By Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2017. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
JOHN LENNON PLASTIC ONO BAND – December 11, 1970
John and Yoko made complementary debut solo albums in 1970. The album covers were similar (John leaning on Yoko / Yoko leaning on John beneath an oak tree at their home Tittenhurst Park in Ascot. The photos were taken by their friend and assistant Dan Richter.
The albums were called John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band. The first intention was to title John’s album Primal, and Yoko’s album Scream, as the couple had just undergone Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy. In Japan, John’s debut post-Beatles solo album was titled ジョンの魂 (John no Tamashii), John’s Soul and Yoko’s was called Yoko’s Heart.
The Apple Records label on both albums bear a white apple rather than the usual green. Album credits on John’s record include Wind: Yoko Ono.
Yoko: “Whenever I noticed something, he used to say just whisper to me, so there was a lot of whispering going on.
John: “She played the atmosphere. She has a musical ear and she can produce rock n’ roll. She can produce me, which she did for some of the tracks…”
– Yoko & John, Classic Albums: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band TV documentary 2008
“I think that my mom brought my father to that place of pure, visceral expression. My mom was avant-garde and he was pop. She also gave that connection to a pure expression. Some of the ways my mom sings is almost like a baby crying. My father was very influenced by that and you can hear it in songs like ‘Mother’ on John Lennon Plastic Ono Band. He screams at the end. That was my mother’s influence.
That was their new chapter, the new chapter of John and Yoko.”
Sean Ono Lennon – Nero magazine, 2016
The opening track, ‘Mother’ finds John screaming for his mom, who gave him to his aunt to raise. (His mom Julia was suddenly struck down by a car when John was seventeen). It starts with the tolling of a funeral bell. John was also tormented by the absence of his father, whom he sings about in the second verse.
“ I think Janov was a daddy for John. I think he has this father complex and he’s always searching for a daddy.”
– Yoko, To David Sheff, Playboy – December 7, 1980
So much has already been said about this masterpiece on which John bares his soul. John’s first post-Beatles solo album released in 1970 demystifies and ends the mythology of his life, which completely changed from this moment on. Sean sums it up beautifully, as he speaks about his father’s song ‘God’.
Sean Ono Lennon:
“Honestly, I like that (opening) line because it’s enigmatic – I feel like I’m forever thinking about it. It’s not easily reduceable. It doesn’t have any kind of finality to it, which is why he manages to address the existence or non-existence of God or religion specifically…
I admire the song because he manages to get away with calling a song ‘God’, and it being heavy and beautiful. I don’t think most people couldn’t get away with that. Obviously there are songs about God that are gospel/Christian rock… Obviously he wasn’t religious. He was born C of E (Church of England). I wouldn’t say he was an atheist either. He had a very spiritual life. He famously was always searching for something, right? He believed in cosmic things. My mom and dad both, they were always sort of looking into astrology and all that stuff (which I’m a little cynical about). But still, they were open to things…
I don’t think it was an attack on religion. I think arguably, it’s not even really a song about god. The body of the song is not necessarily about god. (The opening line) is sort of like an introduction, like an overture for this confession – he’s about to make a confession that’s some kinda breakthrough he’s having emotionally, about what matters to him, and the (opening line ) “God is a concept” line is a sort of intro or overture setting the stage for something that’s special. That’s not just a regular song. Saying This is not a pop song. It’s a moment that I’m gonna get into in a minute… Here we go… And then he just lists all these things that he doesn’t believe in. I don’t think he’s insulting or belittling any of those things. He’s trying to say that the moment that he is in at that moment, being in love with my mother – that feeling of the truth of it – of love, of pure love is the only thing that matters ultimately.
That all those other things are concepts. All those other things are in the past. All those other things are not the bare essence of what it means to be alive – a man and woman in love together. There’s something so beautiful and sacred about that. That it does transcend all that other stuff.
