THE SECOND COMING OF JOHN & YOKO

maxresdefault(This, with a few edits, is a newspaper piece I wrote on the release of John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy. It was published on Nov. 30, 1980, two weeks after the record’s release and eight days before Lennon’s murder. Despite all the hoopla, the much-anticipated album did not shoot straight to the top of the charts until after the tragedy (which gives the phrase “Number One with a Bullet” a chilling irony) and some critics were not kind. My editor at the time told me that following Lennon’s death, some of the bad reviews were pulled before publication and rewritten .)

 

Whether he was reshaping the world as a Beatle, giving peace a chance, exposing his jagged psyche, traipsing left-ward with the likes of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, about-facing and shunning the mixed-up media or settling down to family life in any one of his home-sweet-homes, John Lennon and his art have been one.

Mercurial, eccentric, quick-witted and brilliantly talented, Lennon has always plunged heart-first into anything he’s created. He’s given pieces of himself on the printed page (his two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works) and on celluloid (the avant-garde films he shot with Yoko Ono). Vinyl-ly, with his records, he’s invariably left blood on the tracks (as Mr. Zimmerman would say) with his confessional offerings, beginning with such compositions as “Help” and “I’m a Loser.”

Though the mythology of The Beatles has in some ways proven to be a weighty albatross for him and the rest of the Fab Foursome, it was in the context of the group that he first quaked the earth. Lennon was the controversial one, the dream-weaver and the wave-maker. The intellectually-inclined slice of The Beatles’ audience gravitated, predictably, toward the brainy, zany Lennon.

No, he wasn’t The Beatles. No one of them was. But as Pete Hamill wrote, “In some way, John had been the engine of the group, the artistic armature driving the machine beyond its own limits, restless, easily bored, in love with speed the way Picasso was in love with speed, and possessed of a hoodlum’s fanatic heart.”

The post-Beatles Lennon was once likened to Sisyphus; indeed, ever since Yoko Ono supplanted Paul McCartney as his partner-in-rhyme, Lennon has been a twentieth-century Sisyphus, pushing his rock (and roll) uphill, with snide snipers taking pot shots at him—and, especially, his paramour—at every opportunity.
In their early days together, this ripening pair weathered a lot of bruises and eventually parted ways and means, only to be reunited eighteen months later because, as Lennon put it, “the separation didn’t work out.”

And then in ’75, with a pocketful of fresh songs and on the verge of booking studio time, the Lennons had a baby boy and John unplugged his guitar and stopped dead in his soundtracks.

“I became an artist because I cherished freedom—I couldn’t fit into a classroom or office,” he told Newsweek recently. “Freedom was the plus for all the minuses of being an oddball! But suddenly I was obliged to a record company, obliged to the media, obliged to the public. I wasn’t free at all!”

So he clammed up, offed the record, and became a hearth-and-homebody focused on the raising of his son. The man who back in ‘72 wrote the pro-woman anthem “Woman is the Nigger of the World” (which, sadly, was squashed dead by misguided objections to the title—usually by white males, as Lennon pointed out) went one better and swapped roles with Yoko. She became the breadwinner, he the bread baker. The Lennons invested in dairy cows and real estate, and it was moos and moola for five years.

Now 40, he has rolled away the stone and reappeared with a hot new single, “Starting Over,” and a grand-new album, Double Fantasy. Ah, but to set the record straight, this is not just a John Lennon album. It’s the Second Coming of John and Yoko. And it’s a superlative double-headed triumph.

Like it or not, it took guts on Lennon’s part to divvy up the 14-numbered LP with his wife. After all, their last collaboration, in ’72, was Sometime in New York City, generally considered to be the rough nadir of Lennon’s recorded output (not counting the trio of avant-garde albums, Two Virgins, Life With the Lions and Wedding Album). Consequently, starting over together, for better or for worse, as the wedding vowels go, could be sales-suicide. For the record, while doing well, the album currently is not topping the charts.

“It’s like a play,” Lennon said of Double Fantasy. “We wrote the play and we’re acting in it. It’s John and Yoko—you could take it or leave it…otherwise, it’s cows and cheese! Being with Yoko makes me whole. I don’t want to sing if she’s not there.”

