John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

In the studio

Plastic Ono Band (Remastered) - John Lennon

John Lennon and Yoko Ono returned from Los Angeles to England on 24 September 1970. Lennon was 28 pounds heavier than he had been before leaving in April, a change he put down to "eating 28 different colours of ice-cream" in America. Two days after their return they entered EMI Studios at Abbey Road, London, keen to begin work on some of the songs composed in Los Angeles.

They were laughing, crying and holding on to each other. Holding on to each other so close. Two grown-up people, and yet it's as though they were children. Not because they were saying silly stuff, but because of their emotions. They were crying, then screaming with laughter, then crying again, one after the other.
Klaus Voormann, 2010
Uncut magazine

Lennon and Ono recorded two albums back-to-back with the same group of musicians: Klaus Voormann on bass guitar and Ringo Starr on drums, with Phil Spector or Billy Preston occasionally contributing piano parts. Lennon worked quickly, giving scant instruction to his band, content to present the songs in their most basic form.

The simplicity of what Klaus and I played with him gave him a great opportunity to actually, for the first time, really use his voice and emotion how he could. There was no battle going on.

He would just sit there and sing them, and we would just sort of jam, and then we'd find out how they would sort of go and we did them. It was very loose actually, and being a trio also was a lot of fun.

Ringo Starr
Classic Albums: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

The sessions lasted for one month, during which the musicians recorded both John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and its more experimental counterpart, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. They also jammed a number of rock 'n' roll classics, including Hound Dog, Matchbox, Glad All Over, Honey Don't and That's All Right (Mama).

John Lennon's advertisement to alert Phil Spector to the Plastic Ono Band album sessions, 1970Phil Spector had been booked as the producer on the sessions, but most of the songs were recorded without him being present in the studio. After the sessions were underway, in October 1970 Lennon published a full-page advertisement in Billboard magazine which simply said: "Phil! John is ready this weekend".

I have no real memory of Phil producing this record at all. I remember he came in later, but I never felt Phil was like, oh he produced this record. Really, the engineer took down what we did and John would mix it.
Ringo Starr
Classic Albums: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

On the sleeve credits Yoko Ono was described as playing the wind. Lennon later explained that she "played the atmosphere" on the record.

She has a musical ear and she can produce rock 'n' roll. She can produce me, which she did for some of the tracks when Phil couldn't come at first. I'm not going to start saying that she did this and he did that. You don't have to have been born and bred in rock. She knows when a bass sound's right and when the guy's playing out of rhythm.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Although the subject matters of the songs were often honest to the point of discomfort, the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band sessions were reportedly often jovial and relaxed. Spector and Allen Klein, according to Voormann, proved a particularly amusing double act: "We would almost be rolling on the floor with laughter. They were a comedy act, typical New York."

Spector would tell these wild stories about Lenny Bruce dying in his toilet. They were always having breaks for long stories. It was a really jovial album to make, which is funny when you think what the songs are about.
John Leckie, studio engineer
Uncut magazine, 2010

Lennon recorded a live vocal with each of the takes, as he disliked assembling songs layer by layer, part by part, as The Beatles had done in their later years. Often his guide vocals would be replaced once the backing tracks were completed.

The screams at the end of Mother were overdubbed once the rest of the vocals were recorded. Each night, towards the end of the sessions, Lennon almost tore his larynx to shreds while attempting the part; he avoided doing it during the daytime in case it adversely affected his voice.

This time it was my album. It used to get a bit embarrassing in front of George and Paul 'cause we know each other so well: 'Oh, he's trying to be Elvis, oh he's doing this now,' you know. We're a bit supercritical of each other. So we inhibited each other a lot. And now I had Yoko there and Phil there, alternatively and together, who sort of love me, okay, so I can perform better. And I relaxed. I've got a studio at home now and I think it'll be better next time 'cause that's even less inhibiting than going to EMI. It's like that. The looseness of the singing was developing on Cold Turkey from the experience of Yoko's singing - she does not inhibit her throat.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

One song in particular caused particular problems for Lennon. Working Class Hero was recorded dozens of times, with Lennon's frustration building with each failed attempt. Ultimately he failed to complete it in a single take; the version on the album included a verse recorded in a different studio from the rest of the song, with a clear edit on either end.

Three songs, Hold On, I Found Out and Isolation, were rough mixes made at the end of the sessions for reference, which Lennon felt were good enough to include on the album. The tape speed was 7.5 inches per second, half that of normal mastering tape, leading to a slight degradation in sound quality.

