The second album of previously-unreleased recordings to be issued after John Lennon’s death, Live In New York City was recorded at the One To One fundraiser at Madison Square Garden in August 1972.

The concerts were to raise money for pupils at Staten Island’s Willowbrook School, a facility for children with mental disabilities. Lennon had helped organise the event after seeing Geraldo Rivera’s Emmy award-winning report into the poor conditions and abuse which were prevalent at the school.

Rehearsals took place on 18, 20 and 22 August with Elephant’s Memory, the band which had backed Lennon and Yoko Ono on their Some Time In New York City earlier in the year. Two concerts took place, in the afternoon and evening of 30 August 1972, with support from Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder and Sha Na Na.

Tickets were priced at $5, $7.50 and $10, and sales raised more than $1.5 million for Willowbrook. Prior to the event Lennon bought $60,000 worth of tickets, which he gave away to fundraising volunteers.

Live In New York City was released simultaneously as an album and video in 1986, with different performances from the two shows on each. The one-hour video was issued on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc.

Both concerts sold out in advance. The first show, which had been added due to public demand for tickets, was dubbed “the rehearsal” by Lennon, owing to the band’s relative lack of experience performing live to such large audiences.

The setlist for the first show was: ‘Power To The People’, ‘New York City’, ‘It’s So Hard’, Move On Fast, ‘Woman Is The N—-r Of The World’, ‘Sisters, O Sisters’, ‘Well Well Well’, ‘Born In A Prison’, ‘Instant Karma!’, ‘Mother’, ‘We’re All Water’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Imagine’, Open Your Box, ‘Cold Turkey’, Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow), and ‘Hound Dog’.

The evening show featured fewer songs, with several by Ono omitted. The setlist was: ‘Power To The People’, ‘New York City’, ‘It’s So Hard’, ‘Woman Is The N—-r Of The World’, ‘Sisters, O Sisters’, ‘Well Well Well’, ‘Instant Karma!’, ‘Mother’, ‘We’re All Water’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Imagine’, ‘Cold Turkey’, ‘Hound Dog’, and ‘Give Peace A Chance’. For the final song Lennon and Ono were joined on stage by the other stars and the organisers of the concerts.

That Madison Square Gardens gig was the best music I enjoyed playing since the Cavern or even Hamburg… It was just the same kinda feeling when The Beatles used to really get into it.
John Lennon, 1972
New Musical Express

Live At New York City contained a mixture of songs from the matinée and evening performances. The brief introduction of ‘Power To The People’, leading straight into ‘New York City’, were from the matinée, as were ‘It’s So Hard’, ‘Woman Is The N—-r Of The World’, ‘Well Well Well’, ‘Instant Karma!’, ‘Mother’, ‘Come Together’, and ‘Imagine’.

From the evening performance were taken ‘Cold Turkey’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Give Peace A Chance’, along with the spoken introductions to ‘Woman Is The N—-r Of The World’, ‘Well Well Well’, ‘Mother’, ‘Come Together’, and ‘Cold Turkey’. The given reason for using more of the musically-inferior afternoon show on the album was excessive levels of hiss on the recording of the evening performance.

Members of Elephant’s Memory were critical of Ono’s decision to issue so much of the afternoon performance, and of the video editing which they said presented her with equal prominence to Lennon. However, she did remove her vocals on certain performances from the album mix, and left out several of her songs in the video edit.

The release

Featuring a cover photograph by Bob Gruen, Live In New York City was released in early 1986. It carried a producer’s credit for Yoko Ono.

In the United Kingdom it reached number 55, a surprisingly poor showing. It spent just three weeks in the charts before dropping out. It was issued on LP and cassette, though both were deleted in November 1988. The album was also released on compact disc on 28 April, and contained a four-page booklet.

It fared slightly better in the United States, where it peaked at number 41 and was eventually certified gold. The vinyl and cassette were released on 24 January 1986, and the compact disc on 26 May.

A fragment from the evening performance of Give Peace A Chance was also included on the 1975 compilation Shaved Fish, as a coda to ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’. It featured Lennon and Ono with the other stars and the organisers of the concerts, with Stevie Wonder’s vocals to the fore.

The sound problems in the recording of the evening show were resolved for the release of the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology, which featured three tracks from it: ‘Woman Is The N—-r Of The World’, ‘It’s So Hard’, and ‘Come Together’.

Live In New York City remains one of only two full-length live solo recordings by Lennon, the other being Live Peace In Toronto 1969. It was his only full-length solo concert performance, and marked the final time he performed live with Ono or Elephant’s Memory.

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