Contrary to some beliefs, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band isn’t unremittingly bleak. ‘Remember’, ‘Love’ and ‘Well Well Well’ all contained positive moments, and the statement in ‘God’ that “I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that’s reality” showed that Lennon could see a way forward after being emotionally stripped bare by Dr Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy.
‘Hold On’, however, was the most upbeat song on the album; perhaps significantly, apart from the fragmentary ‘My Mummy’s Dead’, it is also the briefest.
I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war, on tour with Brian [Epstein]. We had to tell him, ‘We’re going to talk about the war this time, we’re not going to just waffle.’ And I wanted to say [on ‘Revolution’] what I thought about revolution. I’d been thinking about it up in the hills in India. And I still had this ‘God will save us’ feeling about it. ‘It’s going to be alright.’ But even now I’m saying, ‘Hold on, John, it’s going to be alright.’ Otherwise, I won’t hold on.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
In the studio
Recorded with just guitar, vocals, bass and drums, Hold On was completed in 32 takes at EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London.
Unlike some of the other John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band> arrangements, ‘Hold On’ had a lightness of touch in its performance, from Lennon’s shimmering tremolo-treated guitar to Ringo Starr’s restrained drumming.
The song underwent some changes in the studio. At one point Lennon considered a fade-out at the end, and various tempos, drum patterns and lyrical changes were tested during the session. An extract from a bluesy version was included on 1998’s John Lennon Anthology box set.
In between takes, the band also jammed a number of rock ‘n’ roll songs, including Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Long Lost John’, which was later issued on John Lennon Anthology. The song was a key influence on the Imagine song ‘Oh Yoko!’.
Some attempts at ‘Hold On’ were instrumental or had guide vocals, and take 30 was the first to feature tremolo on Lennon’s guitar. The final version, take 32, had Lennon singing and playing guitar simultaneously, and the ad-libbed ‘cookie’, a reference to the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. He subsequently double-tracked his vocals, adding a second ‘cookie’.
Sesame Street was first broadcast on 10 November 1969 in the US, and Lennon presumably watched it while undergoing Primal Therapy; his regression to childhood may have helped him make a connection with the show. Ringo Starr’s song ‘Early 1970’, the b-side of the April 1971 single ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, also contained a cry of ‘cookie’, during a verse about Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Laying in bed, watching TV, cookie!
With his mama by his side, she’s Japanese
They screamed and they cried, now they’re free
And when he comes to town
I know he’s gonna play with me
A rough mix of ‘Hold On’ was made by engineer Phil McDonald at the end of the session. Lennon took home that night in order to consider further work. In the end, however, he decided it was good enough to use on the album.
‘Isolation’ and ‘Hold On John’, they’re the rough remixes. I just remixed them that night on seven-and-a-half [inches per second tape] to take them home to see what else I was going to do with them. And then I didn’t really, I didn’t even put them onto fifteen [IPS], so the quality is a bit hissy on ’em too. By the time I’d done everything, I started listening. I found out it’s better that, with ‘Instant Karma’ and other things, you remix it right away that night. I’d known that before, but never followed it through.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner