Thursday, May 1, 2014

John Lennon & Yoko Ono: “I’m Not The Beatles” (2014) CD Box Set Review

I’ve been a Beatles fan since I got my first Beatles album at age six. That same day I also got my first John Lennon album (1975's Rock 'N' Roll, for anyone that's curious). That was the beginning of my fascination both with the band and with Lennon in particular. I’m always interested in learning more. So what a total treat it is to listen to I’m Not The Beatles, an eight-disc set of interviews with Howard Smith recorded from 1969 to 1972. They are mastered from Smith’s original reels, and have never before been released on CD. This box set also includes some good liner notes, with photos.

Disc 1: May 29 and May 30, 1969

The first disc includes two phone interviews, which were conducted on May 29 and May 30, 1969, while John and Yoko were in Montreal doing a bed-in. In the first of these two interviews, John talks about the bed-in. “We’ve been in bed for three days now,” John says early on. He talks about wanting to see Nixon, and about re-applying for a visa. John talks about the reactions of the other three Beatles to the bed-ins, and also about the Tom Paxton song, “Crazy John.” It’s wonderful hearing John relay that message about the song to Yoko. And then John puts Yoko on the phone, and she talks about the language of peace. John comes back on toward the end, and Howard Smith asks him about “The Ballad Of John & Yoko.”

The second interview, conducted on May 30, 1969, is a follow-up phone interview. The first interview was broadcast the night before, and people had rung the station, so Howard passes those questions onto John and Yoko. I love John’s reaction to being called a leader of the youth movement.

Disc 2: December 17, 1969

The second disc has an interview conducted in Ontario on December 17, 1969. It includes a little bit of goofing around before the interview starts, which is great. They talk about the large amount of mail they receive, and how they are constantly asked to get involved with various causes. And they discuss the concept of selling people on the idea of peace, including the “War Is Over” billboards. They also talk about a big concert they were organizing. They talk about the Let It Be album (then called Get Back), and a bit about the recording process, which of course is fascinating. And they talk about Allen Klein, and at this point have nothing but positive things to say.

The disc is divided into two tracks, separated when Howard had to switch tapes. On the second track, they discuss diet, and John talks about returning the MBE award. He also talks about the horrors of touring. This is a nice long interview, and John seems quite relaxed (at least until Howard asks what the youth movement has produced).

This disc is approximately sixty-one minutes.

Disc 3: December 17, 1969

The third disc contains the rest of the interview from December 17, 1969 (approximately twenty-eight more minutes). They eat while continuing the interview. John and Yoko talk about how they work together professionally, as well as in their personal relationship. John says, “It’s all true, folks: all you need is love.” Howard Smith asks them what sort of music they listen to when at home, and if they listen to their own stuff. There is some really interesting stuff, including a bit about John Lennon’s human hair coat. He says, “Because I wanted a fur coat, you know, and I didn’t want to get an animal fur coat.” John also talks about “Revolution 9.”

Disc 4: December 12, 1970

This interview was conducted in New York (you can hear the wind howling in the background), and begins with them talking about some of the film work John and Yoko were doing, like Up Your Legs Forever, which features a few hundred pairs of legs. Howard Smith’s legs are one of those pairs. They then go into the recording of their recent records, and that is some of the most interesting material, like when John talks about how at first he couldn’t tell what was Yoko’s voice and what was the guitar, and about Phil Spector’s work. They also discuss some of their experience with primal scream therapy. (And it’s in this interview that he says, in a sort of offhand manner, “I’m not the Beatles.”)

This disc is split into two tracks, again when Howard Smith switches tapes. In the second segment, John talks about his relationships with the other members of The Beatles, and how it was unlikely that they would record together again. Yoko talks about John’s influence on her own music, and how he turned her on to rock and roll. And they talk about Ringo’s work with both of them.

Disc 5: December 12, 1970

The fifth disc contains the rest of the interview from December 12, 1970 (approximately twenty-nine minutes). They begin this section of the interview by talking about the two of them always being together. And that leads to a discussion of relationships and sex in general. From there, they go back to John’s music, specifically some of the tracks from the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band record. There is some interesting stuff particularly about “God,” with a funny reference to George Harrison.

Disc 6: September 9, 1971

The sixth disc is an interview recorded in New York on September 9, 1971. There are some little cuts at the beginning before the actual interview starts, while Howard Smith is testing the equipment and so on. The focus of some of the interview is Yoko Ono’s work, and they begin by talking about an art exhibit and book. Yoko is really funny when talking about making a double album, especially as she uses the word “endure” with regards to people listening to her music. John has a great response to the idea that Yoko broke up The Beatles. John goes into some detail of how certain tracks on Yoko’s latest album were recorded. About lawyers, John says, “It takes four hours with a lawyer to say what you could say in fifteen minutes with a normal human being.”

This disc is divided into three tracks. The first track is approximately thirty minutes. In the second track (which is approximately thirty-two minutes), there is a great section where they talk about some of the criticism they received, especially the bit about how people were angered by John using particular words in a response to one attack. John talks about “How Do You Sleep?” He mentions that it’s an angry song, written in a moment of anger, but that he believes it’s also a funny song. (It’s the only John Lennon song that I ever disliked.)

(I was surprised when Howard Smith said he didn’t like the Grateful Dead.)

Disc 7: January 23, 1972

The seventh disc contains the first hour of the interview from January 23, 1972, which was conducted in New York. There are a few sound issues on this one. They begin this one by talking about The Beatles music. John talks about why there are different version of the records in England and the United States, and talks about the early days of The Beatles. You can hear Beatles music playing in the background, and the song “Rain” catches John’s attention, and so he talks about recording that song with the backwards vocals. And later he gets excited when "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" comes on, and he actually goes and turns it up. It's wonderful, and when the song is over he talks about the tune. Yoko talks about how there were never any battles between her and Linda.

This disc is divided into two tracks, each approximately thirty minutes. The second track begins with a bit more about "Happiness Is A Warm Gun." They then talk about "Strawberry Fields Forever." They also talk about television.

Disc 8: January 23, 1972

The eighth disc has the rest of the interview from January 23, 1972. They continue talking about television, and John even mentions Monty Python's Flying Circus. Yoko says, "It's very important actually to act out madness in order to stop becoming insane." And John says, "I think anybody that's on stage in a way is acting out madness." They also talk about Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale, and then a bit about the music industry.

I’m Not The Beatles was released on April 15, 2014.

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