Review Summary: Brilliant, innovative, wild, weird, and bold.
Yoko and John redefine musical art with their debut.
In November 1968, the same month that the Beatles released its self-titled “White Album,” John Lennon and Yoko Ono released Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, their first album together which contained two extended experimental avant garde songs. The album was a great shock to Beatles fans for two main reasons: The material was extremely unconventional, almost unlistenable for most people, and the album cover featured Lennon and Ono completely naked. Distributors were so outraged that they refused to sell the album unless it was covered with a brown paper wrapper.
The two songs that appear on the original LP are probably more shocking than the cover art. The album is in the same vein as the “Revolution 9” track that appeared on “The White Album,” (also a Lennon/Ono collaboration). The recordings consist of tape loops, random adlib dialogue, delays, distortions, and strange crooning.
“Two Virgins Side One” starts with what sounds like bird whistling and random distorted noises and builds up to unstructured playing of various instruments, archive music samples, and Yoko singing oddly in the background. Towards the end Lennon and Ono play back and forth in improv caricature husband and wife roles, with John sounding like a Honeymooner parody and Yoko sounding like a submissive child on LSD.
“Two Virgins Side Two,” which is also a little over 14 minutes, primarily consist of Yoko’s strange, psychotic, and almost annoying crooning. Nine minutes and fifty seconds into the song Yoko seems to imitate the bird chirps and whistles heard in “Side One,” but in a much more deranged way. John continues to play around with instruments, distortions, and samples in the background as Yoko’s croons take the lead.
On the remastered re-release that was issued out in 1997, a bonus track, “Remember Love,” is included. It initially appeared as a B-side to the “Give Peace A Chance” single, released in 1969. In sharp contrast to the first two tracks, “Remember Love” is a quiet tender acoustic song with Yoko Ono on lead vocals.
The 1960s was all about breaking down conventions. Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins is strange, off-beat, and incoherent. But all of those adjectives greatly underestimate what this album truly is: Revolutionary. Lennon and Ono presented pure art on a commercial platform to common people that loved John for hits like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” There really haven’t been a commercial artist before or after Lennon that have reached that level of success and had the nerve, audacity, and courage to release something so innovative and fascinating. People may hate this album, but avant garde art isn’t meant to be loved and accepted by everyone. Its persistent marginalization is what keeps it fresh, edgy, and always a step ahead of everyone else.