This is not an unboxing video. Although, in theory, I like the idea of getting a bunch o’ vinyl and playing it on my retro radiogram, in reality I’m too much the son of my father, whose voice I can hear in my head when I see the retail price of the 4 LP Deluxe boxed set (£78.05), saying, “How much?” Good work on the extra 5p, by the way.
For your seventy eight quid and five pence, you get those 4 LPs, plus, an 8-page booklet, a double-sided poster, and two whole post cards. Phew.
But I’m not a boxed set person. Nor am I a record player person, a thing I have not owned since my oldest, coming up hard on 23, was a toddler.
So for £12.99, digital, you can get the 36 remixed songs, no booklet, no poster, no postcards, and nothing to gather dust under the coffee table, which is where my other daughter’s Music from Big Pink boxed set lives.
I wonder who they think is buying this boxed set. Which person with £78 (and five pence) to burn is also a person who is going to put up a John Lennon poster? Fifteen years ago, we used to talk about Fifty Quid Bloke, the middle aged guy who would drop fifty notes on a dumb video game, or eighty-two CDs and two books in Moist, or whatever that CD/Book shop is called. We live in inflationary times, I guess. Anyway, Fifty Quid Bloke doesn’t put up posters. Does Fifty Quid Woman?
My first John Lennon solo purchase was Shaved Fish, his 1975, contract fulfilment obligatory greatest hits collection, which is discussed in the latest episode of the I am the Eggpod podcast. That episode rings so many bells with me that it might as well be me talking. I always found Shaved Fish vaguely disappointing and wasn’t inclined to buy much more Lennon solo material. From its sleeve I think I gleaned the quote, “But somehow it isn’t only not just the words, isn’t it?”, attributed to Harry Nilsson, yet according to internet historians now, not even on Shaved Fish but on a Nilsson album. Well, I beg to differ. I’ve never owned a Nilsson album, but I know the quote, and also “Everything’s the opposite of what it is,” so maybe they were dotted around here and there.
The reason for this Deluxe set of remixes is Lennon’s 80th anniversary, had he lived, but you don’t need me to tell you that. It’s been wall-to-wall Lennon this week, and one wonders if Ringo feels a prickling of resentment, as nowhere near this much fuss was made about his 80th, earlier this year. And then there’s Paul, who will turn 80 in 2022, and can I pre-emptively be offended if it passes without quite as much trumpeting?
Of course, those latter two fortunate sons didn’t get cut down in their prime, so Lennon’s legacy is in the hands of others, who are presumably the ones benefitting from my £12.99 and your seventy-eight quid. And five pence, which is presumably for May Pang.
Listen, I love the Beatles, and bless John’s sleeve-borne heart, he was great. Yes, Lennon was all right. It’s his disciples who are thick and ordinary.
The solo career was somewhat problematic, mainly because he didn’t live long enough to come properly to terms with his past; he was still dissing the Beatles in 1980. And what wouldn’t any of us give to visit that parallel universe where a 50-year-old Lennon got on stage and performed, un-ironically, oh, let’s say, “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” to a multi-generation crowd of adoring fans watching through a veil of joyful tears?
But it is what it is. And so to these remixes, which I thought worth having because the pre-released tracks sounded pretty good, with a lot of the Phil Spectorisms toned down and everything sounding clear and crisp, with the bass sitting much more nicely in the mix. Subtle changes, but for the better.
So we get a survey of his career, broader and longer than Shaved Fish and thankfully excluding “Woman is the o jesus, no, no of the World”, with a few plums drawn from each solo album and a few standalones. Both “Oh Yoko” and “Dear Yoko”, you’ll note. “Imagine” unavoidable, but nice to hear “I know (I know)” given some love.
Here we go. “Instant Karma”: absolutely terrific lead single for his solo career, if only he hadn’t previously put out “Cold Turkey” (which comes second here, as if to acknowledge that). I’ve always hated “Cold Turkey” and it remains an instant skip. A few from the Ono Band, and then “Power to the People” from that period when he was trying to get Nixon, and instead Nixon sicked the immigration people on him, and John was forced to back away and become non-political when – horror of horrors – Nixon won the 1972 election by a landslide.
Watching footage of the Nixon victory is enough to give you the heebs, from the vantage point of the shitshow that is 2020.
And so on to Imagine and the mixed bag that is his high watermark. And I begin to notice something about John’s voice, which as a solo artist always seems to be either hovering at the limits of its comfort zone (usually on the ballads), or else trying to be Winston O’Boogie, a man who likes (too much) to boogie. It’s in his name. Stand up, “How Do You Sleep?” Let’s take a look at you. There’s a kind of ugly melisma that Lennon does on this and many other tracks (“Steel and Glass” later on, for example), and it seems to become a vocal tic, something like the leaning-into-flatness that Sinatra was wont to do in his later years.
Anyway, I kinda don’t like it.
Which is not to say that I don’t love most of this collection. It’s a good collection, but personally, I don’t think there’s much more of a hinterland beyond this. My McCartney playlist (albeit from a much longer time period) currently stands at 99 songs, and I’ve already trimmed this collection down to 31.
Anyway, to boogie, or not to boogie? I’m going to suggest not. I’ve never enjoyed the chug-a-lug bluesy tubthumping, which is exactly the kind of shit that Elephant’s Memory (“the band of The Movement”) are up to, when they back Lennon around 1972. And five pence. And the problem for John is, he decided – post-Beats – that he was going to be The Rocker, which meant, apparently, that the only Beatles song he could bring himself to perform live was “Come Together”, which is included here. And, well, it’s kinda shit. When he wasn’t singing the sappiest love songs or slightly hypocritical calls for a Liberal Humanist Utopia, he would turn everything up to Boogie, and it just wasn’t very good.
Thank goodness for “Mind Games”, then, which was a great track, and I’m certain that I know that “I Know (I Know)” was a conciliatory message to Paul. But it wasn’t too long before the hiatus, and then the return, “Starting Over”, which came with lashings of slightly ironic echo but also intimations of contentment and a man who was ready, maybe, in just a couple more years, to admit that all the studio jiggery pokery Beatles genius that he was responsible for was actually quite good. And five pence.
But how hard it must have been, to have been That Beatle, and to have wanted so much to be someone else, to have been wearing the clothes of Angry John for so long that they were hard to take off, that the only way to take them off was to go silent. As George was fond of saying, they gave their nervous systems.