|Imagine... if More Session Tapes
from 1971 surfaced - of course you'd expect them to be added to Vigotone's on-going series
examining the recorded work of John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (ret). This latest
offering is actually a companion to Vigotone's earlier critically acclaimed 3CD set: John
Lennon: Imagine...All The Outtakes (VT118-120), and there the listener will find
an in-depth examination of the Imagine album, along with a broad range of
alternate takes, rehearsals and demos. On this set we offer a narrower focus,
examining a bit more closely the elements that go into making an album -- namely the
rehearsals and overdubs that must be done as part of the working musicians' world.
Admittedly, the repetitive nature and start and stop elements don't always lend themselves
to the casual listening for pleasure that one might want at times, but as a way of looking
into the mind and sometimes the heart of the artists, they can be quite revealing.
After the searing personal anguish of Plastic Ono Band, Lennon
returned to calmer, more conventional territory with Imagine. While the
album had a softer surface, it still was only somewhat less confessional. John has
stated that "the first record was too real for people, so nobody bought it. Imagine
...because it is sugar coated is accepted. Now I understand what you have to
do." If Imagine doesn't cut as deeply as POB, it is still a
remarkable collection of songs that Lennon would never be able to better again.
how do you sleep?
(rehearsals and filming session)
From the recording sessions at the Lennons' Tittenhurst home, John
leads the musicians through several rehearsal run-throughs of his scathing ode to his
former partner. As the rehearsals proceed, one can hear Lennon taking the band
slowly through the various riff changes, chord progressions and nuances that he obviously
felt this song required. At this stage, most work is geared toward the instrumental
elements of the song; when he does add vocals they are obviously intended just to guide
the players through the song and not as proper performances. On at least one
occasion a slate number is called out for the film crew documenting the sessions for an
accompanying film version of the album. Some of this footage was also utilized in
the Imagine: John Lennon documentary.
This version of "Imagine" features the same
backing as the released version but has an alternate vocal marked take 7. Although
this is the same version that opens Lost Lennon Tapes Volume 33, this is its
first appearance from a tape source.
This track like the previous is the same version as that which
appeared on the official Imagine album but with an alternate vocal. This
tape source version supercedes its previous availability on Lost Lennon Tapes Volume
14 which was taken from a vinyl transcription disc.
i'm the greatest
This version of "I'm The Greatest" is different from the
one that appeared on the earlier Vigotone set but is from the same session. It has
appeared previously on the scarce After The Remember CD, but is taken here from a
superior tape source.
After the basic tracks for Imagine had been recorded at
the Lennons' Tittenhurst Ascot Sound Studios, they were then subject to overdubbing
sessions at Record Plant studios in New York City during July 1971. While some songs
were just given string overdubs, Lennon desired some grittier horn sounds on two of his
harder-sounding songs on the album, "It's So Hard" and "I Don't Want To Be
A Soldier". It was only natural then that for some authentic R&B horn parts
that Lennon should want a top-flight R&B artist, and It (wasn't) So Hard to find a
good one in sax player King Curtis.
King Curtis (born Curtis Ousley) was the last of the great
R&B tenor sax greats. He came to prominence in the mid-50's as a session
musician in New York, recording at one time or another for most of the East Coast R&B
labels. A long association with Atlantic/Atco began in 1958 and his playing is heard
on hit recordings by the Coasters among many others. He recorded singles under his
own name for many small labels in the 1950's - his own Atco sessions ('58/'59), then
Prestige/New Jazz and Prestige/TruSound for jazz and R&B albums in 1960 and 1961.
In 1962 Curtis also enjoyed a #1 R&B hit with "Soul Twist" on Enjoy
Records. He also contributed the sax solo on Buddy Holly's song
"Reminiscing", a song covered by the Beatles during their Hamburg days. He
was signed by Capitol for two years (1963-64), where he may have come into early contact
with the Beatles through common label connections. He certainly made their
acquaintance during the Beatles 1965 U.S. tour, appearing with them at their famed Shea
Stadium concert. He later led Aretha Franklin's backing band and took an active
studio role at Atlantic Records, contracting sessions and producing. He was murdered
a month after doing overdub work for the Imagine album, stabbed to death during a
punch-up in front of his apartment. It was Friday the 13th, August 1971.
it's so hard
As evident from this off-line tape, Lennon is in a relaxed,
reflective mood as he greets King with remembrances of the last meeting from the Shea
Stadium appearance. He's also in a productive mood as work begins right away on the
overdubs for "It's So Hard". John clearly knows what he wants although, as
George Martin once pointed out, he is not as technically expressive as brother Paul could
be. Hence, his instructions to King come in the form of a lot of
"ooh-oohs" and "ah-ahs" ads he tries to vocalize the parts he wants
for the song. Fortunately King picks up on it rather effortlessly, soon nailing the
opening sax bit, and riffing throughout the next couple of playback with an excited John
calling out delighted encouragement ("...some great stuff on the solo!").
Certainly a good working atmosphere is evident this day.
i don't want to be a soldier
Next up comes a fairly straight-forward stab at everybody's favorite
track on the album, after further reminiscing by John. This time it's about the
scare the Beatles had on stage in the Bible Belt during the last 1966 US tour, with
fireworks being thrown at the stage, and each of the Fabs looking about to see who had
been shot. John seems amused as he remembers thinking that Ringo had got it!
Again the tape shows work was done very efficiently for what would prove to be one of the
last recording sessions for King Curtis. He delivers what John calls for during
numerous playbacks...a true professional to the end.
In all, a brief, but interesting "fly on the wall"
listening experience that can only make one appreciate even more one of the best
post-Beatle albums by any of the Fab Four. What more could anyone want?