Some Time In New York City was issued in a gatefold sleeve with printed inner sleeves, a postcard of the Statue of Liberty, and – in the US only – a petition against John Lennon’s expulsion from the country. Early pressings had a message etched into the inner groove area of the vinyl: “John and Yoko forever, peace on earth and good will to men 72”.
The cover concept continued Lennon’s desire to present his music as a newspaper or diary. Inspired by the New York Times, the artwork printed the lyrics to the studio songs, along with photographs, montages and drawings, and the parody motto: “Ono news that’s fit to print”.
One of the images, to illustrate Yoko Ono’s song We’re All Water, featured Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong dancing naked together. The montage made many US retailers nervous, particularly in the wake of Lennon and Ono’s 1968 album Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins.
You see how they banned the picture here. Yoko made this beautiful poster: Chairman Mao and Richard Nixon dancing naked together, you see? And the stupid retailers stuck a gold sticker over it that you can’t even steam off. At least you could steam off that Beatles cover [Yesterday… And Today]. So you see the kind of pressure Yoko and I were getting, not only on a personal level, and the public level, and the court case, and the fucking government, and this, that, and the other, but every time we tried to express ourselves, they would ban it, would cover it up, would censor it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Some Time In New York City was critically panned upon its release. 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?’
Chastened by the reviews, Lennon began to adopt a lower profile. In the United Kingdom the single Happy Xmas (War Is Over) was finally released in November 1972, almost a year after it had been issued in America. Lennon and Ono moved into the Dakota building early in 1973, and he spent more than a year away from the recording studio before returning in 1973 with Mind Games.
Some Time In New York City was issued in the United States in 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.