In July 1964 John Lennon bought a house in the St George’s Hill estate in Weybridge, Surrey named “Kenwood”.
In an earlier post of mine I talked about his home based recording setup which was put together for John Lennon by Paul McCartney. McCartney had set up John Lennon’s tape recorders so that he could overdub tracks, essentially mono / stereophonic tape recorders joined so that an overdub could be done and this was done in the houses attic area.
This set off John recording and demoing future Beatles songs but also a series of avant garde music which didn’t sell well at all but are of great interest to Beatles fans.
I’m going to review all three of John Lennons avant garde albums in release order this is the first:
Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins – released Nov. 29, 1968
The recording was the result of one all night session between John Lennon and Yoko Ono (possibly 19th May 1968). The music is definitely avant garde and if as a Beatles fan you expected melody and a form of coherence then the result was far far from this and possibly shocked those who were mop top fans. There are no John Lennon songs or John Lennon lyrics here unless you count vocal adlibs.
The cover of the album possibly became more controversial than the recording itself. The front cover had a full frontal picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and the back cover a full rear picture of the couple. This caused the distributors to sell the album in a brown paper cover.
There are many drum, organ, piano, vocal edits and tape looped sounds that John had recorded himself with Yoko in monophonic and overdubbed onto other tape recorders creating an ensemble type sound, if you will.
I must say I do enjoy avant garde music and produce some of it myself so this album I enjoyed listening to. It would be fair to say that once every few years I will probably get this out and listen again, maybe finding more sounds and new parts. It is quite hard to listen to and not an album I would put on too many times in a row, but nevertheless fascinating in terms of it’s origin and as a peice of art.
I think listening back knowing the history of John Lennons home studio and The Beatles and Yoko Ono there is an almost surreal feeling that you get whilst hearing the sounds and the vocal add libs that Lennon put together, this definitely added to the overall impact of the album listening to it after it’s initial release 42 years ago.
There will be listeners that will say it is utter nonsence, well I know where they are coming from but John Lennon in my opinion was always genuine about his work and this is as genuine a work as any of his Beatle tracks just not as commercial. Not commercial at all in fact it sold around 5000 copies.
If I had put together an album such as this it would have gained little interest. Massively successful identities in our society almost demand you listen to them and you can’t help but see more maybe than what is there, as a species we are what we are and well known people do make us listen and see things in a different way.
People like John Lennon were creating musical history and this strange as it may be to some, is part of that.
The CD re-release on Rykodisc has a bonus track. “Remember Love” sung by Yoko Ono with John Lennon on acoustic guitar backing her.
I liked this, Yoko Ono’s voice is almost child like and the Lennon guitar backing is reminiscent of something he would do on the white album. The track has a folky quality to it and really is a melodic musical piece whereas “Two Virgins” isn’t.
If you are a Beatles, John Lennon or Yoko Ono fan listen to this album even if it is only once and take it all in as an interesting piece of avant garde history, a time now well in the past.
- Two Virgins Side One – 14:14
- Two Virgins No. 1
- Two Virgins No. 2
- Two Virgins No. 3
- Two Virgins No. 4
- Two Virgins No. 5
- Two Virgins Side Two – 15:13
- Two Virgins No. 6
- Hushabye Hushabye
- Two Virgins No. 7
- Two Virgins No. 8
- Two Virgins No. 9
- Two Virgins No. 10
Rykodisc CD bonus track Remember Love (Yoko Ono)