Today is Friday. It’s cooler where I live but at least it’s somewhat sunny outside and there’s no snow (which can’t be said of a couple of days ago).
Today is also a day in which there seems to be a growing sense of hope that the pandemic which has been raging out of control throughout the world may be on the verge of subsiding, hopefully, into the past.
As it happens today is also the day to celebrate John Lennon’s classic 1970 solo album “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”. Though this album was originally released on December 11, 1970 today a glut of 50th anniversary releases come out which detail almost every nook and cranny of the sessions that created this masterwork of Lennon’s solo career.
Let’s go through this fantastic new releases shall we?
First there’s a lovely new single CD that contains a fresh remix of the entire album plus remixes of three singles from around the time of the album’s release (“Give Peace a Chance”, “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)”.
Secondly there a 2 CD version that includes the same remix of the album on disc one as well as a second disc of the same songs but all in out-take versions. Plus there’s also a groovy foldout poster included with the set.
There’s also a 2 LP vinyl release available that features the same contents as the 2 CD set minus the 3 bonus single tracks.
Then we have the grand daddy release of them all a 6 CD/2 Blu-ray set packaged inside a lovely case that includes a terrific 132-page hardback book, 2 postcards as well as the same poster as the 2 CD set but larger.
(Note: this great new collection is also available to stream online but since this is a site about physical media well why spoil the fun talking about streaming.)
Titled “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – The Ultimate Collection” this deluxe edition truly is the last word on this album as this collection contains:
CD1: THE ULTIMATE MIXES, CD2: THE ULTIMATE MIXES/THE OUT-TAKES, CD3: THE ELEMENTS MIXES CD4: THE RAW STUDIO MIXES, CD5: THE EVOLUTION DOCUMENTARY, CD6: THE JAMS & THE DEMOS
Blu-Ray 1: All tracks in Stereo 24/192, Dolby Atmos and 5.1 Surround Sound
The Ultimate Mixes Album And Singles
The Ultimate Mixes Outtakes
The Elements Mixes Album And Singles
The Demos Album And Singles
Blu-Ray 2: All tracks in Stereo 24/192, Dolby Atmos and 5.1 Surround Sound
The Raw Studio Mixes Album And Singles
The Raw Studio Mixes Outtakes
The Evolution Mixes Album And Singles
The Jams Live And Improvised
Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band The Live Sessions
Whew! Seriously, that’s a lot of material for an album that only contained 11 songs.
It’s the very fact that there’s so many multiple versions of just a few songs that really made me sit and consider if I even wanted this big of a set. I mean how much would I actually listen to these alternate versions? How different would they be? Would the book be worth it? It’s not a cheap set but considering you do get 8 discs plus the book the list price of $135 isn’t too bad. Is it?
I bought the lovely “Imagine – The Ultimate Collection” that came out a couple of years ago which featured the same exhaustive approach to that album and while I enjoyed that set I really haven’t gone back to it that much yet did enjoy what I heard. The elements disc in that set was mainly instrumental and while fun isn’t something I’ve returned to much.
So, what to do? Since I’m a Beatles/solo Beatles nut I broke down and bought the big set. I even had the 2 CD set in my hands but after picking up the big set it was all over.
BUT let me say I’m so glad I did! Even though I thought I liked the “Imagine” album more than the “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” album after playing this new ultimate collection that opinion may have changed.
Let me share a few thoughts on each disc in this set. And while I haven’t listened to every note on this set (that may take me quite a while) here are some observations on some of my favorite moments so far:
CD1: THE ULTIMATE MIXES
First off I really enjoyed the new remix of this album much more than I thought I would. To me this remix is better than the remix for the “Imagine” album which I enjoyed as well. The songs on the new remix of “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” sound clearer and cleaner without making me long to hear the original mix.
The bass is strong and defined and thankfully not overwhelming and Lennon’s vocals really shine and highlight the fact that he was at or near his vocal peak during these sessions.
