John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

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

Released: 11 December 1970

John Lennon: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, Hammond organ
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Billy Preston: piano
Phil Spector: piano
Ringo Starr: drums

Hold On
I Found Out
Working Class Hero
Well Well Well
Look At Me
My Mummy’s Dead

John Lennon's first solo album remains one of the most remarkable musical statements ever released by a major artist. With confrontation of various demons, a demolition of The Beatles' legend, and at times a painfully honest account of a troubled man struggling to deal with a reality he couldn't change, the album saw Lennon stripping away layers of defence and artifice, leaving his most raw, direct and heartfelt collection of songs.

Plastic Ono Band (Remastered) - John Lennon

During The Beatles' break-up Lennon and Yoko Ono had immersed themselves, at various times, in peace campaigns, heroin addiction, a work schedule filled with publicity stunts, and occasional musical excursions. However, as 1969 gave way to the new decade, they retreated from public view at Tittenhurst Park, their 72-acre estate in Ascot, Berkshire, where they became increasingly isolated.

The extent of their fame made normal public excursions troublesome, and the press commonly portrayed them as freaks. The pair had kicked heroin, but were both using methodone as a substitute. Ono had suffered two miscarriages in the previous two years, and had another in 1970, and was locked in a custody battle for her daughter with her previous husband, Tony Cox.

Lennon, meanwhile, was attempting to deal with the pressures surrounding The Beatles' break-up. Although he was the primary instigator, the disintegrating relationships between the four men, not to mention the ongoing legal and business wranglings with Apple and Allen Klein, took their toll. He had tried seeking solace in drugs, but found their effects to be little more than an ephemeral escape.

Enter Dr Arthur Janov. The American psychotherapist had sent Lennon an unsolicited copy of his book The Primal Scream, subtitled Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis, based on the premise that people's neuroses were caused by repressed pain connected to childhood experiences.

Lennon was fascinated by the book, and is said to have read it in a single sitting. Ono summoned Janov to Tittenhurst Park from Los Angeles, in an attempt to help Lennon confront his unresolved formative traumas: losing contact with his mother after being sent to live with his aunt Mimi; her death in July 1958, when Lennon was 17 years old; and the sporadic, infrequent contact with his father during his childhood.

Janov conducted a number of Primal Therapy sessions at Lennon's half-built recording studio at Tittenhurst Park, but the chaotic state of the house prevented them from making progress. The sessions moved to London, where Janov made Lennon and Ono stay in separate hotels, but eventually Janov invited them to follow him to Los Angeles.

They do this thing where they mess around with you until you reach a point where you hit this scream thing. You go with it - they encourage you to go with it - and you kind of make a physical, mental, cosmic breakthrough with the scream itself. I can compare it to acid inasmuch as you take the trip, and what you do with it afterwards when the drug's worn off is what you do with it afterwards when the drug's worn off. But there's no taking away from the initial scream. That's what you go for.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon and Ono spent four months with Janov in America. They underwent two therapy sessions each week, either in groups or individually, several of which were filmed for research purposes.

Even under a daddy I'm not going to be filmed, especially rolling around the floor screaming. So then he started to berate us: 'Some people are so big they won't be filmed.' He said he just happened to be filming that session. 'Who are you kidding, Mr Janov?' He just happened to be filming the session with John and Yoko in it.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon told Janov he had grown up unhappy and isolated in the knowledge that his parents hadn't wanted him. He cried frequently, but, according to Janov, never screamed the words "Mama don't go, daddy come home". The Beatles were seldom mentioned, although Brian Epstein was discussed by the two men.

I don't think anything else would work on me so well. But then of course I'm not through with it. It's a process that's going on - we primal almost daily. And the only difference - I don't really want to get this big primal thing going because it gets so embarrassing. And in a nutshell, primal therapy allowed us to feel feelings continually, and those feelings usually make you cry. That's all. Before I wasn't feeling things - I was having blocks to the feelings, and the feelings come through, you cry. It's as simple as that really.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Throughout his adult life Lennon was susceptible to the promises of various idols or lifestyles that were claimed to be panaceas, whether they be LSD, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, politics or macrobiotics. Like Dr Arthur Janov, none sustained his interest for much more than a year, and disillusionment frequently set in once Lennon found they couldn't provide what he was searching for. Although Janov wanted Lennon to return to Los Angeles to complete his therapy, he never did.

At first I was bitter about Maharishi being human and bitter about Janov being human. Well, I'm not bitter anymore. They're human and I'm only thinking what a dummy I was, you know. Although I meditate and I cry.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

17 responses on “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

  1. Tweeze

    Well, well, well. Oh, well. No comments yet? Too bad. This is a tough album to listen to. When I first heard it I was scared from listening to it again. It isn’t the Beatles, folks. Eventually I did listen to it again and appreciated the rather impromptu nature of the set-up. John didn’t try to hard to hide the mistakes. Anyway, it is now one of my favorites of all time. The emotion leaps from the speakers. “Mother” is fantastic! Beyond a shadow of a doubt this song alone proves John was the most gifted vocalist of the Fabs. No one else on Earth could sing this. And then he turns in one of the more lovely tunes ‘Love’ and ends up singing ‘God’ in the perhaps the best vocal ever – ‘The dream is over … etc’. You want to know about John’s guitar work? Here it is! It’s a mess and yet it works absolutely. Nobody had guitar tone like John. Most amazing of all – despite the sparcity of instrumentation, each song sounds entirely different. Genius! An amazing piece of work.

    1. Joseph Brush

      Yes it is great. Phil Spector was not present for most of the album and Ringo complained that he hardly ever saw Phil during the entire sessions.
      After John recorded a song he would mix that same day or evening according to the engineers who were there.
      This info is available on the Classic Albums series.

