Sunday, December 21, 2008

John Lennon - Compositions

Label: Vigotone, VT-191

Vigotone is proud to present Compositions, a collection of excellent quality home recordings taped on John Lennon's piano at Tittenhurst Park following the legendary Plastic Ono Band sessions in the fall of 1970. While some of these songs have appeared on previous releases, this is the first time that the complete tape has appeared in its unedited form. Highlights included a post-Beatles version of "Help!" and early versions of songs that would appear on Imagine and Mind Games.

1. Make Love, Not War
2. I'm The Greatest
3. I'm The Greatest
4. How?
5. Child Of Nature
6. Child Of Nature
7. Oh Yoko!
8. Sally And Billy
9. Sally And Billy
10. Rock And Roll People
11. Oh Yoko!
12. Oh Yoko!
13. Help!
14. instrumental
15. Happy Christmas
16. Happy Christmas
17. People Get Ready/How?
18. How?
19. How?
20. My Heart Is In Your Hands
21. Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues
22. I Promise
23. You Know How Hard It Is
24. I'll Make You Happy
25. I'll Make You Happy

Playing Time - (1:01:40)

(P) (C) MM Vigotone Industries - All Rights Reversed

Liner Notes


On behalf of John Lennon, his and Paul McCartney's music publishing company, Maclen, bought this fine Georgian house and 72 acre estate on May 4, 1969 for $150,000.00. After moving in on August 11, John and Yoko lived here for three years until settling in New York in September 1971. In September 1973 it was sold to Ringo Starr who moved out in early 1988, selling to the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan alNahyan. In 1989 and 1990 the house and grounds underwent extensive rebuilding, including the erection of a nine foot high security wall around the entire estate. During this renovation almost all the Lennon/Starkey fittings were scrapped.

Originally, the main house comprised many small rooms, but walls were ripped out at John and Yoko's request to create more open space. Much of the ground floor at the front of the house was converted to a single large room, decorated in white. John and Yoko also had an eight-track recording studio installed, as well as film editing equipment. The studio, named Ascot Sound during John and Yoko's tenure and Startling Studios during Ringo's, was where John recorded his album Imagine.

The gardens, named Tittenhurst Park, had been open to the public until the Lennons moved in. They date back to 1763 and are internationally renowned among dendrologists for their scores of interesting trees, many rare.

Tittenhurst Park was the location for the final photo session showing the Beatles together, an historic event which took place on Friday August 22, 1969, two days after their final recording session together. It was caught by the cameras of Ethan Russell, veteran Daily Mail man Monty Fresco and the Beatles' assistant Mal Evans. Some amateurish film footage was shot on this day and can be seen at the end of the Anthology video series.

For the occasion, John and George donned wide-brimmed cowboy hats. Yoko Ono Lennon and the heavily pregnant Linda McCartney appeared in some photographs too. Also present was the Apple press officer, Derek Taylor.

Selected photographs from this Tittenhurst Park session were issued by Apple as publicity material and have been published the world over. Three shots (by Ethan Russell) formed the front and back covers of the Capitol compilation album Hey Jude, issued in February 1970.

Tittenhurst text adapted from The Beatles London by P. Schreuders/M. Lewisohn/A. Smith

1. Make Love, Not War (4:12)
Early version of "Mind Games".

2. I'm The Greatest (1:36)
3. I'm The Greatest (0:40)
Two passes of a song later given to Ringo.

4. How? (1:50)
First pass.

5. Child Of Nature (0:56)
6. Child Of Nature (1:16)
John revisits his unused 1968 composition.

7. Oh Yoko! (0:50)
First pass.

8. Sally And Billy (1:16)
9. Sally And Billy (1:38)
Two passes of a song John would return to at the Dakota.

10. Rock And Roll People (4:21)
Early version of the song given to Johnny Winter.

11. Oh Yoko! (2:51)
12. Oh Yoko! (0:47)
Second and third passes.

13. Help! (2:24)
John attempts to work up a new arrangement.

14. instrumental (4:12)
Unknown song

15. Happy Christmas (3:18)
16. Happy Christmas (2:26)
Two passes at a seasonal message.

17. People Get Ready / How? (5:25)
18. How? (5:05)
19. How? (4:51)
Three more attempts to polish the song.

20. My Heart Is In Your Hands (1:34)
Unknown song

21. Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues (2:06)
One of John's favorite Buddy Holly numbers.

22. I Promise (2:47)
Part of this was worked into the song "Mind Games".
23. You Know Hard It Is (1:59)
Unknown song

24. I'll Make You Happy (1:56)
Unknown song

25. I'll Make You Happy (3:42)
Unknown song

Playing Time - 64 minutes 43 seconds

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 the tape.

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 good reason!

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.

Tony Cooks
February, 2000

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