Some Time In New York City was a departure for the former Beatle. It was a collaboration with Yoko Ono and US band Elephant’s Memory, and contained some of his most political songs. It was a critical and commercial failure, and featured two discs containing 10 studio songs and six live performances.
Reviewers were disappointed by Lennon’s abandonment of the pop music he had embraced on Imagine, and the mainstream press had little sympathy for Lennon’s broad-brush sloganeering and simplistic treatment of political issues. The reaction of Rolling Stone magazine was typical:
Throughout their artistic careers, separately and together, the Lennons have been committed avant-gardists. Such commitment takes guts. It takes even more guts when you’ve made it so big that you don’t need to take chances to stay on top: the Lennons should be commended for their daring. What is deplorable, however, is the egotistical laziness (and the sycophantic milieu in which it thrives) that allows artists of such proven stature, who claim to identify with the ‘working class hero’, to think they can patronise all whom they would call sisters and brothers.
The reception was a blow to Lennon, who subsequently suffered self-doubt about the quality of his songwriting. None of his later works had the vitality of his first two solo albums, and he increasingly followed musical fashions rather than creating his own standards.
Most other people express themselves by playing football at weekends or shouting. But here am I in New York and I hear about thirteen people shot dead in Ireland and I react immediately. And being what I am I react in four-to-the-bar with a guitar break in the middle. I don’t say, ‘My God, what’s happening, we should do something.’ I go: ‘It was Sunday Bloody Sunday/And they shot the people down…’ It’s not like the Bible. It’s all over now. It’s gone. It’s finished.
New Musical Express
Lennon later admitted the public reaction to Some Time In New York City had an adverse effect on his work.
It almost ruined it. It became journalism and not poetry. And I basically feel that I’m a poet. Then I began to take it seriously on another level, saying, ‘Well, I am reflecting what is going on, right?’
Some Time In New York City peaked at number 48 in the US. Three months later, following a copyright dispute over Yoko Ono’s co-writing credits, it was released in the United Kingdom on 15 September 1972. Despite numerous imported copies having been sold, it reached number 11 in the UK charts.
Sales of the album were additionally affected by its high price. Although the Live Jam disc was intended as a free bonus album, it was given a separate catalogue number which pushed up the price of the package.