Review Summary: “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.”
It was a shot heard around the music globe. John Lennon, the former Beatle from Liverpool, made a declaration that shocked the world. In an attempt to leave behind arguably the greatest band in the history of music behind him, Lennon turned to “primal scream therapy” with his lover Yoko Ono. The result was Plastic Ono Band and with this phenomenal record Lennon further attempted to establish the argument that he had always been the better songwriter and artist than his Beatle counterpart, Paul McCartney. The competition between him and Paul caused John to write some of his greatest material and distinguished himself from Paul in the greatest fashion. Where Paul had been typically defined as the sweet pop musician, John expressed his views on rock music as he had always seen it, a more antipop point of view. Arguably the greatest album created by a former Beatle as a solo artist, Lennon channels his painful memories from primal scream therapy into some of the most emotional and telling music he’s ever made.
The album opens brilliantly with “Mother”. Once John starts singing it is pretty apparent how he wants the rest of the album to turn out: emotional, filled with pain, and yet beautiful at the same time. His tortured vocals throughout the song, especially during the last two minutes of the song with the repetition of “Momma don’t go, Daddy come home,” place “Mother” among the top tier of Lennon’s solo work. “God” is Lennon’s greatest attempt to alienate himself from The Beatles, but they are not the only “myth” he claims he does not believe in, talking about ideas and famous political figures such as John F. Kennedy and Adolf Hitler. John classifies himself as an individual not tied to the past as great artists sometimes would when they have broken away from their former band. Billy Preston’s piano work, however, is the true highlight of the song that greatly compliment Lennon’s straining vocals throughout.
However, the greatest moment on the album arguably comes from Lennon’s softest song. “Love” is a song of pure beauty and simplicity that is truly riveting and almost unexpected. Songs like “Mother,” “Working Class Hero,” and “Remember” highlight Lennon’s more painful moments, ones of anger and lost hope. “Love” shows a great contrast between a vulnerable, gentle Lennon and the primal scream Lennon that dominates most of the album. Credit must be given to Phil Spector, the genius behind the “Wall of Sound” production technique, who plays the piano throughout “Love.” Spector’s playing provides the song a beauty that arguably would never be equaled in Lennon’s later work.
Not all of Plastic Ono Band is as captivating. After the stunning “Mother,” Lennon completely changes gears with “Hold On.” A much mellower and not as abrasive track, “Hold On” tends to be boring over time, as Lennon sings in a dream-like state that makes his voice sound too nonchalant. When comparing the first two songs on the album, it seems as though Lennon is confused on what direction he wants to go. “I Found Out” and “Look At Me” only add to the dullness. “Power To The People,” one of Lennon’s most well-known and popular songs during his solo tenor, is actually on the more annoying side of the spectrum of Lennon’s greatness, as the choir that provides background vocals for Lennon seems very unnecessary.
John Lennon wanted to prove a point: that he was a rock genius and his former fellow Beatle, friend and rival, Paul McCartney, did not compare to his song-crafting. Lennon fired the first shot with Plastic Ono Band in an attempt to underline the differences between the two brilliant musicians. And he succeeded.