JOHN LENNON – MIND GAMES
By Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2020. 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.
Yes is the answer and you know that for sure
Yes is surrender
You gotta let it go…
John Lennon released his first three solo albums within eighteen months; John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970), Imagine (1971) and Some Time In New York City (1972).
His first album was completely raw, brutally honest and gut wrenching. His second, Imagine had rock tunes and others that veered from delicately beautiful to scathing. His third was intensely political, with journalistic lyrics about controversial current events – unintentionally alerting the FBI to his shenanigans and political protests (John and Yoko were chumming and slumming around the West Village with hippies and yippies; David Peel, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin). This began years of hassles, as the Lennons were under surveillance and fighting deportation charges, taking time away from John’s songwriting.
John was distraught after Nixon won the presidential election in 1972, despite all of his efforts and rallies supporting McGovern. This led to him a drunken sexual encounter at a gathering where Yoko was present – which eventually (after the recording of Mind Games) caused her to send him away from their home in New York to Los Angeles where he descended into alcohol, madness and despair.
John recorded Mind Games (his fourth solo album) from July through August 1973 at Record Plant in New York City.
John and Yoko had just moved uptown, into The Dakota apartment building across from Central Park West. Yoko was working on her own album Feeling The Space. John borrowed most of her session musicians (David Spinozza on guitar, Ken Ascher on keyboards and drummer Jim Keltner) who had been assembled for Yoko by engineer Roy Cicala who owned Record plant at the time. John named them the Plastic U.F.Ono Band.
In June 1972, a book called Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston (authors of another book, about psychedelic experience) was published. It was an instruction book, with the tag-line “Mind Games is a yoga for the West,” promoting self-exploration and regulation of human consciousness through mental exercise. The theme was that “Anyone can play.” And that humans have sufficient power to deal with our problems.
John produced his album Mind Games on his own. He even designed the artwork, portraying Yoko as his destiny. Yoko’s sideways profile forms a mountain in the horizon – with a sun and moon on the front cover, and a rainbow on the back cover. John stands alone in a field. He’s holding a bag – as if he’s going away from the mountain. A strange premonition. His image framed closer on the back cover. The Japanese chop bearing his name in red ink is stamped in the lower right corner.
John reflected upon the album in his only filmed interview of 1980…
“Then, I was in confusion. I knew I was confused alright, because every time I tried to clear it, it wasn’t coming out clear. It was like, re-write, re-write, re-write…
I never dreamt of waiting (to record another album) – It’s like being on-stage and thinking, well it’s not a good night, I’d better stop. You know, you can’t do that. You just do it anyway.
The ‘Mind Games’ single is fine – there’s just no energy to sustain the album –there was no clarity of vision. There’s a few pieces alright, but as a whole piece there’s no clarity
And the guy is there on the front with a little bag, and she’s the mountain… the cover says more than the record to me.”
Mind Games was released on October 29, 1973 in the USA, and on November 16 in the UK. This time John largely avoided the subject of politics. The album is mostly a love letter to Yoko. His lyrics, Yes is the answer reflect the tiny message that Yoko conveyed in the first artwork of hers that he ever saw when they first met. When John climbed Yoko’s white ladder and looked through the magnifying glass at her Ceiling Painting, he was inspired to find the word, “Yes.”
The title track had been evolving since 1970 and was considered for the Imagine album. ‘Mind Games’, with a lilting reggae beat, had been titled ‘Make Love Not War’ – a line which John kept in the lyrics. It was the only single from the album.
“1973 – it’s another transitional time. My mom and dad were not getting along as well as they had. Famously, immigration was after them and all sorts of weirdness was about to take place. By Walls and Bridges they separated temporarily, and mom famously selected a woman named May Pang for an affair for 18 months – the lost weekend – he became an alcoholic for awhile… This was leading towards that period. But he hadn’t lost the plot. It’s an incredible record Mind Games was a great record. One of the highest peaks for sure of the mountain range of John Lennon solo music. think this would be one of the highest peaks.
It’s such a beautiful song. It’s so interesting in how repetitive it is. He played the slide the guitar line that goes throughout the song. It isn’t even doubled by strings, I realize now. It just sounds like strings sometimes. It’s an interesting song structurally. He was famous for doing descending bass lines… but this is in a way that feels more like a mantra -because it’s looping like a looping – it feels almost like a Mobius strip. The end leads back to the beginning in this cyclical way… like a mind game. It feels hypnotic but it also doesn’t feel monotonous It feels like you’re just walking into a room that has incredible architecture that’s succinct and fits itself perfectly. Every little part is placed in the right place and every little piece fits perfectly. The lyric, the bass line the slide guitar – they’re all like little puzzle pieces fitting that make this simple picture – but simple is the wrong word because it’s really quite sophisticated. So I can’t think of another song like this. How simple the melody is. It’s arguably mostly one-note composition. Imagine has a similar descending bass line thing, but in the B section only. This entire song is this descending bass line forever. It feels like you’re falling and floating at the same time.
Yes is the answer” is very Yoko (meeting at Indica gallery). That’s basically a nod to my mom…”
– Sean Ono Lennon, Strombo – October 2020
Yes is the answer and you know that for sure
Yes is surrender
You gotta let it
You gotta let it go…
The second song, ‘Tight A$’ is a country style/rockabilly send-up – lots of fun!
There are several love songs to Yoko on Mind Games – the title is inspired by her conceptual art. These are amongst his most beautiful ballads of all time. On the bluesy ‘Aisumasen’ John is saying, “I’m sorry” in Japanese. Spinozza’s guitar work on this is stellar. There is a stunning rough mix with a double-tracked steel guitar overdub (linked below*)! The lyrics apologize for John’s election night infidelity, and he invokes Yoko’s name as a mantra.
All I had to do was call your name
All I had to do was call your name
And when I hurt you and cause you pain
Darlin I promise I won’t do it again
Aisumasen, aisumasen Yoko
It’s hard enough I know just to feel your own pain
It’s hard enough I know to feel, feel your own pain
All that I know is just what you tell me
All that I know is just what you show me…
‘One Day (At A Time)’ features Michael Brecker on sax. The theme of the song is John’s spiritual connection with Yoko, no matter how far apart they may be.
You are my weakness, you are my strength
Nothing I have in the world makes better sense
‘Cause I’m a fish and you’re the sea
When we’re together or when we’re apart
There’s never a space in between the beat of our hearts
‘Cause I’m the apple and you’re the tree
The gorgeous ‘Out The Blue’ is heavenly with an angelic choir and lyrics that express John’s intense love for his wife.
Every day, I thank the Lord and Lady
For the way that you came to me
Anyway it had to be two minds
All my life has been a long slow knife
I was born just to get to you
Anyway I survived long enough to make you my wife…
“Obviously, I learned all about rock and pop from John. He also had very astute observations about people – on a very realistic level – that I didn’t have. He was working class, you know? I was always sort of up in the air, thinking about this and that… So we checked each other out that way. It was very good. Surrealism is very natural for me. It’s easier for me to describe my emotions in a surrealistic way, a symbolic way. But here was this guy who was very straightforward. If I was beating ‘round the bush, trying to say things with symbolism he’d say, “What do you really mean?” “Well, ‘I love you’” “Well, okay!” He had a very straight side. You know how you can sometimes read a surrealistic poem and not know what they’re talking about? It’s just word-weaving. Or mind-weaving. You think, “Oh well. It seems very beautiful, but what’s the point?” I would have headed toward that, maybe. Little tea parties, classical music and a velvet dressing room. I might have been a nice old middle-class spinster. Instead, John gave me back the body. He woke me up from my mind game. That was very healthy for me.”
– Yoko, Record Magazine, December 1984
‘Only People’ is the rallying cry on Mind Games. Like most of John’s lyrics, his steadfast message of unity and power is still relevant today.
Only people know just how to talk to people
Only people know just how to change the world
Only people realize the power of people
Well, a million heads are better than one
So come on, get it on
Well I know how we tried
The millions of tears that we cried
Now we are hipper, we been through the trip
And we can’t be denied with woman and man side by side
Make no mistake it’s our future we’re making
Bake the cake and eat it too
We don’t want no big brother scene
‘I Know (I Know)’ is another ode to Yoko, whom John considered to be his spiritual guide and teacher who opened his eyes.
