Category Archives: Beatles

John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions (1969)

life with the lions album coverKronomyth 0.6: LIFE WITH THE LAYABOUTS. The opening moments of “Cambridge 1969,” featuring Yoko’s piercing wails and John’s atonal guitar feedback, set the stage for Life With The Lion’s calculatedly confrontational tone. Two Virgins was easily dismissed as folk art, a single concept (What is music?) not so much explored as stretched out in an interminable question. By contrast, Yoko and John actually sculpt their sonic clay to achieve a desired end here. “Cambridge 1969” is a precursor to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (it’s also mercifully shorter), a duet of pain from singer and guitarist that is harrowing in the extreme. Although this is a live recording, and it’s unlikely the pair was working from sheet music, it’s clear that they went into this performance with a good idea of the type of sounds they were going to make. “No Bed for Beatle John” is an Oriental plainchant, with Yoko singing about an incident during her miscarriage (the hospital’s refusal to give John a bed as he stayed with his wife) that somehow matter-of-factly becomes a discussion of Apple litigation and the infamous Two Virgins cover, while John sings counterpoint softly in the background about his upcoming divorce to Cynthia and other matters. It’s an interesting look at two minds on different planes, with a form that again suggests premeditation on the pair’s part. That’s followed by “Baby’s Heartbeat,” a recording of Yoko’s fetus that sounds remarkably alien, succeeded by two minutes of silence to represent the baby’s passing from this world. It may not be music, but it is art that makes a powerful statement. Yoko takes the controls (literally) for “Radio Play,” as she coaxes short bursts of sound from the radio by flipping the dial quickly (background conversation is also heard). This is the closest cut to Two Virgins, though the idea of using the radio as an instrument is very clever (predating everything from record “scratching” to the electronic experimentalists of the ‘70s and ‘80s). Of the three experimental albums that John and Yoko made, Life With The Lions is probably the most deserving of serious study. The Rykodisc reissue includes two bonus tracks: “Song for John” (think of it as Yoko’s take on Lennon’s “Julia”) and “Mulberry,” a nine-minute piece that features Yoko’s interpretive vocal wails and John’s guitar tunings (a la “Wild Honey Pie”). Although it’s not for everyone, this album does compare favorably to the work of modern composers like John Cage and George Crumb.

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John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Wedding Album (1969)

wedding album coverBootlegs from the bedbugs at the Amsterdam hotel. The first “song” (you’ll understand why it’s in quotes later) features John calling Yoko’s name and Yoko calling John’s name and that’s it. The tone and intent change, from coo to cajole to command (koo koo kajoob), but at no point could this be considered music. In fact, I only made it about ten minutes into the track before turning it off. It’s that awful. The second side of music, entitled “Amsterdam,” begins with Yoko and John singing (okay, that word should have quotes around it too) about peace. Actually, just the word Peace. Then it segues into the interviews during the Bed-In at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam, with John and Yoko talking about peace and war. Listen to Yoko extemporize on war, and you’ll pray for her to sing. Not that John comes off any brighter, but at least English is his native tongue. Of the three experimental albums the pair recorded, this is the worst. So what did I do but by the digital remaster! Yes, I am an idiot. Not only do you not need to hear the digital remasters of this album, you don’t need to hear this album period. There must be interview discs out there with more to offer. The only snippet of music comes at the tail end of “Amsterdam,” which sounds like Yoko revisiting “Because.” If that’s a carrot, you know where it can go. However, the digital remaster does include three B sides from Yoko that deserve to be heard. “Who Has Seen The Wind?” appeared on the flip side of “Instant Karma!” and is a lovely little acoustic ballad. “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” is Yoko’s bookend to “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” beginning like a children’s song before scaling Phil Spector’s wall of sound for a credible Christmas rock track. “Don’t Worry Kyoko” is a demo version dating from 1968 and not the version that appeared as the B side to “Cold Turkey.” Even the inclusion of the Yoko tracks at the end isn’t likely to entice all but the most ardent John Lennon collectors. Which still doesn’t explain my lapse in judgment. Oh well, time for a little well-earned peace…

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John Ono Lennon (With The Plastic Ono Band): Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) (1970)

instant karma record sleeveKronomyth 2.5: MOTHER GOOSE, YOU HAD ME BUT I NEVER HAD YOU. The idea has been advanced, not without merit, that both “All You Need Is Love” and “Instant Karma!” are based on the nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice.” When my musical elitism gets the better of me, I remind myself that I (apparently) have the same musical tastes as a two-year-old. This song has always held a special place in my heart and head. After four albums and two singles, John finally got serious. “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” is the first work from the man that actually holds up against the legacy of The Beatles. No hippy chants, no primal scream therapy, this is rock & roll magic at its finest. Alan White also hands in an inspired performance on the drums. Yoko delivers a lovely, complementary song on the B side, “Who Has Seen The Wind?” Featuring flute and harpsichord accompaniment, it’s a nearly beguiling number that presents Yoko as the antithesis of Nico.

