Recorded: July-August 1973
Producer: John Lennon
Released: 16 November 1973 (UK), 2 November 1973 (US)
John Lennon: vocals, guitar
David Spinozza: guitar
Peter E ‘Sneaky Pete’ Kleinow: pedal steel guitar
Ken Ascher: keyboards
Michael Brecker: saxophone
Gordon Edwards: bass guitar
Jim Keltner: drums
Rick Marotta: drums
Something Different: backing vocals
Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)
One Day (At A Time)
Bring On The Lucie (Freeda Peeple)
Nutopian International Anthem
Out The Blue
I Know (I Know)
You Are Here
John Lennon’s fourth solo album, Mind Games, was recorded at the beginning of the Lost Weekend, his separation from Yoko Ono. It showed Lennon moving away from the politics of Some Time In New York City, and a return to more introspective songwriting.
Bruised by the public and critical backlash against Some Time In New York City, John Lennon moved away from radical politics and activism. He retreated from recording music for more than a year and continued his efforts to remain in the United States.
In May 1973 he and Yoko Ono moved from Greenwich Village to a 12-room apartment at the Dakota near Manhattan’s Central Park. The couple had been drifting apart, however, and she had busied herself recording the albums Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling The Space.
Lennon worked on a number of song ideas which he recorded in demo form, but was aware that his confidence as a musician had taken a knock. The boundless creativity which had driven his early solo works was lacking, yet he set about crafting a set of solid yet uninspired songs.
Using many of the same session musicians Ono had employed on Feeling The Space, Lennon entered New York’s Record Plant East studio to begin work on the album. Mind Games was completed within a period lasting around two weeks, with Lennon producing himself. The band was credited as the Plastic U.F.Ono Band.
Significantly, the period also marked the beginning of Lennon’s 16-month separation from Yoko Ono, and the start of his relationship with May Pang and the time he later dubbed the Lost Weekend. She had been the couple’s personal assistant since 1971 and had been asked by Ono to become Lennon’s partner in order to discourage him from seeing other women.
Well, first I thought, Whoopee! Bachelor life! Whoopee, whoopee! And then I woke up one day and thought, What is this? I want to go home. But she wouldn’t let me come home. That’s why it was eighteen months instead of six.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Mind Games captured this state of flux in Lennon’s life. The songs ranged from aimless fillers (Intuition, Bring On The Lucie, Only People) to up-tempo rockers (Tight A$, Meat City). The lack of a unifying theme hadn’t prevented Lennon from producing great work in the past, as demonstrated on Imagine, but Mind Games lacked enough great moments to mask the sense that this once-great composer and performer was treading water.
Several of the songs, inevitably, were about Ono, and were among the most effective on the album. Out The Blue, Aisumasen (I’m Sorry) and I Know (I Know) detailed his regret at losing her, while One Day (At A Time) and You Are Here explored the theme of two star-crossed lovers destined to be together.
The title track, along with Bring On The Lucie (Freeda Peeple) and Only People, showed that Lennon hadn’t lost his belief in peace or the power of people to change the world, even if the results lacked the conviction and drive of his earlier solo work. The three-second silent track Nutopian International Anthem, meanwhile, showed that even if he hadn’t lost his skill at subverting expectations, there was little radical spirit to back it up.
[Mind Games] was originally called ‘Make Love Not War, but that was such a cliché that you couldn’t say it anymore, so I wrote it obscurely, but it’s all the same story. How many times can you say the same thing over and over? When this came out, in the early Seventies, everybody was starting to say the Sixties was a joke, it didn’t mean anything, those love-and-peaceniks were idiots. [Sarcastically] ‘We all have to face the reality of being nasty human beings who are born evil and everything’s gonna be lousy and rotten so boo-hoo-hoo…’ ‘We had fun in the Sixties,’ they said, ‘but the others took it away from us and spoiled it all for us.’ And I was trying to say: ‘No, just keep doin’ it.’
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Even Lennon’s skill for wordplay had largely left him, with Tight A$ (itself a subversion of the phrase ‘tight ass’) and Meat City (“Chickinsuckin’ mothertruckin’ Meat City shookdown USA”) the sole exceptions. The latter song also contained one of Lennon’s favourite curses, “Fuck a pig,” played backwards and sped up.
John Lennon designed the artwork for Mind Games himself. The front cover pictured him alone in a wilderness, overshadowed by a mountain-sized rendering of Yoko Ono. The meaning was obvious: he was adrift without Ono, although her influence was still the dominant force in his life.
I think I really needed some space because I was used to being an artist and free and all that, and when I got together with John, because we’re always in the public eye, I lost the freedom. And also, both of us were together all the time, twenty-four hours a day. And the pressure was particularly strong on me because of being the one who stole John Lennon from the public or something… Whatever the reason is, I was under very strong pressure and I think my artwork suffered. I suffered a lot and so I thought I want to be free from all that. I needed the space to think. So I thought it would be a good idea that he would go to LA and just leave me alone for a while.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
The image also featured two suns were in the sky, symbolising the spirits of the pair. The same image was repeated on the rear cover, but with Lennon’s figure slightly larger and with a rainbow in place of the suns.
In contrast to Some Time In New York City, Mind Games was well received by the public. In the United States it peaked at number nine on the Billboard 200, was certified gold, and spent 31 weeks on the chart.
The album reached number 13 in the United Kingdom, and was also certified gold in May 1974. Mind Games was in the UK album chart for a total of 12 weeks.
Tony King, who worked as a promotions executive for Apple Records in Los Angeles, encouraged Lennon to give several print and radio interviews in support of the album.
While he had been with Yoko he had been involved with all these semi-subversive activities, which had not given him a great reputation in America. He said to me at the time, ‘Look, I’ve got this album, what do you think I should do?’ I said, ‘Honestly, you’ve got to go out and make a few friends, because you’ve lost a bit of support because you’ve been involved with things of a controversial nature.’ So he said, ‘Fine, you organise it, I’ll do it.’ And he did.
Lennon And McCartney Together Alone
Mind Games was released in November 1973. The following month, Lennon and May Pang left New York for Los Angeles, where they remained until June 1974. Their spell on the West Coast saw Lennon embrace a drink-fuelled lifestyle which led to the often chaotic sessions for Walls And Bridges and Rock ‘N’ Roll. In comparison, the backdrop to Mind Games looked positively tranquil.