Source Material John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
by Justin Farrar | October 5, 2010
By the end of the 1960s, The Beatles were, as Joe Carducci points out in his book Rock and the Pop Narcotic, their own medium. The group and its creative process appeared to exist inside a bubble, one that floated above and beyond the rest of pop music and culture. This, of course, wasn't reality, but The Beatles' towering myth sure made it seem as if it were. They were gods, while the rest of us were mere mortals. Timothy Leary once stated, "The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen." That reeks of LSD-induced hyperbole for sure, yet the techno-shaman's words accurately reflect the world's total obsession with John, Paul, George and Ringo back in the day.Then again, appearance and mythology don't explain everything. Unlike the 1960s' other titans The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, both brazen artists who openly reveled in sonic thievery on more than a few occasions The Beatles possessed an uncanny ability to sound unlike anybody but themselves. Even when they admitted to their influences (Lennon and Harrison both claimed the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were all about the group trying to be The Band), they didn't necessarily remind listeners of them. Chances are quite slim that somebody heard "Don't Let Me Down" and said, "Man, they're totally ripping off Music from Big Pink."
The Fabs' early solo efforts All Things Must Pass, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, Ram, Imagine, McCartney, et al. were very much a part of this bubble. Released either before or not long after the group's final full-length, 1970's Let It Be, most of these records contained music written and/or recorded while The Beatles were still a band, while the towering myth mentioned above was still a living, breathing entity.
The same holds true for the Plastic Ono Band LP. One of Lennon's earliest solo albums, it came-out in 1970. Yet it possesses another layer that makes examination only that much more inscrutable. In stark contrast to the unadulterated pop pastiche McCartney was producing at the very same time, Plastic Ono Band was less a musical document than a savage self-rendering of a man's tattered psyche and ailing soul. Applying Dr. Arthur Janov's controversial primal-scream therapy to his music-making, Lennon injected the concept of the confessional singer-songwriter with a brutal honesty and grotesque beauty that not even the likes of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne could've dreamed of exploring.
Taking all this into consideration, it is damn near impossible to listen to Plastic Ono Band with the detachment required of a critic whose mission it is to offer a little historical context in terms of antecedents, background, influences, etc. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. Hopefully, the six records below will give you a deeper appreciation of this seminal rock album.