The melody of ‘Remember’ was adapted from a Lennon composition called ‘Across The Great Water’, which went unrecorded in the studio but had been captured on film earlier in 1970. Once in the studio, however, the driving rhythms from Ringo Starr and Klaus Voormann turned the song into one of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’s most compelling rockers.
The song was inspired by the Primal Therapy that Lennon underwent during the summer of 1970 with Dr Arthur Janov. The lyrics referred to Lennon’s childhood and the disappointment he felt at his unstable family life, themes which the therapy had helped uncover.
Lennon’s 30th birthday occurred towards the end of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band sessions. George Harrison called by at Abbey Road Studios, arriving in his dark blue Ferrari 330 GTC. He presented Lennon with a plastic flower in Studio Three and the pair hugged each other.
An outtake from the ‘Remember’ session was included on 1998’s John Lennon Anthology box set. It begins with a fast version that collapses under its own momentum, followed by an experimental take which found Lennon laughing as he failed to create a successful recording.
During another outtake Lennon sang “Happy birthday… to me…” as Starr and Voormann played the ‘Remember’ backing track.
The song was presented as a mono mix on the album, and contained double-tracked vocals during the chorus. The original studio version was over eight minutes long, but was edited for release. It featured an organ overdub, had more double-tracked vocals, and a Jew’s harp was also used for keeping the rhythm, although this was left out of the album mix.
Lennon cut the eight-minute recording and added the sound of an explosion, a reference to Guy Fawkes’ 1605 attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. In Britain on the fifth of November each year fireworks and bonfires are set alight. A nursery rhyme also ensures that children remember the origins: “Remember, remember the fifth of November/Gunpowder, treason and plot/I see no reason why gunpowder, treason/Should ever be forgot.”
In England it’s the day they blew up the Houses of Parliament. We celebrate it by having bonfires every November the fifth. It was just an ad lib. It was about the third take, and it begins to sound like Frankie Laine – when you’re singing ‘remember, remember the fifth of November.’ And I just broke and it went on for about another seven or eight minutes. I was just ad libbing and goofing about. But then I cut it there and it just exploded ’cause it was a good joke.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
The lyrics to ‘Remember’ also contain a couplet adapted from the opening lines of Sam Cooke’s 1962 song ‘Bring It On Home To Me’: “If you ever change your mind/About leaving it all behind”. Lennon later recorded the song for his 1975 album Rock ‘N’ Roll.
The night after ‘Remember’ was recorded, Lennon invited his father Alf to dinner at Tittenhurst Park. It was the last time the pair would meet. Alf Lennon brought his young wife Pauline and their 18-month-old son David Henry Lennon.
Alf later described the event in a four-page handwritten statement which he sent to his solicitor.
He launched into an account of his recent visit to America, and as the story unfolded, so the self inflicted torture began to show in his face, and his voice rose to a scream as he likened himself to Jimi Hendrix and other pop stars who had recently departed from the scene, ending in a crescendo as he admitted he was ‘Bloody mad, insane’ and due for an early demise. It seemed he had gone to America, at great expense to have some kind of treatment through drugs, which enabled one to go back and relive from early childhood the happenings, which in his own case, he should have been happier to forget. I was now listening to the result of this treatment as he reviled his dead mother in unspeakable terms, referring, also, to the aunt who had brought him up, in similar derogatory terms, as well as one or two of his closest friends. I sat through it all, completely stunned, hardly believing that this was the kind considerate ‘Beatle’ John Lennon talking to his father with such evil intensity…
There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind, that he meant every word he spoke, his countenance was frightful to behold, as he explained in detail, how I would be carried out to sea and dumped, ‘twenty – fifty – or perhaps you would prefer a hundred fathoms deep.’ The whole loathsome tirade was uttered with malignant glee, as though he were actually participating in the terrible deed.