Greetings, Glancers! This is the big one, right? This is the one John Lennon album I’ve known (about) most of my life, possibly due to the impact and fame of the title track. That song is one of the most acclaimed and famous of all time – I can’t say I’m its biggest fan – but I do enjoy it. One other song on the album that I know fairly well, is one I’ve never been a huge fan of. Of the remaining eight tracks, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of them, but we’ll soon find out. I know the album frequently makes Best Of lists, so I have high (ish) hopes.
‘Imagine’ is peerless in terms of fame and impact. It is very pretty while avoiding being twee. The lyrics I go back and forth on – simplistic and idyllic – yes, wouldn’t a world like that be wonderful, but it glosses over too many complications and emotions. The fact that it was written by a millionaire never mattered to me, but I can understand that argument. Anyway, it’s lovely, you already know.
‘Crippled Inside‘ opens in similarly lovely fashion, almost like Across The Universe. Then it transforms into some honkey tonk Ringo-esque slice of whimsy. This one, I enjoy the lyrics that I’m picking up. Is he aping Dylan in the vocals, or just generic Country stylings? The music is of course a piss-take, but it’s amusing and catchy enough.
‘Jealous Guy‘ is the other song I knew – more from the cover than Lennon’s original. This is much better than Roxy Music’s take. I like that it’s honest, I like the strings. I appreciate the simplicity. Still, it has that dreary feel that many of the piano led Beatles songs have – a little touch of guitar or, anything really, to take away from the piano could make it better in my eyes, but most would disagree.
‘It’s So Hard‘ sounds like a heavier take – it takes old fashioned Blues rhythms and adds a sprinkle of sass. The lyrics, again, are amusing but I can’t take the music all that seriously. You can dress up this sort of Blues anyway you like, but it remains musically unimpressive. I could accept an argument for the banal struggles and the saucy lyrics being deliberately placed alongside cliched Blues riffs to draw conclusions between both.
‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ opens with another dirty rock sound. Lennon always seems to employ this reverb on his vocals… I never like that effect on vocals. This does feel more modern, probably thanks to the production having more colour and depth. Parts of this I think I have heard – the ‘I don’t want to be a soldier mamma’ is very familiar. Sadly it’s quite tuneless. There’s no need for it to pass the three minute mark – six minutes is inexcusable.
‘Gimme Some Truth’ opens the second side with a mouthful of fury. It’s angry and sweet and the same time and sees John falling back on his talent for spurting words in a sharp, poetic, staccato fashion. This is more to my tastes, not quite punk because it sounds quite pretty in places, but there’s enough harsh quality to the vocals and lyrics and guitars to align it with the heavier music of the time.
‘Oh My Love’ is… ooh, much more to my tastes. Slow, sad, lovely melding of guitar and piano. There’s the vocal reverb again. Luckily the melodies are wonderful too – with the lyrics combined it does veer awfully close to being saccharine, but I’ve never had a problem with that as long as its honest. This flip flops between major and minor freely which also stops it becoming too sugary. I’ve heard parts of this somewhere in time.
‘How Do You Sleep‘ is a pretty infamous song, but I don’t think I’ve actually heard it before. Noted as being an attack on Paul, in response to an attack by Paul, the lyrics are amusing but still feel petty. We know John was a defensive little prick at times, with a massive yet fragile ego. He would make all these attacks and mistakes and dismiss them as jokes subsequently, rather than admit to them. Of course this totalled up to him coming across as not the most trustworthy or genuine, even though I’m sure he was. Back to the song. After that loose opening the slow beat takes control and accomplishes quite a funky rhythm. Solid Cowboy strings when they come, solid solo work from Harrison I presume. Strong organ work to finish.
‘How?’ opens with a question. And continues with more questions. The verses are broken up like neat little pauses which seems to accentuate the confusion in Lennon’s mind – every thought is followed by a moment of contemplation. It’s close to being quite repetitive, but the pauses and melodies keep the sum fresh and engaging. Tasty strings in what I’m taking to be the chorus.
‘Oh Yoko‘ closes the album, kicking off with a pleasing relaxed jukebox pop rock song. It’s very sweet, easy melodies and an atmosphere which makes me think of pleasing memories of love and friendship and sunny days and long warm nights. It would again be twee if it wasn’t for how unabashed and heartfelt and adorable it all is. See, it is possible to come across as honest. Hell, even the harmonica doesn’t ruin things.
A much stronger second half drastically raises my opinion of the whole album – the first half features the hits, but as mentioned those hits aren’t necessarily personal favourites of mine. The more rock infused songs on the first half feel tame given the output of other bands of the time, and the melodic hooks aren’t quite sharp enough. The second half though finds almost everything hitting the mark successfully and there are plenty of songs I look forward to listening to again. Not as consistent then as the recent albums by Paul and George, but I’m happy to have found some great new music.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Imagine. Gimme Some Truth. Oh My Love. How Do You Sleep. How? Oh Yoko.