Plastic Ono Band, separating art from artist

Vuk Trifkovic

In the bitter winter of 1970, a few months after Lennon privately cut ties with The Beatles, for the sake of album sales, he released his debut “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.” It is an album considered by many to be his best solo work, with backing and instrumentation provided by the Plastic Ono Band. The album did not go on to feature any of his famous songs which boosted his solo career, such as ‘Imagine,’ ‘Happy Xmas,’ or ‘Jealous Guy;’ rather, it was an extremely consistent and hard-hitting album throughout its entirety, flowing seamlessly, making it hard to even pick one track out as a favorite. 

The album begins with one of my favorite vocal performances to date. The track ‘Mother’ starts off with a very apathetic, mild, instrumentation with tame ordinary Lennon singing. It grows into a monster where Lennon is actively ripping his vocal chords by the end, sounding desperate calling for his ‘Daddy [to] come home’, and for his momma not to go. It is a brilliant show of emotion and a great start to the album, setting the mood for the emotional rawness of the project as a whole.

‘Working Class Hero’ is the next very notable song on the album: it has been praised as one of his lyrically hardest-hitting songs, and the praise is well deserved. The almost monotone delivery is given over an isolated guitar, with no backing instrument and the guitar only picks up near the end of the track. It includes lyrics about a person’s individuality being ironed and evened out while they’re growing up, and how we are made to feel numb by societal norms and common forms of escape, such as religion and TV.

‘Isolation’ is one of Lennon’s most earnest tracks in his catalog. It came into creation as a result of the criticism he and Ono received after the breakup of the Beatles. Over a mellow piano melody and soft backing drums, Lennon sings about his own insecurities and the loneliness he feels, despite the limelight and wealth being shone on him. It gives a beautiful look into fame, and grounds an even larger-than-life figure like Lennon.

‘Remember’ would probably be my favorite track off the album. A catchy piano melody placed over a simple yet bouncy 2/2 drum beat, it bounces from bass drum to snare. The message of this song is one of the hardest hitting in my opinion, urging people who wish to change the world to do it out of genuine passion, as they may not be recognized as heroes in their current time period. It draws from characters such as Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the British Parliament and is remembered through nursery rhymes such as ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November…’ He was promptly hung and demonized at the time- the nursery rhyme and holiday are celebrating the fact that he did not blow up Parliament. Protestors have been shot and killed, their names forgotten, revolutionaries go missing all across the world at the hands of tyrannical governments and no outcry is ever heard. So if you want to fight, fight, but remember that you may not be seen as a hero in your time, and good things may not come to you in return.

‘Love’ is a simple track, more upbeat than most of the other ones. It presents a simple portrayal of what love is: unexplainable, so why bother even trying to define it? You know it when you feel it and what you feel it for.

‘Well Well Well’ draws on the bluesy approach that the Beatles took sometimes when writing their music, the very choppy sound reminiscent of ‘Come Together’ or a handful of songs from “The White Album.”

‘God’ is a scary, paganistic track for the time period it came out in. A clear declaration of atheism and belief in nothing but the love holding John and Yoko together. It’s a tune with classic hippie messages expressed more directly. It was especially interesting for the time it came out in.

The album ends with a short track called ‘My Mummy’s Dead’, a 50 second song with a subtle tune going on with the delivery, mostly feeling like a spoken-word piece however, expressing emptiness and loss.



I think it should be pretty obvious that I am a fan of the aforementioned album, and a question that often bothers me is “Is it okay to like Lennon’s music?” It’s no secret that the man was truly a troubled and often not very admirable person: a serial cheater, abuser, neglectful father, misogynist, and a possible racist, tacked on with other things that are questionable at best, and criminal at worst. And when I say it’s no secret, I mean it: most of the bad stuff we know about Lennon is through his own confessions. 

Lennon and Ono’s marriage began with John cheating on his first pregnant wife, Cynthia Powell, with Japanese singer and artist Yoko Ono. He later left Cynthia Powell for Yoko while Powell gave birth to his only son, Julian. Besides being a serial cheater (not even stopping when married to Yoko), Lennon was a physically abusive father, according to their housekeeper, and also left his drug and adjacent paraphernalia around the house. There are dozens of other disturbing rumors about Lennon, some of which are more credible than others. However there is definitely a sufficient amount of evidence, even without the rumors to bring the hammer down on Lennon. So why still enjoy his music if I know all of this?

Besides the argument that Lennon is dead and that none of the proceeds actually go to him, there are a few good reasons that can be made. I’m not usually a supporter of separating the art from the artist, but I think that’s not even what I’m doing here. I think it’s very hard to go through life without hearing about the Beatles, and even harder to not acknowledge the historical impact they have had on society and music. I believe that they have genuinely made life enjoyable for many people, and when they were making their music it seemed as though the world stopped for a moment, just to unite and listen to them. And it’s hard not to praise that.