However, I think a lot of people interpreted it as a F-you to the past, or Zimmerman or the Beatles or whatever. I don’t think it was that at all. It’s too heartfelt for me to take it that way… It’s filled with too much love and real vibes to be snarky or negative. It’s not a negative song in any way. It think it’s just sort of placing the whole world and everything in it, and all his memories and ideas and religion and god over there, but here is Yoko and me. It’s just making that distinction. This is reality. I’m in love…
It’s a song like no other. it really epitomizes this album. It has a direct line to his heart, his soul. It bypasses your brain and cuts straight to your gut. It’s so unconventional in structure – it’s really representative of how radical the shift was at this moment. The Beatles were ending, John and Yoko were starting. He was changing his relationships, he was eventually going to go to New York… It was a big cosmic moment for him. To me it’s always been more than a song because doesn’t even have a verse/chorus structure. It’s got this bizarre declaration at the beginning and a sort a confession – a list of all these things that he feels like are relatively meaningless compared to love. which maybe he’d said in other ways before but I find this song to be very unique. There’s no song like it that I can think of anywhere else from anywhere else. And there’s no song like it from him.”
– Sean Ono Lennon, to Strombo – October 9, 2020
We can hear how heavily Billy Preston was influenced by ‘Love Letters,’ a gorgeous tune sung by Ketty Lester (Revoyda Frierson) from Arkansas, released in 1962. The sparse gospel piano arrangement (played by Lincoln Mayorga) and the lilting time signature are replicated by Billy on ‘God.’
‘Love Letters’ is played at the end of the 2013 documentary about The Beatles’ Fan Club secretary, Freda Kelly, titled Good Ol’ Freda. It also appears in the 1987 David Lynch film Blue Velvet. The songwriters are: Wayne Hector / Peter Lord / Peter Moreland / Vernon Smith / V Jeffrey Smith / Alistair Tennant. The classical pianist Lincoln Mayorga who turned this record into a masterpiece, was also a session musician / arranger who worked with Gloria Jones on her version of ‘Tainted Love’, Frank Zappa, Sam Cooke, and Barbra Streisand, and many others.
Listen to this masterpiece!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b00bRYZSRew
Phil Spector had been booked as the producer on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band recording sessions, but most songs were recorded, and mixed by John in the evenings without Phil being present in the London studio.In October 3, 1970, while sessions were underway, John published this hilarious, simple full-page advertisement in the major trade publications of the day; Billboard, Cash Box and Record World magazines –
PHIL! JOHN IS READY THIS WEEKEND.
However, we do know that Phil played piano on the song ‘Love’.
“I remember when we did Plastic Ono Band, and I had to do the piano solo on “Love.” John would say, “You don’t like being on the other side of the goddamn, fookin’ glass, do ya?” And it was true. I made a million mistakes, it took 20 takes. And I had it down, I knew it perfectly. I memorized it. But as soon as I went behind the glass, and John and Yoko were [in the control room], I started hitting wrong notes. He said, “Now, you know what it’s like to be an artist.” You have to perform.”
– Phil Spector to Anthony DeCurtis 2011
Spector also related strongly to the album, having lost his father (a suicide) when he was very young. He and especially identified with the song ‘Isolation’. Phil also told Anthony DeCurtis in 2011…
“ That album was not only his life and Yoko’s, it was mine. “Isolation” – I still live that way. It still tears me up every time – “We’re afraid of everyone/Afraid of the sun/Isolation.” That tore me to pieces…
“It was a psychoanalysis. It was an analyst’s view of what John was going through. I identified so much with the album, I couldn’t help but get absorbed in it.”
Ringo on the Plastic Ono Band sessions :
” One of the best experiences of being on a record I have ever had. Just being in the room with john, being honest, the way he was, screaming, shouting and singing. It was an incredible moment.”
“I have no real memory of Phil producing this record at all. I remember he came in later, but I never felt Phil was like, oh he produced this record. Really, the engineer took down what we did and John would mix it.”
– Ringo Starr, John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band album documentary
Listen to Lou Reed’s cover version of ‘Mother’ live in Paris, 2011.
I love the cymbal crashes in the beginning instead of the tolling bell chimes on John’s album.
Check out my Yoko Ono biography:
In Your Mind – The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono
by Madeline Bocaro
A complete look at Yoko Ono’s life, art and music, in astounding detail.
For anyone who is a fan of John Lennon (or the Beatles) who would like to know more about the extraordinary woman whom he loved.
Includes the love story of John and Yoko, and all the work they did together.
See the reviews and more info on the website:
The book is now on two Best Music Books of 2022 lists!
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