. Anyone want to remove this song from the Beatles canon? Not I.


It’s hard to get too worked up over contemporary critics’ dismissive attitudes toward this record since the Beatles themselves mostly mailed it in, though they were reportedly more enthusiastic about it after previewing the film. John was vocally opposed to the inclusion of George Martin’s orchestral score, but judging by Lennon’s lackluster participation on the Get Back sessions concurrently taking place at the time of this soundtrack’s release, I don’t know that he had much to offer that would’ve been an improvement in his mind. An EP was considered which would’ve included Across the Universe, but was ditched. With 1999’s reissue of the film came the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which includes all the Beatles songs used in the film and excludes Martin’s score. I never bothered to pick it up, I guess confirming I’m not the completist I once considered myself to be. Occasionally I let the soundtrack CD play out and find myself enjoying the orchestral tracks. Perhaps I should paint big black holes on my walls for a fuller effect.

*In later incarnations, the Byrds would stretch Eight Miles High into a nearly twenty minute jam session on stage, but Roger McGuinn would only sing the first verse for some reason. I digress.


Side One:

  1. Yellow Submarine
  2. Only a Northern Song
  3. All Together Now
  4. Hey Bulldog
  5. It’s All Too Much
  6. All You Need is Love

Side Two:

  1. Pepperland
  2. Sea of Time
  3. Sea of Holes
  4. Sea of Monsters
  5. March of the Meanies
  6. Pepperland Laid Waste
  7. Yellow Submarine in Pepperland


Album Review: The Beatles – Yellow Submarine [Remastered]

Memories of December 8, 1980



We’ve arrived once again at that sad anniversary for much of an entire generation, as well as for many music fans regardless of their age. This is not a date I have to look up or be reminded of. As far as sudden losses of individual well-known people go, this is the one of my life to this day, 38 years on. I was nine years old and in the fourth grade when John Lennon was murdered, and every year since then I experience a period of reflection about John and what his and the Beatles’ music means to me. It’s sad and celebratory at the same time. The odd thing about it to me is that the day of John’s death is on my mind more than his birthday, whereas with George Harrison I’m much more aware of his birthday. My only explanation is that it’s due to the shocking nature of John’s passing, which happened when I was at such a young age, yet a huge fan and highly impressionable already.


That fateful Monday evening, I watched the New England Patriots vs. the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. My bed time on Mondays in the fall was extended to halftime of the games, in this case still not late enough for me to hear the announcement made by Howard Cosell. That’s probably a good thing.

The next morning I shuffled into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal before walking a block to school. Still waking up, I heard a reference to Lennon or the Beatles coming from the 12 inch black and white TV on our kitchen counter. I looked over to see footage of the Beatles stepping off a plane in Tokyo in 1966 wearing kimonos.  It took a minute for what was being reported to sink in. Stunned, I walked to school. It’s so vivid in my mind. I recall a couple of other kids who had heard. I wondered what the teachers thought.  I remember feeling very alone all day at school.


Two of my biggest music influences growing up, my oft-mentioned older brothers, were away at college, which was an adjustment for me. Fortunately, Christmas break was upon us and they returned for a few weeks shortly after the murder so I had them around to process things. I understand if all this sounds strange for a little guy like I was at the time, but this is how it happened for me. I remember Paul and me walking to downtown Fulton over Christmas break. I begged him to buy me one of the many magazines with John on the cover from a drugstore. He did so, but on the walk back home he explained to me how many of these magazines were just making money off of John’s death – probably my first real-life lesson about the sometimes dark side of capitalism. I remember him playing the Shaved Fish compilation LP over and over those few weeks down in the basement.


It’s so surreal to think about to this day: John had just released his fantastic comeback album, Double Fantasy (yes, despite having to hear Yoko’s tracks, it’s still a great album – and I don’t even mind Yoko’s songs on it anymore). As I learned years later, serious plans for a concert tour had been made. It was going to happen, and who knows how things would’ve gone down the road with a rejuvenated Lennon. An actual Beatles reunion, perhaps? We’ll never know. One thing is certain: Every year since then, I’ve felt a wistfulness during the month of December, but there is a sweetness to it. It’s a month I really dive back into John’s solo work, as I’m doing today. Some years are a little heavier than others, but not a year goes by without it to some extent.


