CD I: 1) Working Class Hero; 2) God; 3) I Found Out; 4) Hold On; 5) Isolation; 6) Love; 7) Mother; 8) Remember; 9) Imagine (take 1); 10) “Fortunately”; 11) Baby Please Don’t Go; 12) Oh My Love; 13) Jealous Guy; 14) Maggie Mae; 15) How Do You Sleep; 16) God Save Oz; 17) Do The Oz; 18) I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier; 19) Give Peace A Chance; 20) Look At Me; 21) Long Lost John;
CD II: 1) New York City; 2) Attica State; 3) Imagine; 4) Bring On The Lucie; 5) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World; 6) Geraldo Rivera – One To One Concert; 7) Woman Is The Nigger Of The World (live); 8) It’s So Hard; 9) Come Together; 10) Happy Xmas; 11) Luck Of The Irish; 12) John Sinclair; 13) The David Frost Show; 14) Mind Games (I Promise); 15) Mind Games (Make Love Not War); 16) One Day At A Time; 17) I Know; 18) I’m The Greatest; 19) Goodnight Vienna; 20) Jerry Lewis Telethon; 21) “A Kiss Is Just A Kiss”; 22) Real Love; 23) You Are Here;
CD III: 1) What You Got; 2) Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out; 3) Whatever Gets You Through The Night (home); 4) Whatever Gets You Through The Night (studio); 5) Yesterday (parody); 6) Be Bop A Lula; 7) Rip It Up/Ready Teddy; 8) Scared; 9) Steel And Glass; 10) Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox); 11) Bless You; 12) Going Down On Love; 13) Move Over Ms L; 14) Ain’t She Sweet; 15) Slippin’ And Slidin’; 16) Peggy Sue; 17) Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’; 18) Phil And John 1; 19) Phil And John 2; 20) Phil And John 3; 21) “When In Doubt, Fuck It”; 22) Be My Baby; 23) Stranger’s Room; 24) Old Dirt Road;
CD IV: 1) I’m Losing You; 2) Sean’s “Little Help”; 3) Serve Yourself; 4) My Life; 5) Nobody Told Me; 6) Life Begins At 40; 7) I Don’t Wanna Face It; 8) Woman; 9) Dear Yoko; 10) Watching The Wheels; 11) I’m Stepping Out; 12) Borrowed Time; 13) The Rishi Kesh Song; 14) Sean’s “Loud”; 15) Beautiful Boy; 16) Mr Hyde’s Gone (Don’t Be Afraid); 17) Only You; 18) Grow Old With Me; 19) Dear John; 20) The Great Wok; 21) Mucho Mungo; 22) Satire 1; 23) Satire 2; 24) Satire 3; 25) Sean’s “In The Sky”; 26) It’s Real.
Obviously, this 4-CD mammoth could not have been released anytime before the water had already been well tested with The Beatles’ Anthology, the last volume of which was released just two years before this box. This is a serious argument in favour of it merely serving as a way of procuring more cash for Mrs Ono Lennon; another argument is that bootleg recordings of most of this stuff had been circulating around the world for years, ever since Yoko gave the permission to air the “lost Lennon tapes” on the radio, and there was still no revenue!…
Okay, I’m gonna drop the pedestrian Yoko-bashing for a bit and get serious. Reading the liner notes leaves little doubt about how personal these “unfinished tapes” have always been to Yoko, not to mention subtly put her in a fair light for everybody (like, for instance, the story about how she was begging John to take part in Harrison’s Bangla Desh concert and he was categorically refusing). And in any case, the box itself is fairly substantial, although technically, I would certainly vote to include the first part of Menlove Ave. on here and delete that bastard record from the catalog.
As it is, the “new” material on the Anthology can basically be counted on the fingers of your two hands – out of the ninety-four tracks, only an absolute minority present any “melodic ideas” you haven’t heard previously. The rest are either preliminary demos, sometimes differing from the final versions of the songs but always hinting at the final results at the least; rough mixes and alternate takes, in most cases inferior to the originals; occasional live tracks from the 1972 period, which was pretty much the only period when John occasionally performed live; and bits and snippets of dialog, studio banter, and suchlike. In short, not too different from the Beatles’ Anthologies, only less interesting because it’s just John.
On the other hand – also more interesting because it’s just John. The four CDs, arranged more or less chronologically, do give you a pretty intimate picture of the man; and given that John Lennon is, after all, one of the most unique persons in XXth century music, it’s worth taking this “deeper” look at him. Wonsaponatime, reviewed above, doesn’t really give a full perspective; it is way too condensed and, in fact, does look a bit like Menlove Ave. Vol. 2 from a certain point of view. By the way, I’m not taking off my older review of that album – it may be rendered useless with the acquisition of the complete set, but the two things really do serve different purposes, want it or not.
Like I said, the four discs are arranged chronologically, each one corresponding to one of the four main periods in John’s solo career. The first one is subtitled “Ascot” (the name of the Lennons’ mansion where they lived in the early Seventies – the white Victorian one you’ve probably all seen in the immortal ‘Imagine’ video) and covers the years 1970 and 1971; predictably, the bulk of the material are alternate versions of tracks from POB and Imagine.
In addition to the observations I put down in the previous review, it’s fun to learn that ‘Hold On’ actually began life as a bouncy music-hallish pop-rocker before taking on the “ethereal” character of POB (and I say the final version is definitely less clumsy); that ‘Mother’ was originally recorded with an acoustic guitar and some guy on the electric guitar adding occasional flourishes; that ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ can be found here without the echoey Spectorish production if that thing ever bothered you; and that ‘Remember’, with just a teensy chord change, can become a peppy music-hall send-up as well.
There’s also a fifty-second version of John strumming ‘Maggie Mae’ (which makes it longer than the Let It Be version, come to think of it), and the only Yoko-wail-enhanced track on the album (thank God!), a half-psychedelic, half-avantgarde jam called ‘Do The Oz’ (rather novel in comparison with the much more structured ‘God Save Oz’).
The second disc, ‘New York City’, plunges us straight into the turmoil of John’s political struggle in 1972. There’s a whole bunch of live performances here, including three tracks from the second Madison Garden Show (not that they sound much different from the previously released first one – except that at the end of one verse of ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’, John forgets the lyrics and honestly admits, in the same fiery bombastic tone, ‘this one I can never remember but you get the message anyway! oh woman is the nigger of the world… etc.’), two from an acoustic-only performance at the Apollo (‘Attica State’ and ‘Imagine’; the latter sounds pathetically feeble when played on an acoustic guitar instead of a piano, don’t you think?), and two more from an Ann Arbor performance in 1971 (‘Luck Of The Irish’ and ‘John Sinclair’ – aarrgh, they could have at least done ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ instead).
In between and afterwards, there’s plenty of outtakes from the Mind Games sessions, including a particularly decent version of ‘One Day At A Time’ without the obnoxious falsetto. And hey, as a special treat, you get two songs John wrote for Ringo – ‘I’m The Greatest’ and ‘Goodnight Vienna’ – with John himself on vocals! Priceless.
Disc three is ‘The Lost Weekend’ – despair, paranoia, and booze. This one, I think, is the least interesting of the four, particularly because we get to hear those Walls And Bridges tunes again – for the third time since the album proper and the alternate takes on Menlove Ave. Gee, it’s been a long time since I last heard ‘Bless You’ or ‘Steel And Glass’. On the positive side, there’s more of those Rock’n’Roll sessions with the horns taken out, so you get to hear ‘Slippin’ And Slidin’ with the boogie piano mixed upfront and suchlike (as well as John’s take on Spector’s ‘Be My Baby’ – which he seems to be performing in a drunken haze, as far as I can tell). And the real gems here are actually those bits of crazy drunken banter with Phil Spector at the end – especially the third one. ‘What are they gonna do, go play jazz with Jethro Tull?’ ‘Elton John is my good buddy. – Yeah, he’s got the same name as you, only you put it in front and he puts it in the back’. ‘Elton’s gonna die young, I’ll be a ninety-year old guru…’. And so on.
Oh! At the end of the third disc, you get an outtake called ‘Stranger’s Room’ – which, after just a little while, can be understood as the “rough beginning” to ‘I’m Losing You’. Almost looks like John’s composing that one on the spot. It’s little surprises like these which really make the experience valuable.
Finally, the fourth CD, entitled ‘Dakota’, is John’s homemade 1979 recordings and outtakes and demos from the 1980 sessions. ‘Serve Yourself’ I already discussed before, but there’s more: the three ‘Satires’ at the end are hilarious parodies on Dylan, apparently recorded by John at the same time as ‘Serve Yourself’ when he was bitterly pissed off at the old guy for embracing religion. Maybe John does have a bit of a hard time when trying to imitate Dylan’s accent, but the lyrics are priceless – ‘mama take this make-up off of me, it’s bad enough on the beach, but it’s worse in the sea’ (remember Bobby was in his “glammy” period at the time?).
And ‘Satire 2’, apparently, is just John reciting a bunch of political news chronicle as if it were one of Bob’s “talking blues”, with an occasional ‘wow man, sounds like a ballad to me’ or ‘oh, this will get me in the village bar’ thrown in. Priceless again! Who needs the actual songs? Oh – oh – there’s also a venomous parody on good old George Harrison, in the form of ‘The Rishi Kesh Song’ (‘all you need to do is to say the little word, I know it sounds absurd but it’s true… the magic’s in the Mantra!’). You sure don’t fool around with Mr J.
Well. Anyway. The final verdict is – same impact as the Anthologies, but maybe just a little bit sharper because it’s just a little bit more intimate as an experience. It’s probably safe to assume that no other lost gems will ever be discovered in the Lennon archives, or, at least, there won’t be a lot of ’em, so historical importance is all we’ve got here. Do not blow your cash on this unless you really want this intimacy with John, but the box definitely has got its uses anyway.