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Published: 2010/11/15
by Ron Hart

John Lennon
Gimme Some Truth and 70th Birthday Releases

Capitol

Here’s a little piece of fanboy fiction for ya: How do you think John Lennon’s career would have turned out if Mark David Chapman missed his mark that night of December 8, 1980, and the former Beatle wound up living to see his 70th birthday that just recently passed? Would he have continued to make albums exclusively with Yoko Ono to the chagrin of his longtime fans? Would he have fallen into the trap of bad 80s production that mired the work of many of his peers during the Reagan years or would he have aligned himself with the American rock underground and collaborated with bands like Sonic Youth and R.E.M.? Would the 90s have seen him record an album with Rick Rubin; maybe Steve Albini? It’s certainly a no-brainer to believe that Lennon would have collaborated heavily with son Sean and his crew of downtown NYC noisemakers through the 00s, but could we also have seen John digging on IDM and Radiohead or jamming with The Roots or headlining Coachella and Glastonbury or perhaps even performing Plastic Ono Band in its entirety at All Tomorrow’s Parties? And how about The Beatles—would there have been any attempt for a full band reunion, perhaps for Live Aid or Bonnaroo? Was a follow-up to Let It Be just beyond our reach?

One can only speculate how things would have panned out had John lived into his 40s, 50s and 60s, one thing we can confirm is that ht man gave us a hell of a ride in his 30s, as the eight solo albums, repackaged and remastered by the same folks who helmed the 9-9-09 Beatles reissues, so perfectly testify. It can be said that this campaign borders on redundancy, given the case that all of these albums were already re-released within the last ten years. And unless you are a total audiophile or Beatles completist, there isn’t really much of a need to double up on the likes of Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Mind Games, Rock & Roll and Milk and Honey, whose previous reissued editions are perfectly fine and also contain bonus tracks to boot, something these new versions did not carry over. On the other hand, whoever it was at Capitol at the time that made the decisions to change the cover art for Walls and Bridges in 2005 and truncate Sometime in New York City to a single disc set that same year hopefully got put out to pasture at this point in time. And luckily, these 2010 versions restore both titles back to their rightful formats. 1975’s Walls and Bridges, third behind Plastic Ono and Imagine in the list of Lennon’s best solo material, simply is not the same without that iconic image of the strange and beautiful drawing crafted by an 11-year-old John gracing the cover. And 1972’s Sometime in New York City, long considered by critics to be the worst album in the Lennon catalog, is prime for reassessment upon the release of this latest edition, which restores the full two-disc version to its proper prominence. Disc One is undeniably one of the most politically charged recordings in rock history, featuring ripped-from-the-headlines paeans to Black Panther Angela Davis, political activist John Sinclair and the plight of the Irish Republican Army, while the second encompasses one of the coolest jams ever caught on tape between the Plastic Ono Band and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention: a frenzied battle royal that peaks at the psychedelic freeform meltown “Scumbag.”

However, the best of this 2010 batch is easily the deluxe remodeling of Lennon’s 1980 joint masterpiece with Yoko, Double Fantasy. Flanked by a beautifully hand drawn paper-and-pencil recreation of the iconic cover art by their son Sean, this two-disc set contains not only a beautiful new mix of the original LP, but a second disc that features the entire album in its raw, pre-production form. And for my money, the latter actually sounds far better than the original, as the stripped down version punches up the primal urgency of such tracks as “I’m Losing You” and “Cleanup Time” to match the ferocity of even angriest, most aggressive cuts from Plastic Ono Band, while such previously panned Yoko cuts as “Kiss Kiss Kiss” and “I’m Moving On” deserve second chances from more open-minded fans, as the alternate takes really capture the new wave sensibility that were lost in the final mixes.

Also available as part of this 70th birthday reissue campaign is a new four-disc box set, Gimme Some Truth, the first comprehensive multi-disc set of previously released John material since the out-of-print 1990 Lennon collection. And while it may not contain any of the Lennon-led Beatles songs like its defunct predecessor, Gimme is nevertheless a comprehensive one-stop anthology that compartmentalizes 72 of Lennon’s finest songs into four themed discs—`Roots’ (Rock `n’ Roll roots and influences), `Working Class Hero’ (socio-political songs), `Woman’ (love songs) and `Borrowed Time’ (songs about life)—that provide a terrific mix of the man’s oeuvre for fans both young and old alike.

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