John Lennon’s first of three experimental albums made with Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins featured a controversial nude photograph on its front cover.
I don’t think I actually heard all of Two Virgins; just bits of it. I wasn’t particularly into that kind of thing. That was his and her affair; their trip. They got involved with each other and were obviously into each other to such a degree that they thought everything they said or did was of world importance, and so they made it into records and films.
The album was recorded in an all-night session at Kenwood, Lennon’s home in Weybridge, Surrey. Lennon invited Ono over on 3 May 1968, the date which marked the beginning of their relationship.
Although married to Cynthia Lennon, he had become intrigued by the Japanese artist whom he had first met on 7 November 1966. The pair were in regular contact between those dates, and Lennon’s invitation to Ono came while Cynthia was on a two-week holiday in Greece.
Two Virgins, as it later became known, was a spontaneous recording made in Lennon’s music room, which was situated in the attic of Kenwood. The recordings included vocal improvisations, birdsong, amplifier feedback, distorted instruments and other sound effects.
The tapes also contained renditions of nursery rhymes, music hall songs and novelty piano tunes. An outtake from the recordings, unofficially known as ‘Holding A Note’, has also been issued on bootleg releases.
When we got back from India, we were talking to each other on the phone. I called her over, it was the middle of the night and Cyn was away, and I thought, ‘Well, now’s the time if I’m going to get to know her any more.’ She came to the house and I didn’t know what to do; so we went upstairs to my studio and I played her all the tapes that I’d made, all this far-out stuff, some comedy stuff, and some electronic music. There were very few people I could play those tapes to. She was suitably impressed, and then she said, ‘Well, let’s make one ourselves,’ so we made Two Virgins. It was midnight when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
Two 78rpm discs were also incorporated into the recordings. The first was ‘Together’, written by George Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, was released in 1928 by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, and featured Bix Beiderbecke on cornet.
The second was ‘I’d Love To Fall Asleep And Wake Up In My Mammy’s Arms’, the b-side of Fred Douglas’s 1921 single ‘Margie’. The music was written by Fred E Ahlert, and the words by Sam M Lewis and Joe Young. The snippet used on Two Virgins was retitled ‘Hushabye Hushabye’, a phrase from the song.
Lennon’s childhood friend Pete Shotton, who had been at Kenwood when Ono arrived, later claimed that he had made several of the tape loops with Lennon. The recordings were made on two-track tape using a Brennel machine.
Even before we made this record, I envisioned producing an album of hers and I could see this album cover of her being naked because her work was so pure. I couldn’t think of any other way of presenting her. It wasn’t a sensational idea or anything.
After Yoko and I met, I didn’t realise I was in love with her. I was still thinking it was an artistic collaboration, as it were – producer and artist, right? We’d known each other for a couple of years. My ex-wife was away in Italy, and Yoko came to visit me and we took some acid. I was always shy with her, and she was shy, so instead of making love, we went upstairs and made tapes. I had this room full of different tapes where I would write and make strange loops and things like that for the Beatles’ stuff. So we make a tape all night. She was doing her funny voices and I was pushing all different buttons on my tape recorder and getting sound effects. And then as the sun rose we made love and that was Two Virgins. That was the first time.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff