Friday, 16 June 2017

"Walls And Bridges" by JOHN LENNON (November 2005 EMI/Apple 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Whatever Gets You Through The Night..."

I remember a review I read a few years ago that rubbished practically all of John Lennon's solo catalogue. The guy was pretty adamant and compared McCartney's prolific output to Lennon and especially the chart success and public affection that seemed to come so easy to Macca in the Seventies.

The gist of his argument was that apart from some great stand-alone singles and a few choice album tracks - you could barely fill one CD full of decent songs by Dr. Winston O'Boogie. Ludicrously harsh I thought. But if I'm completely truthful and like most lifetime fans filled with affection for the greatly missed Liverpudlian - I know from painful album-by-album purchase-experience just where this guy's constant disappointment in JL is coming from.

Before we get to "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" in 1970 and "Imagine" in 1971 - I found most of the preceding stuff unlistenable cack – and still do. And as I was also trying to give the largely dreadful double-album "Some Time In New York City" from 1972 another chance when I was reading his critique article (apart from maybe "John Sinclair" and "Angela" - the rest of it is ponderous and drab - and don't start me on that rubbish live disc) - my heart sank. Maybe the guy's got a point.

But then you come to 1973's strangely overlooked "Mind Games" and 1974's upbeat and deeply accessible "Walls And Bridges" – and things improve immeasurably. "Walls And Bridges" especially has some fantastic Lennon tracks on it – ably abetted by the talent of Guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, Klaus Voorman on Bass, Jim Keltner on Drums, Bobby Keys on Sax and famous pals Elton John and Nilsson on Piano and Backing Vocals. But as fans our woes don't end there. Since his horrible loss in December 1980 – we've had to deal with his stuff reissued several times on CD and I personally thought the 2005 reissues did a superb job. So enough was enough already...

But now along comes Yoko Ono in 2010 and once again with her endless meddling in his legacy - what does she do - she strips away the 2005 Bonus Tracks and great sound and gives us the albums bare. They're housed in glossy gatefold card sleeves that look nice but are functionally useless and even downright irritating. There's a new booklet for sure but not much else of worth. But the bottom line is that these have ended up feeling like new versions that offer us less and not more or better. 

So I decided to ditch the admittedly pretty-looking October 2010 'John Lennon Signature Collection' version (EMI/Apple 5099990650826 - Barcode is the same) and go back to that November 2005 EMI issue because frankly I prefer its sound and the extras are something I want to keep and not lose. In fact I'd going to argue that in this case - the version you need is already out there. Here are the number nine dreams...

UK released November 2005 - "Walls And Bridges" by JOHN LENNON on EMI/Apple 340 9712 (Barcode 0094634097123) is an 'Expanded Edition' with Three Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows (59:26 minutes):

1. Going Down On Love [Side 1]
2. Whatever Gets You Through The Night
3. Old Dirt Road
4. What You Got
5. Bless You
6. Scared
7. No. 9 Dream [Side 2]
8. Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)
9. Steel And Glass
10. Beef Jerky
11. Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out)
12. Ya Ya
Tracks 1 to 12 are his studio album "Walls And Bridges" - released October 1974 in the UK on Apple PCTC 253 and in the USA on Apple SW-3416. Produced by JOHN LENNON - it peaked at No. 6 in the UK and No. 1 in the USA.

13. Whatever Gets You Through The Night (Live)
14. Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out) (Alternate Version)
15. John Interview (Conducted by Bob Mercer in 1974)
Track 13 first appeared in March 1981 in the UK on DJM Records DJS 10965 on the 3-track 2 x 7” EP "28th November 1974" credited to ELTON JOHN featuring JOHN LENNON and The Muscle Shoals Horns. Recorded live at Madison Square Garden in New York, 28 November 1974
Tracks 14 and 15 are PREVIOUSLY UNISSUED

The 12-page booklet makes an admittedly ham-fisted effort as reproducing the beautiful 'flaps' artwork of the original 1974 LP. We get the Lennon and glasses photos (looking the best he ever did) - the early drawings of his teachers and pupils he did at school - the lyrics and the Lennon surname discussed that was on the inner sleeve and the usual musician credits and reissue details. There's a picture CD with the 'Listen To This Disc/Record' banner that they used advertising the LP all those decades ago. But there's no new liner notes or history/legacy of the American No. 1 album, which is disappointing.

