Tuesday, December 4, 2018

John Lennon & Yoko Ono - 1968 - Unfinished Music No. 1 Two Virgins

John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Unfinished Music No. 1 Two Virgins

01. Two Virgins No. 1
02. Together
03. Two Virgins No. 2
04. Two Virgins No. 3
05. Two Virgins No. 4
06. Two Virgins No. 5
07. Two Virgins No. 6
08. Hushabye Hushabye
09. Two Virgins No. 7
10. Two Virgins No. 8
11. Two Virgins No. 9
12. Two Virgins No. 10

CD Bonus:
13. Remember Love

John Lennon: vocals, piano, organ, percussion, effects, tape loops
Yoko Ono: vocals, tape loops
Pete Shotton: tape loops

The tracks are listed on the labels but its impossible to discern where one ends and another starts.
Both sides contain continuous tracks.

Fully laminated cover.

Apple Records. Recorded in John Lennon's home studio in Weybridge, Surrey, England, May 1968.

Track 13: (B-side to Give Peace A Chance) Produced by John and Yoko.
Recorded in Room 1742 Hotel La Reine, Elizabeth, Montreal by Les Studios
Andre Perry, 7585 Malo, Ville De Brossard, P.Q. Canada, June 1, 1969.

"Pop fanatics, please step off. This is musique concrete, if you don't know what that is don't listen to it. Leave your 'Love me Do' at the door"
unknown reviewer on Amazon

If you claim to like Anima, Nurse With Wound, Amon Düül, Throbbing Gristle, etc. etc. etc. yet you bag on this, you're full of shit. This is pretty much a lo-fi version of the above mentioned acts, full of tape loops and improvisation and shameless goofing off. Sure, it's not perfect by any means, but how can the sound of two people in love indulging in artistic experimentation inspire such hate from listeners? Just give it a chance. 

Don't come into this expecting an expanded take on "Revolution #9". This is a much more primitive and in-the-moment experience than that revolutionary piece.

Side One is absolutely spectacular the birds chirping plus Ono's shrieks coming in through a genuinely engaging build up always prevented from become too ethereal by warm piano chords. Engaging throughout. 9.5/10

Side Two sounds frustratingly far less inspired for the first six minutes with Yoko seeming completely misplaced being simultaneously boring and irritating. But then, by some miracle of composition and Lennon coming in vocally, Yoko snaps into place and for the second half of Side Two sounds even more stunning for a short time than Side One. 

John Lennon's first of three experimental albums made with Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins featured a controversial nude photograph on its front cover.

"I don't think I actually heard all of Two Virgins; just bits of it. I wasn't particularly into that kind of thing. That was his and her affair; their trip. They got involved with each other and were obviously into each other to such a degree that they thought everything they said or did was of world importance, and so they made it into records and films."
George Harrison

The album was recorded in an all-night session at Kenwood, Lennon's home in Weybridge, Surrey. Lennon invited Ono over on 19 May 1968, the date which marked the beginning of their relationship.

Although married to Cynthia Lennon, he had become intrigued by the Japanese artist whom he had first met on 7 November 1966. The pair were in regular contact between those dates, and Lennon's invitation to Ono came while Cynthia was on a two-week holiday in Greece.

Two Virgins, as it later became known, was a spontaneous recording made in Lennon's music room, which was situated in the attic of Kenwood. The recordings included vocal improvisations, birdsong, amplifier feedback, distorted instruments and other sound effects.

The tapes also contained renditions of nursery rhymes, music hall songs and novelty piano tunes. An outtake from the recordings, unofficially known as Holding A Note, has also been issued on bootleg releases.

"When we got back from India, we were talking to each other on the phone. I called her over, it was the middle of the night and Cyn was away, and I thought, 'Well, now's the time if I'm going to get to know her any more.' She came to the house and I didn't know what to do; so we went upstairs to my studio and I played her all the tapes that I'd made, all this far-out stuff, some comedy stuff, and some electronic music. There were very few people I could play those tapes to. She was suitably impressed, and then she said, 'Well, let's make one ourselves,' so we made Two Virgins. It was midnight when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful."
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Two 78rpm discs were also incorporated into the recordings. The first was Together, written by George Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, was released in 1928 by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, and featured Bix Beiderbecke on coronet.