Therefore, she is there with seven originals. One of them, “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” concludes with orgasmic panting, for which Yoko will, no doubt, get slam-banged once again. More exhibitionism, they will say. But no one crucified Donna Summer for doing it in “Love to Love You Baby.” Different strokes? Quite possibly.

Yoko clearly doesn’t have the pipes of a diva, but some credit is due. In 1970, Lennon told Rolling Stone, “She makes music like you’ve never heard on earth…It’s fantastic. It’s like 20 years ahead of its time.” Or maybe 10. Listen to The B-52s. Yoko was on the New Wavelength before it had a name.

But before anyone screams, “Yoko oh no!” about her inclusion on the new album, be advised that the oral hijinks are minimal, and her seven contributions are her finest to date. They include the lovely, classical-tinged “Beautiful Boys,” the edgy “I’m Moving On” and the ska-flavored “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him.”

John, on the other half, has never sounded more contented overall. As contented as those quarter-of-a-million-bucks-apiece Holstein cows the couple owns. In “Watching the Wheels,” he speaks of his at-long-last peace:

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

“I’m not interested in other people’s work—only so much as it affects me,” he said to Newsweek. “I have the great honor of never having been to Studio 54 and I’ve never been to any rock clubs. It’s like asking Picasso, has he been to the museum lately?”

The theme of Double Fantasy, which is a Jack Douglas and Lennons co-production, is simply John loves Yoko loves John. Not forgetting son Sean for whom John’s lovely lullaby “Beautiful Boy” was written. Lennon’s dreamy “Woman” is as beautiful and sensitive as anything in his catalog:

Woman I know you understand
The little child inside the man
Please remember my life is in your hands

In his funky “Cleanup Time,” a verse of which reminds one of his nursery rhyme-like “Cry Baby Cry” from The Beatles’ White Album, Lennon sings of his and Yoko’s juxtapositions:

The queen is in the counting house
Counting out the money
The king is in the kitchen
Making bread and honey

Yet, despite the album’s apparent bliss-blitz, the pair’s life together—“so precious together” (a little too precious for some people, it seems)—is not all Peaches and Herb. The underbellyaches of love are also exposed. Their fears, insecurities and tensions bubble to the surface in such cuts as Yoko’s “I’m Moving On”:

But now you’re giving me your window smile
I’m moving on, moving on, it’s getting phony

In John’s “I’m Losing You,” he sings:

I know I hurt you then
But hell that was way back when
Do you still have to carry that cross?

But the riled side of life is not dwelled upon, and Yoko concludes the album with an expression of hope in the gospel-tinged“Hard Times Are Over”:

It’s been very hard
But it’s getting easier now
Hard times are over
Over for a while

It is a fitting and optimistic finale to John and Yoko’s new peace of the rock.

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GOING ROUND WITH THE SMALL FACES

smallfaces.PNG“God knows how it worked, but it did, and I’m very proud of it, and the other Small Faces are, too. It was worth the year’s work…It’s timeless to me.”
–Steve Marriott, Trouser Press, 1981

The Round One. That’s how the Small Faces’ 1968 LP, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, is sometimes referred to—providing it’s referred to at all.

The Round One? But aren’t all records round? Actually, plenty of records are square, but that’s another story. Getting back to the disc at hand (or in hand if you’re lucky enough to have an original copy in your possession), just as The Beatles’ White Album was so nicknamed for its distinctive cover, such was the case with this LP.

Released on the now-defunct and then-eclectic hot-pink Immediate label, co-owned by ex-Stones boss Andrew “Loog” Oldham (with the accent on ham), Ogdens’ inner tunes came shipped in a circular cover designed to simulate, in 2-D, a tobacco (wink wink) tin.

Unfortunately, although the album and its offsprung singles were hits everywhere else on the globe—topping the charts in their native England—the shape of the cover generated more attention back in the US than the shape of the music.

“While lacking the awesome stature of a Sgt. Pepper or a Pet Sounds, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake is nevertheless a rock classic,” wrote Steve Clarke eight years after its release.

