Living In the Material World
by George Harrison

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Living In the Material World by George HarrisonLiving in the Material World was the fourth overall studio album (and second pop/rock release) by former Beatle George Harrison. This long-anticipated 1973 album is distinct in both Harrison’s initial major role as a record producer as well as for its strongly spiritual and philosophical lyrics. The themes were driven by Harrison’s strong devotion to Hindu spirituality in general and to Krishna consciousness in particular, with some songs contrasting the need for inner peace while being a musician with worldwide popularity.

Following the tremendous critical and commercial success of his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, Harrison embarked on a humanitarian aid project to raise money for the people of Bangladesh, culminating with two Concert for Bangladesh shows and a subsequent live album. During this same time period (1971-1972), Harrison also produced a few singles for fellow Beatle Ringo Starr and helped promote Raga, the documentary on Ravi Shankar. Finally, in late 1972 he was ready to start recording his next studio album.

In contrast with its predecessor, Living In the Material World featured scaled down production by Harrison. He had originally planned on bringing in Phil Spector to co-produce but once recording sessions got under way, Harrison had gathered a core backing group and was the project’s sole producer. While Harrison performed all the guitar parts on the album, he employed pianist Nicky Hopkins, keyboardist Gary Wright, bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Jim Keltner for most tracks. These recording sessions in London took a bit longer than expected, resulting in the intended release date being pushed back.


Living In the Material World by George Harrison
Released: May 30, 1973 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison
Recorded: Apple Studios & Abbey Road Studios, London, October 1972-March 1973
Side One Side Two
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
Sue Me, Sue You Blues
The Light That Has Lighted the World
Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long
Who Can See It
Living in the Material World
The Lord Loves the One
(That Loves the Lord)
Be Here Now
Try Some, Buy Some
The Day the World Gets ‘Round
That Is All
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro, Sitar
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Gary Wright – Organ, Harmonium
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the pleasant hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)”, which features a simple, repeated verse that is expertly accented by Harrison’s lead guitar and a gentle but potent piano by Hopkins. With lyrics he described as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it” this track became Harrison’s second #1 song in the US and also reached the Top 10 in several other countries. “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is much in contrast with the opening track, built on loose piano honky-tonk backing lyrics inspired by Paul McCartney’s lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles’ joint partnership, Apple Corps.

“The Light That Has Lighted the World” is a melancholy piano ballad with weepy lead vocals, acoustic strumming and a fine lead over top, while “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” is a bright, upbeat pop love song written for Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. “Who Can See It” returns to the melodramatic devotional featuring a subtle, Leslie guitar lead. The original first side concludes with the upbeat, happy-go-lucky title track with Hopkins’ piano again holding things together along with the thumping bass/drum rhythm. “Living In the Material World” also features strategic stops for slower breaks with much instrumentation including a sitar section and an extended sax lead.

George Harrison in 1973

The second side opens with the excellent composition, “The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)” with melodic vocals and musical flourishes, leading to climatic slide lead to end the track. Lyrically, Harrison sought feedback about Krishna philosophy, which encouraged him to develop such themes that are unorthodox in popular music. “Be Here Now” is a quiet and surreal acoustic ballad with some earthy and ethereal sounds, as “Try Some, Buy Some” (a leftover from 1970 co-produced by Spector) is a musical waltz built on a descending riff and it reaches for grandiose heights with horns and other “wall of sound” production techniques. Next comes the Beatlesque acoustic ballad “The Day the World Gets ‘Round”, short and sweet but with rich production. The album concludes with the aptly titled “That Is All”, a forotten classic filled with melancholy emotion and musical aptitude, where Harrison really stretches his vocal range with high-pitched sustained notes.

Living In the Material World topped the charts in the US and reached #2 in the UK while achieving Gold record certification. In a continuation of his charitable work, Harrison donated his copyright for most of the tracks to his Material World Charitable Foundation, which ultimately ensured a stream of income for the charities of his choice. Following the album’s release, Harrison became the first ex-Beatle to tour North America when he toured with a large ensemble of musicians starting in 1974.

