John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, one of rock's rawest albums, dissected over six CDs

Who’d have thought John Lennon’s therapeutic confessional Plastic Ono Band could get more exposed?

John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
(Image: © Capitol/UMC)

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From the ominous church knell heralding the lyrical bereavement therapy of Mother, to the crushed lullaby to no one My Mummy’s Dead, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) – undoubtedly John Lennon's most raw and revealing solo album, arguably his best – was always a harrowing, uncompromising listen. 

Still processing The Beatles’ split, and psychologically taken apart but not yet reconstructed, by primal therapy, John Lennon delivered a sonic exorcism, tackling his childhood abandonment by both parents, a lifetime of grief and confusion, and the torments of Beatlehood in a 40-minute collision of corroded blues desperation (Well Well Well, I Found Out), blank cynicism (Working Class Hero), scarred gospel soul (Isolation, Mother, God) and serene existential crises (Look At Me).

Band members – Ringo included – would claim that Lennon was in an unstable state during recording, laughing one second, scream-crying the next. It’s this behind-the-scenes gristle that fans will be scouring this monster six-CD/ two-Blu-ray dissection for. 

But far from being a car crash with sleeve-notes, the conventional box-set extras – each replaying the album from a different angle, with Give Peace A Chance, Cold Turkey and Ziggy blueprint Instant Karma! tacked on – instead display a mercurial talent deconstructing his art to break brave new ground. 

The demo disc hints at the acid-psych classic that early takes of Mother and Love might have spawned, while Well Well Well and Cold Turkey resemble grainy recordings of a 1930s Mississippi bluesman mid-meltdown. 

God begins life as a brilliantly throwaway 50s Americana strumble, a piano-led Isolation sounds like a dry run for Imagine, and Give Peace A Chance is a babbling cod-country mess in which Lennon claims everybody’s talking about constipation, which they definitely weren’t.

From this rootsy ore, through numerous unpolished studio mixes and out-takes, Lennon crafts an influentially savage record caged within bristling and beatific melodic frameworks. 

Remember grows from a subdued shudder into a compulsive, locomotive beast. Cold Turkey becomes starker, tenser and proto-punkier, shaken at every step by Lennon’s climactic primal howls. Hold On loses its organic sheen to become an oceanic self-hug. Love gains its tear-jerking piano refrains, and Give Peace A Chance loses its less stirring chants (‘wake up at the back there!’) and a merciful amount of Yoko.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.