11 responses on “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

  1. Tweeze

    Well, well, well. Oh, well. No comments yet? Too bad. This is a tough album to listen to. When I first heard it I was scared from listening to it again. It isn’t the Beatles, folks. Eventually I did listen to it again and appreciated the rather impromptu nature of the set-up. John didn’t try to hard to hide the mistakes. Anyway, it is now one of my favorites of all time. The emotion leaps from the speakers. “Mother” is fantastic! Beyond a shadow of a doubt this song alone proves John was the most gifted vocalist of the Fabs. No one else on Earth could sing this. And then he turns in one of the more lovely tunes ‘Love’ and ends up singing ‘God’ in the perhaps the best vocal ever – ‘The dream is over … etc’. You want to know about John’s guitar work? Here it is! It’s a mess and yet it works absolutely. Nobody had guitar tone like John. Most amazing of all – despite the sparcity of instrumentation, each song sounds entirely different. Genius! An amazing piece of work.

    1. Joseph Brush

      Yes it is great. Phil Spector was not present for most of the album and Ringo complained that he hardly ever saw Phil during the entire sessions.
      After John recorded a song he would mix that same day or evening according to the engineers who were there.
      This info is available on the Classic Albums series.

        1. Joseph Brush

          Maybe complain is the wrong word but since Lennon & company were waiting for Phil to the point where they had to take a full page ad in Billboard! Perhaps impatience at the tardiness of Spector would be more suitable to your liking.

          1. Vonbontee

            Oh, I don’t like or dislike any part of it – I’m just facetiously suggesting that most people would prefer not to spend much time working with gun-toting madmen.

    2. GK

      “N.M.E. said “Lennon put his balls on the line and the train ground to a halt out of sheer respect” As a 12 year old, I listened to this in awe and amazement! The first track “Mother” was so full of pain and honesty, it stopped you in your tracks. I had lost my own mother at 9 years old, so I could relate to the loss. Other tracks like “Working Class Hero”, still sound great to me. “God” was a jaw breaker with its ” I don’t believe in list…….finishing with the Beatles, and “the dream is over, so my dear friends you just have to carry on”, had their ever been such honesty on a record? Other great tracks like “Remember”, the beautiful “Love” ,”Isolation” “Look at me” (could easily have been on the “White” album) were superb tracks, with not quite the publicity of the more famous tracks. Some friends of mine didn’t like the album, too personal, too much pain, but to me it stands up as a great piece of work.”

    3. richard handwerk

      Well Well Well has a vocal unlike any I have ever heard. I agree, this LP shows his amazing talent. In 1970 I played it over and over, learning the songs. Underrated by the world however.

  2. James Ferrell

    This album is a favorite of mine so I thought I would add a few random observations.

    It is interesting that after the failure of the back-to-basics Let It Be/Get Back sessions, both John and Paul took the back-to-basics approach for their first solo albums. Although the emotional impact of the two albums couldn’t be much more different–”McCartney” being warm and comfortable, “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” being wrenching.

    John uses the finger-picking pattern he learned from Donovan in India here on “Look At Me”. Very “Julia”-like.

    He also uses a lot of pentatonic scales for melodies here, as he did with “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. E.g. in “Well Well Well”, “Hold On”, and “I Found Out”. These melodies don’t sound quite like the blues and don’t sound quite like the Far East–something in between.

    A lot of John’s Beatle songs, even as late as Abbey Road (“Because”, “Sun King”, the 6/8 part of “I Want You”), had unorthodox chord progressions that moved the song along maybe even more than the melodies did. Here the harmonic complications are for the most part stripped away. Stripped away also is the Beatles-era Lennonesque word play. This lets the literal meaning of the straightforward and emotionally-charged lyrics hold center stage.

    My copy of the LP (bought in the US around the time of its release) has the uncensored lyrics to “Working Class Hero” presented on the inner sleeve. No asterisks.

    I think the only instrumental solo-type part is the piano on the fade out of “Love”. Instead of guitar solos or piano solos, he uses extended vocal/screaming parts sort of like in “Well Well Well”, “I Found Out”, and “Mother”. While this was no doubt the primal scream influence, it is also a lot like what he does on the full-length take of “Revolution 1″.

    I like how he plays a droning 7th note together with the pentatonic melody in “Well Well Well”. Nice lead guitar playing.

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