Another journalistic retrospectator, Richard Cromelin, opined, “Ogdens’ was the classic fulfillment of all the bands’s musical strains…Though packed to the brim with studio effects, minute overdubs and busy background din, its coherence and economy offset the tendency toward overproduction.”

Studded with no less than four musical jewels (“Afterglow,” “Rene,” “Song of a Baker,” “Lazy Sunday”), side one glistens with a refreshingly original blend of English music hall influences, psychedelia, R&B, rock & roll and pub sing-alongs.

“The Small Faces understood that power and fullness weren’t a product of sheer volume,” wrote Cromelin, “but of judicious arrangement and placement, as best exemplified in ‘Afterglow,’ which can attain monumental proportions and project an exciting ‘live’ atmosphere even when the volume knob is turned down low.”

Following the opening instrumental title track, replete with swirling phasing a la “Itchycoo Park”–Small Phasing—comes “Afterglow,” one of the ‘60s best singles. An unsilly love song, it is fueled by Marriott’s incomparable, impassioned vocal, alternately tender and frenetic, and beautifully colored by Ian McLagan’s soulful Hammond B-3 and insistent piano, Kenney Jones’ impressively dynamic skin-work and Ronnie Lane’s economical yet underrated bass lines (the bass by Lane stays mainly in the plain).

Ogdens’ unleashed a new aspect of The Small Faces’ melodus operandi: high-spirited humor. Side one’s nods to their jolly joie de vivre are the infectious “Rene (The Docker’s Delight)” and “Lazy Sunday,” the latter a jaunty tune sprinkled with the sounds of bells, whistles, birds, the ocean, a duo of paper-and-combers humming out a shaky Stones “Satisfaction” riff, and a comic Cockney vocal delivery by Marriott.

Wooden it be noyce to gat on wiv me nye-bas
They mike very clee-uh thy’ve gawt no room for rye-vas

Slotted midway between “Afterglow” and “Lazy Sunday” is “Rene,” a ribald classic spiced with lusty British humor, rich lyric imagery and English music-hallmarkings. The verses are a steal—they creep along Pink Panther-like, conjuring up salty visions of waterfront barflies on the prowl, while the choruses robustly sing out:

She’s Rene, the Docker’s Delight
And a ship’s in every night
Groping with a stoker from the coast of Kuala Lumpur

The elongated end of the song is somewhat reminiscent of the “Lovely Rita” climax on Sgt. Pepper. From a meter maid to a made meeter.

“Song of a Baker” is a mini-master-class in dynamics and pacing. Lane sings lead with Marriott high atop in harmony in the choruses. The killer guitar solo proves that Marriott was always an underrated axe-man, even when he was Facing the music in the ‘60s.

 Flipping the disc, The Small Faces went from apex to zenith.

“Are you all sitty comftybode two-square on your body? Then I’ll begin. Now of course, like all real-life experienstory, this also begins once apolly tie-toe…”

So begins side two, a thematic musical first. Narrated by English double-talk artiste Stanley Unwin, the story of Happiness Stan was the first (and possibly only) rock fairy tale, predating S.F. SorrowTommy or any of the so-called rock operas.

In a Trouser Press interview, Marriott recalled, “Me and Ronnie used to get very stoned and sit around the garden in the evenings, playing. We started talking about doing something about the idiot who wanted to find out where (the other half of) the moon went—a Cockney fairy story. It went from there…It made us laugh—anything that made us laugh, we liked.”

Quick of tongue and fractured of grammar, Unwin spins the delightful aslope fable which is interspersed with six numbers. Even more spectral in its musical stylings than side one, the A-grade B-side is a virtual surprise partita.

The Elizabethan-flavored “Happiness Stan,” with its harpsichord and chant-like background chorus, is followed by “Rollin’ Over,” in which the Faces are rock & rollin’ over with Marriott’s powerful double-tracked singing, a punctuative brass section and McLagan telegraphing the ebonies-and-ivories like some pint-sized Jerry Lee Lewis.

