Despite having been celebrated throughout much of the 1960s as one of the world’s greatest songwriters and performers, by 1970 John Lennon was suffering from acute insecurity and self doubt brought on partly through drugs, the breakup of The Beatles, the attacks he felt were directed at him and Yoko Ono, and disillusionment with fame and its attendant riches.
In ‘Isolation’ he found a release, inspired by the Primal Therapy he underwent in the summer of 1970 with Dr Arthur Janov. Lyrically rueful and fearful, the song portrayed him and Ono as pitted against the rest of the world, and yet forgiving in the knowledge that everyone remains a “victim of the insane”.
The middle section, meanwhile, was adapted from Barrett Strong’s song ‘Oh I Apologize’, the original b-side of ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’.
I don’t expect you to take me back
After I’ve caused you so much pain
But if you do I promise you
I will never, never make that same mistake again
‘Isolation’ was recorded at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. Lennon double-tracked his vocals for the middle section, panned to either side of the stereo spectrum. He also added an organ part, heard most clearly immediately prior to the final verses.
‘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
A studio outtake of ‘Isolation’, including a broken-down attempt, was included on the John Lennon Anthology box set in 1998.
This song is beautiful. Just the title alone . . .
I really like John’s vocals in this song. And I just read that Julian Lennon feels very identified with this song.
Perhaps the perfect Lennon song. A song that almost everyone at some time or another can identify with. Wish more of his songs were as well produced as Isolation.
A beautiful song, with very good piano playing by Lennon.
This is my favorite Lennon song…he really let’s you feel his pain and frustration. His voice is outstanding!