Thursday, October 9, 2014

22 Plastic Ono Band (1970) John Lennon

1. Mother
2. Hold On
3. I Found Out
4. Working Class Hero
5. Isolation
6. Remember
7. Love
8. Well Well Well
9. Look at Me
10. God
11. My Mummy's Dead

If this list has a lone King, it's probably John Lennon. With ten entries by The Beatles and two of his solo albums included, he can claim full or partial credit for 12 albums which is an impressive achievement. He's on 6% of this countdown which means he had a hand in 3/50ths of the greatest albums ever made.

I love every single one of the Beatles albums on this list. There is not a single release by the Fab Four that I don't adore utterly. But to be honest I have barely a passing interest in John's solo work. Despite the fact that the four Beatles were effectively operating as solo artists towards the end of their career, I still love their individual contributions to the late era Beatles albums but care little for anything they did a few months after they announced they'd broken up.

I've always wondered why this should be the case, but sitting down to listen to this album with an open mind has provided me with an answer of sorts which I believe is correct: I don't really like John when he's being earnest.

The Beatles were basically fun. They're a fun band and a bunch of guys who made a lot of really great music. It's not all lightweight nonsense but there's a general sense of joie de vivre if you'll pardon my French. Even when they were having a truly miserable and wretched time (The Let It Be sessions most notably) there is still a sense of genuine playfulness that comes through their music. John's neuroses and insecurities came through from time to time but even when they did they were often fun. Help is a genuine cry of Help, at least lyrically. It's written by a guy who was genuinely feeling down and genuinely needed some help. But because it's the Beatles it's been converted into a rollicking and fun tune which will give a lift to anyone listening. Be honest can you name another song which has the lyrics "Help me if you can I'm feeling down" but is such a hoot to put on the stereo?

But when he left the Beatles, John left fun behind him and filled the void with a sense of earnestness and seriousness. He was no longer part of the best group around, he was an important artist in his own right who wanted the sort of respect that Bob Dylan earned. He wanted to save the world and lay his soul bare. And he became kind of boring as a result.

Working Class Hero is Lennon at his most earnest. It has the sort of lyrics that might sound deep when sung but on reflection are just rhyming words ("As soon as you're born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all") and has a gratuitous use of the word "Fuck" which is Lennon telling us that he's serious now. There's no fuck in a Beatles song, he's all grown up now and he's into protest songs and proper swearing and everything. It's self important and not at all fun and a bit dull as a result. Forgive me, but if it's a choice between hearing Dylan or Lennon trying to be Dylan I'd take the original every time.

Part of my problem with Lennon post Beatles also stems from the fact that I don't really buy into the idea of Lennon as seer, mystic and spokesman for his generation. I don't hold him up as a hero and someone to idolise. I think he was a troubled guy at best and a bit of a bastard at worst. I've read too much about his treatment of his first wife, his troubled relations with his band, his earlier attitude to women and his youthful hijinks to think of him as anything other than a deeply flawed human. He wasn't really a pleasant guy and there's something about having him preach (and Plastic Ono Band is very preachy) that rankles somewhat. I'm not saying I'll only listen to messages delivered by people who pass high standards of morality that I can't even match myself, but it's a bit much having someone tell me about working class heroes when they own a hand painted Rolls Royce and have a cocaine habit.

Plastic Ono Band is partly about John's pain but I just don't feel it with him. His obsession with his long lost mother comes up often which isn't something I can relate to but John doesn't help me out at all. I should feel sorry for anyone who lost their mother at a young age but John does seem to be indulging in it somewhat. Mother deals with his loss which is fine but did we really need My Mummy's dead to come along at the end? Isn't it all getting a bit self-indulgent now? Time to stop surely?

Even the love songs on this album cause me problems because unlike most love songs, which are directed towards an anonymous entity that I don't know or have any opinion of, all of John's romantic statements are directed at Yoko who I've always thought was a bit of a dick. I know it's popular to think Yoko is really a misunderstood genius but even those who love her music would have to acknowledge that she's a bit of a prat and kind of annoying. I'm not a huge fan of Joni Mitchell as a person but listening to Graham Nash sing Our House about her is a beautiful thing and somehow more special knowing who he's singing about. Every love song Lennon wrote about Yoko has precisely the opposite effect on me and it doesn't help that he quite deliberately aims it all directly at her and namechecks her whenever he can, making it impossible to distance yourself from the subject.

I'm only glad I discovered The Beatles and their solo careers many years after they broke up. Part of me is jealous of people who got to wait for each new Beatles release with an eager sense of anticipation. It must have been wonderful to rush out and purchase a new Beatles LP on the release date and dedicate time to hearing it for the first time and discussing with others who are enjoying the same experiences. I'd have loved to have been a part of that but I would have had to endure the succession of crushing disappointments that each subsequent solo album represented. Every time I heard one of the Fab Four being less than a quarter of the brilliance they were when together, a part of me would have died inside. Encountering their work long after the event saves me the disappointment.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "When I was 12 years old, I was playing in a field near my house and I found an 8-track tape of Plastic Ono Band. It was under a rock. My young mind was reeling, "What's a Plastic Ono and why is it under a rock?" Exitedly I took my lucky find home, anxious to discover what was on the tape. Being only 12, I thought that since it was a tape there must be music on it. Boy was I surprised! I returned to the field bright and early the next morning to put the tape back under the rock. That was 30 years ago, it's probably still there. I learned an important lesson that day about not second-guessing the judgment of others and I vowed never to tamper with the underside of rocks ever again."

-Cool story. Thanks for sharing.

So do you love this or wish it would stay in isolation? Let me know below.

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