        1. Joseph Brush

          Maybe complain is the wrong word but since Lennon & company were waiting for Phil to the point where they had to take a full page ad in Billboard! Perhaps impatience at the tardiness of Spector would be more suitable to your liking.

          1. Vonbontee

            Oh, I don’t like or dislike any part of it – I’m just facetiously suggesting that most people would prefer not to spend much time working with gun-toting madmen.

    2. GK

      “N.M.E. said “Lennon put his balls on the line and the train ground to a halt out of sheer respect” As a 12 year old, I listened to this in awe and amazement! The first track “Mother” was so full of pain and honesty, it stopped you in your tracks. I had lost my own mother at 9 years old, so I could relate to the loss. Other tracks like “Working Class Hero”, still sound great to me. “God” was a jaw breaker with its ” I don’t believe in list…….finishing with the Beatles, and “the dream is over, so my dear friends you just have to carry on”, had their ever been such honesty on a record? Other great tracks like “Remember”, the beautiful “Love” ,”Isolation” “Look at me” (could easily have been on the “White” album) were superb tracks, with not quite the publicity of the more famous tracks. Some friends of mine didn’t like the album, too personal, too much pain, but to me it stands up as a great piece of work.”

    3. richard handwerk

      Well Well Well has a vocal unlike any I have ever heard. I agree, this LP shows his amazing talent. In 1970 I played it over and over, learning the songs. Underrated by the world however.

  2. James Ferrell

    This album is a favorite of mine so I thought I would add a few random observations.

    It is interesting that after the failure of the back-to-basics Let It Be/Get Back sessions, both John and Paul took the back-to-basics approach for their first solo albums. Although the emotional impact of the two albums couldn’t be much more different–“McCartney” being warm and comfortable, “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” being wrenching.

    John uses the finger-picking pattern he learned from Donovan in India here on “Look At Me”. Very “Julia”-like.

    He also uses a lot of pentatonic scales for melodies here, as he did with “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. E.g. in “Well Well Well”, “Hold On”, and “I Found Out”. These melodies don’t sound quite like the blues and don’t sound quite like the Far East–something in between.

    A lot of John’s Beatle songs, even as late as Abbey Road (“Because”, “Sun King”, the 6/8 part of “I Want You”), had unorthodox chord progressions that moved the song along maybe even more than the melodies did. Here the harmonic complications are for the most part stripped away. Stripped away also is the Beatles-era Lennonesque word play. This lets the literal meaning of the straightforward and emotionally-charged lyrics hold center stage.

    My copy of the LP (bought in the US around the time of its release) has the uncensored lyrics to “Working Class Hero” presented on the inner sleeve. No asterisks.

    I think the only instrumental solo-type part is the piano on the fade out of “Love”. Instead of guitar solos or piano solos, he uses extended vocal/screaming parts sort of like in “Well Well Well”, “I Found Out”, and “Mother”. While this was no doubt the primal scream influence, it is also a lot like what he does on the full-length take of “Revolution 1”.

    I like how he plays a droning 7th note together with the pentatonic melody in “Well Well Well”. Nice lead guitar playing.

  3. StigSeriously

    I’ve often wondered how Lennon expected/hoped the album would chart. I know he got a lot of flack at the time for the lyrical tone of this record and the frank nature of the Wenner interview. Also always impressed that he didn’t feel the need to bring in any other guitars, which would have totally changed the sound. Don’t think he ever took the role as lone guitar on an LP again.

  4. Kim Polomka

    This is a major work by a real artist…it takes a lot of courage to create this collective work. He was well aware that this album would not commercially chart and he knew of its artistic merit, as did Rolling Stone publication. After listening to this work of art when released in 1970 my respect and admiration of this artist was overwhelming indeed.

  5. Joseph Brush

    This album did “commercially chart” if you had bothered to read the info before the comments. It reached number 6 in the USA, the biggest commercial music market in the world. Just because it wasn’t a number one album doesn’t mean it didn’t “commercially chart”.

  6. Graham Paterson

    John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band is one of the greatest albums of all time and Lennons finest. Gut wrenching and raw. The primal therapy with Dr Arthur Janov had brought to the surface all of the pain of John Lennons childhood and the resulting demons that had helped shape his genius . This album is a great example of that genius. John Lennons wonderful vocals backed by the spartan musical grouping of Lennon himself,Ringo Starr,Klaus Voorman,Billy Preston and Yoko Ono and Phil Spector on hand; produces an album that challenges and inspires.Mother, God and Working Class Hero in particular fall into this category. These three songs stand among rocks most brilliant. And Remember,Isolation, Love and Look At Me are just simply beautiful. What a way to end an album-My Mummys Dead.

  7. castironshore

    I’ve always loved and admired this album. Without going into too much detail my childhood shared similar agonies to john’s and i always found this record comforting in a strange way.

    As for lennon it’s his most impressive work outside the beatles, rewriting the rule book for confessional singer songwriter albums into the book. Its the first time john really reached down into his soul and brought back who he really was without any attempts to sweeten the message at all…. in a way that was impossible with the beatles. John’s candour was always his main attribute as a songwriter and here it’s really let loose.

    Also as a musician this and the accompanying record with yoko show a whole new side to his guitar playing away from the beatles. The primitive sound is invigorating too a million miles away from the overproduction of ‘abbey road’.

    ‘working class hero’ is the classic though, john hoped it would resonate with the workers and by god so it should. It gets to the heart of the unchanging human condition perfectly without getting mired in politics. ‘i found out’ rocks like a bastard and has a stinging anger to it. ‘mother’ and ‘god’ are unbearably sad but hugely cathartic.

    A masterpiece, and i’ve always found the sequence of the song titles interesting,almost like lennon was delivering a subliminal message to his audience of his condition.

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