About fifteen years ago, Paul shared a real surprise with me. In December of 1980, he was a freshman in college in southwest Missouri. When he heard what had happened, he had the presence of mind in his dorm room to flip his stereo receiver to AM. On winter evenings in the Midwest, one can pick up radio stations from Chicago to Dallas, from Denver to New York City. He popped a blank cassette into his player, hit record, and started scrolling up and down the dial, where he found WABC in NYC coming in quite clearly at times, then fading out. They had a reporter on the scene at the Dakota and were playing Beatles music. He found other stations back east doing the same thing, all creepily fading in and out with their tributes. Down the line, he had converted that cassette to CD, and he gave me a copy which I usually end this date with.

In two years, John will have been gone as long as he was with us. If I’m still blogging then, I’ll probably have more to say.




November 22 – Thoughts on the White Album

The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album)

We’ve finally arrived at the Big Anniversary of the Beatles’ sprawling, self-titled 1968 double album.  It’s the first Beatles album to be covered in this unabashed fanboy’s blog which I started at the beginning of the year.  Many of us have already greedily consumed the 50th anniversary release of the album, complete with the Esher Demos, session goodies, the famous individual portraits and lyrics poster, and a hardcover book.  Some have already published nice reviews in the blogosphere and elsewhere.  Somehow today feels a bit anticlimactic, though I’ll probably give it a spin before stuffing my face with turkey later in the day.


It’s not that the anniversary hasn’t re-sparked my enthusiasm for the White Album, released this day in 1968.  It has.  It isn’t that I’m not thrilled with everything to do with the deluxe edition which I’ve been poring over these past couple of weeks.  I am.  But if you’ll excuse a bit of hyperbole, when I think about it, this entire year has been about the White Album as pertains to my perception of the Beatles, the music scene in general, and to some extent the year 1968 itself.

The Mad Day Out.  (Stephen Goldblatt photo)

Looking back over the first eleven months of my blog, this record looms throughout.  The seed is probably found as far back as August of 1967 with the death of Brian Epstein.  The Magical Mystery Tour project in the immediate aftermath of his passing may have been their first attempt to carry on managing themselves, but with the White Album we see the fissures within the group and their individual future directions in full light.  Many of these songs were written in February during the Rishikesh retreat, and most of the band’s activities the rest of the year from that trip-onward led to this album or were an offshoot of it.


We had the single, Lady Madonna/The Inner Light, released in March.  In May, the establishment of Apple Corps, Ltd. was announced.  This was to be the band’s business and musical apparatus, as well as a vehicle for them as individual artists – and isn’t that really what the White Album is, some group work but a lot of individual effort?  May was also the month sessions for the album began in earnest.  With the release of the stunning Hey Jude/Revolution single in August, they showed the world that the Beatles were still the Beatles despite the turmoil they always seemed to find themselves in.  Although those tracks were not included on the album, they are White Album session tracks.

The Mad Day Out.  (Don McCullin photo)

Group and individual burnout is evident on this album.  Even Ringo walked out during his well-documented “I thought it was YOU three?” moment.  John’s behavior became predictably unpredictable, and the sad state of affairs (no pun intended, but yeah) surrounding his marriage to Cynthia finally came to an end as he officially transitioned to Yoko.  They immediately created their first vinyl baby, Unfinished Music No. 1:  Two Virgins, under the Apple umbrella, and she would be a permanent fixture within the group dynamic from that point on.

Ringo’s personal copy of the White Album, edition numero uno, sold at auction in 2015 for $790,000.

George finally found his own creative outlet with Wonderwall Music (the inaugural release on the Apple label), the score to the Wonderwall movie which included Indian musicians who also performed on the Inner Light, as well as his buddy Eric Clapton, who participated on both the movie score and the White Album.  All of these factors – from India to Apple, from recording the demos at George’s house in Esher to the singles releases, from the “Mad Day Out” photo session in July to the individual side projects and contentious group studio sessions – all of them are woven into the double album we’re celebrating today, and all were played out over the course of the year leading up to its release.