However - I'm loving the new Audio. All of the titles have been newly remixed in 2005 except Tracks 3, 5, 6 and 11 - newly remastered in 2005. A team of experts associated with The Beatles catalogue has handled the Audio transfers at Abbey Road Studios - Remix Engineer PETER COBBIN, Assistant Engineer MIREK STILES, Mastering Engineer STEVE ROOKE with further input from ALLAN ROUSE and PAUL HICKS. The album sounds fab. To the music...

In his typically cryptic and witty manner - JL credits himself as no less than nine different musicians across 12 tracks - Dr. Winston O'Ghurkin playing guitar alongside Jesse Ed Davis on the cool opener "Going Down On Love" - Rev. Thumbs Ghurkin playing piano with Nicky Hopkins on "Old Dirt Road" - Kaptain Kundalini playing lead guitar n "What You Got" while Rev. Fred Ghurkin and Dr. Dream play acoustic guitar on "Bless You" and "No. 9 Dream". Other notable contributions comes from Harry Nilsson who sings backing vocals on the lovely "Old Dirt Road" while Elton John mucks in with backing vocals on two - "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" and "Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)". The house band consisted of long-standing sessionmen - Jim Keltner on Drums with Arthur Jenkins on Percussion, Klaus Voorman on Bass, Nicky Hopkins on Piano and the real heroes of the album - ace guitarists Jesse Ed Davis (Taj Mahal and the Bangladesh concert) and Eddie Mottau throughout. Bobby Keyes of Stones fame and other horn players feature also. His son Julian Lennon even gets a look on the short and frankly dismissible cover of Lloyd Price's "Ya Ya" that ends the LP on two-minutes on piano self-indulgence.

In order to promote the lavishly packaged album - Apple launched the frantic bop of "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" with the throwaway instrumental "Beef Jerky" on its B-side as a 45 on both sides of the pond in September 1974. It worked - the single went all the way to No. 1 on the US Pop charts (Apple 1874) whilst hitting a more sedated No. 36 in the UK (Apple R 5998). I have to say that the whole of Side 1 works for me - it's all coherent and good. The beautiful "Old Dirt Road" (a co-write with Harry Nilsson) feels almost like a George Harrison song in its construction (could have been a killer alternate single to "No. 9 Dream") - while the funky Rock of "What You Got" has a wicked backbeat and tremendous rasping lead vocals. The floating Paul Simon soundscapes of "Bless You" feel like "Still Crazy After All These Years" one year before PS's album - while "Scared" is lead in by a wolf howling at the moon before an incessant beat drums home the message of emotional fear that seemed to dominate every day of his existence (lovely Sax solo too from Howard Johnson).

"No. 9 Dream" with its strings and "Across The Universe" foreign language chorus was the obvious second single from the LP - Apple R 6003 peaking at No. 23 in the UK and Apple 1878 making No. 9 in the USA in January 1975. Personally I prefer the brassy and upbeat "Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)" and the truly brilliant "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out)" is the best track on the album for me. The New York tan and talk of "Steel And Glass" feels almost like a Pink Floyd "Wish You Were Here" ballad - great string arrangements as the big production values hammer home those acidic lyrics. "Beef Jerky" is pure filler and the quirky piano duet between him and Julian ends the album on a strangely throwaway moment. But then we get some seriously great Bonus Tracks – least not of all is a fantastic stripped-down Acoustic take of "Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)" – Lennon sounding truly bare and raw. It’s beautifully reproduced too. The interview is fun – Lennon talking about the green card issues – name-checking his musicians on the album – urging Capitol in his own jokey way to get behind the album (they did).

"Walls And Bridges" is a great John Lennon album and those extras are actually worth owning.

"...Was magic in the air?" – he asked on "No. 9 Dream". Yes it was and we still miss you for it...
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