“The Hungry Intruder” is aurally woven into a tapestry of acoustic guitars, strings and flute, while “The Journey” kicks off like a Booker T and the MG’s workout—a hot cop of T.

Right down to its choral hi-diddly-hi-hi’s, “Mad John” is a beautiful evocation of an Old English folk song. Against the heavy-hearted strumming of his melancholy acoustic guitar, Marriott plaintively sings:

There was an old man that lived in the green wood
Nobody knew him or what he had done
But mothers would say to their children, “Beware of Mad John”
John would sing with the birds in the morning
Laugh with the wind in the cold hand of night
But people from behind their curtains said he’s not quite right

The tale tails off with the revelrous finale, “Happydaystoytown” with its infectious sing-along chorus and breakfast cereal philosophy:

Life is just a bowl of All-Bran
You wake up every morning and it’s there
So live as only you can
It’s all about enjoy it ‘cause ever since you saw it
There ain’t no one can take it away

When Happiness Stan is informed as to the moon’s whereabouts by the not-so-mad John, he simply says, “Of course, I nearly forgot it!”

Upon this revelation, he is joined, we are told, by a cast of characters including such nursery rhyme all-stars as Jack and Jill and Little Boy Blue, who “brought his mellotron amd freaked everyone out.”

“Stay cool, won’t you,” are the gnarly narrator’s parting words, and the band plays on, fading into the sunset—or, in this case, the moonglow.

Said Marriott, “I couldn’t see how we could follow Ogdens’…I thought, well if there’s a time to leave, it must be now…Whatever you read in print, it was in fact a case of Marriott was scared.”

America really missed the beat on this one. The Round One.

 

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

BLONDE ON BLONDE WAS DYLAN’S GOLDEN HOUR

 bob dylan-.PNG

(Note: This, with a few minor changes, is a piece I wrote back in 1983 for a series my hometown paper, The Reading Eagle, ran entitled “Album Classics.”)

“I’m the first person who’ll put it to you and the last person who’ll explain it to you.”
–Bob Dylan, 1978

It’s kind of a don’t ask/won’t tell situation. You don’t ask, he won’t tell. And for those who did ask, more often than not, Bob Dylan has elected not to tell. At least not too much.

A clue to his press behavior was crystallized in the following exchange between the erudite Jonathan Cott and the enigmatic Dylan in a ’78 Rolling Stone interview:

Cott: I guess there’s no point in asking a magician how he does his tricks.
Dylan: Exactly!

Elsewhere in their discussion, Dylan likened himself mediumistically to his mentor, Woody Guthrie, who said that he pulled songs out of the air.

“That meant,” said Dylan, “that they were already there and that he was tuned into them.”

Cott’s magician-parallel was a good one. Overall, Bob Dylan has been a musical magician–a singing sorcerer who has summoned up his own spirits, conjured songs out of the air, and transformed pieces of shiny black plastic into something indeed quite magical.

Like Blonde On Blonde.

“One of the most pleasing things about Blonde On Blonde,” wrote then-critic Jon Landau in a ’68 article for Crawdaddy magazine, “is that by shifting the focus from the impossible epics of earlier works to subjects which were closer to himself personally, Dylan was able to create a more powerful and lasting artistic tension than he ever was out of things like ‘With God On Our Side.’”

Blonde On Blonde was rock’s first double-album and the last album Dylan recorded before his breakneck pace of living climaxed with him literally breaking his neck in a motorcycle accident in July of ’66.

“At the time of my Blonde On Blonde album,” he later said, “I was going at a tremendous speed.” In life and, apparently, on his motorcycle, though he has never gone into much detail.

Dylanesque as it sounds, the album’s title was not a Zimmy (well, he did say we could call him that, didn’t he?) invention. As Dylan recollected—or failed to—in a ’69 Rolling Stone interview, “I don’t even recall exactly how it came up, but I do know it was all in good faith. It has to do with just the word. I don’t know who thought of that. I certainly didn’t.”

(While it may purely be coincidental, ever notice that the first letters acronymically spell BOB?)