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Plastic Ono Band
by John Lennon

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Plastic Ono Band by John LennonOur third and final installment of the “Life After Beatles” series looks at the critically acclaimed debut record by John Lennon called John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band. Unlike any other that Lennon had recorded within or beyond the Beatles, this album was raw and forthright lyrically and stripped to the bare essentials musically. The songs were largely the product of the “primal scream” psychological therapy that Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono undertook through a large part of 1970, following the Beatles’ breakup. This technique emphasized the emotional release of repressed traumas, which is evident throughout the album as Lennon touches on the most base elements of life and death.

Prior to 1970, Lennon and Ono had jointly issued three experimental albums along with Live Peace in Toronto 1969, which was credited to the “Plastic Ono Band”, a newly enshrined joint vehicle for Lennon and Ono’s musical projects. In early 1970 they released the single “Instant Karma!”, which sold over a million copies and reached the top five on both sides of the Atlantic, making it the first true solo “hit” by any of the Beatles. The song was produced by Phil Spector, who was also working on the Beatles Let It Be album, and featured Klaus Voormann on bass, who Lennon would retain for this album.

Starting in July 1970, Lennon recorded demos of tracks inspired by the ongoing therapy which was then taking place in the United States. In September the couple returned to England and began recording at Abbey Road. The sessions began with Lennon, Voormann, and former Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr jamming to early rock standards to forge a tight sound among the three. Ultimately, the new tracks were laid down with this base, three-piece arrangement. Originally slated to be the album’s producer, Spector’s busy schedule meant he could only work on a few songs, so Lennon and Ono produced most of the material themselves, forging a dry rhythmic sound which worked perfectly with the thematic feel of the album. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band was recorded simultaneously with Ono’s debut solo album of avant garde sounds, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.


Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon
Released: December 11, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, & Phil Spector
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & Ascot Sound Studios, London, September–October 1970
Side One Side Two
Mother
Hold On
I Found Out
Working Class Hero
Isolation
Remember
Love
Well Well Well
Look at Me
God
My Mummy’s Dead
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Ringo Starr – Drums

On the same day they released their respective albums, the couple also released a joint single of Ono’s “Why” and Lennon’s “Mother”. Starting with a tolling bell which symbolizes the death of his mother when John was a teenager, the song abruptly enters as a raw and untamed prayer with choppy piano chords and bass notes along with Starr’s moderately steady drum beat. Actually a cry to both parents (who Lennon pretty much grew up without), this ode to abandonment features a final line which is repeated nearly a dozen times with increasing intensity and dramatic effect. This represents the fact that being left behind by both parents will always be in the back drop of anything else in his life. In contrast, the sweet and soft “Hold On” changes the tone from the inner battle that has been going on forever to a hopeful mood of optimism. Musically, this is led by fantastic, jazzy tremolo guitar by Lennon.

I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa, they didn’t want me so they made me a star…”

We return to the primal scream, angry-at-the-world material with “I Found Out”. Starting with pure, raw blues as Lennon’s vocals mimicks his guitar riff, the song takes off when Voorman and Starr break in with upbeat rhythms, with the bass line being the true highlight of this dark but fine tune. Speaking of dark, “Working Class Hero” is a solo folk performance where Lennon provides at once a slightly profound anthem to the “regular guy” and a bitch fest to suppress all hope of escaping to a better life. Closing side one, “Isolation” is a largely underrated classic as a great desperate ballad where Lennon’s vocal skills are at their best. A beautiful piano is upfront while the rhythm is very refined and laid back and everything is staggered (or “isolated”), eventually climaxing in a crescendo with exquisite timing.

