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Beyond the Greatest Hits: John Lennon

Beyond the Greatest Hits: John Lennon

You know that there is more to John Lennon’s solo output than “Watching the Wheels.”

Capitol Records has recently released Lennon, a box set collecting the former Beatle’s nine solo albums.

The set allows us to look under the hood and find the weird little gems that bolster songs such as “Working Class Hero” and “Imagine.” If you already familiar with the songs we have selected here, you know that there is more to John Lennon’s solo output than “Watching the Wheels.” If you don’t, we hope you enjoy these unsung classics.

Plastic Ono Band

Hold On

Even though “Hold On” has a less violent sound than most of the songs on Plastic Ono Band, that doesn’t mean that John Lennon isn’t shedding familiar demons here as well. Featuring a lead tremolo guitar, “Hold On” is a mantra for those about to give up in the face of adversity. Lennon does namecheck himself and Yoko Ono, but the message is definitely more universal here. “Hold On” may be a plea to ward off violent thoughts but before you think Lennon has completely lost his sense of humor, look for his impression of Cookie Monster halfway through the song.

I Found Out

Plastic Ono Band is a trial by fire, an exorcism where Lennon went from Beatle to John. “I Found Out” is the first song here that denounces Lennon’s former group, dissing both Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s gurus. Featuring stark production and heavier than the two songs that preceded it, “I Found Out” signaled a new direction for Lennon, including his message to beware demagogues and false idols.

Isolation

“Isolation” closes out the first side of Plastic Ono Band, a mid-tempo slow burner that continues to explore Lennon’s feelings of ostracization and being alone that fill the album. His message is clear: he thinks the human race is insane. The song has been covered numerous times since its 1970 release by musicians from Harry Nilsson to Joe Cocker. It is a properly sad way to close out the first side of an introspective record.

plasticonoRemember

Lennon went through a series of intense therapy sessions leading up to the recording of Plastic Ono Band, dealing with his issues with fame, conflict with his family and the early demise of his mother. Featuring piano as its lead instrument, Lennon appropriates a Sam Cooke lyric here to discuss how difficult it is to separate oneself from the past. The song ends suddenly, with Lennon quoting the poem “Remember, Remember the Fifth of November” before an explosion is heard. Maybe it’s because folks in Britain celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks, but Lennon likely had something deeper planned here.

Well Well Well

Although “Well Well Well” is an out and out rocker, its lyrics deal with some pretty mundane experiences. Lennon recounts some of his day to day events with Yoko Ono, turning a quotidian day into primal scream therapy. An unease exists between the two, something Lennon captures perfectly in the way he howls the song’s title over and over towards the end of the song. This is some of the toughest music of his career.

Look at Me

A quiet moment in the tempestuous storm that is the Plastic Ono Band, “Look at Me” actually has its roots during the recording of the White Album. Featuring quiet fingerpicking, “Look at Me” continues to explore the self-doubt that Lennon examines throughout the album. This is a pretty revolutionary concept for a rock star in the early ‘70s, this expression of doubt and introspection. “What am I supposed to be?” Lennon repeatedly asks, stripped bare with his guitar.

God

“God” is Lennon’s post-Beatles mission statement. God may be a concept by “which we measure our pain,” but the idea of that specific Supreme Being isn’t the only thing Lennon has in mind here. More than a simple laundry list of disbelief, Lennon ticks off a litany of idols from Jesus to Buddha to Hitler, claiming he doesn’t believe in a single one of them, even throwing the Beatles in the mix. “The dream is over,” Lennon cries at the end of the song. His days of being the Walrus have come to an end. Just Lennon and Yoko from here on out.

Imagine

Crippled Inside

What starts out like a strange inversion of the guitar intro to “Across the Universe” soon becomes an expose on Lennon’s cynical outlook on humanity and especially fake people who put on airs to hide the fact that they are, in fact, “Crippled Inside.” Lennon lays all of these bleak lyrics upon an upbeat, toe-tapping piano riff that would feel fun in just about any honky tonk saloon. This dichotomy mirrors the very subject matter of the song. While the music feels very happy and fun, the lyrics themselves are dark and, well, crippled inside.

Oh My Love

Written by Lennon with Yoko, the relatively simple and short “Oh My Love” is a beautiful ballad showing how true love can open the eyes, mind and heart of the lover to new observations, emotions and appreciations of the world. George Harrison adds guitar and Tibetan cymbals, the only percussion, echo throughout over a soft piano lead.

imagineOh, Yoko!