Lyrically, musically, thematically and emotionally, Blonde On Blonde was a milestone in contemporary music. Dylan’s incomparable phrasing was played against the spare, soulful and eloquently simple (or simply eloquent) musical backing of Nashville Cat Charlie McCoy’s band, augmented by the likes of Al Kooper and Joe South.

Amusingly, the significance of the album’s kickoff, “Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35,” wasn’t quite as high-minded as those who gleefully latched onto the catch-phrase “Everybody must get stoned.” Of course, the double-entendre is there. But if one listens to the verses of this Salvation Army-gone-awry number, clearly the song’s operative word “stoned” refers not to a euphoric condition, but rather to the act of being knocked, kicked, harassed, oppressed, criticized, slandered, maligned, beaten down or tangled up in blue.

Likewise, the “They” refers not to turned-on friends, but to those who wish ill will toward men (and women). In fact, the chorus is the only section of the song which can be (mis)interpreted as a paean to altered states. The smoky connotation doesn’t hold up beyond that.

(Dylan’s line, “They’ll stone you when you’re sent down in your grave,” rings forever true—evidence the heartfelt Mommie Dearest and Albert Goldman’s endearing The Lives of John Lennon.)

As for the cryptic title, Dylan psycho-analysts—preferring to sniff between the lines—failed to consider the possibility of a happenstance explanation. It has subsequently been revealed that Dylan either wrote or recorded (or both) the tune on a rainy day with two females, aged 12 and 35, present. Honest to Bob.

Similarly, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” is “just about that,” admitted Dylan. “I think that’s something I mighta taken out of a newspaper. Mighta seen a picture of one in a department store window. There’s really no more to it than that. I know it can get blown up into some kind of illusion. But in reality, it’s no more than that. Just a leopard-skin pill-box. That’s all.”

“It balances on your head like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,” sings Dylan of the millinery monstrosity. (Note the similarity of John Lennon’s guitar solo in “Yer Blues” to the stinging Dylan-fingered lead guitar licks of this blues-rocker.)

“Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” is inspired nonsense—an irresistible, funny, surreal tour de farce. Displaying his absurdist agility and a superlative vocal, Dylan delivers such wonderful lines as:

Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked
But the post office has been stolen
And the mailbox is locked

and:

When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Panamanian moon
And I say, “Aw come on now
“You know you know about my debutante”
And she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
“But I know what you want”

While Dylan’s unpolished and rough-around-the-etches harmonica playing has been disparaged by some over the years (virtuoso mouth organist Larry Adler felt his blowing and sucking, well, sucked), many more consider it beautifully soulful and spirited. As such, it lends an ingenuous charm to the songs so graced.

“Temporary Like Achilles” marries the two predominant elements of the album; it is a love song performed in the blues idiom. Love, lost or found, is all around Blonde On Blonde: “Just Like a Woman,” “I Want You,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Sooner or Later (One of Us Must Know),” and the epic “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” another gift from the gods.

“(‘Sad-Eyed Lady’) started out as just a little thing,” said Dylan, “but I got carried away somewhere along the line. I just sat down at a table and started writing. At the session itself….I just started writing and I couldn’t stop. After a period of time, I forgot what it was all about, and I started trying to get back to the beginning (laughs).”

Speaking of his work in general, Dylan stated, “The words are just as important as the music. There would be no music without the words. Indeed, despite its haunting melody, the lyrics of the 12-minute “Sad-Eyed Lady” (which accounts for one of the LP’s four sides) stand on their own as gorgeous poetry:

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to press you

In The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Bob Dylan’s legacy is summed up thusly: “Bob Dylan’s importance to the development of rock is rivaled only by that of The Beatles. His influence went much further than the innovative qualities of his lyrics, his semivisionary songs effecting a change in the consciousness of an entire generation and opening up a general awareness of attitudes, both personal and political, that, without him, might still be stifled and denied today.”

If by some simple twist of fate you’ve never heard Blonde On Blonde—whether you’re too young to remember it or you’ve spent the mid-‘60s in a coma—by all that is wholly superior, listen to this magnum opus. Everybody must get milestoned.

 

 

(Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jim George and byjimgeorge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)