Because this album is so sparse instrumentally I thought a remix wouldn’t really do much but this set really works. The material sounds so fresh which makes the intimacy of the songs that much more apparent. I’d say this new remix is my favorite of the recent Lennon solo remixes as it models the original mix but makes it better. A rare feat.
CD2: THE ULTIMATE MIXES/THE OUT-TAKES
Again I enjoyed this disc much more than I was expecting to. These alternate takes are different enough to be worth repeated listening and in some cases not only hold their own to the released versions but may be better.
I was really struck by “God” Take 27 which I think has a superb vocal by Lennon as well as take 1 of “Cold Turkey” which to me is much closer to the sound of The Beatles “White Album” and will now be my go-to version of this song.
I also really enjoyed the Take 6 of “Love” played on the guitar instead of the piano. The piano take is more delicate but this take is a nice change and while not dramatically different is certainly nice to hear.
Really I enjoyed this complete disc and feel that it hangs together better than the outtake material from the “Imagine” set. Maybe it’s Lennon’s passion for the material but there’s commitment on each and every take that makes this set interesting.
I’ll have to say that the rawness of Lennon’s lyrics and performance due to his then recent primal therapy with Arthur Janov has always made me leery of this album but these alternate takes seem to feel less abrasive at times which as a listener draws me in a bit more.
CD3: THE ELEMENTS MIXES
Here’s a big surprise, this disc which I thought I would like but not love turns out to be probably my favorite of the discs in this set.
As I said before this Elements disc has vocals throughout which makes repeated listening more enjoyable. In fact I absolutely LOVE the guide vocal from Lennon on “God” that’s partly spoken. While I really enjoy the outtake I previously mentioned this new guide vocal really struck me as superb. It may be my current favorite version of this song in fact.
Not to mention the extra vocals on “Hold On”, the unused conga overdub on “I Found Out”, the alternate organ track on “Isolation” and my other favorite the no reverb or echo on “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)”.
“Mother” – just Lennon’s voice, no instruments. Even more haunting than the finished master, such a powerful vocal. The song this bare is so much more raw and edgy. I might like this version the best
“Cold Turkey” – though this is the instrumental take without vocals I really love the take sounding this way. Amazing guitar work and drums. Almost Hendrix like without the vocal
Each and every version on this disc was interesting and different enough that I was totally taken aback by how much I enjoyed this alternate listen. I prefer it to the outtake disc two which is quite good as well.
CD4: THE RAW STUDIO MIXES
I haven’t perused this disc as much as the others but what I’ve heard is quite good as well.
I really love the vocals on the songs I’ve played so far the highlight being the lovely vocal on this version of “Isolation”.
“Look at Me” – so clear and clean it’s like listening to a song from the Kinfans demo tapes, superb
“Remember” – again the voice is so clear and clean. I love Lennon’s voice without the added echo or processing of the finished mix and with Ringo’s drumming these raw mixes sound like long lost Beatles takes
I’m sure I will take a much closer look at this disc in the future but I do enjoy the less produced rawness of the final versions of these songs that makes them sound like alternate takes but familiar at the same time.
CD5: THE EVOLUTION DOCUMENTARY
This disc, along with the Elements disc, is a real highlight of this set. I absolutely love these versions which feature multiple takes blended together to form a picture of how the songs sounded from demo to finished take.
Highlights for me include:
“Mother” – I love the discussion at the beginning of how to do the song and adding the bell at the beginning, really cool. “All this technical shit” lol. I love the feeling of being in the studio with Lennon and Starr
“Hold On” – I really love the beginning with the fast drumming and Lennon singing hold on in a comical manner, great studio banter.
“Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” – this is the highlight of the entire set for me. I love listening to snippets of all the takes from this session. Truly a fly on the wall experience that doesn’t get boring at least not to me.
I am so surprised at how much I enjoyed this Evolution disc. There was a similar disc in the “Imagine” set but this disc is just so fun to listen to probably because of the presence of Harrison and Starr so prominent throughout these various takes. I guess the dream wasn’t completely over, it was just sleeping.
