BY RICK ALLEN
There’s something to be said
good and bad for each Beatle’s solo catalogue. Ringo Starr had a bunch of hit
singles that were pretty good and his last few albums though unfairly ignored
haven’t been bad. George Harrison put out several albums that were all
listenable at the very least, and his first one, “All Things Must
spectacular. As far as sales are concerned, Paul McCartney comes out on top. But
while “Ram” is better in retrospect
than it seemed on release and “Band On
The Run” has great moments, he has never really released a great album as a
“solo” artist or with Wings (though the Fireman stuff from the last two decades
is very, very good).
John Lennon’s post-Beatles
albums have run the gamut, from tediously self-indulgent (all the
“experimental” stuff, i.e. “Two Virgins”) to uneven and occasionally inspired (“Walls
And Bridges”; “Mind Games”) to outstanding (“Live Peace In Toronto;”
“Imagine”) to the mind-blowingly original and truly great “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.”
“Double Fantasy” was the last album Lennon was involved in from beginning to release.
Its best cuts, like the posthumous hit (“Just Like) Starting Over,” hint at a
return to Beatles era quality; not quite an attainment of those heights, but a
solid step toward them. Yoko’s tunes were her best and most accessible up to
that time even though most would have preferred a full album of Lennon songs.
The material on the album reflected where Lennon’s life and thoughts were at
the time, which was at a point of relative calm after an often tragic and
insecure childhood leading to a tumultuous adulthood that, successful as it may
have been for him on a professional level, was still one filled with tumult,
personal insecurity and tragedy, and the pressure of having to deal with
reaching an unprecedented level of superstardom before his mid-twenties.
By the time of “Double Fantasy” the man who wrote
“Help” and “Yer Blues” and “Nowhere Man” had found a life-saving portion of
inner peace, so its no wonder that, as is true of so many great artists, his
state of mind and soul was reflected in his work. Sure, “Watching The Wheels”
reflected a sort of contented inertia. But after being abandoned (and later
somewhat exploited) by his father, the tragic early death of his loving but mostly
absent mother and of the beloved uncle/surrogate father who provided him (along
with his Aunt Mimi) the only true and constant domestic security he had ever
known (besides that which he drew from being in his now dissembled band), the
man deserved to lay back and enjoy the bliss of kith and kin.
And he was well within
historical context and his artistic rights and to make that contentment a main
source of creative inspiration. Only the most jaded sourpuss could find fault
with “Beautiful Boy,” though in Ken Sharp’s book Starting Over: The Making Of John And Yoko’s Double Fantasy (VH1Books/Gallery
Books) one rock critic says he felt rock and roll artists have no business
writing about their children; apparently Chuck Berry’s” Memphis” passed by this
guy completely. But the opinions revisited and revised are the least important
and most dismissable part of a very fine volume of reminiscences of the people
involved in the making of the album.
Sharp’s book is made up of
the answer portions of new interviews with Yoko Ono and all the musicians,
producers, engineers etc. who contributed to the record, along with relevant existing
quotes from Lennon. Whatever your opinion of “Double Fantasy”, the book itself is a very worthwhile read thanks
to Sharp’s own self-effacing discipline as a writer/editor and his ability to
stay focused on the subject; he keeps his own comments to a bare minimum and
lets the participants tell their own stories of their part in what was, to a
person, the experience of their professional lives.
Unlike most of the books
written about (or by) any of the Beatles, this one deals with Lennon as a
musician and the respect these fellow players had for him as one of them. The
book also gives a window into Lennon’s creative and recording process and
relays the uniformly high impression the musicians and technical crew had of
him as a consummate studio professional who was not just able to make
well-considered decisions but who was also open to new ideas no matter the
source. Sharp has put together a captivating portrait of Lennon as a working
musician addressing that most important and too often overlooked side of one of
the most important musicians of the 20th century – and beyond.