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 second:
This album was not recorded at Kenwood but the whole Kenwood idea of avant garde was continued on here.
Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions-released May 9th 1969-recorded 11/68 to 3/69
This album was the follow up to the Unfinished Music No 1 – Two virgins release from 1968.
Track one was recorded live on the 2/3/69 at Cambridge University. The recording has Yoko Ono improvising to John Lennons guitar sounds. The couple were joined by a saxophonist and percussionist during the piece.
If you are not a Yoko Ono fan and I wouldn’t say I am but I find her interesting then this shrill track of Yoko Ono backed by John Lennon using feedback won’t appeal. The track lasts for 26:30 minutes and takes some patience to listen to but again as in the “Two Virgins” album this is historical and that may not mean you have to like it but it does add an interest and a feel to what is being produced.
Yoko Ono went on to endure three miscarriages, one can only imagine how traumatic that must have been for the couple. The rest of the recordings are done on cassette tape and were made at Queen Charlotte’s hospital in London in November 1968 were Yoko Ono was admitted.
“No Bed for Beatle John” is a recording of John and Yoko singing or chanting, take your pick, words from press clippings that were written about them. Yoko’s voice seems to be more to the front here.
The track “Baby’s Heartbeat” is as it says a recording of the baby’s abnormal heartbeat and that is what it is for the whole track.
“Two Minutes Silence” is actually two minutes of silence and reminds me of the John cage 4’33 piece that he did, which was 4’33 minutes of silence. Apparently this was meant to be in memory for the baby and a reminder to us all that violence and death are not the way we should go.
“Radio Play” which lasts for 12’35 is apparently John Lennon moving through a radio, flipping between channels with at one stage John Lennon involved in a phone call. This track for me was annoying, I guess as a piece of avant garde it may appeal to some but once John Lennon was on the phone as well as the radio dialing, the piece lost it really for me. Once again though interesting in a historical sense.
The CD re-release comes with two bonus tracks. The first is “Song For john” which is a song sung by Yoko with Lennon on a tinny acoustic guitar. I quite liked this, maybe after “Radio Play” it felt good but you wouldn’t have heard this on the original album and this type of track is what Lennon and Yoko did well.
The other bonus track is “Mulberry” a piece with John lennon playing fairly wild acoustic guitar and Yoko Ono vocalizing over this. As a piece of avant garde I like this as well, once again not on the original album.
The front cover of the album shows Yoko Ono lying in bed at Queen Charlotte’s hospital next to her is Lennon lying on what appears to be two bean bags. A very hard time for the couple and you can see this clearly in their faces.
The back cover is a shot of Lennon and Ono leaving Marleybone police station after having been arrested for drugs in October 1968.
I think listening to these tracks, 41 years later is immensely interesting. There has always been a fascination for many many people regarding the Beatles but not so much these uncommercial Lennon and Ono albums. For me they are essential listening and throw in the fact that the pieces provide you with gripping memories as well as sonic interest, I am very glad i made the effort.
“Radio Play” not so much but hey that’s just me. The album according to Lennon went on to sell around 60.000 copies, quite a few more sales than “Two Virgins”. Maybe the new avant garde style of John Lennon and Yoko Ono was starting to catch on.
- Cambridge 1969 (26:31)
- No Bed For Beatle John (4:41)
- Baby’s Heartbeat (5:10)
- Two Minutes Silence (2:00)
- Radio Play (12:35)
CD bonus tracks
- Song For John (1:29)
- Mulberry (8:47)