[Review] John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Milk And Honey (1984)

The sessions from the second chapter of Double Fantasy were small consolation.

Kronomyth 13.o: Turn me on, dead man.

Three years after John Lennon’s death, fans were still looking for answers, for a final acknowledgment from the icon that everything was all right in the great beyond. They didn’t find it in Double Fantasy (which looked forward to a new beginning), his last interviews or the solo albums from Yoko (Season of Glass, It’s Alright). And they wouldn’t find it in Milk And Honey, the finally completed companion to Double Fantasy.

Milk And Honey returns to the lost optimism of the past, to a time when John and Yoko were still celebrating the second half of their lives together, rededicated to a shared muse (music) and to one another. Because the songs weren’t completed at the time of John’s death, the vocals sound slightly unfinished, with an echo that some might find slightly unsettling (more than a few pundits speculated that John had risen from the grave for these recordings). Yet the instrumental tracks, finished later, honor the rough quality of the songs, which suggests to the ear that Lennon was simply going after a looser style (as compared to, say, the ungainly collaboration that constituted The Beatles’ “new” songs on their Anthology series).

As before, John and Yoko take healing steps forward in their relationship: “(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess,” “Don’t Be Scared,” “Your Hands.” The remainder of John’s songs are honest self-appraisals tinged with humor, from a planned evening out (“I’m Stepping Out”) to a newfound maturity (“Borrowed Time”). As catchy as his contributions are, there is the sense that John was unconsciously treading over familiar ground; “I Don’t Want To Face It” returns to the scene of “Revolution,” “Nobody Told Me” suggests a retelling of “Instant Karma.” Yoko’s tracks are bouncy, slightly edgy, perhaps less illuminating than her contributions to Double Fantasy but not the speed bumps they could have been either.

The real lump in the throat (and you knew it was coming) occurs in the album’s final pairing of “Let Me Count The Ways” and “Grow Old With Me.” Based on the poems of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, these are musical love letters that (in a sense) never reached the ears of their intended. “Grow Old With Me” is a sketch of what might have been a Mona Lisa in the making, recorded in their bedroom as a rough demo that transcends its own tinny state to become the album’s most deeply affecting track. Apparently to avoid ending the album on too dire a note, Yoko’s “You Are The One” follows, an arrow now launched impotently at an invisible target.

Lennon fans will already own this record, as it may be the last essential statement from the man. What followed was product plain and simple, but Milk And Honey is an album that John Lennon presumably wanted his fans to hear. No one would have known his intent as well as Yoko, who proved herself a courageous caretaker of her husband’s works when she saw this through to completion.

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Original LP Version

A1. I’m Stepping Out (John Lennon) (4:05)
A2. Sleepless Night (Yoko Ono) (2:33)
A3. I Don’t Wanna Face It (John Lennon) (3:21)
A4. Don’t Be Scared (Yoko Ono) (2:44)
A5. Nobody Told Me (John Lennon) (3:35)
A6. O’Sanity (Yoko Ono) (1:04)
B1. Borrowed Time (John Lennon) (4:30)
B2. Your Hands (Yoko Ono) (5:04)
B3. (Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess (John Lennon) (2:28)
B4. Let Me Count The Ways (Yoko Ono) (2:16)
B5. Grow Old With Me (John Lennon) (3:05)
B6. You’re The One (Yoko Ono) (3:56)

CD reissue bonus tracks
13. Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him
14. Stepping Out (home version)
15. Interview With John & Yoko

The Players

John Lennon (solo vocals, guitars, piano, rhythm box), Yoko Ono (solo vocals, piano) with Billy and Bob Alessi (background vocals), Carlos Alomar (background vocals), Pete Cannarozzi (synthesizers), Paul Griffin (piano), Gordon Grody (background vocals), Yogi Horton (drums), Neil Jason (bass guitar), Arthur Jenkins, Jr. (percussion), Howard Johnson (baritone sax), Tony Levin (bass guitar), Steve Love (guitars), Jimmy Maelen (percussion), Hugh McCracken (guitars), Andy Newmark (drums), Wayne Pedziwiatr (bass guitar), Elliot Randall (guitars), Allan Schwartzberg (drums), Earl Slick (guitars), George Small (piano), Pete Thom (background vocals), John Tropes (guitars), Ed Walsh (synthesizers), Kurt Yahijan (background vocals). Produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono; chief engineers: Jon Smith, Michael Barbiero; remix engineered by Michael Barbiero, Steve Thompson (disco mix); editing engineered by Michael Barbiero, Paul Stubblebine.

The Pictures

Art direction by Yoko Ono. Artwork by Bill Levy/Bob Heimal. Outside photography by Kishin Shinoyama. Inside photography by Allan Tannenbaum.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, picture elpee, cassette and compact disc on January 9, 1984 in the UK (Polydor, POLH 5/P5), on January 27, 1984 in the US, Brazil, France and Germany (Polydor, 817 160-1/4/2) and in 1984 in Argentina (Polydor, 27153), Canada (Polydor, PDS/PDS4-1-6368), Japan (Polydor, 25MM0260) and Mexico (Polygram, LPE 16499) with gatefold cover and lyrics innersleeve; reached #3 on the UK charts and #1 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the US through Columbia House (Polydor, P2 17160).
  2. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2001 in the UK and Brazil (EMI, 535959) on September 27, 2001 in Japan (EMI Toshiba, TOCP-65535) an on October 23, 2001 in the US (Capitol, 35959) with 3 bonus tracks.
  3. Re-released on expanded compact disc on December 5, 2007 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-70400) with 4 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2010 in Argentina (Universal, 9059912).
  5. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2015 in Germany (Polydor, 5357103) with gatefold cover.

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