Pop Music History
Hits of 1969/1970 (part 3)
John Lennon’s Saturn Return Odyssey on 45!
I must admit that I am not a big fan of a lot of John Lennon’s solo songs. When he was great he was GREAT…but a lot of his 1970’s album tracks suffer from a lack of collaborative support from a certain other composer…that being said it is interesting to track his odyssey from a Beatle to a Plastic Ono over the course of 1969 and 1970 as he attempted to end the longest cocktail party in history with some dignity.
In astrological terms John Lennon was experiencing his Saturn Return, an event that will either make your whole world come crashing down or transform your world into a new an improved version of your previous existence. Lennon’s was little (or a lot) of both as he abruptly ended his first marriage and engaged in a whirlwind romance with an exotic Asian artist….
His devotion to his new partner Yoko Ono was expressed nicely in the early 1969 track ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, a major song in the Let It Be Film, but not included in the LP (it was included on the early 1970 compilation ‘The Beatles Again’ aka the ‘Hey Jude’ album). This optimistic bluesy track (aided nicely by Billy Preston’s keyboards) voiced Lennon’s new commitment to his upcoming marriage to Ono.
‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was quickly followed up with ‘The Ballad of John & Yoko’ another upbeat number that chronicled in 1969 whimsy his trials and travels after marry the Japanes artist in March in Gilbraltar (near Spain). In the big scheme of things this track should really be seen as Lennon’s first solo record as 2 of the 4 Beatles did not even perform on it…but it was issued as a Beatle record (even while the Beatles first single of 1969, ‘Get Back’ was still topping the charts. While a UK #1, ‘Ballad’ stalled at #8 in the US as certain radio stations were offended by Lennon’s loud use of the word “christ” in the lyrics.
In the summer of 1969 Lennon and the Beatles regrouped for the final Beatles album. Abbey Road. Lennon’s solo projects continued with the creation of the Plastic Ono Band, whose members at certain times included the likes of Eric Clapton,
Alan White and Klaus Vormann. For the original Plastic Ono Band song ‘Give Peace A Chance‘ it included John, Yoko and whoever was in their hotel bedroom at the time…and at the time there were people like Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary and Richard Nixon (via a wiretap…[only kidding])….’Give Peace A Chance’ was a vibrant anthem issued to combat the mire of the Vietnam War…as a single it was a sizable hit, climbing to #14 in the US in late July. To add some perspective other songs that entered the chart that week included ‘A Boy Named Sue’ by Johnny Cash, ‘Green River’ by Creedence Clearwater Revivial and ‘Everybody Knows Matilda’ by Duke Baxter (haha).
Less than two months later Lennon was working on more Plastic Ono band material with ‘Cold Turkey’, a not so optimistic song about heroin withdrawal. Clapton plays guitar on iit, Voorman is on bass and Ringo plays drums. ‘Cold Turkey’ climbed as high as #14 in the UK and #30 in the US and is perhaps the most forgotten Lennon solo track.
As 1969 melted into 1970 the Beatles enjoyed one last hurrah with ‘Abbey Road’ and the #1 hit ‘Come Together/Something’….’Come Together’ being somewhat of another hippie anthem although not as catchy as ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and a bit too druggy for AM radio. Not to sit still too long Lennon went to work a brand new Plastic Ono single in late january of 1970 called ‘Instant karma (We All Shine On). This song was an instant creation and an instant hit, becoming the first solo Beatles record to be
certified Gold for 1,000,000 copies sold. It hit #3 in the US just as the long delayed ‘Let It Be‘ was issued in March of 1970.
It would be another year before a new Lennon single emerged in the form of the similarly sounding ‘Power To the People‘. During the year before ‘Power To The People”s release Lennon had a busy time as the Beatles broke up and Lennon and Ono attended primal scream therapy sessions in LA…the dream was over and music fans had been along for the entire transformation of Beatle John into solo Lennon….imagine that…;-)