Happy 40th birthday, Double Fantasy!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 17 November 1980, Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s seventh and final studio album, and the fifth album he did in collaboration with Yoko Ono. Many critics panned it initially, not necessarily because of the music itself, but because they thought it painted an unrealistic picture of John and Yoko’s marriage. Strangers always know best about other people’s personal lives, don’t they?

Sales weren’t particularly good until John’s murder three weeks later. The album then proceeded to jump to #1 in many countries. It also won 1981 Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards, and was ranked #29 on Rolling Stone‘s list of best Eighties albums.

But does it hold up on its own merits 40 years later?

DF is a concept album, structured as a call-and-response dialogue between John and Yoko. They each sing seven of the fourteen songs, going on a journey through their relationship, from fractured bonds on Side One to domestic bliss on Side Two.

This was the second of John’s solo albums I got, since it was the only one available at Mystery Train Records on that day. Back in 2002, online shopping hadn’t really taken off, so we were at the mercy of whatever merchandise was in a store, or had to put in a special order.

I gave it 5 stars on my old Angelfire page, and really liked it. Listening to it again after many years, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars. There’s a lot of strong material, but it’s not one of the greatest, most memorable albums of all time. Some of the songs also veer a bit close to filler.

If you’re a Yoko-basher and don’t want to even try giving her music a fair listen, you’re gonna have a bad time with this album. Half of the songs are hers, like it or not, and it wouldn’t be the same album if it were only John’s songs.

Yoko was well-known and respected in the avant-garde world long before she met John, and her music has been hugely influential on other artists. Like The Velvet Underground, her influence is massively disproportionate to actual sales, radio play, and visibility.

People who think she only did tape loops and screaming betray their total unfamiliarity with her musical evolution. Sure she doesn’t have a classically-trained, conventional voice, but her music took on a more mainstream direction as time wore on.

Some of her DF songs have a very New Wave sound, which was right in line with other early Eighties music.

John and Yoko famously separated during the 18-month Lost Weekend, reconciled at the start of 1975, and welcomed their son Sean on John’s 35th birthday that October. From that time on, John was a contented househusband and put his musical career on hold.

During a sailing trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda in mid-1980, John was caught in a bad storm, and was the only one not stricken by seasickness or fatigue. As the last man standing, he had to steer the yacht for hours.

This experience fortified John’s confidence and made him contemplate the fragility of life. As he explained, “I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos—and all these songs came!”

John and Yoko recorded dozens of songs that autumn, some of which later found their way onto the posthumous Milk and Honey (1984). Their sessions were top-secret, and they had to pay for studio time out of their own pockets, since they weren’t signed to a record label.

Once their publicist broke the news, offers from record labels swarmed in. On 22 September, they signed with the new Geffen Records because David Geffen spoke to Yoko first and considered her John’s equal. Mr. Geffen believed in them so much, he signed them before hearing any songs.

John made it clear from the jump that Yoko would be an equal partner on this album (which is subtitled A Heart Play). The strength of her material compelled record execs to take her seriously. She earned her place on DF through her own talents.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (#1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, and The Netherlands; #2 in Austria, New Zealand, and Norway; #3 in Sweden; #4 in South Africa and Belgium; #6 in West Germany; #9 in France)
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” (ends with an extremely realistic faked orgasm and very sexual words in Japanese)
“Cleanup Time”
“Give Me Something”
“I’m Losing You”
“I’m Moving On”
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”
“Watching the Wheels” (#3 in Canada; #6 in Switzerland; #6, #7, and #10 on various U.S. charts; #12 in Austria; #20 in Ireland; #30 in the U.K.; #45 in Australia; #46 in West Germany)
“Yes, I’m Your Angel”
“Woman” (#1 in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe; #1, #2, and #4 on various U.S. charts; #2 in Switzerland; #3 in Austria; #4 in West Germany, Australia, and South Africa; #5 in Norway; #11 in The Netherlands)
“Beautiful Boys”
“Dear Yoko”
“Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”
“Hard Times Are Over” (gut-punching, knowing what would soon happen)
“Help Me to Help Myself”*
“Walking on Thin Ice”* (released 1981) (#6 in Sweden; #13 on U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs; #18 in Australia; #22 in Canada; #35 in the U.K.; #48 in New Zealand; #58 on U.S. Billboard)
“Central Park Stroll” (dialogue)*

DF reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, France, and Japan; #2 in West Germany; and #6 in Italy. It was certified triple platinum in the U.S.

While DF has never been one of my favoritest albums or something I regularly listen to, I’ve always liked it and found it very solid. I understand why some people might be off-put by songs about a relationship they’re not in (regardless of who the couple is), but this is after all a concept album telling a story. It just happens to be a real story, not a fictional one.

Happy 50th birthday, Plastic Ono Band!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

Released 11 December 1970, Plastic Ono Band was John Lennon’s first proper solo album. While he’d done four prior solo albums, they were all collaborations with Yoko Ono, not 100% his own songs.

There were also two Plastic Ono Band albums released that day, with slightly different covers, though most people are only familiar with John’s album of that name. Yoko’s POB only reached #182 on the U.S. Billboard chart, and none of the six songs became singles.

