John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Plastic Ono Band (Apple)
My favorite album, depending on which day of the week you ask me, could very well be A Night At The Opera (Queen, Sunday afternoon), Homogenic (Bjork, Monday morning), Melanie (Melanie, Tuesday golden hour), Do Hollywood (The Lemon Twigs, Wednesday noon), Yes, Virginia (The Dresden Dolls, Thursday midnight), or The Husky Tenor (Endless Mike And The Beagle Club, Friday happy hour). But since the above sentence has way too many parentheses, I’m going to settle on my most recent new favorite album, and one perfect for a Saturday out pounding the L.A. streets, Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I, like many musicians, had a general appreciation for The Beatles but had always kind of had the impression based on others’ misguided opinions that once the band was done, their best work was behind them. I also was aware of John’s legacy as abusive, so shied away from his solo work based on that.
I first listened to Plastic Ono Band on a tour last year while driving through Alabama (picked it up on CD at a local record shop in Birmingham). I firstly say as a disclaimer that this is truly a double album. John’s album is a twin to Yoko’s. They are completely different, with Yoko’s actually being more forward thinking musically as it would apply to primal noise and punk genres. I love this album too, but in all honesty can’t listen to it front to back. John’s side is more old fashioned musically, but the lyrics are top notch. I’m an OG songwriter, so can’t refuse a good lyric. But that being said, the Yoko album is super influential in it’s own right, just not fully my cup of tea for a front to back listen.
The Plastic Ono Band John album, to me, is revelatory in many ways. Here you have this flawed character in John, who was suicidal and abusive, characterized by toxic masculinity and violence toward women. At the expense of The Beatles, he falls in love with Yoko, has a personal revelation, and they go together to primal scream therapy (see Yoko’s album for what that sounds like). In doing so, John seemingly has a breakthrough to address a host of personal demons stemming from his childhood. As “Mother” goes into “Hold On” you get the sense he is trying to acknowledge and heal. It’s hard to say how far into this process he got personally, but by most accounts, Lennon turned into a feminist in his final years.
The wild thing about this album is that it turned into one of the most seminal albums of all time in regards to the peace movement and just spreading general human empathy. “Working Class Hero” breaks down capitalism, “Love” is the original “Imagine” and has a childlike recognition of what true love is, and “Power To The People” is a raucous protest jam that inspired generations to come. Musically, I love the perfect drum parts, lazy stride piano, deliberate guitar, and of course the tape-delayed everything. Tape delay is Plastic Ono’s signature sound and I frickin’ love it.
“God” is the most controversial and important song on the album. It’s just a big list of everything John doesn’t believe in including God, Beatles, Kennedy, etc. and sets up the line “I just believe in me, Yoko and me. And that’s reality.” It’s the most heavy hitting series of lyrics I think I’ve ever heard. “The dream is over, what can I say?” My once churchgoing parents were literally burning their Beatles albums around this time because their local pastor said Lennon was challenging religion too much. This song drew a line in the sand that a lot of folks still see today.
Overall, Plastic Ono Band is an amazingly musical album and is a super important listen for anyone struggling to reconcile personal responsibility with societal change. It’s a paradox in context, but I think that just makes this album all the more relevant today.
Baby FuzZ’s “Weekend Blues” single is out now. The Welcome to the Future album is out in the fall.