Friday, September 12, 2008

John Lennon 4: Some Time In New York City

Just as Paul was trying his fans’ patience, John seemed to lose the plot around the same time. Some Time In New York City was lambasted when it came out, and if one doesn’t know the events behind some of the lyrics, they may seem confusing. (Come to think of it, even after researching the events, they still seem pretty pointless.) There was a lot going on in the world in 1972, so John took some of his pet peeves and beat them into the ground for forty minutes, alternating vocals with Yoko.
For starters, “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World”, which not only opens the album but was issued as a single, was banned from airplay for the title alone. (This perhaps drove the point home even further, which was that while John’s new radical friends may have wanted freedom of expression, he noticed that didn’t necessarily apply to their old ladies.) “Sisters O Sisters” is pleasant reggae, with a charming if silly vocal by Yoko. “Attica State” is an angry rocker with both Lennons yelling along. “Born In A Prison” isn’t about to convert anyone into thinking Yoko’s a poet, but the bridge has a nice melody with John joining in. “New York City” is an updated “Ballad of John And Yoko” and the album’s most successful snapshot; had it been the single it might have helped sell the album.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” actually has some passion to it, for it got John’s Irish up; this continues on the slightly softer “Luck Of The Irish” which still gets played every St. Patrick’s Day on certain FM radio stations. “John Sinclair” is fun if only for trying to keep up with every “gotta” in the chorus. Despite a tender melody and stirring arrangement, “Angela” doesn’t approach its potential. (Perhaps if the lyrics had been about something other than a revolutionary figure most people don’t remember three decades on…) Yoko drags it all home against its will with “We’re All Water”, further proof that not all poetry makes good songs and not all sentences make good poetry.
But wait! There’s more! You paid for it, so you might as well listen to the second disc. Technically a separate entity, Live Jam was included in the package with a dollar added to the regular list price. (John initially wanted to issue it on its own, and thankfully, smarter heads prevailed.) Starting with the “long-awaited” Plastic Ono Supergroup performance from December of 1969, any excitement at hearing two Beatles (George was in there somewhere) live on stage together for the first time in years is trampled by the plodding version of “Cold Turkey” and the relentless horror of “Don’t Worry Kyoko”.
The other side, recorded at the Fillmore East in June 1971 with Frank Zappa and the Mothers, starts out promisingly with “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, but degenerates into more shenanigans that perhaps should have been left inside a bag and not miked. Once you’ve studied Zappa a little more it’s interesting to hear what Yoko does all over “King Kong”; then your opinion is affected by how much you liked the Flo & Eddie era. (An alternate mix of the same material prepared by Zappa surfaced in 1992, with such telling titles as “A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono”.) If you don’t listen to side two of the Toronto LP that much, you probably won’t go back to this either. Whatever impact the first disc may have had is irreparably blemished by the load of crap on the second. (The album was remastered and reissued in 2005 on a single disc, which added both sides of the “Happy Xmas” single and cut all of the Zappa material save “Well”. Unfortunately, the 1969 tracks were also preserved. The 2010 Signature edition restored the original 2-LP lineup.)
Lyrically challenging and musically frustrating, the only upside of the whole affair was that John played a few live shows with backing band Elephant’s Memory. But otherwise he retreated to Greenwich Village, scared of what the government was doing to him.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono Some Time In New York City (1972)—
2005 remaster: same as 1972, plus 2 extra tracks (and minus 3 original tracks)

7 comments:

  1. 'splain flo and eddie era

    dick

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  2. But otherwise he retreated to Greenwich Village, scared of what the government was doing to him.

    Have you seen the documentary film "The U.S. vs. John Lennon?" I haven't, but I understand that it is about the general period in which he was an Anti-War activist. I've heard mixed things about the movie and was wondering if it was worthwhile.

    -Vance

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  3. Flo and Eddie were two singers who used to be in the Turtles who started singing for Zappa in 1970 or so. Much of the material they performed (some spontaneous, some scripted) revolved around such subjects as groupies, oral sex, and groupies who perform oral sex. For someone trying to follow Zappa album to album, the Flo and Eddie years distract a bit from the musical aspects that had already poked through on the earlier Mothers albums, and may lessen one's desire to go any further into the catalog. (They worked with Zappa for about two years, which produced four or five albums and a film.)

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  4. I did get to see The U.S. Vs. John Lennon, and I enjoyed it from a Lennon standpoint. It gives a pretty wide and fair view of how he got "political" in the first place, and how he got caught up in the scene once he came to America. The film is pretty obvious in its aim to compare the Vietnam War and the corrupt Nixon administration to the current war and the Bush administration, so that may taint some viewers' enjoyment.

    John had some good ideas behind his sloganeering, and I think most people would agree with the basics. I wasn't paying attention at the time, so I can't see how the government would really consider him such a dangerous influence, especially when he was recording crap like this album and going on the Mike Douglas show with Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale.

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  5. I really like Flo and Eddie. Of course I've also got a kid named "Elenore" (who's actually hung out with Flo and Eddie).

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  6. "Elenore" is a great tune, hands down. But I still can't stomach Flo & Eddie.

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  7. "Keep It Warm" is a great song, actually.

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