People say we got it made, don’t they know we’re so afraid, isolation…”

With a consistent, driving beat and vocals methodically delivered with long pauses between each verse line, “Remember” is another gem from the heart of this album. During the well-spaced chorus sections the song briefly changes direction with more standard, melodic rock timings. Lyrically, this song deals with remembering events of the past and how some memories are not that rosy but they still help you shape your today. For the song’s climax, Lennon references “The Fifth of November”, a British holiday known as Guy Fawkes Night and celebrated with fireworks, hence the ending explosion. “Love” is a soft and weepy ballad, which works well as a counterbalance on this emotional album. Musically, the song features piano by Spector and a soft, tender acoustic guitar by Lennon. This song was eventually released as a single in 1982, in the wake of Lennon’s assassination.

John LennonThe weakest part of the album begins with “Well Well Well”, a six minute filler that is not at all focused or anywhere nearly as interesting as the other “primal scream” tracks. Aside from some interesting stomping and crunchy guitar riffs, this song has about as much merit as a prolonged conversation where no one says anything of substance. “Look At Me” is another weak track, albeit at least a bit moody and melodic. The only song to predate the Beatles’ breakup, this song was written during sessions for the White Album in 1968 and contains a finger-picked acoustic technique similar to that album’s “Dear Prudence”. The album does recover nicely with the philosophical closer, “God”, featuring Billy Preston on piano. The song features a totally unique compositional formation with long, repetitive mid-section screed. Here, Lennon earnestly declares what he believes in and (most prominently) doesn’t believe in, with a whole list of terrestrial idols culminating with The Beatles themselves. This is followed by the sad closing section where Lennon repeatedly declares “the dream is over”, ultimately addressing the elephant in the room to which all previous subjects have built towards.

Much like the classic Abbey Road a year earlier, Platic Ono Band ends with a song after the final song, in this case a low-fi demo of a brief diddy called “My Mummy’s Dead”. The album reached Top 10 and spent several months in 1971 in the charts. Lennon followed up on the success of this album with Imagine, another self-confessional (albeit tamer) album which was a worldwide hit for Lennon.

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Walls and Bridges by John Lennon

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Walls and Bridges by John LennonWalls and Bridges seems to be one album that often gets lost in the John Lennon collection. It is not as dramatic as Plastic Ono Band, nor is it as popular as Imagine, nor as sad and tragic as the circumstances surrounding Double Fantasy. Still, this fifth post-Beatles album by Lennon (which he self-produced) is unique in its production and arrangements with a decidedly “modern” sound which includes sharp guitars, well-rounded yet thumping bass, dry snare drum with deep delays, and plenty of horn arrangements throughout. This album also captures Lennon’s mood during his 18 month “Lost Weekend”, his only separation form Yoko Ono during the last 13 years of Lennon’s life.

Lennon and Ono moved to New York in 1971 and escalated their anti-war message, which brought the Nixon administration and FBI to embark on a multi-year attempt at deportation. 1972’s Some Time in New York City was an overtly political album, which was mainly a commercial and critical flop. Lennon’s next album, Mind Games in 1973, was an effort to move back towards a more standard rock and roll arrangement and included Ken Ascher on keyboards and Jim Keltner on drums, both of whom would be brought back for Walls and Bridges.

After he and Ono decided to separate, Lennon moved to Los Angeles with May Pang, an assistant of Ono’s. During this time, he was drinking and was involved with many alcohol-fueled public antics, which brought the former Beatle some negative publicity. In the midst of this chaos, it was growing ever harder to get any recordings done. So Lennon and Pang settled back in New York in the Spring of 1974 and started rehearsing new material with a group of core musicians, including Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, and Klaus Voormann (who played on Lennon’s first two solo albums) on bass. After moving to the studio and recording the basic tracks, Lennon took the helm during overdubbing, which gave the album it s distinct arrangements and sound.


