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John Lennon - Classic Albums: Plastic Ono Band Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 June 2008
ImageI wasn’t deluding myself. There was absolutely nothing the makers of this DVD could have done that would have given this examination of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band enough emotional depth to satisfy me. After all, Plastic Ono Band is the single most important release in the continuing story of my life.

Plastic Ono Band has not only provided me with emotional comfort, and support, during the most difficult periods of my life but it has also presented me with the single most defining aspect of my outlook on life. I am not perfect and I get many things wrong, but I never stop trying to be better.

What you get with Classic Album’s Plastic Ono Band are some great Ringo snippets, revelations from bass player (and Beatle Friend) Klaus Voormann, and some of the isolated track playback which has made the Classic Album series worthwhile. And, to quote Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, “A Whole Lotta Yoko.”  What you don’t get is an extremely in-depth examination of Plastic Ono Band, or at least, a complete one.

In my opinion the makers of this series didn’t trust the material enough to let it stand on its own. Instead of letting Plastic Ono Band, the album, speak for itself, the makers decide to use a full 12 minutes of the 54-minute program to give a history of Plastic Ono Band, the group. I don’t know whose idea that was, and I don’t want this to come off sounding like I’m not interested in hearing the story told again, but this introduction comes at the cost of leaving selections from the album out of the program, which is unforgivable.

I love both “Give Peace a Chance” and “Instant Karma” more than I can put into words, and it’s great to hear the story of how the whole of  “Instant Karma” came about in one day again, but this was supposed to be about the Plastic Ono Band album. It is not acceptable to relegate the segments on “Remember” and “Well Well Well” to the bonus material section. They’re both incredibly important to the overall release, so I say either make the show longer, or do the entire album. I mean, after all, we’re talking John Lennon and a defining moment in the history of recorded popular music. And in my life. I know I’m being snarky because the makers have geared this show towards the casual listener, but for others like me… well, there’s a reason why, when my wife calls my cell phone, “I Found Out” plays as her ringtone. The music and the person meet at the center of my heart. There are things about, and information contained in, this Classic Album presentation that make it a worthwhile purchase for anyone who loves Lennon’s music and the Plastic Ono Band album in particular.

Ringo. You’re not only treated to examples of his brilliance as a drummer, but you can hear the love in his voice for his friend, John Lennon. Not John the legendary musician, but John the guy he was stuck in hotel rooms with. When he talks of “the force of John” it becomes clear where his feelings lie and how much he misses him. I’ve heard some of Ringo’s stories in different settings over the years, but I never grow tired of them because each time it seems as if he really means what he’s saying. And he always promotes love.

Klaus Voormann. His simple and perfect bass playing is revealed to be one of the most important pieces of Plastic Ono Band, behind only John’s lyrics and vocals.  And when Voorman picks up the same bass he used on these sessions some 38-odd years ago and still plays his parts perfectly, it’s easy to see how deep these songs, and recordings go into his psyche.  If Plastic Ono Band is the soul of John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Klaus Voorman are its beating heart and pumping blood, respectively.

Phil Spector.  He’s credited as a producer even though the participants can’t remember him showing up more than a couple of times. This explains the simple, unadorned, and classic nature of Plastic Ono Band. The real producers are John, Yoko, and the engineers Phil McDonald and Richard Lush, and Spector’s participation is revealed to be of no consequence whatsoever.

Yoko. She doesn’t come off as self-serving, and I’m not sure if that’s the result of a conscious effort on the part of the director or because she’s given credit for the Plastic Ono Band brand and her Yoko Plastic Ono Band album (and the attending cover art) is featured prominently. I’ve never been a fan of her singing, which may lead to the somewhat negative impression I have of her, but it’s easy to tell she’s John’s partner in the creation of these recordings. A heady thing for anyone to be able to say. And when John mentions that his love for her is more important than any music, or any thing, her place in his life, and in turn in these recordings, is apparent in an easy to understand way.

John Lennon’s voice. Hearing him sing these songs, unadorned and without accompaniment, is truly remarkable and bone chilling. Learning how he would attempt the screams on “Mother” at the end of each night’s session because he couldn’t sing afterwards makes perfect sense and explains how badly he wanted it to convey the emotional pain he was feeling. I immediately thought about the screaming in “Well Well Well,” which is even more raw and frightening, but it’s only addressed in the bonus material with a live performance and Yoko accidentally ending up on it because she pushes an intercom button at the wrong time.

And there are small treasures like solo tracking Billy Preston’s piano work on “God,” finding out Lennon told him to play it like he was in church, which he does to great effect. Or EMI insisting the word “fucking” be indicated by an asterisk on the album liner which Lennon makes them own up to with an additional comment.

All of which goes back to my lead, and my state of delusion. I knew going
into this any examination, whether a TV show or a review, of Plastic Ono Band couldn’t live up to the music itself because there’s very little criticism that ever comes close to the work itself. I was deluding myself to think I wouldn’t find aspects of Classic Albums Plastic Ono Band which would make it a welcome addition to my DVD collection. My only wish is that the makers of this program would have realized something as important as Plastic Ono Band doesn’t deserve the same treatment you’d give to Def Leppard or Styx. It requires, no, demands, much more. And I guess that’s where I’m truly delusional, because after all, it’s only TV.
Classic Albums Plastic Ono Band comes in the magic of Dolby Digital Stereo, with a very clean presentation. It is clear, precise, and led me to wonder how the original 8 track tapes of POB have held up so well over the years. The bass jumps out of the speakers and Ringo’s drums sound like he’s in the room with you. Very excellent. The live recordings come across a little muddier than the interviews and tape playbacks but are fun to listen to anyway.  

Extra Features
The bonus material, as they refer to it, is filled with as many wonderful moments as the main program, and most of it should have been edited into an hour and a half hour version of Classic Albums Plastic Ono Band. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing “Well Well Well” or “Mother” live, here’s your opportunity, and worth the price of the DVD. The Top of the Pop’s version of “Instant Karma” is included but comes across as a bit silly because it, of all songs, is lip-synched. All of the love, pain and sadness of Plastic Ono Band cannot be measured by a DVD and its bonus features, but it can be found in my heart as I write “Goodbye Kim, thank you for believing in me when I needed it most. I’ll miss your laugh most of all. Peace be with you.”

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