Hold On

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album artworkWritten by: Lennon
Recorded: 26 September - 23 October 1970
Producers: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector

Released: 11 December 1970

John Lennon: vocals, electric guitar
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

Available on:
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
John Lennon Anthology

Striking a rare note of optimism on the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, Hold On was the flipside to the bleak anguish of Mother and the paranoia and confrontation of I Found Out.

Hold On - Plastic Ono Band (Remastered)

Contrary to some beliefs, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band isn't unremittingly bleak. Remember, Love and Well Well Well all contained positive moments, and the statement in God that "I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that's reality" showed that Lennon could see a way forward after being emotionally stripped bare by Dr Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy.

Hold On, however, was the most upbeat song on the album; perhaps significantly, apart from the fragmentary My Mummy's Dead, it is also the briefest.

I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war, on tour with Brian [Epstein]. We had to tell him, 'We're going to talk about the war this time, we're not going to just waffle.' And I wanted to say [on Revolution] what I thought about revolution. I'd been thinking about it up in the hills in India. And I still had this 'God will save us' feeling about it. 'It's going to be alright.' But even now I'm saying, 'Hold on, John, it's going to be alright.' Otherwise, I won't hold on.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

In the studio

Recorded with just guitar, vocals, bass and drums, Hold On was completed in 32 takes at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London.

Unlike some of the other Plastic Ono Band arrangements, Hold On had a lightness of touch in its performance, from Lennon's shimmering tremolo-treated guitar to Ringo Starr's restrained drumming.

The song underwent some changes in the studio. At one point Lennon considered a fade-out at the end, and various tempos, drum patterns and lyrical changes were tested during the session. An extract from a bluesy version was included on 1998's John Lennon Anthology box set.

In between takes, the band also jammed a number of rock 'n' roll songs, including Lonnie Donegan's Long Lost John, which was later issued on John Lennon Anthology. The song was a key influence on the Imagine song Oh Yoko!.

Some attempts at Hold On were instrumental or had guide vocals, and take 30 was the first to feature tremolo on Lennon's guitar. The final version, take 32, had Lennon singing and playing guitar simultaneously, and the ad-libbed 'cookie', a reference to the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. He subsequently double-tracked his vocals, adding a second 'cookie'.

Sesame Street was first broadcast on 10 November 1969 in the US, and Lennon presumably watched it while undergoing Primal Therapy; his regression to childhood may have helped him make a connection with the show. Ringo Starr's song Early 1970, the b-side to the April 1971 single It Don't Come Easy, also contained a cry of 'cookie', during a verse about Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Laying in bed, watching TV, cookie!
With his mama by his side, she's Japanese
They screamed and they cried, now they're free
And when he comes to town
I know he's gonna play with me
Ringo Starr
Early 1970

A rough mix of Hold On was made by engineer Phil McDonald at the end of the session. Lennon took home that night in order to consider further work. In the end, however, he decided it was good enough to use on the album.

Isolation and Hold On John, they're the rough remixes. I just remixed them that night on seven-and-a-half [inches per second tape] to take them home to see what else I was going to do with them. And then I didn't really, I didn't even put them onto fifteen [IPS], so the quality is a bit hissy on 'em too. By the time I'd done everything, I started listening. I found out it's better that, with Instant Karma and other things, you remix it right away that night. I'd known that before, but never followed it through.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

One response on “Hold On

  1. Tweeze

    My dad was always disparaging all-things Beatles which I always found to be funny because he would make frequent comments about a song he’d heard that he liked. When I would point out that it was a Beatles’ tune he would drop into silence – subject closed. In this songs case, my dad demonstrated some maturity. I was playing this and, being a guitar player himself, was attracted by the sound of the guitar here. It’s not an incredibly difficult riff but the tone (a frequent John trademark) makes it sound bigger than it really is. It’s very blues and the track is subdued and close. I can almost taste a small nightclub atmosphere in the ambience. Unfortunately, John’s ego-centric lyrics again make for limited mass appeal thus it will be overlooked. His injection of the word ‘cookie’ in the instrumental bridge is peculiar as well and temporarily dispels the mood. It has been the stuff of legends why John said this but all I can say is ‘cranberry sauce’.

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