Some random personal thoughts about the record:

  • In 2018, if there’s any one member of the band I associate with the album more than the others, it’s George.  I freely admit this is due in large part to Hari gradually becoming my “favorite” Beatle over the years.  The White Album was perhaps his final chance to exert serious influence on the direction the Beatles would take, both musically and spiritually.  His creative input could no longer be ignored by John and Paul if he was going to remain in the group long-term.  It may not have gone as he had hoped, but his spirit is everywhere in these songs, including the ones which didn’t make the final cut.  As he mentioned in interviews, he tried to enter the studio the following January for the Get Back sessions with a positive mindset, but it was too late.  The Beatles were, for all intents and purposes, done, despite there being two albums yet to record.  Amazingly to me, George was only 25 when the White Album was released.


  • As a child, even though I always loved most of its tracks, the White Album kind of creeped me out.  First, the “Paul is dead ‘clues'” in the grooves and album artwork were both fascinating and, to 9 or 10-year-old me, frightening.  My brother Paul would spin the vinyl backwards for me to hear voices supposedly saying “Paul is a dead man.  Miss him, miss him,” and “Turn me on, dead man.”  In that dimly lit basement I was glad not to be alone when listening.  To this day, Revolution 9 still gives me the heebie jeebies, and Good Night which follows sounds more funereal than lullaby because of it. Then there was the unfortunate, unintended  connection to the Manson murders. Even that shoddy collage of photos which makes up the poster insert was at best confusing to me.  But it’s So White Album, no?


  • Their individual appearances fascinated me, as they did many others.  Overnight they transformed from the psychedelic, flower power Sgt. Pepper look to their disheveled appearances of ’68.  John looked tired and bitter, and it wasn’t until my teen years that I understood why that was.


  • Yoko.  Yoko, Yoko, Yoko.  Yoko Ono…                                                                            Because I was born the year after the Beatles broke up, as a younger person I always accepted everything I saw, heard, and read as just part of the narrative of the group.  But wow, what an unforeseen shock her emergence in all their lives must have been!  Whether he’s simply taking the high road or being sincere, Paul made peace with Yoko in recent years as well as declared his perhaps overdue respect for John for making his stand with her.  I believe Paul is sincere.  It’s past time to remove those “I still blame Yoko” bumper stickers, folks.  There were plenty of other factors contributing to the split.


  • And lastly, as for the great debate about whether or not it should’ve been condensed down to a single LP, my answer is a resounding HELL NO!  It’s great just the way it is, but if anything could’ve improved it, it wouldn’t have been making it a single album or two separate releases (the White and Whiter Album as Ringo quipped in the Anthology).  In my mind, this could easily have been a triple album.  I think it’s a crime that George’s Sour Milk Sea wasn’t properly recorded and included (nothing against Jackie Lomax’s version).  The same goes for Not Guilty.  Sprinkle those tracks, plus Hey JudeRevolution, and Circles throughout Sides 1-5, and make Side 6 all about John and Yoko’s madness with What’s the New Mary Jane and Revolution 9, and presto!, The Grand and Mega-Blindingly White Album!  It was all free-form craziness anyway, and we’d be celebrating it the same as we are today.  That still would’ve left Lady Madonna/The Inner Light as the non-album single between Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album.

But I’ll defer to Sir Paul for the final word on the matter:


Side One:

  1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
  2. Dear Prudence
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  5. Wild Honey Pie
  6. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
  7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  8. Happiness is a Warm Gun

Side Two:

  1. Martha My Dear
  2. I’m So Tired
  3. Blackbird
  4. Piggies
  5. Rocky Raccoon
  6. Don’t Pass Me By
  7. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
  8. I Will
  9. Julia

Side Three:

  1. Birthday
  2. Yer Blues
  3. Mother Nature’s Son
  4. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)
  5. Sexie Sadie
  6. Helter Skelter
  7. Long, Long, Long