Yet another song about John’s love for his wife comes in “Oh, Yoko!” as if “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” “Woman” and any number of other tracks hadn’t said the same thing. Much like “Crippled Inside,” “Oh, Yoko!” is an upbeat, piano-based and undeniably catchy and infectious song, but unlike that song and others on Imagine, “Oh, Yoko!” is not bleak or introspective. The lyrics are every bit as fun as the music that props them up. This may be Lennon at his most “sappy,” but it’s also the Lennon that anyone in love can relate to most.

It’s So Hard

John Lennon has always experimented with other genres. He had, in fact, experimented with blues rock so very much that the music could hardly be called another genre for Lennon. Much like “Yer Blues,” Lennon gets into a bluesy groove accented by his distinctive vocals (both low and high). It’s a great song, but it also suffers some from the overall clean safety of Imagine as compared to earlier and more raw tracks like the aforementioned “Yer Blues” and “One After 909.” Producer Phil Spector was undeniably a genius at the board, but also kept to a certain pop element that didn’t quite lend itself perfectly to Lennon’s more abrasive and edgy songs that “It’s So Hard” could have been one of.

How Do You Sleep?

Following the success of Paul McCartney’s Ram, which featured a few pointed jabs at Lennon, Lennon’s angry response was “How Do You Sleep” which spells out his anger at McCartney in no uncertain terms. “Them Freaks was right when they said you was dead” Lennon croons in reference to the “Paul is Dead” hoax. References to Beatles songs pepper through the entire song in a brilliant if caustic expose of the strife between the two master songwriters of the bygone team. The anger was so strong that Ringo Starr reportedly was upset enough during the recording to say “That’s enough, John!” Love it or hate it, the song is a hard-driving rock track with a beautiful and pained vocal by Lennon. If nothing else, it is a definitive chapter in Beatles’ history.

How?

“How” is another of Lennon’s pensively introspective tracks asking questions of the universe. The contemplative song, complete with accentuating strings, is both a therapeutic purging of emotions, in part spawned from the Primal Therapy Lennon was undergoing with Yoko and is also something of a punctuation to the previous song, “How Do You Sleep?” as if to ask the question one more time. The two songs together make for a very different message, but a very interesting dichotomy.

I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die

Perhaps the most musically complex song on the album is also among the most lyrically simplistic. “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die” is not only the title but virtually the only lyric. Lennon replaces “Soldier” with such phrases as “Woman,” “Rich Man,” “Lawyer” and “Sailor” amongst others. Of course this isn’t really a bad thing as Lennon’s own Beatles song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” was similarly repetitive and similarly lengthy (“I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die” clocks in at over six minutes). What really drives the song is the grooving rock and roll with excellent play between guitar, piano and driving drums, not to mention the entrancing and psychedelic guitar leads with just the right amount of electric blues meshed in.

Gimme Some Truth

Like many of the songs on Imagine, “Gimme Some Truth” displays Lennon at his most angry and cynical as he calls out hypocrites, psychotics, the uptight, the short sighted and other thorns in Lennon’s crown. Over and over Lennon repeats “All I want is truth/ Just gimme some truth.” Unlike many of the songs on the album, “Gimme Some Truth” is not a soft or upbeat song, but a hard-driving rocker with guitar leads echoing Lennon’s political lyrics. Lennon’s anger over chauvinism, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and propaganda shines through at every turn, but even without the deep (and poetically well-formed) lyrics, “Gimme Some Truth” is a great listen with some excellent guitar work by Harrison and some fantastic lyrical bends by Lennon. By the time of this recording, Lennon was no longer worried about what the press said about him. He had a message and why shouldn’t he say it? This daring continued for the rest of his career and, in fact, shortened life.

Sometime in New York City

New York City

A blistering, autobiographical rocker, “New York City” is full of underground name checking, sloganeering and a host of other date-stamped lyrics. It’s an updated “Ballad of John and Yoko” with even sharper teeth and grittier production. But it’s a delightfully shambolic, ragged approach that, with the rocking backing afforded by the Elephant’s Memory, helps make it something more than a moldering curio. On an admittedly difficult album, “New York City” is one of the more accessible tracks.

John Sinclair

Written and recorded for a marquee appearance at Ann Arbor’s Chrysler Arena in 1971 as part of a rally to support the recently jailed head of the White Panther Party, John Sinclair, “John Sinclair” is the epitome of Lennon’s emersion in late-‘60s sloganeering, using his celebrity to make the best of an otherwise trivial situation. Immortalized in song, Sinclair’s arrest for possession moved beyond a local interest story to that of an international matter, one that helped shine a light on the issue at hand. While Sinclair was freed in two rather than the “ten for two” to which he was sentenced, Lennon’s country blues, released after Sinclair’s own release from prison, couldn’t help but feel dated by the time of its release. Despite all this, it’s a catchy blues that shows Lennon to be an adept guitarist and chronicler of social injustices.

