John Lennon
The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes Volumes 1 & 2
(Walrus 002/3)

The late-80s/early-90s radio show "The Lost Lennon Tapes," hosted by Yoko-approved announcer Elliott Mintz, form the foundation for virtually every Lennon boot released since. Indeed, "Walrus Records" has issued 22 volumes of the stuff (11 two-disc sets), which ping-pong around Lennon's career with about equal abandon. If you like any given volume, you'll surely enjoy all of them; less rabid fans will be sufficiently served by the bonus tracks on the recent Lennon reissues and/or the 4-disc "official boot" Lennon Anthology.

Me, I'm never sufficiently served by anything official (except for the time I was sufficiently served by a local barrister with a court summons related to my many credit-related offenses). The Complete Lost Lennon Tapes are a crucial body of work for any Lennon fan looking to understand the man and his music (and that is generally much more about the man than the music).

The bulk of this set is drawn from 70s outtakes and stuff from the Rishikesh era that comprised Lennon's best Beatles-era stuff ("Julia," "Child of Nature," "Across the Universe," "He Said He Said"). Though many of these tracks are available more coherently on other bootleg releases, the back-and-forth splicing here between "classic" and "wayward" Lennon ends up giving the listener a much more solid appreciation of Lennon's art than you generally get listening to his increasingly flawed solo albums. I mean, love him or not, this guy could write a song!

Although, Lennon's househusband years are almost comparable to Brian Wilson's "Johnny Carson" era … relaxed and sometimes embarrassing demos mostly focused on his love of food, TV, Yoko, and darling Sean. Highlights of this set include a hilarious improvised "Sea Ditty" which sends up shanty-style songs; Lennon's demo for "Cookin' in the Kitchen of Love" (which seems to deserve a fairer shake, come to think of it); the laid-back calypso demos for "Whatever Gets You Through the Night"; and "Cleanup Time" done (I think) with Cheap Trick … for all of his drowning in Brandy Alexanders, the guy could always pull together some cool-ass shit.

There are certainly many misfires to behold, too … "Dear John" and "Life Begins at Forty" are both sorry excuses for the kind of baby-boomer songs that Don Henley did much more insightfully a few years later. Demos for "I'm the Greatest" (written for Ringo) and "Luck of the Irish" (with Yoko, whom I love, not singing at all well) are both total trainwrecks, hilarious if you can summon up the objectivity.

But mostly, these first two volumes of Lost Lennon Tapes are marked by wonderful moments like the piano demo for "Help!," or the earnest cover of "Peggy Sue" (thwarted by a phone call), showing Lennon as a very obvious human struggling with his emotions through song.

This set probably ought to be reorganized chronologically, but that might cause all involved to lose interest entirely. Ten takes in a row of "Cleanup Time" would be much less appreciable than those same ten takes spread out over the course of twenty discs, yeah?

Review by La Fée