I know what I was missing
But now my eyes can see
I put myself in your place
As you did for me
Today I love you more than yesterday
Right now I love you more right now…
John was amazed that the love of his life was born three thousand miles away from his childhood home in Liverpool. He was fascinated by Japan – the land of Yoko’s birth – and proud of the fact that his relationship with her was a beautiful example of East meets West. The lyrics to John’s song ‘You Are Here’ exemplify this…
From Liverpool to Tokyo
What a way to go
From distant lands one woman one man
Let the four winds blow…
The song was written in 1968. The musical theme is later repeated in ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ – John’s song to his son Sean on Double Fantasy (1980). The title refers to John’s summer 1968 art exhibition dedicated to Yoko prior to their marriage (You Are Here – To Yoko from John, with love) at London’s Robert Fraser Gallery. ‘You Are Here’ was hand-written in very small letters on a large white circular canvas at the gallery entrance.
Read my story all about the You Are Here exhibition:
East is east and west is west
The twain shall meet
East is west and west is east
Let it be complete
John’s song was based on the merging of East and West (Tokyo and Liverpool / Yoko and John) and on the popular Rudyard Kipling adage “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” However, few people realize that in the second half of the poem, unity is achieved through strength – and ‘there is neither East nor West.’
But there is neither East nor West
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
Tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!
In another verse, John compares the temples of Japan to the village greens of England.
From mystical to magical
What a way to fly
From temple scenes to village greens
Let in the light*
Love has opened up my eyes
Love has blown right through
Wherever you are, you are here
* The extra verse only appears on the 1998 John Lennon Anthology CD box set.
On April 1, 1973 (April Fool’s Day) John & Yoko announced the birth of Nutopia, a conceptual country. The name was inspired by Thomas Moore’s book Utopia published in 1516, which translated from modern Latin means ‘no place’. Nutopia also had no place – symbolized by a white flag of surrender.
‘Nutopian International Anthem’ which consists of total silence, quite possibly samples “4:33” by John Cage (1952)! This is the second usage of silence as music by John and Yoko. ‘Two Minutes Silence’ appears on Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions. This was a eulogy for their baby, John Ono Lennon II whom Yoko had miscarried at the time. The Declaration of Nutopia as well as the Nutopian National Embassy address are printed on the inner sleeve.
‘Meat City’ (originally formed as ‘Shoeshine’) is another oddly appealing rocker. The sped- up snippets of backwards vocals say, ‘Check the album’ (on the single) and ‘Fuck a pig’ (on the album) – uttered by engineer Roy Cicala.
A bit of politics, this time with humor crept in on ‘Bring On The Lucie (Freeda Peeple)’.
The critics were not impressed, although Mind Games reached No. 13 in Britain and No. 9 in the USA.
The government’s harassment and the harshness of American critics regarding John’s albums, and their insensitive treatment of Yoko left John in despair. Experiencing just as many hassles in America (the land of his dreams) as he had in the U.K. was a tremendous shock. Due to the immense pressure from all of this, shortly after the recording of Mind Games Yoko suggested a trial separation. She sent John to Los Angeles with a minder (their assistant May Pang, who also became his lover). This began his 18-month ‘Lost Weekend’.
In spite of his suffering the slings and arrows of hangers-on and the media, John managed to write yet another beautiful and honest album which was less severe than his first three solo records. Including Mind Games, his four solo albums to date painted a true portrait of his soul.
P.S.: John and Yoko were back together a year after the release of Mind Games.
As John said, ‘The separation didn’t work out.’
Some tracks from Mind Games have been remastered with incredible ultimate mixes on the new 2020 box set Gimme Some Truth, released in October 2020 – marking the 80th anniversary of John’s birth, and the 40th anniversary of his death.
Mind Games Alternate Version
*3rd song – ‘Aisumasen’ Rough Mix with Steel Guitar Overdub
@ 8:30 – 13:12
I hope that everyone will enjoy my new Yoko Ono biography
In Your Mind – The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono –
An all-embracing look at Yoko Ono’s life, music, films and art – in stunning detail, including John and Yoko’s incredible love story.
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This book is also 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. This unauthorized account of Yoko’s life and work also explores her eternal partnership with John Lennon and all the work they did together. Their work towards peace includes all of us.
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