Woman is the Nigger of The World

One of the most provocative song titles ever conceived and front runner for most unlikely choice for a single, the music itself is a string-backed slow-burning soul number that owes more to Spector’s wall of sound than the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements. But by masking a delicate subject in accessible pop trappings, Lennon proved himself a master at hiding our proverbial vegetables within a more palatable form. That said, it’s overly aggressive sloganeering is a little too over the top to land lyrically and comes across as cringe-worthy, but the musical accompaniment more than makes up for this, making “Woman is the Nigger of the World” an ideal opening track to this polarizing album.

john-lennon-some-time-in-newAttica State

Yet another example of sloganeering wrapped up in a catchy pop hook, “Attica State” finds Lennon ranting and railing against the Attica State Prison riots. With its sing-song hook and blues-based structure, it shows Lennon’s uncanny ability of putting together a topical lyric that, thanks to its catchiness, could easily be employed by a group of protesters. Had he the luxury of social media and the immediate dissemination of new music, his topical pieces would feel far more timely and prescient. As it was, “Attica State,” like many of the protest songs here, came out after the event had begun to fade from the public consciousness.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Not to be confused with the U2 song of the same name, Lennon’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a blistering rock/funk track documenting the troubles in Northern Ireland. With Yoko’s vocals prominently placed in the mix, it’s a less accessible approach to the same thematic material, but deals more directly with the troubles themselves. Her unique vocalizing would go on to influence a number of avant garde musicians and ultimately prove herself a trailblazer, but here it served as a detriment in getting their message across at the time. Regardless, it’s a powerful track on an album full of them that finds both Lennon and Ono using their celebrity to call attention to the world’s atrocities.

Don’t Worry Kyoko

A massive, sprawling piece of live avant garde vocalizing and noise, “Don’t Worry Kyoko” is easily Sometime in New York City’s most difficult moment. That said, it’s an intriguing performance of Yoko’s incomparable vocal style recorded in front of a live audience with a lumbering band behind her. More endurance test than enjoyable listen, “Don’t Worry Kyoko” is adventurous music for open-minded listeners. Like her unjustly overlooked solo albums from the same period, it’s an acquired taste. But once acquired, nothing else will ever seem quite the same.

Scumbag

Yet another blistering rocker with a ferocious, throat-shredding vocal performance from Lennon, “Scumbag” is schizophrenic acid rock at its finest. While the lyrics aren’t all that hard to discern (Lennon simply shouts the titular insult over and over before Frank Zappa mockingly instructs the crowd on how to follow the lyric), it’s the music churning behind him that holds the listener’s attention. Unlike nearly anything else in his catalog, it possesses a visceral immediacy that draws the listener in and, with its quick tempo and complex playing indicative of Zappa-fronted groups, it’s one of the most musically impressive tracks on an unapologetically challenging release by a major pop idol.

Luck of the Irish

A jaunty folk ballad of sorts, “Luck of the Irish” is a searing indictment of Ireland’s treatment at the hands of the English. While the lyrics might be somewhat heavy-handed, Phil Spector’s assist on production helps make the music itself quite palatable, if a little dated. Ultimately, Sometime In New York City is an incredibly difficult album, but one loaded with interesting ideas both lyrical and musical, one that functions as a veritable time capsule for the social and political issues of the late-1960s/early-1970s.

Mind Games

Tight A$

At his heart, John Lennon was a rock & roller. When he wasn’t being forced to be one by Morris Levy, he could even sound like he was having fun, as on “Tight A$.” The deliberately retro second song from Mind Games can come across as slight upon first listen, but given that Lennon was coming off of the most stridently political period in his songwriting, it’s nice to hear that he still remembers the simple thrills that a rock song used to give him.