The fact that I nearly didn’t buy this set because I feared I’d never listen to the Elements or Evolution discs makes me so glad I caved as these two discs are probably my favorite Lennon archive discs I’ve heard so far – they’re that enjoyable for me.
CD6: THE JAMS & THE DEMOS
I actually enjoyed this disc more than I thought I would much like the Elements disc. It may not get as much play time as the Elements and Evolution discs but it’s well worth a listen and very enjoyable.
Highlights for me include:
“Mother” – home demo on electric guitar with a flangy effect that makes the song sound almost like a cousin to the first take of “Tomorrow Never Knows” meets country and western.
“Isolation” – a studio demo with a lot of echo on Lennon’s vocal. Not too different from the regular studio take but another really nice vocal from Lennon
“Love” – another home demo with that same flangy effect on the vocal as the “Mother” demo. Nice to hear it played on electric guitar instead of piano. Reminds me a bit of “Free as a Bird” for some reason
“God” – again played on the guitar instead of piano and much faster than the studio take. Also has a country and western swing to it. It really takes the edge off the lyrics in this version.
“Honey Don’t” and “Matchbox” – I really love that these two jams are both Lennon vocals much like he had done in the BBC days before Ringo took them over for the studio recordings. Both of these are reasonably complete unlike some of the other jams which are just minute snippets. These would have been nice additions to b-sides of his singles at the time
“Mystery Train” – a nice Dylanesque take on this Elvis tune. One of my favorite songs. Not exactly finished sounding but certainly better sounding than a lot of the Get Back era jams
I haven’t really explored the Dolby Atmos or 5.1 mixes yet I usually save those to last because I’m not a huge surround sound fan. I will get around to trying them I just haven’t at the moment.
I have skimmed most of the other things on the blu-rays and I must say they all sound really great.
And I have to say I actually liked most of the Yoko sessions for her Plastic Ono Band album. There are a couple of moments that weren’t my favorite but all in all it’s an interesting sounding album with the same band that played on Lennon’s album.
Surprisingly I may go back to it from time to time. Again, something I never thought I would say but these raw takes of the “Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band” album are really a good listen.
These two blu-rays discs will certainly get more attention then I thought they would which is a great thing. Very, very enjoyable for sure.
The 132-Page Book:
The book, as I have said, is really well made and is very informative and is stuffed with terrific photos from the Lennon archive as well as a lot of great information that really takes you into the sessions of this album and the times in which it was made.
This book alone is nearly worth the price of admission for the set. I love the great quotes from Lennon and Ono on most of the songs on the album as well as the thoughts of the engineers on how and why they did what they did with all the mixes that are present in this set.
In a word superb!
I must admit I’m happily surprised at how much time I’ve spent listening to this set in a short time frame yet I’ve never grown tired of the multiple takes and versions of the eleven songs from the original “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” album. Plus the three singles they added to the set are some of my favorite Lennon solo tunes which makes the set that much better in my opinion.
In fact I’d say this new set has made me appreciate the “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” album much more than I had before especially after listening to the Elements and Evolution discs which are just so good and really take you inside the studio with Lennon in a much more intimate and engaging way than I was anticipating.
Now I realize that probably only die-hard Lennon/Beatles fans are really interested in hearing this much behind the scenes stuff from this album but I was really happy to find that this deep dive into these sessions was very illuminating and entertaining in ways I truly wasn’t expecting.
You’re mileage may vary of course but I’ve found this set to be a blast and one that I will certainly play often and enjoy.
As usual you can take a gander at the set above and below and if you’re not a physical media fan you owe it to yourself to at least check out some of this sets contents on You Tube.
You can experience John Lennon sing at near the peak of his powers and blast his way through some truly engaging and at times harrowing songs that put his personal feelings out for all to see more so than any other music he ever made in his short but brilliant career.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you are all well and enjoying this lovely spring day.
Until next time stay safe and play some music!