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Paul McCartney: McCartney (1970)

mccartney album coverKronomyth 1.0: CHERRYPICKING. History will show that The Beatles died with a confused whimper. The album that should have come before (Let It Be), came after, and any hopes of a peaceful afterlife were thrown into disarray by McCartney, a collection of musical sketches that offered only tantalizing glimpses of the band’s former greatness. Maybe the future wouldn’t sound like Paul screwing around in a home studio, John and Yoko screaming and George’s imaginary soundtracks, but it sure seemed that way until All Things Must Pass and John’s Plastic Ono Band arrived. It’s probably fair to say that no Paul McCartney album has been so pored over and cherrypicked as his first. The album does contain a few songs that could have easily found their way on the next Beatles album, and I suppose half the fun of listening to McCartney is imagining what “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Teddy Boy” and “Every Night” would have sounded like with the contributions of John, Paul and George. More than half of the album, however, is throwaway junk (ironically, “Junk” isn’t one of them—in fact, it might be one of his prettiest melodies ever). As an experiment in do-it-yourself home studio recording, McCartney reveals Paul to be a passable guitarist but an inept drummer (Ringo made it look easy, didn’t he?). Linda provides vocal harmonies in a few places, and if she’s not always exactly on key, just be thankful that she didn’t push for her own album (coughko). Although Paul would try harder on later albums (more or less), his career (with and without Wings) has largely been marked by its self-imposed exile and resulting stunted development. More than any of the other Beatles, Paul has sought the path of a true solo artist since leaving the group. It’s a lonely road sometimes, occasionally quiet and unremarkable, but you’ll see and hear things along the way that will stay with you for a lifetime.

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George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (1970)

all things must pass album coverThe Rolling Stone Record Guide of 1980 called this a “grand gesture,” and one was needed after the letdown of The Beatles’ breakup. None of the Fab Four had sketched out a roadmap for the future, McCartney opting to recycle ditties from the past, and All Things Must Pass became something of a beacon. Great works from John, Paul, even Ringo would follow, but it took George to call their bluff. Spread out across three albums (now two discs), All Things Must Pass confirmed what many already knew: George was a good songwriter just waiting for a patch of sun to call his own. No longer overshadowed by John and Paul, the quiet Beatle has a lot to say about the breakup, God, and (on the album of jams) his own guitar heroes. Phil Spector sometimes suffocates good ideas under too much varnish (“Wah-Wah,” “Awaiting On You All”), but more often elevates these acoustic songs into powerful statements (“My Sweet Lord,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Isn’t It A Pity”). With Bob Dylan contributing half of “I’d Have You Anytime” and “If Not For You” (given a more earnest reading on his own New Morning), it’s perhaps no surprise that All Things Must Pass sounds like a son of the Nashville skyline, all cool country charm when the mood strikes. You can imagine “Let It Down,” “Behind That Locked Door” and “All Things Must Pass” sharing a train ride with “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Maybe it’s the pedal steel guitar or the fertile arrangements, maybe it’s the easy way these songs just roll along with an offhand genius. And then there’s the joy apparent on All Things Must Pass. It’s at the heart of songs like “What Is Life,” “My Sweet Lord” and “Awaiting On You All,” a sort of revival-meeting energy that sweeps you up. Toss in some songs that recall the solo work of John (“Beware of Darkness” in its demo version) and Paul (compare “Art of Dying” to “Mrs. Vanderbilt”) plus a few nods to The Beatles (“I Dig Love,” the second version of “Isn’t It A Pity”) and you may have the most substantive solo musical statement in all of Beatledom. The album of instrumental jams, while often overlooked, show Harrison, Eric Clapton and Dave Mason blowing off some steam in various settings. Of course, Jimi Hendrix left vaults full of stuff like this behind, so they’re best seen as a bonus disc of curiosities rather than a balanced contribution.

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