From one Beatle to the next, we now have the first solo release from John Lennon post-breakup, “The Plastic Ono Band”, released shortly after George Harrison released “All Things Must Pass”. Like George’s album, it also features Ringo Starr on drums for many of the tracks, as well as Billy Preston on keyboards. Also, like George’s album, this album is highly regarded, rated as album #85 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
I have a lot to say about this album as a whole. To be honest, I don’t love it. I do find it more appealing that Paul’s first release, “McCartney”, and I also noticed that Ringo did NOT appear on Paul’s album (shocker), but I rate this one a distant second to Harrison’s solo effort from the same period. Starting with the rating itself, which I rarely challenge, I have to acknowledge the “Lennon bias” that is resident at Rolling Stone. Like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and a few other select artists, John Lennon pretty much walked on water for Jann Wenner and the Rolling Stone crew. I just don’t objectively see the greatness of this album, and this comes from a big John Lennon fan.
John Lennon was obviously a very complicated person. He did not have a healthy relationship with his mother or father growing up, and was raised primarily by his aunt. The pain and suffering from these relationships are on center stage on this album, and I can clearly see and hear his pain in these songs. You can also hear his audible scar tissue from his battles with the press over topics like religion, war, his love for Yoko Ono, and the trauma of his breakup with Paul and the rest of the Beatles, to a lesser degree. The net sum of these effects ultimately drove John into some degree of musical hibernation for many years in the mid to late 1970s.
Specifically on this album, the emotion comes through much more so than any appealing melody. I just find a lot of this songs to be a little too raw and don’t contain much of a hook that makes me want to listen to, other than understanding the historical context of these songs in the life of John Lennon. It also reinforces why the Beatles were at their best as a unit, specifically John and Paul. I find John to be too far on the extreme of contextual and aggressive, where Paul is too far on the other end of schmaltzy and cheesy. These two opposing forces pulled each other closer to the center to make great music together, but left to their own devices, there are too many songs like “Mother” and “Well, Well, Well” that overflow with much more emotion than musicality. There are songs I like on this album, such as “Hold On” and “Isolation”, and the blunt statement of “God” is truly significant for truly understanding John Lennon, but I think that in general, John makes better music later in his solo career when he isn’t trying so hard to prove everyone wrong with regards to his relationships with Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, and the world around him.