Top 100 Album Review: #22 – Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon (1970)

Personal But Not Transcendent.

The Album Where Lennon Bares All Leaves Me Asking — Would I Ever Want to Listen to These Songs Again?

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #22/100
My Rating:cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

Many songs on this album are decent, but the big catch is that it’s all about John. These songs are deeply personal and pretty indulgent, a result of some alternative therapy Lennon was getting in California with Yoko Ono. Each song is from the first person perspective. He talks about his life, family, anxiety, politics, and fame. Some of the popularity stems from this — you really get to understand what John is thinking because that’s all he sings about.

This makes the material very awkward to listen to outside of the album, not to mention the duds. There isn’t one powerful single that can stand on its own merits. Trying to add any songs into my mega 70s playlist on Spotify makes little sense.

[OVERVIEW] 

This album was made after the Beatles dissolved and Lennon participated in “primal” therapy in California. What is primal therapy you ask? Per Wikipedia:

Primal therapy is used to re-experience childhood pain—i.e., felt rather than conceptual memories—in an attempt to resolve the pain through complete processing and integration, becoming real. An intended objective of the therapy is to lessen or eliminate the hold early trauma exerts on adult behaviour.

John used Plastic Ono Band to put his experience into music.

As a whole, the work oscillates between vignettes about personal experiences and political beliefs. The album opens with church bells tolling as if we are at a funeral, a perfect foreshadowing of what is to come. Each song contains a snippet of his complicated relationship with his parents (spoiler: it wasn’t healthy) or the anxiety and stress from fame (spoiler: it wasn’t healthy).  Lennon’s typical political slants are also present whether it is a statement on class or religion.

Fun Fact: Yoko Ono released a sister album to this one, and the cover is the same with one exception: John and Yoko switch places!

[TRACKLISTING]

1. Mother 5:36
2. Hold On 1:53
3. I Found Out 3:37
4. Working Class Hero 3:50
5. Isolation 2:53
6. Remember 4:36
7. Love 3:24
8. Well Well Well 5:59
9. Look At Me 2:54
10. God 4:10
11. My Mummy’s Dead 0:49

All songs written by John Lennon. 

[BEST TRACK : Hold On]

The only song that can escape the album, “Hold On” is a smooth, chill song that reminds that everything is going to be alright.  It also encapsulates the problems with the album as a whole: the lyrics directly reference John and Yoko, and it takes till the third stanza to get to something that is exportable enough to be relatable.

When you’re by yourself
And there’s no one else
You just have yourself
And you tell yourself
Just to hold on

Fun Fact: He imitates cookie monster in this song. For real 🍪.

[LAZIEST LYRICS: Love]

This song can be transposed into some sort of algebraic equation. Here are some lyrics with some additional annotation:

Love is real, real is love (A is B, B is A)
Love is feeling, feeling love (A is D, D A)
Love is wanting to be loved  (woah!)

This formula repeats three more times.

[TALLEST SOAP BOX: God]

You really showed them John; by talking about how God doesn’t exist using a gospel composition, I’m sure you changed the minds of millions. He then lists a bunch of things he doesn’t believe in, and then ends it with saying he believes in himself 😂. Even for an almost atheist, this song is such self-righteous garbage.

God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain
I’ll say it again
God is a concept
By which we measure
Our pain

[KARL MARX’S FAVORITE TRACK: Working Class Hero]

Lennon’s estate is estimated to be valued at $800 Million today. I guess I should appreciate someone wealthy that was willing to look out for the working class, but there are some pretty pernicious ideas nestled within. He attacks the system for being completely immoral, as if everyone who made it big is evil (which would include himself), and that you can never find meaning while working for the “man.”

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be

[CONCLUSION]

I’ve never had such depth of insight directly into what an artist was thinking or feeling. There is always a gap between the artist, work, and audience with many opportunities to warp and change meaning within each step. Here, that gap is very small: he is talking directly as himself to you, and no exegesis has to be performed to figure out what he means.

His pain is real. The last track has the lyrics “My mummy’s dead, I can’t get it through my head.” It’s raw and in your face. I just couldn’t always relate, particularly with the self-indulgent political polemics. It’s quite the accomplishment in personal expression, but I’m not sure it has too much a place outside of that moniker.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Bored and Dangerous: The high points are really high, but the low points are just too frequent and too bland. Turns out, Paul was the best during the Beatles reign, George was the best after, and John was always a little over rated.”
  • Alt Rock Chick: “Like all post-Beatles solo efforts, this album is deeply flawed. It has some great moments, some awful moments and several that fall somewhere in the middle.”
  • The Curious Astronomer: “I highly recommend listening to this album. The power of the lyrics and the beauty and honesty of Lennon’s voice are sometimes overwhelming.”

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

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