Side Four:

  1. Revolution 1
  2. Honey Pie
  3. Savoy Truffle
  4. Cry Baby Cry
  5. Revolution 9
  6. Good Night





My Album Rankings – Solo Beatles Top 25

I’ll wrap up my solo Beatles album rankings by putting it together in a tidy and very scientific Top 25 list.  My thoughts on each album can be found in my individual posts for George, Paul, John, and Ringo.  Other than my choice for #1, this is a rather absurd exercise to undertake, but what the hey.  It’s got me thinking of some mighty good albums I haven’t listened to in a while.  Just a reminder:  the only reason choices such as #’s 25 and 22 aren’t rated higher is because John and George, respectively, are featured on only half the album or less.

25.  Double Fantasy


24.  Ringo


23.  Wonderwall Music


22.  Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

21.  Brainwashed


20.  Dark Horse


19.  Tug of War


18.  Flaming Pie


17.  Shaved Fish


16.  Wings Over America


15.  Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard


14.  Thirty-Three and 1/3


13.  Imagine


12.  Red Rose Speedway


11.  Band on the Run


10.  George Harrison


9.  Cloud Nine


8.  Mind Games


7.  Back to the Egg


6.  McCartney


5.  Plastic Ono Band


4.  Living in the Material World


3.  Walls and Bridges


2.  Ram


1.  All Things Must Pass


Alright, now you can let me have it!


My Album Rankings – John Lennon

Criteria for this list and all my rankings going forward include but are not limited to:

  • May include “Best Of” compilations
  • May include albums produced by the artist, even if their playing or singing on the album is minimal
  • May include live albums
  • May include box sets
  • Number of albums listed may vary depending on catalog
  • I reserve the right to change my mind about the order down the line
  • In short, my silly subjective rankings, my silly subjective rules

Today I present my favorite John Lennon albums.  For the obvious reason, this list won’t be as long as my rankings of George Harrison or Paul McCartney albums, but a few of Lennon’s solo albums have been very important to me as a music fan.  As I write this, with a tinge of guilt I’m whittling my list down even further to maintain the spirit of my rankings, i.e., I’m listing albums I actually like, not just releases by important artists whom I like, no matter what.  With that in mind:

7.  Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)

I wasn’t familiar with this album until my teenage years.  I’d heard a couple of songs and liked them, but it took me a few years to realize why:  John sounds like he’s having fun.  A buddy in high school gave me the album on cassette as a gift, and I have it still.  Most of the tunes are covered in his box set, which is where I hear them most often.


6.  Double Fantasy (1980)

Ugh, so much wistfulness attached to this one.  I received the LP for my birthday a few months after his death and played it repeatedly.  Since it was vinyl, it meant I listened to Yoko’s songs as well, and to be honest I was able to listen to them without banging my nine-year-old skull into my bedroom wall each time.  I chuckle when I think about Yoko’s screaming orgasm at the end of Kiss Kiss Kiss blaring down the hallway into the kitchen after school where my mom could be found preparing dinner.  I had no clue – all of Yoko’s screaming sounded the same to my innocent ears – and luckily Mom was pretty good at tuning out noise when she wanted to.

After the advent of CD’s, I began programming her songs out of it whenever I wanted to listen to John’s.  But a couple of months ago I played the whole thing for my wife so she could hear for herself what I’d been trying to describe.  A funny thing happened when I did:  the new wave influence on Yoko’s songs – mainly the oft-mentioned B-52’s – jumped out of the speakers at us.  Her tunes on this record are not something I would choose to listen to very often, but they aren’t, um, that bad(?)  John sounds refreshed and all his songs are very good, and if they had been combined with his songs which appeared on the posthumous Milk and Honey (’84) as a stand alone record without the missus it would’ve vied for #1 in this ranking order.


5.  Shaved Fish (1975)

Shaved Fish rates this highly despite being a compilation due to the fact that almost half of it consists of tracks that were previously only released as singles, including Cold Turkey, Instant Karma!, and Power to the People.  It was also the mournful soundtrack to Christmas break a few weeks after John’s murder when my brother was home from college and played it a handful of times.


