Recorded: July-August 1974
Producer: John Lennon
Released: 4 October 1974 (UK), 26 September 1974 (US)
John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano
Elton John: vocals, piano, organ
Nicky Hopkins: piano, electric piano
Jesse Ed Davis: electric guitar
Eddie Mottau: acoustic guitar
Ken Ascher: piano, electric piano, clavinet, Mellotron
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Arthur Jenkins: percussion
Jim Keltner: drums
Julian Lennon: drums
Bobby Keys, Steve Madaio, Howard Johnson, Ron Aprea, Frank Vicari: horns
Harry Nilsson, May Pang, Lori Burton, Joey Dambra: backing vocals
The Philharmonic Orchestrange (New York Philarmonic Orchestra)
Going Down On Love
Whatever Gets You Thru The Night
Old Dirt Road
What You Got
Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)
Steel And Glass
Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)
The most focus set of recordings made during John Lennon’s legendary Lost Weekend, Walls And Bridges marked a return to form following the clumsy sloganeering of Some Time In New York City and the frequently aimless Mind Games.
After completing work on Mind Games, Lennon had moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend May Pang. Lennon and Yoko Ono had separated shortly before the album was begun, and although he hoped it would be a brief interlude in their relationship, she wished them to remain apart for a while longer.
Free from responsibility and control for the first time in his adult life, Lennon quickly fell victim to his excesses. He and Pang embraced Los Angeles’ debauched lifestyle to the full, along with fellow party animals Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson.
Lennon initially began work on the Rock ‘N’ Roll album with Phil Spector, but the chaotic sessions eventually fell apart and Spector disappeared with the tapes. Lennon instead produced Harry Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats in April and May 1974, although those sessions were equally rambunctious.
Eventually realising he was in danger of ruining his career, Lennon left LA for New York and finished producing Pussy Cats, as well as recording demos for a number of songs which eventually appeared on Walls And Bridges.
These new compositions charted his state of mind in the midst of the Lost Weekend. Lennon flitted between yearning desire to be reunited with Ono, expressions of love for May Pang, and accounts of his darkest hours at the bottom of a bottle.
I think I was more in a morass mentally than Yoko was. If you listen to Walls And Bridges you hear somebody that is depressed. You can say, ‘Well, it was because of years of fighting deportation and this problem and that problem,’ but whatever it was, it sounds depressing. The guy knows how to make tables, but there’s no spirit in the tables.
I’m not knocking the record. But I’m saying it showed where I was. It’s a reflection of the time.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
In the studio
In New York Lennon instigated a professional work ethic, demanding his session musicians worked from noon to 10pm, five days a week. Drugs and alcohol were kept away from the studio, Record Plant East, and Lennon enjoyed a type of creative surge he hadn’t known for many months.
The Walls And Bridges sessions were the most professional I have been on. He was there every day, 12 o’clock to 10 o’clock; go home; off the weekends; eight weeks; done. John knew what he wanted, he knew how to get what he was going after: he was going after a noise and he knew how to get it. And for the most part he got it. What he explained, we used to get.
Lennon And McCartney: Together Alone, John Blaney
The band spent two days rehearsing and arranging the songs; several of the recordings later appeared on the posthumous collections Menlove Ave and John Lennon Anthology. Lennon produced the recordings, though he was happy to take direction from studio staff including Roy Cicala and Jimmy Iovine.
The album was recorded in an eight-week period over July and August 1974. He was joined in the studio by Elton John, at the time one of music’s biggest stars, who performed on Whatever Gets You Thru The Night and Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox).
I was fiddling about one night and Elton John walked in with Tony King of Apple — you know, we’re all good friends — and the next minute Elton said, ‘Say, can I put a bit of piano on that?’ I said, ‘Sure, love it!’ He zapped in. I was amazed at his ability: I knew him, but I’d never seen him play. A fine musician, great piano player. I was really pleasantly surprised at the way he could get in on such a loose track and add to it and keep up with the rhythm changes — obviously, ’cause it doesn’t keep the same rhythm… And then he sang with me. We had a great time.