One Day (At a Time)

Many of Lennon’s best moments in his solo career came when he was a balladeer, which is ironic given how quick he was to bash his old bandmate Paul over his sentimental streak. What makes songs like “One Day (At a Time)” worthwhile is Lennon’s approach to love songs. The songs are about him, and he sings them with a deftness that only he could muster. Add on a slightly tweaked vocal melody, and you have a love song that avoids many of the love song tropes.

mindgamesBring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple)

Lennon may have stopped attending rallies and leftist political meetings by 1973, but that didn’t mean that he had lost interest in politics as a whole. “Bring on the Lucie” may be one of his strongest political songs, largely because of its buoyant melody and its relatively plainspoken message. Here, Lennon returns to the sort of utopian idealism that he was known for, but he doesn’t pretend to offer any solutions to the world leaders he has nothing but contempt for. All he offers is a reminder of who they work for and whose interest they should be guarding.

Intuition

I hesitate to declare that Mind Games is dated, but this is one tune that could have only been recorded in the 1970s. It’s something of an odd man out on an album that is ostensibly about Lennon grounding himself and going back to basics. “Intuition” has a producer’s touch; it’s the sort of studio contraption that Lennon seemed to have left behind with the Beatles, even if it wears its shag-carpeted heart on its sleeve.

Out The Blue

In a just world, this song would be as well-known and well-regarded by casual Beatles/Lennon fans as Mind Games’ title track. As things are, this remains one of the true gems of Lennon’s solo catalog. Lennon keeps things simple, going for power and complexity, and it works wonderfully here. Its grand, soaring chorus recalls some mix of glam rock’s pomp and Lennon’s own knack for writing a great pop tune. Elton John had to be kicking himself for not writing this first.

You Are Here

Lennon is at his most charming when he plays it relaxed and subtle. Mind Games was meant to be a return to this kind of songwriting, and it doesn’t get more relaxed than “You Are Here.” Lennon paints a picture of a tropical getaway (complete with the requisite slide guitar), and given the tension in his life at this point, one wouldn’t blame him for wanting an escape. Listen closer, though, and that escape is not a place, but a person. It’s at once personal and universal, something few besides Lennon could manage in a song.

Meat City

In the end, though, it’s all about rock ‘n’ roll for John Lennon, and he rarely rocked with more abandon than he did with “Meat City.” The song is a pure, dumb rocker with nonsense lyrics and no message. Then again, John Lennon didn’t always need a message. He was as great of a primal rock star as there ever was, and the raunchy, raucous stomp of “Meat City” more than proves that. If there was any doubt that Lennon couldn’t cut loose after years of preaching and politicking, it was gone by the time “Meat City” drew to a close.

Walls & Bridges

Going Down on Love

Walls & Bridges’ opening track finds an aging Lennon attempting to mellow out slightly. Set against a watered-down funk groove, he shifts into a soulful, pining vocal that often comes across as lost as Lennon himself must have felt while estranged from Yoko Ono during his infamous “lost weekend.” But ultimately “Going Down on Love,” despite the somewhat cringe-worthy double entendre, serves to perfectly set the tone for what’s to come.

Steel & Glass

A stark, nasty take down of himself, “Steel & Glass” finds Lennon stepping outside himself to tear down the façade he created. As he’d done with his primal scream therapy on Plastic Ono Band, here the music functions as a catharsis, an exploration of pain set against a gently strutting R&B backbeat. When he opens with, “This here’s a story about your friend and mine/ who is it? who is it?” we become quickly aware of the darkness permeating Lennon’s mind at this time. Lost and alone, he finds he has no one to blame but himself.

John-Lennon-Walls-And-BridgesNobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)

Full of self-pity and a gloriously soulful arrangement, “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)” teases the blues standard’s title, replacing “knows” with “loves” to make it a far more personal, impactful statement. Realizing full well he has, for lack of a better term, fucked up royally, Lennon does his best attempt at contrition, crafting an achingly beautiful apology that makes Walls & Bridges the best soul album any Beatle ever recorded. The final line is a haunting premonition, “Everybody loves you when you’re six foot in the ground.

Scared

The title itself is more than self-explanatory and, knowing the context within which Walls & Bridges was recorded, it comes as no surprise Lennon, always one to share what was on his mind, constructs the majority of the material on the album as a sort of self-assessment. Often speaking to himself, he seeks comfort and solace in taking responsibility for his actions while remaining the victim in his own mind. Always maddeningly contradictory, this is the Lennon personality in miniature: knowing full well the extent of his misdeeds, but unable to fully accept responsibility. Accompanied by a bluesy, horn-driven backing track, it’s a harrowing exploration of self that yields little in the way of definite conclusions.

