John Lennon’s fourth solo album, Mind Games, was recorded at the beginning of the Lost Weekend, his separation from Yoko Ono. It showed Lennon moving away from the politics of Some Time In New York City, and a return to more introspective songwriting.
Bruised by the public and critical backlash against Some Time In New York City, Lennon moved away from radical politics and activism. He retreated from recording music for more than a year and continued his efforts to remain in the United States.
In May 1973 he and Yoko Ono moved from Greenwich Village to a 12-room apartment at the Dakota near Manhattan’s Central Park. The couple had been drifting apart, however, and she had busied herself recording the albums Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling The Space.
Lennon worked on a number of song ideas which he recorded in demo form, but was aware that his confidence as a musician had taken a knock. The boundless creativity which had driven his early solo works was lacking, yet he set about crafting a set of solid yet uninspired songs.
Using many of the same session musicians Ono had employed on Feeling The Space, Lennon entered New York’s Record Plant East studio to begin work on the album. Mind Games was completed within a period lasting around two weeks, with Lennon producing himself. The band was credited as the Plastic U.F.Ono Band.
Significantly, the period also marked the beginning of Lennon’s 16-month separation from Yoko Ono, and the start of his relationship with May Pang and the time he later dubbed the Lost Weekend. Pang had been the couple’s personal assistant since 1971 and had been asked by Ono to become Lennon’s partner in order to discourage him from seeing other women.
Well, first I thought, Whoopee! Bachelor life! Whoopee, whoopee! And then I woke up one day and thought, What is this? I want to go home. But she wouldn’t let me come home. That’s why it was eighteen months instead of six.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Mind Games captured this state of flux in Lennon’s life. The songs ranged from aimless fillers (‘Intuition’, ‘Bring On The Lucie’, ‘Only People’) to up-tempo rockers (‘Tight A$’, ‘Meat City’). The lack of a unifying theme hadn’t prevented Lennon from producing great work in the past, as demonstrated on Imagine, but Mind Games lacked enough great moments to mask the sense that this once-great composer and performer was treading water.
Several of the songs, inevitably, were about Ono, and were among the most effective on the album. ‘Out The Blue’, ‘Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)’, and ‘I Know (I Know)’ detailed his regret at losing her, while ‘One Day (At A Time)’ and ‘You Are Here’ explored the theme of two star-crossed lovers destined to be together.
The title track, along with ‘Bring On The Lucie (Freeda Peeple)’ and ‘Only People’, showed that Lennon hadn’t lost his belief in peace or the power of people to change the world, even if the results lacked the conviction and drive of his earlier solo work.
The three-second silent track ‘Nutopian International Anthem’, meanwhile, showed that even if he hadn’t lost his skill at subverting expectations, there was little radical spirit to back it up. The conceptual country Nutopia had been announced by Lennon and Ono in a press release issued on 1 April 1973, and at a press conference the following day.
[‘Mind Games’] was originally called ‘Make Love Not War, but that was such a cliché that you couldn’t say it anymore, so I wrote it obscurely, but it’s all the same story. How many times can you say the same thing over and over? When this came out, in the early Seventies, everybody was starting to say the Sixties was a joke, it didn’t mean anything, those love-and-peaceniks were idiots. [Sarcastically] ‘We all have to face the reality of being nasty human beings who are born evil and everything’s gonna be lousy and rotten so boo-hoo-hoo…’ ‘We had fun in the Sixties,’ they said, ‘but the others took it away from us and spoiled it all for us.’ And I was trying to say: ‘No, just keep doin’ it.’
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Even Lennon’s skill for wordplay had largely left him, with ‘Tight A$’ (itself a subversion of the phrase ‘tight ass’) and ‘Meat City’ (“Chickinsuckin’ mothertruckin’ Meat City shookdown USA”) the sole exceptions. The latter song also contained one of Lennon’s favourite curses, “Fuck a pig,” played backwards and sped up.