Monday, 15 July 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus Five - Plastic Ono Band

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus Five
Plastic Ono Band - John Lennon

I remember where I first came across the idea of Primal Scream therapy as proposed by Arthur Janov. It was in an explanation of where the name Tears for Fears came from, in Smash Hits magazine, I think. I must have been intrigued by the idea as this has stuck in my head for many years. However the bands songs never seemed to live up to the idea although I liked their first single Pale Shelter. My guess is that Tears for Fears had come across the idea through John Lennon, who was Janov's most famous client. Lennon was a client of Janov's for some months in 1970 and although he broke off therapy the album which followed clearly accessed deep wells of feeling and remains one of the most powerfully emotional records in the 'canon'.

The tone is set right from the start when after the peals of a (funeral?) bell Lennon speaks to his dead parents on Mother. It is the howl of an abandoned child at once loudly defiant and riddled with need.
"Goodbye, goodbye. 

Mama don't go
Daddy come home"

A fearless album it includes some of the great vocal performances and for me stands head and shoulders above everything else recorded by the Fab Four in each and every incarnation. It is so primal that I've been tempted to call Social Services to complain about the exploitation of John's inner child.

The music on the album is simple, with many of the songs building through the repetition of phrases by a stripped back band - often just John on vocals and piano or guitar, Ringo on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass or even just solo John on guitar stripping yet another layer of paint from the surface of Mr Lennon's mask. Perhaps the most illustrative song of this method is God, in which Lennon lists stuff he doesn't believe in, from magic to kings, from Hitler to Zimmerman, from Jesus to Beatles. This list finishes with the lines:
"I don't believe in kings
I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that's reality"

This is then followed by a verse which is almost a coda to the whole sixties and about which no less a figure than Greil Marcus has stated "John's singing in the last verse of 'God' may be the finest in all of rock." Now that's what I call not sitting on the fence.
"The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over
I was the Dreamweaver
But now I'm reborn
I was the Walrus
But now I'm John
And so dear friends
You'll just have to carry on
The dream is over"

Although it runs close to being mawkish, the final short track (all of 59 seconds long) My Mummy's Dead takes on trying to express the deepest loss moat of us will ever feel and I remember how the first time I heard the track it brought my own early loss of my mother into painfully sharp focus and enabled me access to my own pain, an experience which managed at once to be shocking, painful and addictive.

Here's the whole album, if you haven't got it. But you should. Sell your Beatles albums if you haven't got the price of this.


  1. I was a big Lennon fan in my youth and loved this album and still love most of it. Mother must be the mother of all opening songs. However,John could be far too fond of himself. At least Paul would never be so self-absorbed as to inflict a Ballad of Paul and Linda on us. That's why I'm not keen on Working Class Hero or God. Is "God is a concept by which we measure our pain" such a good line that it needs to be repeated? He obviously thinks so. And then he goes and puts Jesus next to Hitler in his list of fallen idols. That being said I love the quieter songs on this album- Hold On, Love, and Look at Me.


  2. The saving grace of this album is that Yoko Ono is not on it. She recorded material at the same time but mercifully kept it off it.
    When you listen to these songs on the John Lennon Anthology Box set you see the magic of John Lennon, how he can turn a dirge like "Remember" into a memorable song. So what happened with the other solo albums, why was the same standard kept up? Who actually owns a copy of "Walls and Bridges" or "Some time in New York City" Answer: Yoko Ono. I think Lennon finally realized that thee was only so much amp sitting a musician could tolerate. For this first solo release there was the competition with the other Beatles so see who could have the most success. For something like "Double Fantasy" it was more wife promotion. What is with The Beatles and their wives. Why did Paul and John insist that the world had to hear their spouses on vinyl. I mean you don't see Roy Keane asking his wife to play center back to you?
    This album is a great start for Lennon. He kept up the momentum with "imagine" (and why is that not in your top 100 Seamus?) Then it was America and all downhill. I have the dubious honour of being in New York with my parents on the night Lennon was shot. I was even staying in a hotel near Central Park. I would like to say I heard the shots but I was fast asleep. With the exception of the first two solo efforts Lennons solo released have the same effect.

    1. You were fast asleep. oh yeah! Mark Chapman is innocent, the campaign starts here.

      Re Imagine, I've limited myself to one album per artist and I prefer this one. bit more of an edge.

      I think that the 'wives' was an attempt both to integrate their domestic and working lives and to show that they had married their equals. Admirable in many ways although the same can't always be said for the music (with their wives or without).