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Music / John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

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"As soon as you're born, they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
'till the pain is so big, you feel nothing at all."

"One has to completely humiliate oneself to be what the Beatles were, and that's what I resent. I didn't know, I didn't foresee. It happened bit by bit, gradually, until this complete craziness is surrounding you, and you're doing exactly what you don't want to do with people you can't stand — the people you hated when you were ten... and that's what I'm saying on this album: 'I remember what it was all about now, you fuckers. Fuck you all... you don't get me twice'."
John Lennon, Rolling Stone interview, 1970

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, is the fourth studio album by John Lennon, and his first to be released following his departure from The Beatles. It was released in 1970 through Apple Records.

Compared to his three previous experimental albums — all collaborations with his wife Yoko Ono — it has a more conventional songwriting approach, but with frank, raw lyrics and a stripped-down sound. It was essentially a showcase for Lennon to exorcise many of his personal demons, spurred on by the primal therapy sessions that he and Ono had attended earlier in 1970. Such topics included the singer's troubled youth, the hypocrisy of religion and belief systems, and his growing disillusionment with stardom and the music industry.

A documentary about the creative process behind the making of this album can be seen in the Classic Albums TV documentary series.


Side One

  1. "Mother" (5:34)
  2. "Hold On" (1:52)
  3. "I Found Out" (3:37)
  4. "Working Class Hero" (3:48)
  5. "Isolation" (2:51)

Side Two

  1. "Remember" (4:33)
  2. "Love" (3:21)
  3. "Well Well Well" (5:59)
  4. "Look at Me" (2:53)
  5. "God" (4:09)
  6. "My Mummy's Dead" (0:49)

Bonus Tracks (2000 Reissue):

  1. "Power to the People" (3:22)
  2. "Do the Oz" (3:07)

A working class troper is something to be:

  • Alliterative Title: "Well Well Well".
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Ultimately this seems to be Lennon's philosophy in "God" after he lists all the things he doesn't believe in — the final lines of the song seem to be his acknowledgement that he needs to create his own meaning. Lennon himself said of the song, "If there is a God, we're all it."
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: "God" and "Working Class Hero", though Lennon also subverts it in the sense that he believes in himself and that a working class man is a hero.
  • Blasphemous Boast:
    • "God", listing all kinds of heroes and icons Lennon doesn't believe in.
    • "I Found Out" also deals with false religion and idols.
  • Book Ends: Plastic Ono Band opens with "Mother" and ends with "My Mummy's Dead".
  • Breather Episode: "Hold On", "Love", and "Look at Me" provide respites from the overall bleakness of the album, although the latter two are also still very emotional.
  • Broken Record:
    • The ending of "Well, Well, Well".
    • The line "I don't believe in..." in "God".
  • Call-Back:
    • The "ting ting ting" of a little chiming bell that opens "(Just Like) Starting Over" and "Beautiful Boy" from Double Fantasy from 1980 is a Call Back to the heavy, doom-laden church bell that opens "Mother" on Plastic Ono Band. Lennon said in the last interview he ever gave that this was deliberate, meant to symbolize that he had come through all of his issues.
    • "I was the Walrus, but now I'm John."
  • Careful with That Axe: John screams frequently on "Well Well Well" and "Mother".
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Working Class Hero" uses the F-word twice, something that resulted in complaints to the FCC.
  • Crapsack World: "Working Class Hero" is one long litany about how people always try to put you down from the cradle on.
  • Creepy Monotone: Lennon sings in an empty, monotone way about his mother's death in "My Mummy's Dead". Truth in Television: grief may cause serious psychological disorders that make it difficult to impossible for people to express or even feel emotion.
  • Crisis of Faith: "God", where Lennon lists all the icons, prophets, heroes, gods, rock stars and/or illusions he doesn't believe in (anymore), with the exception of himself and his wife, Yoko.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: A large theme on the album, particularly where Lennon's issues with parental abandonment were concerned.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: A huge theme, never so clear as in "God" where Lennon rejects all kinds of false icons, but eventually states he believes him himself and his partner and "that's reality."
  • Epic Rocking: "Well Well Well" is just shy of the six-minute mark.
  • Face on the Cover: John and Yoko are featured on the album cover, but too far away to be immediately recognizable.
  • The Future Will Be Better: "Hold On", in which Lennon sings that peace will be achievable when everyone will "see the light" and realize that we are all "one".
  • God: One track has this simple title.
    "God is a concept by which we measure our pain."
  • Grief Song: "Mother" and "My Mummy's Dead", about Lennon's mother who died after being struck by a car when he was young.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: "Well Well Well" has the line "she looked so beautiful I could eat her". (However, this may also be a Double Entendre for performing cunnilingus.)
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "My Mummy's Dead" is mostly sung to the melody of "Three Blind Mice", and it's deliberately given simple, childlike lyrics. The subject is the death of Lennon's mother.
  • Last Note Nightmare: "Remember" ends with the lines "Remember, remember/The 5th of November" and then suddenly cuts to a loud explosion.
  • List Song: "God" lists all the things Lennon doesn't believe in, including magic, I Ching, Jesus Christ, The Bible, tarot, Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Buddha, mantra, Gita, yoga, kings, Elvis Presley, Zimmerman and The Beatles. He concludes he just believes in himself and Ono.
  • Lost in Character: The concluding section of "God" is essentially Lennon's admission that a form of this had occurred to him while he was in the Beatles, and also double as his very public attempt to reconstruct his own identity. It also borders very closely on That Man Is Dead, but doesn't quite get there. Lennon said the song was his attempt to break down the myth that "the Beatles were God".
  • Metal Scream: "Mother" and particularly "Well Well Well" have some pretty intense ones.
  • Missing Mom: "Mother" and "My Mummy's Dead", about Lennon's deceased mother.
  • One-Woman Song: "Mother", about Lennon's deceased mother.
  • One-Word Title: "Isolation", "God", "Mother", "Love".
  • Parental Abandonment: "Mother", despite its title, partially deals with Lennon's efforts to work through the emotional effects of having been abandoned by both his parents. It's also a Grief Song for his mother.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Working Class Hero". This was controversial in 1970; in the EMI British release of the album the word "fucking" was replaced with asterisks on the lyric sheet. (Capitol released the album with uncensored lyrics in America.)
    They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool'
    Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules.
    (...) Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you're so clever and classless and free
    But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The entire album is aimed at the fans, the Beatles, everyone and everything who ever crossed him, pissed him off or that he had ever believed in over the course of his life to that point (except for Yoko).
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Much of the album dealt with Lennon's past and especially the then-recent break-up of The Beatles.
  • Record Producer: Phil Spector ended up being The Invisible Producer variant of this, contrary to his usual practice, by virtue of his failure to show up to most of the sessions, and Lennon wanting the album to be as stark and unadorned as possible. Spector played a bit of piano and made a few jokes in the studio, but Lennon and Ono basically produced this album and its companion themselves.
  • Rule of Two: It's a companion piece with Yoko Ono's similarly titled yet more avant-garde Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. The two have almost identical covers — the only difference being Lennon laying on Ono on his cover and Ono laying on Lennon on her cover — and both records were recorded at the same time with the same musicians and studio personnel (aside from a live song on Yoko's album). The two albums were even advertised together and shared a single tagline, "What's wrong with a Working Class Hero?" While most contemporary reviewers savaged Ono's album (with two major exceptions being critic Lester Bangs and Billboard magazine, which called it "visionary"), it ultimately ended up Vindicated by History and is considered a significant influence on modern female alternative rockers such as Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, The B-52s' Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, and Hole's Courtney Love.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Remember":
      • The song ends with the lines "Remember, remember/The Fifth of November", followed by an explosion. This is a reference to Guy Fawkes Night, a British holiday.note 
      • "If you ever change your mind/About leaving it all behind" is a close paraphrase of a lyric in Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home".
    • On "Hold On", John briefly imitates Cookie Monster.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Runs the gamut. Songs like "Love" and "Well Well Well" are deeply idealistic, while songs like "Working Class Hero" and "I Found Out" are deeply cynical. "God", meanwhile, essentially serves as Lennon's attempt to reconstruct his own idealism: he lists all the things he doesn't believe in, and concludes the song with, first, an affirmation of his belief in himself and in Yoko, and secondly, his affirmation of his need to rebuild his own life after having come to terms with his identity.
  • Stock Sound Effects: An explosion is heard in "Remember".
  • Special Guest: Ringo Starr is drumming on several songs.
  • Stylistic Suck: From a recording quality standpoint. "My Mummy's Dead" is apparently a re-recording of the original recording after being played back through a cheap speaker, in order to give it a deliberately lo-fi sound.
  • Take That!: The reference to "Zimmerman" in "God" might be one, as Bob Dylan doesn't appreciate most people calling him by that name, and most people have to get his permission to use it in his presence — but maybe not (or at least not as much as it would have been from most people), since he and Lennon were on close terms and significantly influenced each other's music. Lennon's delivery is pretty dismissive, though (plus, its context is a long list of things and people Lennon doesn't believe in).note 
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Love" is a soft and hopeful song amidst all the angst and raw emotion.
  • Textless Album Cover
  • Three Chords and the Truth: The album is mostly guitar, bass, drums, piano, and vocals. Some songs have only acoustic guitar and voice ("Working Class Hero", "Look at Me", "My Mummy's Dead") or guitar, piano, and voice ("Love"). This is a particularly sparse production by the standards of Phil Spector, who's known for his "wall of sound"–the reason for this being that Spector wasn't present for most of the recording sessions, and Lennon certainly had no intention of allowing Spector to do his usual heavy overdubbage on the final result. Occasionally Zig-Zagged, though, as while songs generally have simple arrangements, some of them deviate from verse-chorus-bridge format — "God" has three discrete parts with nothing recognisable as a chorus, though its second section repeats a simple melody over a three-chord pattern fifteen times.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Well Well Well".
  • War Is Hell: "Working Class Hero".
    But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
  • Wham Episode: "God":
    I don't believe in Elvis
    I don't believe in Zimmerman
    I don't believe in Beatles
    I just believe in me
    Yoko and me
    And that's reality"
  • Working-Class Hero: Ironically, the Trope Namer, the song "Working Class Hero", is a subversion in which the working class are duped into feeling like heroes by those with power:
    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you're so clever and classless and free
    But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see