Old Dirt Road

A lovely, soaring ballad the likes of which he’d largely abandoned by 1974, it serves as a fine return to form calling to mind the more delicate moments of Imagine and Plastic Ono Band. As evidenced elsewhere on the album, Lennon seemed largely adrift at this point. Because of this, the tone of “Old Dirt Road” is somewhere between depression and nostalgia, while musically it sits between his early solo recordings and those that would ultimately be his last with Walls & Bridges becoming his last album of original material before his retreat into fatherhood.

Beef Jerky

Featuring one of the stranger opening sections of any Lennon song, “Beef Jerky” ultimately settles into a funky, blues-y strut that finds the guitar and bass competing for melodic supremacy. Unlike his more esoteric instrumental explorations, “Beef Jerky” sticks to a tight arrangement that doesn’t suffer from the lack of Lennon’s voice. Rather it serves as a fine interstitial instrumental that retains the stylistic feel of the remainder of the album while still managing enough of a unique quality to stand on its own.

Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradise)

An oddly asymmetrical, riff-based piece anchored by Klaus Voormann’s impossibly round bass tone and soulful horns, “Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradise)” somehow manages to sound like nothing else in his catalog yet still distinctly of a piece with the rest of his catalog. While this might sound somewhat contradictory or nonsensical, such was the frame of mind Lennon found himself when estranged from Ono. Lost in a sea of drugs, alcohol and carousing with best/worst friend Harry Nilsson, Lennon pines for the stability he had found with Ono. The “Drive My Car” tease at the end is pure catnip to diehard Beatles’ fanatics.

What You Got

Easily one of the funkiest tracks Lennon ever laid down, “What You Got” is pure unhinged, raging id. Where elsewhere he is contemplative and almost apologetic, here he’s downright angry at himself, at the world, at his inability to win back the love of his life. Pushing his vocals nearly beyond recognition, “What You Got” is pure, unfiltered emotion. Taking himself to task, he lies prostrate at Ono’s feet, composing the album as a futile plea for forgiveness. That he ultimately can’t see beyond himself proves to be the source of his troubles. While he sings it, he doesn’t entirely seem to believe himself. Here he is getting closer.

Rock ‘n’ Roll

Be-Bop-A-Lula

In his famous interview with Rolling Stone in 1980, Lennon claimed that he performed “Be-Bop-A-Lula” with the Quarrymen on July 6, 1957 at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool – the very same day he met Paul McCartney for the first time. Thus, the Gene Vincent tune was a natural fit as the opener of Rock ‘n’ Roll, an album whose appeal was based entirely on the nostalgia factor of hearing Lennon sing the pre-Beatles music he loved for the first time in years. He accordingly delivers the lead vocal with a very Elvis-like catch in his throat, probably similar to the one he used that afternoon at the church to impress Paul.

Medley: Rip It Up/Ready Teddy

For all his musical and philosophical detours, Lennon was arguably never more in his element than when he was when screaming fast ‘50s rock numbers. On this minute and a half-long medley, he sounds invigorated, like he’s trying to work a Hamburg club crowd into a lather like it was 1961 all over again. Given how much time had passed in his level of sobriety during the Rock ‘n’ Roll sessions, it’s remarkable how little the timbre and intensity of his voice had changed since he belted out “Twist and Shout” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” over a decade previously.

rockandrollYou Can’t Catch Me

Considering the fact that “You Can’t Catch Me” is basically the only reason Rock ‘n’ Roll exists—Lennon was sued by publisher Morris Levy after using a line from 1956 Chuck Berry hit in “Come Together” and ordered to record at least three Levy-owned songs as part of a settlement—it’s fitting that it’s perhaps the album’s best track. The low-key opening plays up the song’s melodic similarity to “Come Together” (or perhaps vice versa), but the rest is a big, barreling choo-choo train of a good time. Lennon rarely ever sounded like he was having as much fucking fun as he was singing this one.

Do You Want To Dance

The famous versions of this song by Bobby Freeman, Cliff Richard and the Beach Boys were fast and originally crafted for kids to do the Twist to down at the Hop, so naturally the ever-rebellious Lennon decided to slow it down and do his best to turn it into a reggae tune. “I don’t know if it makes you want to dance, and that’s the problem,” he said of his own rendition. It’s not a problem at all, of course.

Sweet Little Sixteen

This is certainly one of the more unorthodox methods of covering Chuck Berry, at least coming from a fellow rock artist – it’s some sort of weird slow funk bastardization, complete with wah-wah guitar. But, strangely enough, it works, thanks to the playfully braying horn section supplying the melody and Lennon’s over-the-top, scenery-chewing delivery supplying the entertainment. Give him a break; he was completely plastered the entire time he was recording this album.

