Why I ❤️ John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, by Eels frontman E

E from Ells in front of Plastic Ono Band artwork
(Image credit: Apple Music | E: Gus Black)

"I don’t remember the exact moment that I heard Plastic Ono Band, but I was very young, probably about 10 years old. It was the mid-70s, The Beatles had broken up five years ago at this point. I had heard The Beatles from my sister who was six years older. She didn’t have that album, though, and I didn’t hear it on the radio. Somewhere along the line I bought it, and I just loved it. 

“I look back on it now and I realise that it was an odd record for a 10-year-old kid in the mid-70s to love, but I now realise what a profound influence it had on the music I made. 

“This was really an amazing record, because it was the biggest rock star of the time just laying his soul bare and getting down to the very root of his problems. To do that in public was really an amazing and brave thing to do. The record bombed and got bad reviews, because it was ahead of its time. That’s the great thing about the great artists, they’re always a step ahead. 

“It’s such a bare-bones, dry recording. Not many lyrics, just a few verses – very succinct. That’s the hardest thing to do, and it’s something I’ve strived for. You’re only going to have a few lines, so you’ve got make every syllable count for the story."

"It’s a timeless record. It doesn’t have a Phil Collins drum sound or anything; nothing where you would say: ‘Oh yeah, that was 1970.’ It doesn’t have that at all, maybe thanks to the dry recording. There was just him and Ringo, Klaus Voormann on bass and occasionally Billy Preston [keyboards]. That was basically it. Three or four people in a room, playing live – very direct and immediate. It’s not all grim, either. Hold On is a beautiful, life-affirming song to the world that gets overlooked. Also, Look At Me is a beautiful guitar ballad. 

“If John were alive, there’s been a lot of time for him to make some bad records, but he also might have made something really great. That’s one thing about dying young: it’s good for the ‘iconic’ status. 

“The positive thing is that it’s good that The Beatles didn’t play at Live Aid or Live 8, which they probably would have. Eventually they would have been talked into it. This is something that nobody will ever fucking understand any more: for once somebody broke up and meant it. They came in, got their hands dirty, did their task in hand and left. 

“Anybody who says that The Beatles in general haven’t had an influence on them is a liar, or not conscious of how they’ve been influenced by them, because it’s so far-reaching. There’re a lot of people who don’t understand how to be influenced by The Beatles in a positive way. The key is to be influenced by them philosophically and to apply it to your world. It’s all about exercising your imagination. But for God’s sake stop trying to sound like them. Please."

E was speaking with Brett Callwood. This interview was originally published in Classic Rock 92, in April 2006. Eels latest album Extreme Witchcraft is out now.