Ultimately, I think, the true test of an artist’s body of work is time. In retrospect, John Lennon’s solo materiel, for some, carries far greater weight than his Beatles bandmates output ever did. Not just the passing of time (although that helps), but by which records you find yourself spending the most time with, almost against your will; the ones your hand drifts to when you want to hear that artist again, and especially the records you find coming to hand more often than you would have assumed. Obviously this includes the Lennon solo era of which has played the biggest part in my and most other music fans life; the justly-lauded John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Imagine (1971) albums – in other words the records that are ingrained in modern rock culture’s psyche, and two of the greatest albums ever recorded, sit atop the pile. After these confessional albums however, things turned somewhat tepid. He had exposed his soul; you couldn’t blame the man, he didn’t have much else to give. So, if you want to hear some solo Lennon other than via one of his many best-of compilations, don’t reach for the politically charged disaster Sometime in New York City (1972), the patchy Walls and Bridges (1974), or the coke-fuelled covers album Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975), try the introspective and underrated masterpiece, Mind Games.
To be fair, John Lennon solo does make for a great compilation. By the early-to-mid 70s John was old-hat and somewhat direction-less in his approach to his work. He took an infamous ‘lost weekend’ in LA that lasted 2 years, drank with Harry Nilsson and got thrown out of the Troubadour before giving up on music altogether in 1975. Meanwhile glam and punk had taken hold, and the majority of his fans still hadn’t gotten a grip on the Beatles breaking up. Aside from the critical back-and-forth circling around his patchy solo output over the decades, and the initial hesitant proclamations of mediocrity, the actual listeners, the actual fans, will acknowledge that strange and frequently beautiful work is embedded in these albums – Mind Games in particular.
Despite being a minor footnote in one of the 20th century’s most influential individual’s career, and possibly one of the least interesting John Lennon LP’s on face value, the self-produced Mind Games, recorded, mixed and released quickly in late-1973, does have some remarkable moments, and is one of John’s best albums. It is also a compromise. It displays a man whose fire has dimmed, a man less given to the role of social/spiritual revolutionary and more inclined to play the casual balladeer and pop star. Only the soaring Spectoresque title track shows his transcendent essence and sheer pop brilliance. And while he may not offer anything on this record that resonates with a casual listener quite to this level, unless the listener is particularly interested in the artist himself, there are great songs throughout: moments of humour (Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple)), gorgeous best-ever ballads (Out the Blue and Intuition), moving odes to peace and domesticity (One Day at a Time), and tough blues workouts (Tight A$ and Meat City) from rock and roll’s greatest vocalist.
1. Mind Games ∗∗∗∗∗
2. Tight A$ ∗∗∗∗
3. Aisumasen (I’m Sorry) ∗∗∗∗
4. One Day (At a Time) ∗∗∗∗
5. Bring on the Lucie (Freeda Peeple) ∗∗∗∗
6. Nutopian International Anthem ∗
7. Intuition ∗∗∗∗∗
8. Out the Blue ∗∗∗∗∗
9. Only People ∗∗∗
10. I Know (I Know) ∗∗∗∗
11. You Are Here ∗∗∗
12. Meat City ∗∗∗∗