This week I’ve been carrying on with my journey through the studio output of the solo Beatles from their split onward.
Next up it’s the turn of John Lennon. Always the most outspoken and controversial member of the Beatles, his solo albums were as challenging and fascinating as you would expect. They weren’t always consistently brilliant, but when they hit the mark either emotionally or artistically, they showed that John was a force to be reckoned with long after the Fab Four broke down.
It’s just such a tragedy that his life was taken from him at such a young age (and in such a senseless way) and we were denied what I’m sure would’ve been many more years of incredible music from this complex and intriguing character.
I’ve attempted once again to rank all his albums in order of my least favourite to most favourite, and to give a short description as to why. This doesn’t include the experimental solo projects (‘Unfinished Music 1&2’ and ‘The Wedding Album) he released during the Beatles’ era, as I want to try and keep this simple, and to be frank, I’m not sure I could sit through them at this stage!
For some of the albums, this is my first listen, and of course this is completely subjective and open to debate.
I hope this inspires you to revisit John’s solo work, or to find out more about his music.
8. Some Time in New York City (1972)
What happened John?
Whilst it’s not as bad as I’ve been led to believe, this is still pretty bad.
Whilst the rawness on John’s first album gave it an emotional intensity, here it just feels half-arsed. There are some good moments and tunes here, and I admire some of the strong political stances he takes. But come on John, you need the tunes to back it up!
And as much as I don’t want to jump on the ‘we hate Yoko’ bandwagon; there is a bit too much of the screech-queen here.
Favourite Track: New York City
7. Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)
Just like Paul’s ‘Choba’ and ‘Run, Devil Run’ albums, I find it hard to get excited about John’s album of cover songs.
It’s fun listening to John revisiting his roots and he of course does a good job of bringing the energy required to make these tunes rock and roll.
But even Lennon can’t improve on the originals.
Fun, but kind of unnecessary.
Favourite Track: You Can’t Catch Me
(Sorry, I couldn’t find John’s version on YouTube!)
6. Milk and Honey (1984)
Whilst ‘Double Fantasy’ was a real stylistic change from ‘Walls and Bridges’ some 6 years earlier; Milk and Honey feels like a continuation from its predecessor, and this makes a good companion to that album both in feel and in songwriting. The collaboration between John and Yoko returns, and just like the last album, the strength of this album is inconsistent. There are some great tunes and it’s a real treat to hear more Lennon songs after he was tragically taken from us. But there are lots more average songs on here compared with DF, including from John himself.
Favourite Track: Nobody Told Me
5. Mind Games (1973)
Lennon does a total U-Turn from the hard hitting and difficult listening of ‘Some Time in New York,’ to deliver his most ‘pleasant’ and accessible album.
There are some really magical moments and songs on ‘Mind Games,’ but it never quite reaches the heights of his first two albums.
Definitely worth a listen, but just falling short of being up there with his finest work.
Favourite Track: Meat City
4. Double Fantasy (1980)
After a 5 year absence, John returns with his most ‘pop’ sounding album. There is a contentment in his voice, which is far removed from the angry young activist of a decade earlier, and the love he has for Yoko and his son Sean permeates throughout the songs. This of course adds a bittersweet feeling to the last album he would make before he was tragically murdered; particularly when he sings ‘I can’t wait to see you come of age’ to his son in ‘Beautiful Boy,’ when we know that he would never get the chance.
The album is a return to a full collaboration with Yoko Ono, and their styles of writing are so different that it does make the songs jar at times. Yoko adds an almost punk-rock feel, which is different from John’s more classic sounding songs. Their sexual and loving chemistry is obvious on many of the songs however, and you can tell their relationship was a very passionate one. Her songs aren’t actually as bad as I thought they would be, and John’s songwriting is the strongest it’s been since Walls and Bridges.
There is more of a contemporary ’80’s feel to the production throughout. His voice is more stripped back and clearer without the over-use of reverb he favoured on some of his earlier albums.
A very enjoyable, if inconsistent album.
Favourite Track: I’m Losing You
3. Walls and Bridges (1974)
John finds his funk. You can tell he’s having more fun and is more relaxed on this album.
He sounds like he’s having a great time, which is a nice chance for an artist as intense and complex as John, and this fun feeling passes onto the listener. There are also some really touching and beautiful songs on here.
I really enjoyed this one, and I would definitely listen to it again and again.
Favourite Track: Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)
2. Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Lennon’s most emotionally pained and honest album; inspired by his primal scream therapy sessions after the bitter end of the Beatles. It’s rare to hear an artist so open and spread out in front of you, and you’ve got to admire his honesty and conviction. There is no artifice or embellishment here; this is about as ‘real’ as the artistic process gets, and it’s utterly spellbinding.
This album improves every time I listen to it, and is essential listening.
Favourite Track: Working Class Hero
- Imagine (1971)
Edging it slightly due to nostalgic reasons (this is the first John Lennon solo album I fell in love with).
Lennon hones the raw anger and vulnerability of his first album into something even more timeless. Brilliant from beginning to end, and deserving of all the plaudits it gets.
Favourite Track: Oh My Love.
I hope you enjoyed my journey through the tragically short but wonderful solo catalogue of John Lennon. Let me know your favourite Lennon albums and songs below, and thanks for reading.