Walls and Bridges by John Lennon
Released: September 26, 1974 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon
Recorded: Record Plant East, New York City, July–August 1974
Side One Side Two
Going Down on Love
Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
Old Dirt Road
What You Got
Bless You
Scared
#9 Dream
Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)
Steel and Glass
Beef Jerky
Nobody Loves You
Ya Ya
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitars, Percussion
Jesse Ed Davis – Guitars
Ken Ascher – Piano, Keyboards
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The opener “Going Down on Love” is marked by the percussion by Arthur Jenkins under the main blues riff and hook. This multi-section song with higher-register vocals contains the first horn ensemble which sets the tone for the album. This is followed by the only non-Beatles song by Lennon to top the charts, “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”. Lennon’s lead vocals are harmonized by Elton John, who also plays piano on the track and was so impressed with the final result that he made a bet with Lennon that it would reach #1 on the charts. When Lennon lost the bet, he agreed to perform a few songs at an Elton John concert on what would turn out to be Lennon’s last major public performance of his life.

Lennon also collaborated with Harry Nilsson on “Old Dirt Road”. This song contains a country flavored piano and strummed acoustic, harkening back to “Jealous Guy” from Imagine, as a slow and steady ballad with a bit of Beatles bounce in the pre-chorus. On “What You Got”, Lennon gives a wild vocal performance in a funk-infused track with piano, strong horns, and very animated drums by Keltner. “Bless You” is a soul-inspired ballad with heavy electric piano, slowly strummed acoustic, and a moody sax solo. Lennon’s vocals are very melody driven and song is perfect for soft-rock, easy listening in 1974 and he called this track the “best piece of work on the album”. Side one of Walls and Bridges wraps with “Scared”, which contains dramatic, wolf howling sound effects before breaking into a direct, bass and piano driven beat which reminds one of the Plastic Ono Band album in its raw emotion and candidness.

“#9 Dream” is one of the most indelible Lennon songs ever recorded. The slide guitar by Davis, which seems to mimic fellow Beatle George Harrison, is accompanied by strummed acoustic, deep strings, and very ethereal vocals. There are sudden but non-abrasive changes in the arrangement and a chorus of background vocals including some whispers by May Pang. Lennon claims the entire song, including the chorus hook; “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” (which has no specific meaning), came to him in a dream. “Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)” is the second song harmonized by Elton John through lead verses. There is a lot packed into this short song, with multiple melodies and moods. “Steel and Glass” is a dark folk song, with dramatic picked acoustic guitars in minor chords beneath strong and poignant vocals in opening verses before it breaks into richer arrangement for subsequent choruses and verses.

The mostly instrumental “Beef Jerky” starts with guitar feedback effects before morphing into an arrangement with a more “modern sound”. “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” is a sad acoustic song about fair-weather friends. Lyrically, it contains the potent line; “I’ve been across to the other, I’ve shown you everything, I’ve got nothing to hide…” while musically the strings seem to mimic those in “Mind Games” from the previous album and the bluesy guitar lead above slow horn ensemble is one of the finest moments on the album. The album closes with “Ya Ya”, a short and upbeat cover which features Julian Lennon on drums and was included as a surprise for John’s 11-year-old son with the credit; “Starring Julian Lennon on drums and Dad on piano and vocals”.

Walls and Bridges rose quickly up the charts and reached #1 in the US less than a week after its release. In 1975, Lennon released an album of cover songs called Rock n’ Roll. He also reunited with Yoko Ono and commenced a five year retirement from music when the arrival of the couple’s son, Sean, later in that year.

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Imagine by John Lennon

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Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine, the second full post-Beatles album by John Lennon, kicks off with an idyllic song envisioning a utopian world where there is no conflict and everyone agrees. Sounds pretty good on the surface, but this is where the art of making a album comes into play. The title song taken on it’s own may lead the listener to believe that this is how Lennon wished the world would be some day. But listening to the album as a whole completes the picture of how Lennon really seemed to view his world.

