Mind Games (album)

Mind Games album artwork - John LennonRecorded: 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

Mind Games (Remastered) - John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band

Tracklisting:
Mind Games
Tight A$
Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)
One Day (At A Time)
Bring On The Lucie (Freeda Peeple)
Nutopian International Anthem
Intuition
Out The Blue
Only People
I Know (I Know)
You Are Here
Meat City

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.
John Lennon, 1980
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.’
John Lennon, 1980
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.

There was only one outtake from the sessions. Rock And Roll People, was included on the 1986 posthumous collection Menlove Ave.

Cover artwork

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.
Yoko Ono, 1980
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.

The release

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.
Tony King
Lennon And McCartney Together Alone
John Blaney

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.

9 responses on “Mind Games (album)

  1. Joseph Brush

    Yoko’s Approximately Infinite Universe was recorded in late 1972 and released in January 1973, which was several months before the move from Greenwich Village to the Dakota.

    1. GK

      I bought the vinyl in 1973 when it came out, then the cd, and thought ” Do I need another copy?” YES is the answer ! Much louder and clearer sound, especially Tracks such as MEAT CITY , you can HEAR the lyrics now , and the guitars sound loud and ROCK just as they should !
      When Mind Games came out , alot had happened since the two years following Imagine . John and Yoko had left Britain for New York , ” Some Time in New York City ” had alienated alot of people ( not me , I thought it was honest , and good in parts) . John was living apart from Yoko. Had alot of women in England forgiven John for splitting up with Cynthia ? I felt, at the time, everyone was suddenly going to give John some back lash . A lot of friends thought Mind Games was okay , not great , and its sort of suffered from that ever since.
      Mind games as a song and a single was excellent , it should have got a much better chart position than it did . The next track “Tight A$” is a Tex Mex Rocky track with great humour in the lyrics , and the famous Lennon laugh . Another highlight is Aisumasen , an apology to Yoko, sung superbly , with an excellent guitar solo. “Out Of The Blue” build from an acoustic start to a full blown band climax with excellent lyrics . ” Bring On The Lucie ” is a “lost gem ” , ” Right Boys, this is it, over the Hill!” Heart on the sleeve, as always , some one had to say something , great biting lyrics .
      ” You Are Here ” is a complete contrast with its lyrics on meeting a woman from Japan , cultural differences , and original . “Only People ” does sound a bit steeped in slogans these days, but does have its moments . ” Intuition” sounds quite bland, which is rare for JL . Never liked “One Day ( at a time )” sung in falsetto for Yoko, still sounds no better .
      The new cd comes in a fine package now, with new photos and drawings . The bonus tracks are home versions for Aisumasen , Bring On The Lucie and Meat City .
      Well worth buying !

  2. Tweeze

    This is a good summation of this album. Everytime I listen to it I can still hear good songs performed without real spirit. The homogenous sound is perhaps the greatest drag. The background singers are, for lack of a better word, wrong. John’s affectation for using echo on his voice is abused and, frankly, unnecessary. When I first heard collection this I had a sneaking suspicion that John might be losing his voice or at the very least the ability to put ‘balls’ into his delivery. As I understand it, John produced this himself but another person had to follow and clean up John’s raggedness. Each song is quite good and given some energy and, yes, confidence along with a more skilled producer this could have been a really great set.

    1. Joseph Brush

      After the critics savaged Lennon for Sometime In New York City,it appears that John didn’t want to offend anyone with Mind Games. I would like to know where you read the story that someone else(?)cleaned up the album.

  3. Tweeze

    Unfortunately, this was not something I’d read. Back in the ’70s I was considered one of the regions ‘Beatle experts’ and almost landed a radio program. Naturally the general knowledge of the Beatles was limited, but some of us had access to music insiders, etc. Anyway, this alleged tale of producers on ‘Mind Games’ reared its head during a kind of round-table tete-a-tete. I tried to get confirmation from more reputable sources and was able to get one to reluctantly confirm the claim. I’ll see if I can land real confirmation. As I understood it then, this ‘other producer’ essentially cleaned it up somewhat like ‘Let It Be’ was cleaned, only there were no Phil Spector-like intrusions or embellishments. As for me, I am good with John being the only producer. But when I compare this collection with ‘Walls And Bridges’ I have to say that John really improved in the time between the two.
    Meanwhile, I agree with your position. Despite John’s public persona, he really really was concerned with what people thought. ‘Mind Games’ was an attempt to be less offensive, but he ended up becoming lost and undistinguished amongst the other music of the time.

    1. Joseph Brush

      Since John produced most of his first solo album by himself, Lennon had to let Spector know that work had begun by posting an advert in Billboard, I am sceptical of anyone else producing or overseeing Mind Games.
      May Pang and the musicians on the album have never mentioned another producer taking hand in the making of the album. I am looking forward to your update.
      John was more focused for Walls and Bridges and spent more time on it, and had produced (Pussy Cats) as well in the interim between Mind Games and Walls And Bridges.

  4. docsmith

    Mind Games like Walls and Bridges were my two least favourite John lennon albums, certainly a few good songs but MG was under produced as WaB was over produced…docsmith

  5. mike50

    One of my fav’ albums. Songs like “You are here” “Out the Blue” “Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)” “Tight A$” “Bring on the Lucie” …. Incredible. The dynamics and colors. Spinozza’s guitar, Ascher’s keyboards. Edwards’ bass lines are so groovy and entwine beautifully with the harmonic elements. I’ve heard many people complaining about this album and i just don’t get it. Maybe it has some production issues, like some have mentioned, but the overall production I think suits the songs perfectly. It’s another side of Lennon. Upbeat and aggressive at moments, meditative and sublime at others, this album is full of surprises. It’s a very interesting journey … in my opinion, in the same level as Imagine and Plastic Ono Band.

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