The strident lyrical themes marked a departure for the former Beatle, although he had dabbled with political songs in previous years. The album, which featured two discs containing 10 studio songs and six live performances, was a critical and commercial failure.
Reviewers were disappointed by Lennon’s abandonment of the pop music he had embraced on Imagine, and the mainstream press had little sympathy for Lennon’s broad-brush sloganeering and simplistic treatment of political issues. The reaction of Rolling Stone magazine was typical:
Throughout their artistic careers, separately and together, the Lennons have been committed avant-gardists. Such commitment takes guts. It takes even more guts when you’ve made it so big that you don’t need to take chances to stay on top: the Lennons should be commended for their daring. What is deplorable, however, is the egotistical laziness (and the sycophantic milieu in which it thrives) that allows artists of such proven stature, who claim to identify with the ‘working class hero’, to think they can patronise all whom they would call sisters and brothers.
The reception was a blow to Lennon, who subsequently suffered self-doubt about the quality of his songwriting. None of his later works had the vitality of his first two solo albums, and he increasingly followed musical fashions rather than creating his own standards.
Most other people express themselves by playing football at weekends or shouting. But here am I in New York and I hear about thirteen people shot dead in Ireland and I react immediately. And being what I am I react in four-to-the-bar with a guitar break in the middle. I don’t say, ‘My God, what’s happening, we should do something.’ I go: ‘It was Sunday Bloody Sunday/And they shot the people down…’ It’s not like the Bible. It’s all over now. It’s gone. It’s finished.
New Musical Express
Lennon later admitted the public reaction to Some Time In New York City had an adverse effect on his work.
It almost ruined it. It became journalism and not poetry. And I basically feel that I’m a poet. Then I began to take it seriously on another level, saying, ‘Well, I am reflecting what is going on, right?’
Some Time In New York City was issued in the United States on 12 June 1972, and peaked at number 48. Three months later, following a copyright dispute over Yoko Ono’s co-writing credits, it was released in the United Kingdom. Despite numerous imported copies having been sold, it reached number 11 in the UK charts.
Sales of the album were additionally affected by its high price. Although the Live Jam disc was intended as a free bonus album, it was given a separate catalogue number which pushed up the price of the package.
Also on this day...
- 2017: Paul McCartney live at Madison Square Garden, New York City
- 2017: Album release: Give More Love by Ringo Starr
- 2016: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr attend the world premiere of The Beatles: Eight Days a Week
- 2015: The Beatles’ hits and videos come together with new stereo and surround sound mixes
- 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono are interviewed by ITV News
- 1967: Filming: Magical Mystery Tour
- 1966: Paul McCartney watches experimental music in London
- 1964: Live: Public Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio
- 1963: Live: Great Pop Prom, Royal Albert Hall, London
- 1962: Live: Memorial Hall, Northwich
- 1961: Live: Knotty Ash Village Hall, Liverpool
- 1961: Live: Grosvenor Ballroom, Wallasey
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
- 1960: Live: Indra Club, Hamburg
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.