UK album release: Wedding Album by John & Yoko

Wedding Album, the third long player of experimental recordings by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, was released by Apple in the UK on this day.

It was like our sharing our wedding with whoever wanted to share it with us. We didn’t expect a hit record out of it. It was more of a… that’s why we called it Wedding Album. You know, people make a wedding album, show it to the relatives when they come round. Well, our relatives are the… what you call fans, or people that follow us outside. So that was our way of letting them join in on the wedding.
John Lennon, 1980
BBC

The couple’s first collaboration, Two Virgins, marked the beginning of their relationship and artistic partnership. The follow-up, Life With The Lions, mostly documented their 1968 stay in London’s Queen Charlotte Hospital, where Ono suffered a miscarriage.

Wedding Album commemorated their wedding in Gibraltar on 20 March 1969. Although it was the final instalment in their trilogy of avant garde and experimental recordings, the couple continued to document their lives on tape until Lennon’s death in 1980.

Wedding Album contained just two tracks: John And Yoko and Amsterdam. The release was credited simply to “John & Yoko”; their surnames did not appear anywhere on the sleeve or record labels.

The two sides of the vinyl disc each contained a single track. John And Yoko was a 22-minute recording of Lennon and Ono crying, whispering, speaking and screaming each others’ names, at varying volumes and tempos, over the sound of their heartbeats.

The album’s second side was titled Amsterdam, and featured recordings made during their first bed-in for peace. Much of Amsterdam consisted of interviews given by Lennon and Ono, explaining their campaigns for peace, and discussions with each other. The speech was also interspersed with the sounds of seagulls, industrial noises, traffic, children playing and sitars.

Amsterdam began with Ono singing John John (Let’s Hope For Peace). Four other musical interludes were also included: Lennon performing a brief blues-style composition on an acoustic guitar, featuring the words “Goodbye Amsterdam Goodbye”; Ono singing Grow Your Hair, a song about peace and staying in bed, with Lennon on guitar; an a capella rendition of The Beatles’ song Good Night; and Bed Peace, a brief recitation of the words “Bed peace” and “Hair peace”.

Cover artwork

Unusually for the time, Apple released Wedding Album as a lavish box set. It included a reproduction of the marriage certificate, a 16-page booklet of press cuttings labelled ‘The Press’, a picture of a slice of wedding cake, a poster of black-and-white photos taken on their wedding day, a ‘Hair Peace/Bed Peace’ postcard, a PVC bag labelled ‘Bagism’, and a strip of four passport photographs of the happy couple.

The vinyl disc was housed in a plain white inner sleeve, inside a laminated gatefold picture sleeve. The package was designed by John Kosh, with photography by Mlle Daniau, Richard DiLello, John Kelly, Nico Koster, David Nutter and John and Yoko.

Wedding Album was available on vinyl, cassette tape and 8-track tape. The elaborate packaging led to a delay in the album being issued. It eventually appeared in the United States on 20 October 1969, and in the United Kingdom on 14 November.

The album was digitally remastered and reissued on compact disc by the Rykodisc label in 1997. It included three bonus tracks: Who Has Seen The Wind? was written by Yoko Ono and originally appeared as the b-side to Instant Karma; Listen, The Snow Is Falling was the b-side to Happy Xmas (War Is Over); and Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow) was a previously unreleased acoustic recording made at Queen Charlotte Hospital, London.

The reception

The album did not chart in the UK, but peaked at number 178 in the United States. Because of it poor sales and the various elements to the release, mint condition copies are highly sought after by collectors.

The UK weekly music newspaper Melody Maker ran a notorious review written by Richard Williams, who had been given a promotional copy containing two discs, each of which contained a test signal on one side. Williams duly reviewed what he thought was a double album, noting that “constant listening reveals a curious point: the pitch of the tones alters frequency, but only by microtones or, at most, a semitone. This oscillation produces an almost subliminal, uneven ‘beat’ which maintains interest. On a more basic level, you could have a ball by improvising your very own raga, plainsong, or even Gaelic mouth music against the drone.”

Lennon and Ono were greatly amused by Williams’ review, and sent a telegram of thanks.

DEAR RICHARD THANK YOU FOR YOUR FANTASTIC REVIEW ON OUR WEDDING ALBUM INCLUDING C-AND-D SIDES STOP WE ARE CONSIDERING IT FOR OUR NEXT RELEASE STOP MAYBE YOU ARE RIGHT IN SAYING THAT THEY ARE THE BEST SIDES STOP WE BOTH FEEL THAT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME A CRITIC TOPPED THE ARTIST STOP WE ARE NOT JOKING STOP LOVE AND PEACE STOP JOHN AND YOKO LENNON
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