How do you follow an act like The Beatles? In typically unpredictable fashion, the former Fabs served up primal scream therapy, soul-searching, spliff-fuelled DIY homemade efforts, Spectorised epics and much more besides. As we celebrate John Lennon’s 80th birthday, join us for dip into six of his best post-Fabs works (and take a sideways look at the cover art for a few of them, too!)…
1. Plastic Ono Band, 1970
The clanging funeral bells that introduce this suggest we’re in uncharted territory – this is one of the bravest records ever released by a major league rock star. Inspired by his primal scream therapy to kick heroin, Lennon’s howls of pain are breathtaking. Stark, clanging arrangements frame these simple, but devastating songs. The pain of his childhood is laid bare on Mother and My Mummy’s Dead, while John’s rejection of hero worship and idolatry is expressed on I Found Out. Isolation and Look At Me are beatific ballads, the latter fingerpicked effort written at Lennon’s Rishikesh sojourn with his former band. “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me,” he sings on list song God. “The dream is over”. It certainly was. And Lennon buried it here.
2. Imagine, 1971
For all of the Plastic Ono Band album’s power and artistic worth, Lennon’s competitive edge meant he had to prove himself again as a commercial songwriter. Imagine is a wide-ranging beauty. The title track is John’s towering solo statement, but elsewhere he marshals his pain and turmoil into surprisingly accessible material – the self-lacerating Crippled Inside and Jealous Guy, the political I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier and Gimme Some Truth nestling alongside the pretty Oh My Love and country waltz of Oh Yoko!.
3. Double Fantasy, 1980
When this was released it was met with a collective shrug, but after Lennon’s tragic murder, it was lauded as a career-best effort. Alternating between John and Yoko songs, John turns in precision-tooled pop while Yoko presents spiky art-rock. Lennon reins in his experimental side to provide conservative yet highly melodic cuts such as the tongue-in-cheek Elvis homage (Just Like) Starting Over. Beautiful Boy and Woman found him unafraid to embrace schmaltz.
4. Walls And Bridges, 1974
Cut during doing his 18-month ‘Lost Weekend’ while separated from Yoko. Lennon’s lifestyle may have gone off the rails, but he’s pretty focused here. Headline tracks are Elton John collaboration Whatever Gets You Through The Night and the beatific #9 Dream. John ups the pace for the urgent funk rock of What You Got. Steel And Glass recycles the riff from How Do You Sleep?, though this time his target is switched from Macca to Beatles manager Allen Klein.
5. Mind Games, 1973
After the politically charged Some Time In New York City, Lennon temporarily ditched the soundbite activism for a straightforward song collection, written in just a week. John’s first album without Phil Spector on production duties, Bring On The Lucie (Freeda People) is a finely honed slice of political positivism and the pretty Out Of The Blue was one of his best ballads in years.
6. Rock ’n’ Roll, 1975
Stolen master tapes, threats of lawsuits and a gun-toting Phil Spector – how does Lennon’s good-natured covers album sound so relaxed? The core of John’s Walls And Bridges band, plus a host of other session dudes, knock out these evocative refits of 50s classics by the likes of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino and Sam Cooke. After Spector got kicked off the project, arrangements were reined in, but the full-sounding recordings have a distinctly expansive (and expensive) mid-70s feel.