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John Lennon - Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 October 2005
John Lennon

Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon
format: 16-bit stereo CDs(2)
label: Capitol
release year: 2005
performance: 10
sound: 10
reviewed by: Stephen.K. Peeples

ImageEditor’s Note: Peeples was the original, award-winning writer/producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series, heard internationally via the Westwood One Radio Network. He was responsible for the first 128 hour-long episodes, from Jan. 1988 through June 1990. Peeples researched what was included in the series by listening through approximately 500 hours of tape and disc source material in John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s personal archive.

You may find the following song list useful for this review –
Disc 1: “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Imagine,” “Watching the Wheels,” “Jealous Guy,” “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On),” “Stand By Me,” “Working Class Hero,” “Power to the People,” “Oh My Love,” “Oh Yoko!,” “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out),” “Nobody Told Me,” “Bless You,” “Come Together” (live, One to One), “New York City,” “I’m Stepping Out,” “You Are Here,” “Borrowed Time” and “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”
Disc 2: “Woman,” “Mind Games,” “Out the Blue,” “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” “Love,” “Mother,” “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” “God,” “Scared,” “#9 Dream,” “I’m Losing You” (Cheap Trick version), “Isolation,” “Cold Turkey,” “Intuition,” “Gimme Some Truth,” “Give Peace a Chance,” “Real Love” (piano version, “Take 4”) and “Grow Old with Me.”

Through music, poetry, prose and conversation, John Lennon shared his innermost secrets, his elation and terror, his genius and his flaws, more intimately than any songwriter, recording artist and/or performer I know of. Because there were so many sides of him for people to relate to, many people felt they got to know him very well. The more you listened to Lennon, the better you understood him, and what motivated him. As such, each of his songs defines him, or adds a letter, syllable, word, phrase or more to his definition.

The two-CD Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon anthology collects 38 songs in which he did his best to define who he was and what he was going through at the moment he wrote and/or recorded them, from “Give Peace a Chance” in mid-1969 to the Double Fantasy/Milk & Honey sessions of late 1980. As has been well-documented elsewhere, he went through an extraordinary range of human experience in that 11-year span.

These are definitive Lennon songs, indeed, though maybe not exactly the ones you or I would have chosen. You might think songs like “Jealous Guy” “Oh My Love,” “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out),” “Bless You,” “You Are Here,” “Out the Blue,” “Scared,” “Isolation” or “Intuition” were just album filler, not as strong musically as his better-known hits, and should have been replaced here by this or that.

No, in this context, each of those songs reflects a different facet of Lennon’s diamond-in-the-rough character, and legitimately belongs here. Let’s face it: We didn’t know him quite as well as Yoko, who compiled this anthology with longtime EMI executive Mike Heatley, a guy who actually worked with the Beatles at Abbey Road. So maybe the rest of us know-it-all fans should shut up for the course of this two-disc journey and listen to the perspective of two people who ought to know more about Lennon and his music than perhaps anyone.

I say this counting myself among those know-it-all fans. But as one who lived and breathed Lennon from inside his tape vault for two-and-a-half years researching and writing “The Lost Lennon Tapes,” I also gained a deep enough understanding of the guy to appreciate why Ono and Heatley went with these tracks.

Each song vividly illustrates something Lennon experienced and/or learned on his extraordinary journey from angry young rock star to estranged then reunited husband to reborn househusband dad to reborn rocker with at least a few more albums left in him before he really hung up his guitar.

By sequencing the tracks more thematically and less chronologically, the compilers take us full circle instead of from Point A to Point Z, which is refreshing. Disc 1 kicks off with the buoyant Double Fantasy hit single “(Just Like) Starting Over” from autumn 1980. All the key phases and stages of Lennon’s life with and without Yoko (reference his “Lost Weekend” of 1973-1974) play out on the rest of the compilation, which closes with the simply beautiful demo of “Grow Old with Me,” also from late 1980 (this being George Martin’s impeccably-produced version with strings, from 1998’s four-CD John Lennon: Anthology boxed set).

The elevated appreciation you come away with for Lennon as a human after listening to all 38 songs renders insignificant such usually fascinating (but well-known or easily researched) details as who played on what track. Hence the lack of same in the WCH: TDL liner booklet. The music holds up incredibly well after 25-plus years, and we’ll still be listening to it another quarter-century from now. If all you’re looking for is great music, it stands alone. But this collection is as much about the man as the music.

My taste in Lennon probably still skews more toward the rocker than the sensitive Renaissance man, although I appreciate his sensitive side, too. I will admit, somewhere between the last notes of “Real Love” (piano demo, take 4) and the first verse of “Grow Old with Me,” I broke down.


It happened every so often as I researched and wrote the radio series. The scope of his tragic loss would overwhelm me while listening to one of his work tapes, or reading his notations. It happens again just about every October and December, as I try to imagine what the world would be like if he were still here.

Of course, “Grow Old with Me” is John singing to Yoko as they looked forward to spending their sunset years together. A perfect plan, spoiled by a deranged fan. Having your husband murdered in front of you is not something you’d wish on your worst enemy. Ono is growing old … without her man. Unless you’re completely unforgiving, or absolutely inhuman, you must feel her pain as if it were your own.

In the sense than Lennon was a man of the world, and of the public, and had established such an intimate relationship with millions of people through his music, the sense of her individual loss continues to reverberate through all of us.

The raindrops also fell from my eyes because “Grow Old with Me” is every man singing to the love of his life, including me. I think of my wife of 24 years and counting, and feel the same way. We’ve grown, and are growing older, together. We got to watch our beautiful boy and beautiful girl grow up to young adulthood, together. It hasn’t always been easy, but my wife and I have been so lucky. God and all other things willing, we’ll never be ripped apart as John was from Yoko and Sean -- and from his first son Julian, all over again.

A footnote about the “Working Class Hero” part of this anthology’s title: It’s something of a misnomer, if you relate it literally to Lennon’s personal life. His upbringing was actually middle class, if emotionally troubled. In the song of the same name, written on the cusp of his 30th birthday in 1970 for his first post-Beatles solo album (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band), Lennon identifies and empathizes with and also castigates those who bust their asses working for The Man all their lives, spend what little time they have of their own getting doped up on drugs and TV, and wind up dying broke. He knew life could have gone that way for him, too, were it not for his own determination, hard work and a few lucky breaks.

Still, Lennon’s vociferous support of the voiceless, especially from 1969-1972, is just one of many reasons he was a hero in his own time, and why, warts and all, he remains an icon to his generation and every one that’s followed.

All tracks here have been previously released, and the 16-bit stereo remastering by Nick Webb and Steve Rookie at Abbey Road Studios stays true to the sound of the original discs -- from the over-the-top echo and distortion of “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” to the naked acoustic guitar and solo voice of “Working Class Hero” (it’s still remarkable to remember that John worked with “extreme” producer Phil Spector on both of them); from the usually-straightforward entries from Mind Games and Walls & Bridges (produced by Lennon alone) to the dry and airy Double Fantasy and Milk & Honey tracks (co-produced with Ono and Jack Douglas).

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