This past week, we passed the 30th anniversary of the day that John Lennon was killed outside of the Dakota in New York City. The increased coverage has had me listening to more solo Lennon work than is really typical for me. Honestly, I've never been a HUGE fan of Lennon's solo work, and prior to this year was content to own a couple of greatest hits type compilations. And honestly, if it weren't for library cards and CD burners, I wouldn't own any proper albums by solo Beatles aside from Harrison's "Cloud 9", "Brainwashed" and the first Traveling Wilburys album.
That is until the magic of iTunes hit me -- I did buy a copy of "McCartney" a year or so ago when a remastered version became available (and really, can honestly say I don't care for it as an album). And then this past October, another round of remastered Lennon albums were made available, and I has a gift card or two to burn -- so no I own "Plastic Ono Band", "Imagine", "Mind Games" and "Walls and Bridges". As with the other solo Beatles stuff, I don't care for it anywhere near as much as my least favorite Beatles album (probably "Let It Be", but might be "Magical Mystery Tour"). But, as a -- I guess -- more mature consumer at the time of purchase, I do find them to be fairly interesting.
So between the press over his 70th birthday and the 30th anniversary of his death, I've spent a bit more time listening to solo Lennon work and thinking about it in the context of the Beatles (which are always in rotation on my iPod). Perhaps it is because I'm finally listening to his music with some kind of recognition of where it appeared in relation to the final Beatles albums, but my thoughts finally turned to the idea of what the next Beatles album might have sounded like had they averted the breakup. Sure, I've made mixes before where I alternated solo Lennon and McCartney hits, but these were greatest hits mixes with no attempt to discern what an actual Beatles album would have been in the early 70's.
Then, my thoughts turned to what I knew of the breakup. I'm far from a scholar, but I have read a couple of books -- on transcribing tapes from the "Get Back" sessions (sorry, it hasn't found its way to my bookshelf in my last move, and can't remember the title/author) and a great history of the Beatles by Bob Spitz. As you may or may not know, the final years of the Beatles were full of turmoil, and I believe every member "quit" the band before McCartney's press info for his first solo album announced things officially. At one point, there was even talk that Eric Clapton would join in to take George's, and later Paul's spot (I think I have my facts correct on "God" replacing Paul, though I'm sure a real Beatles scholar will correct me).
So -- In my head I have a sort of alternate history....everything that we know happened does happen, but pleas to Paul to hold off on releasing McCartney work, and that album never hits as we know it (he does release it, but in a bit different form). He does also briefly quit the Beatles and is replaced by Clapton. During sessions, the other 3 realize that, while a special musical "happening", they aren't the Beatles with Clapton (oh, and Billy Preston, too). So the sessions yield a fantastic one-off album of blues/classic rock n' roll covers, but that is not the next Beatles album. After some time away, the Beatles get together and start to work through the material that all of them had been putting together for their intended solo albums. But realize that they are, and have always been, better together than apart.
So I get through all of this thinking, and do a few quick google searches on the subject only to find that it is a favorite hobby (and blog topic) of Beatles fans all over. Not sure why that surprised me. Also surprised to find out that a lot of what I picked is chosen by my fellow fans. I find that interesting. A couple of articles I enjoyed are an idea on "Alone Together", which while a good article, a title I can't accept mainly because I remember a Crowded House album called "Together Alone." Then there's "Hot as Sun" and an article I point out because it references similar articles and concepts. I'm sure there are an infinite number out there, and these are only just a few that I've found.
So for what it is worth, here is my "next Beatles album." I imagine that the title would be simply "John, Paul, George and Ringo." I did follow a couple of rules:
- With one exception, all of the songs had to be from, or at least known to have existed, in the 1970-71 time frame. I imagine this album to have appeared in late '71 or early '72.