John’s POB was the very first solo album by him I got, in January 2002. At the time, John was still my favorite Beatle, so it made sense to start my journey into the band’s solo work through him.

These songs are so raw and emotional, strongly influenced by the Primal Scream therapy John had recently undergone with Arthur Janov. He’s laying his heart, soul, and mind bare for the world to see, exposing these deep pains and traumas which had stalked him for so many years.

The first time I heard the opening track “Mother,” maybe two years before I got the album, I deeply sobbed through almost the entire song. That was one of the most emotional listening experiences I’ve ever had.

Penultimate track “God” is also one of the three songs which always gives me full-body goosebumps, getting stronger and stronger with each “I don’t believe in…” declaration. (The other two are The Monkees’ “Zor and Zam” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Seven o’Clock News/Silent Night.”)

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks. (Though it just seems wrong for there to be any bonus tracks! The album was already perfect as-is.)

“Mother” (#3 in Switzerland, #9 in Austria, #10 in The Netherlands, #12 in Canada, #26 in West Germany, #30 in Japan, #43 in the U.S., #57 in Australia)
“Hold On” (includes John’s impression of Cookie Monster)
“I Found Out” (he so gives the finger to everyone in this song!)
“Working Class Hero”
“Isolation”
“Remember” (ends with a reference to Guy Fawkes Night and the sound of an explosion)
“Love”
“Well Well Well”
“Look at Me”
“God”
“My Mummy’s Dead” (only 49 seconds long)
“Power to the People”*
“Do the Oz”*

My favorite tracks are “God,” “Love,” “I Found Out,” “Mother,” and “Working Class Hero.”

The album reached #1 in Canada and The Netherlands, #3 in Australia, #4 in Norway, #5 in Japan, #6 in the U.S., #8 in the U.K. and Sweden, and #39 in West Germany.

POB is widely considered John’s greatest solo album by far, and it’s always been my personal favorite as well. Many of those incessant best-of lists rank it quite highly.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly, highly recommend this album!

How my amazing journey hit a short-lived snag

Twenty years ago today, 30 November 2000, I got my fourth Who album, Odds and Sods. Based on all the glowing reviews at thewho.net (whose review section is now only viewable through archive.org), I was prepared to instantly love it.

But instead I hit an unexpected snag which left me wondering if I’d made a mistake. For a brief while, I had second thoughts about continuing my amazing journey with more albums.

That day, I had to go into town for an observation project for my child psychology class. Since I hadn’t a car, and didn’t know my way around Amherst well enough to trust getting on a bus out of the immediate vicinity, it had to be a place I could reach on foot. And none of the daycares and preschools I found in the phonebook were within walking distance.

Luckily, I found a church with a preschool whose teachers were more than happy to let me come over and observe. It was either First Church Amherst on Main St. or Grace Episcopal Church just off of Main.

Even that fairly short distance from campus seemed a long way to me! When you’re not familiar with a place, and are by yourself, you have little choice but to stay in a straight line if you don’t want to get lost, and not to go too far down any side streets.

After the conclusion of preschool, I decided to go into Newbury Comics on Main St. I’d wanted to go for awhile, but was held back by not being sure how to get there. Did I feel stupid when I realized how easy it is to get there! Approaching it from the other side provided a lot of obvious perspective.

Was I thrilled to find Odds and Sods in the CD section! I bought it with the cash I got from a recent study I’d taken part in for social psychology class credit. The checkout guy seemed kind of surprised by my purchase, though I never figured out if it were positive or negative.

This seems so hypocritical coming from someone who’s never cared what others think of me and who takes great pride in being different from the others, but for years I was held back from buying classic albums in stores because I was afraid the cashiers and customers would make fun of me for liking older music.

And now we have all these Gen Z kids on YouTube patting themselves on the back with comments like “Teeheehee, I’m only twelve and I love [band/singer from an earlier generation].” What do you want, a cookie and adults praising you as so much cooler than your peers?

That night in my single room in Chadbourne, I sat down to play O&S. Right away I was greeted by the shocking harmonica jolt of “I’m the Face.” I wouldn’t describe it as bad shocking, just not the type of sound I was expecting.

Because O&S is a compilation of, well, odds and sods, instead of a studio or even live album, the songs seemed kind of random and inconsistent. I didn’t think they were bad songs, just presented a bit confusingly.

Having both CD and vinyl now, I prefer the track order of the vinyl. It feels like more of a deliberately arranged album, odds and sods though the songs may be.

The CD remaster presents the songs chronologically, which gives an entirely different listening experience. After twenty years, I’m obviously more than used to it, but I can’t help but wonder how it’d sound if it were arranged as the original album plus bonus tracks.

Because of my experience with O&S, I always write album reviews as though a newbie is reading them. Some fool on Amazon once mocked me because I always mention if an album is ideal for a new fan or more for established fans. Why do so many people write reviews as though only longtime hardcore fans are reading them? I had serious second thoughts about getting another Who album because none of the reviews I read mentioned how O&S, while great, isn’t the most ideal album to get so early in one’s amazing journey.