4.  Imagine (1971)

Imagine is another good album of John’s in the early aftermath of the Beatles.  Though I’ve known the song Imagine my whole life, I got into the entire LP in high school in the late 80’s, and it’s held up for me quite well.  He mixes songs of love for Yoko with songs of anger for pretty much everything else, including Nixon, Vietnam, and of course Paul.  Favorites of mine include Crippled Inside, Jealous Guy (re-worked from the White Album-era Child of Nature), I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, Give Me Some Truth, and the title track.  I don’t say this as a sycophantic defense of Paul, but I do feel John embarrassed himself with the ultra-petty How Do You Sleep?


3.  Mind Games (1973)

Any of my final three Lennon albums could be #1, and Mind Games is another example of critics being just as full of themselves as the artists they lambast.  Jon Landau in Rolling Stone called it Lennon’s “worst writing yet,” and that Lennon was “helplessly trying to impose his own gargantuan ego upon an audience … [that] is waiting hopefully for him to chart a new course.”  I have to remind myself that much of the harsh criticism for the Beatles as solo artists was due to the then relatively recent demise of the group, and people expected each of them to be as individually good as the sum of their parts, which was never going to happen.  But there’s not a song on this album that I don’t like.


2.  Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Perfectly underproduced, stark, raw, scab-peeling, and primal (as in primal scream) – that’s how I think of Lennon’s first post-Beatles album.  As a result of the primal scream therapy he was undergoing, John unleashed 30 years of verbal payback to society in general and lament for personal losses.  It’s not an easy listen, but man is it good.  Even critics agree.


1.  Walls and Bridges (1974)

Walls and Bridges was recorded at the tail end of Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” of debauchery in L.A., exiled there by Yoko and accompanied by their assistant (and for 18 months John’s keeper and concubine) May Pang.  He recorded this album when they returned to New York, but before he moved back home with Yoko.

It’s sort of odd to celebrate somebody around the anniversary of their death, but that’s how it’s worked out for me with John, as opposed to George whose birthday I think of more.  I usually listen to John’s music – especially my top three – in December and January, Walls and Bridges possibly more than the rest.  Whatever Gets You Through the Night – his duet with Elton – is a great track, Steel and Glass a shot at Allen Klein (a few years too late?), and #9 Dream is one of my all-time favorite Lennon songs.


I feel obligated to explain the omissions from my Lennon rankings.  I find Live Peace in Toronto 1969 and Live in New York City to be dreadful.  On the Toronto album, Lennon sounds every bit as wasted and unrehearsed as he actually was, and Yoko is unlistenable.  It’s a shame, because he had a good band with Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White, but they rehearsed only twice:  once on the plane from London to Toronto and once right before the show.  Clapton didn’t even know about the show until the day before – from across the ocean and while he was in his own haze at the time.  A few day’s worth of practice would’ve done wonders.

On NYC, John is visibly nervous on the video, chomping on gum the whole time, and he forgot some lyrics.  Furthermore, Jim Keltner is the only other established musician on stage with John.  The others are Yoko and a street band called Elephant’s Memory.  And those stupid hard hats!  As for 1972’s Some Time in New York City, I’ve honestly never listened to it and I have little interest.  A few of John’s decent songs from the set are on his box set which I own, and that’s enough for me.  And with Milk and Honey, his tracks are also on the box set in different versions, which are all very good, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to that album.


1.  Ringo Starr – Ringo (1973)

I promise I’m not just throwing Ringo a bone here.  I really like this album, especially with the inclusion of It Don’t Come Easy, Early 1970, and Down and Out as bonus tracks on the 1991 reissue.  Its quality is due to the participation of his three former band mates throughout, though not on the same songs.  In fact, it’s a great roster of musicians on the record that also includes Marc Bolan, Robbie Robertson, Steve Cropper, Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, Garth Hudson, Klaus Voormann, Tom Scott, Bobby Keys, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, David Bromberg, Harry Nilsson, Martha Reeves, Merry Clayton, and oh look, there’s Jim Keltner again!