It is well documented that John Lennon had an unhealthy preoccupation with two themes: religion and his mother. Especially the latter, whom he felt had loved him as a child however was denied that love by his father. And so it was in 1970 that John and Yoko (who couldn’t leave his side) decided to undergo Primal Scream therapy, the inventor of which was a one Dr. Janov, a quack who promised that his techniques could cure everything from drug dependency to homosexuality. Clearly the man was a crackpot, but Lennon took to it as a duck to water, where for a period of some four months John cried, screamed, and basically reacquainted himself with his inner toddler. In other words Dr. Janov’s clinic was a kind of expensive day-care centre for screwed up baby boomers.
However it wasn’t all a complete waste of time, because Lennon would soon go on to record what is arguably his greatest solo (i.e. post Beatles) statement, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, or what is sometimes referred to as the Primal Scream album, an album bursting with infantile rage and emotional abandon. Accompanying Lennon on his psychoanalytical voyage was Klaus Voorman (bass) and Ringo Star (drums), augmented by John on guitar and piano.
It’s certainly true that much of the LP resembles that of a broken man having a personal conversation with himself, vacillating between childish despair one moment, to full on adult anger the next. We open with the harrowing “Mother”, throughout which Lennon expresses all his pain and anguish like a patient in a mental asylum. Near the end he screams for his mother, and then father, as if attempting to exorcise his past, in a most haunting and rather unsettling way.
Lennon reassures himself that things will be alright on “Hold on John”, in a manner that might not have been out of place on the next Beatles album, had they of remained together that is. “I Found Out” is a bit of a toss off, song-wise, yet has a nice groove to it, although it probably made Lennon feel better than it does me.
On the bitter diatribe that is “Working Class Hero” Lennon sneers and snarls his words with a scathing authority like never before. This is not the same John who sang “Love Me Do” several years earlier, but an individual determined to speak his mind as to what he regarded as the stationary state of humanity, with some of the most potent and powerful words he ever wrote, particularly “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV/And you think you’re so clever and classless and free/But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see/A working class hero is something to be.”
“Isolation” is your classic scrap book Lennon-by-numbers composition, which is enjoyable while it lasts, unlike “Remember”, the sort of tune Paul McCartney could have turned into a radio hit, or at least something more memorable than this. “Love” is like “Strawberry Fields” minus the imagination and additional flourishes. Still, it’s a pretty song all the same, and one I’m sure many pop singers could only dream of writing. The fuzz-guitar of “Well Well Well” sounds like an outtake from The White Album, and in fact would have been better than the ridiculous “Revolution 9”, provided Lennon didn’t scream so much. Come to think of it, scratch that idea. The song is too long and just doesn’t really go anywhere. Lennon self-analyses on “Look At Me”, while on “God” John is in ecclesiastical form, urging all and sundry to question everything he and his generation had been striving for and believed in. Not only does he renounce his belief in Jesus and Gita, but most radical of all, Elvis, Bob Dylan, and even the Beatles! Then stating that all he really believes in is him and Yoko.
The LP finishes with the short and primitively recorded “My Mummy’s Dead”, which for some reason reminds me of a young child at nursery school lamenting over the loss of his mother.
What your average Beatles fan made of this LP at the time I cannot say. As it turned out, George Harrison’s own debut All Things Must Pass proved to be far more popular, something which apparently pissed off Lennon no end. After all, wasn’t he the superior song writer? Talk about ego. Ultimately John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was as self indulgent as the generation Lennon himself belonged to. And while there can be no doubt that John himself was a pretty screwed up self serving narcissistic prick of a human being, this album contains a great deal of love, warmth, and above all, honesty. A quality often sorely lacking in humanity it seems.
Obviously John was striving for more than your typical pop/rock record. Although it may not be everyone’s concept of the perfect cup of mental tea, I can appreciate it for what it is all the same, and understand where he was coming from – that much at least. It takes a fairly brave artist to toss a work like this out to the public, that’s for sure.