I got my fifth Who album, The Who Sell Out, on 6 December, so I obviously wasn’t derailed for that long. Had O&S been my first Who album, however, it might’ve gone a lot differently. Tommy was challenging enough as my first.

But as Fate turned out, O&S was my fourth, and it just feels right. I couldn’t imagine any other album as my fourth.

WeWriWa—Why Emeline prefers George

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Since today is George Harrison’s 19th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m sharing something from Chapter 17 of Little Ragdoll, “Letters to and from Lucine and Emeline.” In autumn 1964, youngest Troy sisters Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine write to their closest older sisters, who left home young to escape their toxic parents. Eighteen-year-old Lucine is now at Hunter College, and 16-year-old Emeline is attending an uptown boarding school on full scholarship.

Near the end of her letter, Emeline explains why George is her favorite Beatle.

To answer Ernestine’s question, yes, I do like The Beatles (and I can’t believe she’s old enough to have celebrity crushes!). Maybe I’m a little too old for them, but it’s not like I’m one of those screaming young girls who’s only thinking about how cute they are and can’t hear them singing or playing their instruments. Liking somebody’s music has nothing to do with how cute they are, though it does help if someone is good-looking in addition to talented.

My favorite is George. I guess it’s because he’s the baby of the group, and it makes me think of my own dear little sisters and how the baby of a family needs special mothering, love, and protection. Is it a good or a bad thing I feel such a strong mothering instinct at only sixteen? Besides, I know how it feels to be pegged ‘the quiet one.’ That label sticks, and people sometimes don’t expect much of you since they think you’re not talkative. But boy, will I prove to anyone who thinks I’m just another quiet, bookish girl that still waters can run deep when I go into the world and make something of myself!

My Quadrophenia story, twenty years later

Though I first listened to Quadrophenia on 18 November 2000, my history with the album truly began in 1993. I’d been looking at my parents’ fairly paltry vinyl collection since I was a kid, but I wasn’t drawn back to it till I was thirteen and getting into classic rock and pop. Since we no longer had a record player, I had to make do with reading the story booklet and looking at the photos.

Being that classic kid who read too much and understood too little yet again, I twisted myself in knots trying to figure out just what the title meant. I thought it was a real word whose definition eluded me!

A certain lyric in “Doctor Jimmy” also greatly unsettled me for years. When you only read lyrics instead of hearing them actually sung, let alone in the context of a complex story being told through a rock opera, you tend to miss a lot of important details.

Jimmy isn’t really saying he plans to rape a virgin. He’s reached the end of his rope and isn’t thinking straight by a long shot. There’s so much clutter swirling in his head, with the four warring parts of his personality. Jimmy’s angry, confused, a hot mess who needs help.

That lyric is also nothing next to some of the jaw-dropping awfulness featured on The Rap Critic’s Worst Lyrics episodes. The all-time worst I’ve heard is the Lil Wayne guest verse in “Karate Chop,” comparing rough sex to the beating of Emmett Till.

17–19 November 2000 was my very first weekend staying on campus at UMass instead of obediently going home to Pittsfield like an overgrown little kid with no life. It’s no fun being a victim of learnt helplessness, even if in my case it wasn’t the result of deliberately malicious intentions. I also only transferred after two years of community college. While that saved lots of money, it didn’t do my emotional, psychological, or mental maturity any favors!

That Saturday afternoon, I walked into town and went to Mystery Train Records. What luck, I found Quad in the used CD section for only $16! I was hungry for a third Who album after Tommy and Who’s Next, and had heard so many people on my lists highly recommending it as one of the best albums to get early in one’s fandom journey.

Was I blown away when I got back to my single dorm room on the first floor of Chadbourne! I loved Quad so much, I played it twice that day, and many more times in the coming weeks. Love at first listen. When I finally quit trying to overanalyze the story and title, and just listened without prejudice, I got Quad.

This album would’ve meant so much to me during junior high. It’s a story just about every adolescent who’s ever lived can deeply relate to—not fitting in, being different from the others, feeling alienated from everyone around oneself, not getting along with parents, being bullied, feeling on the verge of cracking up if one more straw hits the camel’s back.

Each of the four bandmembers is represented by one of the warring aspects of Jimmy’s psyche. Roger’s theme is “Helpless Dancer” (a screen name I’ve used at a few message boards), Keith’s theme is “Bell Boy,” John’s theme is “Doctor Jimmy,” and Pete’s theme is “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The themes appear as instrumentals in the title track and “The Rock.”

In “Quadrophenia,” they’re played separately, signifying how fractured Jimmy’s state of mind is, at war with himself, wanting and trying to be so many disparate things to so many different people.

In “The Rock,” they initially appear individually, but gradually start merging, faster and faster, until finally they emerge as one and Jimmy makes peace with himself in “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

Twenty years later, Quad is still an emotional tour de force every single time. It’s been with me through half of my life and counting, and never lets me down. Words shall never express my deep love and gratitude to this wonderful band and all they’ve meant to me for so long.