The songs

John Lennon often found inspiration at his lowest points, and the Lost Weekend was no exception. Walls And Bridges begins with ‘Going Down On Love’, in which Lennon reveals he is “drowning in a sea of hatred”. The mix of indulgence and sorrow continues throughout the album, from the defiantly upbeat ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ through to the morose ‘Scared’ and ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)’ – a song which Lennon hoped Frank Sinatra might record.

Well, that says the whole story. I always imagined Sinatra singing that one, I dunno why. He could do a perfect job with it. Ya listenin’, Frank? You need a song that isn’t a piece of nothing. Here’s one for you. The horn arrangement – everything’s made for you. But don’t ask me to produce it!
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

‘What You Got’ and ‘Bless You’ were written for Lennon’s estranged wife Yoko Ono. The former showed the influence of the American R&B on his music, while the latter was a mournful lament in which Lennon spoke explicitly of the couple’s separation: “Some people say it’s over/Now that we spread our wings/But we know better darling/The hollow ring is only last year’s echo”. He even found the grace to wish well Ono’s new partner, session guitarist David Spinozza, who had played on Mind Games.

‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’, meanwhile, was inspired by his unexpected contentment with May Pang, and his thanks to her for lifting his spirits from the gutter. Pang had been encouraged by Ono to begin a relationship with Lennon, and despite her initial wariness, the pair soon fell in love.

A key track on Walls And Bridges was ‘#9 Dream’, a lush production sounding unlike anything else he recorded, over which Lennon sang of romantic magic and nocturnal discovery. He adapted the melody of the string arrangement of Harry Nilsson’s cover of ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ for the verses, and the chorus – “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé” – was taken from a dream in which two women called his name.

This was one of John’s favorite songs, because it literally came to him in a dream. He woke up and wrote down those words along with the melody. He had no idea what it meant, but he thought it sounded beautiful. John arranged the strings in such a way that the song really does sound like a dream. It was the last song written for the album, and went thru a couple of title changes: ‘So Long Ago’, and ‘Walls & Bridges’.
May Pang

Two of the tracks referenced Beatles songs. ‘Going Down On Love’ contained the line “Somebody please, please help me”, and ‘Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’ ended with an echo of the ‘beep beep, beep beep, yeah’ refrain from ‘Drive My Car’.

The mostly instrumental ‘Beef Jerky’, meanwhile, borrowed the riff from Paul McCartney’s ‘Let Me Roll It’ – itself a stark recording seemingly inspired the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album. Lennon had been reunited with his former bandmate after McCartney unexpectedly dropped by a Los Angeles studio earlier in 1974, and while the resultant jam was disappointing, it showed that neither was eager to continue feuding.

Walls And Bridges also featured ‘Old Dirt Road’, a collaboration with Harry Nilsson, one of Lennon’s most tenacious drinking buddies during the Lost Weekend. It also closed with a throwaway cover of Lee Dorsey’s 1961 hit ‘Ya Ya’, featuring the 11-year-old Julian Lennon on drums.

One song from the Walls And Bridges sessions was left off the album. ‘Move Over Ms L’ was originally to have been positioned between ‘Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’ and ‘What You Got’ on the album’s second side, but Lennon decided to remove it shortly before the album’s release. The song was subsequently re-recorded and released as the b-side to the ‘Stand By Me’ single.

Cover artwork

Walls And Bridges was presented in a fold-out cover featuring various photographs of Lennon taken by Bob Gruen, and reproductions of artwork drawn by Lennon as a schoolboy in the 1950s. The fold-over flaps could be rearranged in various combinations, and were designed by Roy Kohara.

Walls And Bridges album artwork - John Lennon

The LP’s inner sleeve was enclosed inside another card container featuring more photographs of Lennon, and an eight-page booklet completed the package. The booklet contained song lyrics, five more artworks from the 1950s, and an extract from the book Irish Families, Their Names, Arms And Origins by Edward Maclysaght which detailed the history of the name Lennon.

The booklet also featured credits for the album, and two quotations: ‘”Possession is nine-tenths of the problem” – Dr. Winston O’Boogie’; and ‘On the 23rd August 1974 at 9 o’clock I saw a U.F.O. – J.L.’

The release

An advertising campaign ran to promote Walls And Bridges. The concept, suggested by Lennon, was around the theme “Listen to this…”, and was applied to button badges, stickers, advertisements, posters and t-shirts. In New York City it also featured on the rear of 2,000 buses.

A television commercial also ran in late 1974. It showed the album sleeve in various permutations, and had a voiceover by Ringo Starr. Lennon returned the favour by voicing the advert for Starr’s album Goodnight Vienna, released in November 1974.

Walls And Bridges was released on 26 September 1974 in the United States. It was a Billboard number one, was awarded gold status, and spent 35 weeks on the charts.

In the United Kingdom it was issued on 4 October 1974. It peaked at number six, and was in the charts for a total of 10 weeks.

Shortly after its release Lennon supervised a quadrophonic mix of Walls And Bridges, although the popularity of the format was limited in 1974 and it sold poorly.