Mother

Mother single artwork - John LennonWritten by: Lennon
Recorded: c.26 September - 23 October 1970
Producers: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector

Released: 11 December 1970

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

Available on:
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Live In New York City
John Lennon Anthology

Mother was the first song on John Lennon's début solo album. An edited version was also released as a single in the United States.

Mother - Plastic Ono Band (Remastered)


The song crystallised Lennon's experiences of Dr Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy, which he had undergone earlier in 1970. The trauma-based psychotherapy involved the use of screaming to uncover layers of pain associated with past experiences - in this case the loss and neglect Lennon felt were caused by his parents.

Many, many people will not like Mother; it hurts them. The first thing that happens to you when you get the album is you can't take it. Everybody reacted exactly the same. They think, 'fuck!' That's how everybody is. And the second time, they start saying, 'Oh, well, there's a little...' so I can't lay Mother on them. It confirms the suspicions that something nasty's going on with that John Lennon and his broad again.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Lennon began writing Mother in England, and completed it during his stay at Janov's Primal Institute in Los Angeles in April 1970. During his therapy he recorded a number of demo versions of the song, some of which were on guitar rather than piano.

Mother was recorded at EMI Studios in Abbey Road, London, with Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo Starr on drums. Lennon initially performed the song on an electric guitar, as can be heard on the John Lennon Anthology box set.

During the session Lennon switched to piano and played simple sustained chords, and slowed the tempo of the song. The skeletal arrangement suited the song's sentiment perfectly, creating a platform for Lennon's increasingly anguished howls during the "Mama don't go/Daddy come home" finale.

The screams which ended the song were overdubbed after the rest of the vocals. Lennon double tracked the lines, recording a new attempt each night after the rest of the day's work was complete in order to avoid harming his voice.

I express myself best in rock, and I had a few ideas to do this with Mother and that with Mother, but the piano does it all for you. Your mind can do the rest of it. I think the backings on it are as complicated as the backings on any record you've ever heard. If you've got an ear, you can hear. Any musician will tell you, just play a note on a piano, it's not a lot of harmonics in it. So it got to that. What the hell, it didn't need anything else.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

The four church bell chimes which open the song were added during an edit session after the recording. Lennon slowed the bells down to give a suitably funereal introduction. Lennon had the idea after watching a horror film on television.

I was watching TV as usual in California, and there was this old horror movie on. I just heard the bells, which sounded like that to me. But they were probably different 'cause those that I used on the album were actually other bells slowed down. I just thought, 'That's how to start Mother.' I knew Mother was going to be the first track.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Mother was edited when released as a single; the shorter version has been used subsequently on compilations. The tolling bells were removed, and the song was faded early. It was also presented in mono.

The single, which had Yoko Ono's song Why on the b-side, was not a chart success. Lennon had considered issuing Love instead, but there was not a follow-up release.

See, I keep thinking Mother is a commercial record, because all the time I was writing it, it was the one I was singing the most and it's the one that seemed to catch on in my head...

I write singles. I write them all the same way. But Mother - you've got to take into account the lyrics, too. If I can capture more sales by singing about love than singing about my mother, I'll do it.

John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Lennon performed Mother at both his concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden on 30 August 1972. One of these performances was later included on the album Live In New York City.

5 responses on “Mother

  1. Tweeze

    This song alone proves to me that John possessed the vocal talent of the Beatles – and practically anyone else. Subject-matter aside there is no one else who could, or even would, try to sing this. It’s not exactly a commercial excursion, is it? When this first came out I was, coincidentally, in music class and someone had brought in a radio. The new ‘John’ song was announced and we quieted to hear it. All I saw were puzzled expressions which, I’m sure’ I had as well. Is this some new direction? Should we actually like this? It was depressing, void, and frightening. No, it was not what we wanted to hear, especially from John. I didn’t want to here it again but I could never forget it either. I got over it. This is an excrutiating song! When you know what it is really about how can you not want to cry? John uses his vocals like a brush and paints a futility in his voice unlike anything before or since. His intentional musical vocal crack on ‘I — wanted you’ has to be genius. It’s somewhere between frustration and almost like he is near tears himself as he lets his guard down to confess what he is really feeling. The rest of the vocals are amazing as well. A seasoned blues singer would be proud to claim these. And then, just when you think we’ve seen John pour his guts out, here comes the finale. He screams his way out of the song – but it isn’t only mindless screaming. A good listen reveals he is actually singing the screams. Absolutely incredible. Much has been contested over which song had the all-time best rock scream and usually The Who take the prize with ‘Baba O’Riley’. Truly, Daltrey’s scream doesn’t even approach the final seconds of this track. I think my daughter said it best when she first heard ‘Mother’. She’d never heard it before and had no idea who was singing it. She said, ‘It sounds like a baby crying.’ Precisely! Very inciteful, my daughter.

  2. Joaco

    Very nice comment above, I agree completely. On a side note… if I look at the lineup in this or Instant Karma I can’t help but think they’re “semi-Beatle” records. Klaus, (a fascinating character I learnt about thanks to this site; the closest to a Beatle without being one) and… Ringo? I never knew he took part in this.

  3. robert

    I got the album the day it came out – I was 13 – my friends and I went up to my room and when we heard the slow bells, we were like “what the heck is that?” by the time Mother was coming to it’s conclusion we were completely blown away.

    We took the needle off the record and played it again before even playing the next tune (Hold On John). We all wanted to make sure we had really heard what we’d heard.

  4. carlos

    In my country the single came out a few weeks before the album. I was astoinished when I listened to it for the first time. I was 13 and I remember thinking “Why must this song end so soon ? Then I bought the album (my dad gave me the money) and there were those bells at the beginning and I started to sweat for the emotion, then that endless finale. I was really excited that it was so much longer than the one in the single. Just funny memories. I agree it must have been John´s best singing ever.

  5. Sara

    The song might be about that whole thing in John’s childhood, how he was like 5 and his ever-absent father turned up and wanted John to come live with him. His mother was there too, and wanted John to stay with her. The dad told him to choose. The poor little 5 year old boy picked his dad, the one he never saw and never got any much-yearned-for attention from. His mother protested and told him to choose again, and again he chose his father. So his mother started walking away. Johnny started to cry and ran after her.
    When you listen to the song, it seems to coordinate perfectly. “Mama don’t go…Daddy come home.” and to his dad, “You didn’t need me…But I needed you.”
    MY GOD THIS IS SO SAD. But John Lennon, man. He’s amazing.

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