After the emotionally exhausting Plastic Ono Band writing and
recording sessions, it was time for John Lennon to exhibit a lighter compositional touch.
Perhaps showing the strain from the amount of single-minded effort that went into
that LP, John in contrast seemed to be all over the place with this batch of songs and
noodlings, recorded in the late fall of 1970 at the Tittenhurst Park estate. A rare
glimpse into a single Lennon piano demo session, Compositions reveals an artist
trying to find his way to what would eventually become the Imagine LP.
While John's not in the best voice of his career, it's still a fascinating listening
experience, and has never before appeared in its entirety.
The tape begins with "Make Love, Not War".
This song did not appear on the next LP Imagine, but in rewritten form as
the title track of 1973's Mind Games, after being combined with a song heard
later on the tape, "I Promise". Both of these sound much
better than the edited versions released officially on The John Lennon Anthology
in 1998. "I'm The Greatest" also emerged in '73, but not
as a Lennon track; it was the leadoff song on Ringo Starr's Ringo LP. At
this point in 1970, the song was in embryonic form and had more John-oriented references
than it would later have upon being handed over to the ringed one.
The next three songs all showed up the next year on Imagine.
"How?" is featured as a false start, then with a
complete run-through. The first pass here is a very tentative attempt with John
singing in the plural: "How can we go forward when we don't know
which way we're facing". "Child Of Nature"
was on its way to being "Jealous Guy", but it still held onto
its 1968 "Beatles in India" origins at this point. There are three false
starts prior to the full performance. Next comes "Oh Yoko!"
On Imagine, it is a song of joy to his wife. Here, it sounds more
like a dirge in the vein of "Mother". More confident takes appear later in
Following these three eventually issued tunes, the next two songs went
unreleased in John's lifetime. A track usually given the title "Sally
And Billy" is up first in this duo, featured in a series of breakdowns; John
never really gets the song down in this try, but he'll give it another attempt at the
Dakota in 1976. Next is "Rock And Roll People", a song
not released by John until the posthumous Menlove Ave. compilation in 1986, for
A highlight of this tape is the reworking of "Help!"
in a much slower version than the1965 Beatles arrangement. Around this time, John
was exploring the possibility of re-recording some of his more personal Beatle's songs.
This might have been an attempt to work up a new arrangement. In any event,
he abandons the effort after not being able to work out the chords for the chorus.
An amusing moment occurs when Yoko makes a comment and John answers "I don't care how
you want to sing it, Dear, I'm singing it meself at the moment..." This is
followed by an improvisation that didn't exactly go anywhere, but eventually turned into a
Christmas message which appeared in part on Vigotone's The Ultimate Beatles Christmas
Collection; two takes of the message are featured here in their entirety. Next,
The Impressions' spiritual call "People Get Ready" leads into a second pass of "How?"
now sung in the familiar first person singular: "How can I..."
Over and over he repeats what he's written until the final structure of the song is
arrived at: a series of searching questions aimed at himself.
By this time, Yoko has made her presence known, and is heard in the
background during yet another lengthy run-through of "How?".
Don't worry, you'll hear more from her later. The next song, a fifties-style
rocker a-la Fats Domino, is unnamed but possible titled "My Heart Is In Your
Hands". It's featured in a false start and a "complete"
attempt. Too bad he never completed it, as it has some potential. John does
however quickly move on to a song familiar to anyone who's bought the Beatles' Anthology
3. "Mailman Bring Me No More Blues", issued as the
flip side of Buddy Holly's first solo single, "Words Of Love".
Next, in the fifties vein of "Oh! Darling" comes "I
Promise", the kind of apologetic ode to Yoko that he was still writing until
his final days. Finally, we come to the most difficult titles to enjoy: an untitled
track by John with the line "You Know How Hard It Is" being a
likely title for the song (and hard indeed it is to listen to!). The tape ends with
two passes of a song apparently called "I'll Make You Happy".
Yoko recorded an answer to this this song of John's which can be heard on Bag's
Lost Lennon Volume 30. Only the true masochistic need apply.
...and so we come to the end of this particular demo session. John
and Yoko would go on to make individual LP's, Imagine and Fly, the next
year, and would move to New York, leaving Tittenhurst Park and England behind for good.
This piano tape is an excellent example of the post-Beatle days of Ascot
creativity, and some of the last home recordings John made in his native land.