Dakota

The final disc of the John Lennon Anthology collection was mostly made of home recordings from the late 1970s and outtakes from the Double Fantasy sessions.

Dakota begins with ‘I’m Losing You’, recorded with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Bun E Carlos, and session bassist Tony Levin. Although John Lennon loved the hard-edged recording, it was alleged that a dispute between Yoko Ono and Cheap Trick’s management meant it remained unreleased for 18 years.

Also from the 16-track Double Fantasy sessions are versions of ‘Nobody Told Me’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Face It’, ‘Dear Yoko’, ‘I’m Stepping Out’ and ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’. The takes often show how the songs developed in the studio, or how they were originally envisaged before being adorned with overdubs and effects.

Eight tracks were from 1979 home recordings. Sean’s ‘Little Help’ was The Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ sung by the young Sean Lennon. Sean’s ‘Loud’ was similar dialogue between father and son, and Sean’s ‘In The Sky’ was a discussion between Lennon, Ono and Sean about moving the Dakota.

The Great Wok showed Lennon’s satirical skills were with him throughout his househusband period. Recorded over a television soundtrack, he affected an Indian accent to improvise a soliloquy invoking Brahma and George Formby while setting out his New Year resolutions for 1979.

Satires 1, 2 and 3 were parodies of Bob Dylan. The first was a parody of Knocking On Heaven’s Door, beginning with the lines “Lord, take this make-up off of me/It’s bad enough on the beach/But it’s worse in the sea”.

The second Satire is the longest recording on the disc, a rambling Dylan impression based on three chords, and has Lennon’s humour deserting him. The key lines are “stuck inside of a lexicon with a Roget’s Thesaurus blues again,” and “Sometimes I wish I was just George Harrison and know all the answers. Oh my God, oh my God.”

The third Satire lasts less than a minute, and has Lennon responding to a knock on the door with another Dylan impersonation. As with the others, there’s little of interest beyond basic historical value, and none warrant repeated listening.

The final 1979 recording on Dakota is ‘It’s Real’, which ends the collection and was also included on the Acoustic album. Lasting just over a minute, if features Lennon whistling a melody over a set of acoustic guitar chords.

Altogether more interesting are the 1980 home recordings, made when Lennon was contemplating a return to the studio. My Life was an early draft of ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, while ‘Woman’, ‘Watching The Wheels’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ were similarly reworked before the final versions were made.

‘Grow Old With Me’ was featured in demo form on 1984’s Milk And Honey. Although Lennon and Ono had high hopes for the song, it was never properly recorded prior to Lennon’s death. On John Lennon Anthology it was adorned with a restrained orchestral arrangement by George Martin, giving a flavour of how the love song might have been treated had Lennon’s life not been cut short.

Five songs from 1980 were unrecorded in the studio. ‘Life Begins At 40’ was a country hoedown written for Ringo Starr, while ‘Dear John’ saw Lennon’s middle age contentment coming to the fore: “Don’t be hard on yourself/Give yourself a break/Life wasn’t meant to be run/The race is over, you’ve won”.

‘The Rishi Kesh Song’, meanwhile, saw Lennon looking back to the 1960s. A mockery of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation, it featured the lines: “The magic’s in the mantra, we’ll give you the answers/So swallow this – that’s all you’ve got to do.”

The cynical Lennon reared his head on ‘Serve Yourself’, another biting parody of Dylan, this time focusing on his conversion to Christianity. Featuring a lengthy monologue in which Lennon ranted humorously about ingratitude in the younger generation, it was one of 12 home recordings of the song which tackled subjects including creationism, masturbation, aliens and childbirth.

The other side of the coin was ‘Mr Hyde’s Gone (Don’t Be Afraid)’, a ballad for his son Sean, performed in a style reminiscent of former drinking buddy Harry Nilsson. The oldest recording on Dakota, ‘Mucho Mungo’, was given to Nilsson in 1974, but the home demo on John Lennon Anthology was made two years later.

Perhaps the most complete recording on Dakota was ‘Only You’, a cover version of The Platters’ Only You (And You Alone). Lennon led the taping of the backing track during a session for Ringo Starr’s 1974 album Goodnight Vienna, which included a guide vocal which Starr later replaced with his own.

The release

John Lennon Anthology was released in the United Kingdom on 2 November 1998, the following day in the United States, and on 6 November in Japan.

The box set reached number 62 in the UK and 99 in the United States. Because each set counted as four CDs, it was certified gold in the US by the RIAA in December 1998 after selling 125,000 copies; the threshold for gold discs was 500,000.

Oddly, given its long gestation period, the track titles on John Lennon Anthology were often misnamed (Bring On The Lucie, I Know, Beautiful Boy and Only You all had their suffixes omitted), and the timings listed on the disc digipack sleeves were often inaccurate.

No singles from the collection were issued, although ‘I’m Losing You’, featuring Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Bun E Carlos, received some airplay along with a video featuring animated drawings by Lennon.

A companion highlights disc, Wonsaponatime, was simultaneously released. This featured 21 tracks, several of which were slightly edited from the box set versions. The album reached number 76 in the UK but failed to chart in the US.