Peggy Sue

Unlike many of the bombastic Spectorizations the songs on Rock ‘n’ Roll underwent, “Peggy Sue” is as fastidious a recreation of the original Buddy Holly classic as decadent, coked out mid-‘70s John Lennon was every going to get, right down to the same guitar solo that every beginner guitar player learns during their third lesson. And man, if there was ever a song that Lennon’s singing voice fit to a tee (well, besides “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” of course), it was “Peggy Sue.”

Ya Ya

Lennon originally released a minute-long snippet of “Ya Ya” on Walls and Bridges with his then 11-year old, apparently rhythmically challenged son Julian on drums. The full work-up on Rock ‘n’ Roll is… a lot better, to say the least. The only single to be released from the album besides “Stand My Me,” the 1961 Lee Dorsey hit is just a fun little R&B song with an infectiously jaunty blues progression, and the horn section on Lennon’s version nails the little Southern soul rhythm fills from the original.

Just Because

“Just Because” is the kind of schmaltzy pop ballad the Beatles tended to cover on their first couple of albums before they got hip to the fact that their whole purpose was to make that kind of music obsolete. Indeed, it’s no surprise that it was Phil Spector’s idea to record it for Rock ‘n’ Roll, not Lennon’s. The appeal of the version that wound up on the album thus comes not from its compositional strength, but from Lennon’s drunken spoken word intro (“Ah, remember this? Why, I must have been 13 when this came out. Or was it 14? Or was it 22? I could have been 12 actually”) and caustic vocal delivery, replete with the withering sarcasm we all loved him for.

Double Fantasy

Kiss, Kiss, Kiss

If Double Fantasy was a return to form for Lennon, it was also one for Ono. Her early albums anticipated punk-funk, and this darkly funky track was a startling B-side to “(Just Like) Starting Over,” showing that both members of this couple were ready to make new music until the dream was shattered.

Cleanup Time

In the context of Lennon’s troubles with drug use, this is a funky song about going straight, but with lyrics like, “The center of the circle/ Will always be our home,” it’s also about something as unglamorous and essential as domestic life. With Earl Slick’s slicing guitar solo and soulful horn charts, the music is informed by Yoko’s musical experimentation and by horn charts that channel Stevie Wonder. Paul may have had better rhythm as a Beatle, but John was finally hitting a groove that could compete with Macca.

doublefantasyYes, I’m Your Angel

Yoko seems to embrace Music Hall before she subverts it in this vague re-write of “Makin’ Whoopee.” Her high “tra la la la la”’s burst through the kind of material Paul was usually responsible for on Beatles albums. This could be a dig against Macca’s hokier sensibilities—even if this is lesser Yoko, it still beats “Honey Pie.”

Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him

Later released as a single with Yoko’s vocal mixed back in favor of John’s, this Yoko track features a dark pulse and shrieking guitar that looks forward to “Walking on Thin Ice,” which the couple had just finished recording when John was shot.

Milk & Honey

I’m Stepping Out

This posthumous collection was originally planned as a follow-up to Double Fantasy, but became a memorial. But unlike Yoko’s brooding masterpiece “Walking on Thin Ice,” Milk and Honey continues to revel in what John jokingly calls his “house-husband” period. This laid-back rocker was released as a single but for some reason hasn’t been included on Lennon’s various best-of compilations, but, although it has none of the political or psychological import of his great early solo work, it’s casual boogie is as good as any of his ’70s singles.

milkhoneyI Don’t Wanna Face It

The title sentiment may well reflect fans’ disbelief that he’s gone, but as with so many final works by the dead, it’s easy to find a chilling prescience in lyrics like “Well I can see the promised land/ And I know I can make it!” The chugging rhythm guitar is the sound of someone who won’t go gentle into that good night and rages like a man who should have had decades worth of music left in him.

Don’t Be Scared

Yoko dresses platitudes like “Don’t be scared to love” in a slick reggae beat with soulful backup singers. Did she mean this simmering groove to be unsettling?

(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess

Lennon asks forgiveness, “for crushing your delicateness” in this lightly reggaefied funk. Unlike much of his last work, his vocal is almost a seductive croon, as if he’s trying on another comeback persona, and suggesting that asking for forgiveness is sexy.

Grow Old With Me

Yoko has the last word on the album, but this bittersweet ballad from John, released as a halting demo, should have been its heartbreaking finale. Their “two branches of one tree” may have been more artistic license than idyllic relationship, but Lennon’s househusbandly impulse led to the best music he’d written in years, and this, one of his most Beatlesque melodies.

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