In many ways, the album was a musical continuation of Lennon’s 1970 debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which also featured Phil Spector as producer and a heavy presence by Klaus Voormann on the bass guitar. Many songs from Imagine (especially those on the “second side”) feel like they could have been left over from that previous album. However, there is a clear and distinct departure on Imagine towards a more cerebral and measured approach to these deep, inner subjects as opposed to the raw “primal scream” method on Plastic Ono Band.
 


Imagine by John Lennon
Released: September 9, 1971 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector, John Lennon, & Yoko Ono
Recorded: Ascot Studio (John Lennon’s Home), Tittenhurst Park, England,
Record Plant, New York, June-July, 1971
Side One Side Two
Imagine
Crippled Inside
Jealous Guy
It’s So Hard
I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier
Gimme Some Truth
Oh My Love
How Do You Sleep?
How?
Oh Yoko!
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Whistling, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Dobro
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Nicky Hopkins – Piano
Alan White – Drums, Percussion

 
The song “Imagine” is perhaps the most recognizable and universally appealing song John Lennon ever released. It has become the anthem of “peace” for generations, with it’s Garden of Eden-esque quality and a child-like or even animal-like interaction with the surrounding environment, where there is no danger and nothing to fear. It is technically stunning in it’s simplicity but not as deep as the rest of the album.

“Crippled Inside” is where we begin to peel back the pretty scenery to find the dirt and rocks beneath the surface. The song has an earthy, country vibe. You can picture the good old boys sitting around on a porch jamming out this tune. All that is missing is the jug and washboard.
 

 
A personal statement in the form of an honest and heartfelt apology and asking for forgiveness, “Jealous Guy” is a pleasant song. Spector’s presence is obvious, with the trademark strings building behind the fine ballad. Spector-ization of this album is a double edged sword – the simple, honest themes are probably best in their stripped down version, but Spector’s production does add a bit of richness and commercial appeal

Despite the strength of “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy,” The first side of the album is bogged down with much filler and is ultimately much weaker and less interesting than side two, where the action is. From the simple love song, “Oh My Love” to the deep, introspective “How?”, which includes perhaps the best lyric on the album-

“How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?”

The second side also includes a very personal dig at Lennon’s former bandmate and songwriting partner. Earlier in 1971, Paul McCartney had released his second solo album Ram, which contained the opening song “Too Many People” that had some harsh lyrics directed at John and his wife, Yoko Ono. “John had been doing a lot of preaching”, McCartney admitted in 1984. “I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ that was a little dig at John and Yoko”. “How Do You Sleep?” was a direct response, with even less veiled criticism that directly took on McCartney with clear references and double-entendres.

“Gimme Some Truth” is the best song on this album. It is a rant expressing John’s frustration with the general bullshit of life and society. It features scathing lyrics delivered in a syncopated rhythm against a background heavy with bass and drums –

“I’m sick to death of seeing things from tight-lipped, condescending, mama’s little chauvinists All I want is the truth Just gimme some truth now I’ve had enough of watching scenes of schizophrenic, ego-centric, paranoiac, prima-donnas”

It is a precise statement about politicians lying and propagandizing – cut the crap and just tell the truth.

Although the album features Beatles band mate George Harrison as lead guitarist, he does not shine too brightly at any one moment. Pianist Nicky Hopkins, however, provides some great virtuoso and memorable playing, especially on “Crippled Inside”, “Jealous Guy”, and the upbeat pop song, “Oh Yoko!”. Alan White takes over for Ringo on drums and there are many guest musicians, including several members of the band Badfinger.

John Lennon in studio, 1971

On Imagine, John Lennon slides from themes of love, life, political idealism, to raw emotion. Honesty is an ongoing theme in his lyrics, especially after he descends from the polyanic vision of the theme song. It settles on the more realistic theme of life is not perfect, but if one lives honestly, loves fully and rises above the conflicts, it’s pretty close.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversay of 1971 albums.

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