- Usual "Beatle" rules were followed -- meaning a fairly consistent mix of Lennon vs. McCartney songs. When he agreed to come back, George would have insisted on more than two tracks of his own. He didn't get two that he actually sang, but did get a 3rd song that he helped write. Ringo gets to sing two....because he never really caused much turmoil and it was his plea to Paul that prevented the release of "McCartney" at the same time as "Let It Be". That plea was made in reality, but as we know, Paul did not listen to it.
- Tried to keep the running time consistent with what would have been possible on vinyl. I'm a bit over, but assumed that these songs would have turned out a bit differently had they been Beatles songs.
So here goes.....
- We open with "Too Many People". And, yeah, the veiled comments on John do make it into the final. For a time, the album would have included either "How Do You Sleep?" and/or "God", but eventually Paul clears the air and explains that really only one line refers to Yoko in the studio. (As a side note, Ringo and George tell Paul that they don't like Linda being in the studio any more than they like having Yoko around).
- Next comes "Remember". Of all of John's early solo music, this is the one that sounds the most Beatle-ish to me. Plus, I like the reference to Guy Fawkes and the abrupt ending of the song.
- Next comes "Instant Karma", which had been intended to be a solo single by John, but was held because the other guys loved it.
- Then Paul chimes in with "That Would Be Something". George admitted this one was a good one, and I agree with Allyn Gibson that the song is much better once the other Beatles have their input.
- Then we get "Wah-Wah". You listen to "All Things Must Pass" and you wonder how Paul and John kept some of these off their albums. This one was written when George briefly quit the group, and it's a nice, peppy song. And it's not the best George has to offer, so John and Paul still have the satisfaction of keeping George in the background.
- So my one big cheat -- "I'm the Greatest" from the "Ringo" album. I picked this one specifically because it's really a Beatles song in a very broad sense. John wrote it, and all four play on it. So while no one really thought Ringo ought to sing more than one song on an album, he gets to sing one that John wrote for him.
- We close out side A with "Another Day." A song John hates, but Paul won't agree to leave out.
- The second side opens with "Mind Games". The song sounds a bit different without Phil Spector's production, but this is one John had been working on as early as the "Let It Be" sessions, and fits perfectly with his love and peace message of the times.
- Next up...."Dear Boy." Paul always seemed to have one of these kinds of songs ready, although this one isn't nearly as cheesy as "Martha My Dear" or many of his solo hits.
- "Hold On" is next. The rest of the band wasn't wild about the Yoko name check, but John agreed to put "How Do You Sleep?" on the shelf as long as he could include a song that reflected his love for Yoko.
- George gets his second track with "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp". Many of you would probably say that this was an odd choice when "My Sweet Lord", "What is Life", "Isn't It A Pity"....and many others have been left off. The reason, to me, is simple....John had already rejected "Isn't It A Pity", and neither he nor Paul were wild about George showing them up as he'd already done with "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" on "Abbey Road". So George throws out this underrated gem.
- John's "Gimme Some Truth" comes next. As with "Remember", it had more of a Beatle feel to me than some of his other solo songs, and choosing "Imagine" seemed too easy. In truth, "Mother" probably would have been John's contribution, but I've never cared for that one, so I'm sticking with this.
- "It Don't Come Easy" features an unheard of 2nd song sung by Ringo, but since George gets the co-writer credit, he's happy to have this one make the final cut.
- And we close out things with "Maybe I'm Amazed"....which is hands down my favorite McCartney song....Beatles, solo or otherwise.
I was very tempted to include "God" in the mix, but couldn't imagine the other members allowing the line "I don't believe in Beatles." At one point, though -- before I had settled on "Remember" -- I had that one closing the album, and the Beatles announcing their break up with the release of the album. But the band never did things with that much forethought, and while was a better storybook ending than what happened in reality, just didn't seem to feel right.
I listen to this collection of songs -- and try to imagine what they'd have sounded like with George Martin producing and I think this is a fine album, though perhaps not "the greatest album never made." But let's face it....."Let It Be" wasn't a great album by the Beatles' standards either. So that's how I see it -- and I'd love any comments you might want to leave.
Thanks for reading.