The second was I'd Love To Fall Asleep And Wake Up In My Mammy's Arms, the b-side of Fred Douglas's 1921 single Margie. The music was written by Fred E Ahlert, and the words by Sam M Lewis and Joe Young. The snippet used on Two Virgins was retitled Hushabye Hushabye, a phrase from the song.

Lennon's childhood friend Pete Shotton, who had been at Kenwood when Ono arrived, later claimed that he had made several of the tape loops with Lennon. The recordings were made on two-track tape using a Brennel machine.

"Even before we made this record, I envisioned producing an album of hers and I could see this album cover of her being naked because her work was so pure. I couldn't think of any other way of presenting her. It wasn't a sensational idea or anything.
After Yoko and I met, I didn't realise I was in love with her. I was still thinking it was an artistic collaboration, as it were – producer and artist, right? We'd known each other for a couple of years. My ex-wife was away in Italy, and Yoko came to visit me and we took some acid. I was always shy with her, and she was shy, so instead of making love, we went upstairs and made tapes. I had this room full of different tapes where I would write and make strange loops and things like that for the Beatles' stuff. So we make a tape all night. She was doing her funny voices and I was pushing all different buttons on my tape recorder and getting sound effects. And then as the sun rose we made love and that was Two Virgins. That was the first time."
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Although the avant-garde recordings of Two Virgins would prove unpalatable to most Beatles fans, more outrageous was the front cover photograph, which featured a nude photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The rear sleeve, fittingly, had a similarly naked shot of the couple with their backs to the camera.

"The cover was the mind-blower – I remember to this day the moment when they came in and showed me. I don't really remember the music, I'd have to play it now. But he showed me the cover and I pointed to the Times: 'Oh, you've even got the Times in it...' as if he didn't have his dick hanging out.
I said, 'Ah, come on, John. You're doing all this stuff and it may be cool for you, but you know we all have to answer. It doesn't matter; whichever one of us does something, we all have to answer for it.' He said, 'Oh, Ringo, you only have to answer the phone.' I said, 'OK, fine,' because it was true. The press would be calling up, and just at that point I didn't want to be bothered – but in the end that's all I had to do: answer the phone. It was fine. Two or three people phoned and I said: 'See, he's got the Times on the cover."
Ringo Starr

The photograph was taken some months after the recording was made, in early October 1968. The shoot took place at the basement flat on London's Montagu Square, owned by Ringo Starr, where Lennon and Ono were temporarily living.

"We were both a bit embarrassed when we peeled off for the picture, so I took it myself with a delayed-action shutter. The picture was to prove that we are not a couple of demented freaks, that we are not deformed in any way and that our minds are healthy. If we can make society accept these kind of things without offence, without sniggering, then we shall be achieving our purpose.
What we did purposely is not have a pretty photograph; not have it lighted so as we looked sexy or good. There were a couple of other takes from that session where we looked rather nice, hid the little bits that aren't that beautiful; we looked good. We used the straightest, most unflattering picture just to show that we were human."
John Lennon

Lennon gave the film to Jeremy Banks, a staff member at Apple Corps. Banks had it developed, and gave the prints to Derek Taylor, the company's press officer.

"John had just given Jeremy a roll of film and said, 'Get that developed, please.' And when he got it back and saw the nude pictures he said: 'This is mind-blowing.' Everything was always 'mind-blowing' to Jeremy, but – just that one time – he was actually right. He couldn't believe it."
Neil Aspinall

Although he later admitted being shocked by the photography, Paul McCartney gave Lennon a quotation for the sleeve:

"When two great Saints meet, it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a Saint.
Paul McCartney

The album was eventually released in a brown paper bag to hide the cover. On the sleeve was a quotation from the Bible: "25. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed."

"I said: 'Right. OK. Fine. Let's get on with things. Let's do something about this.' It was very interesting and exciting, and I thought that here was a monumental problem with which we could deal. Life there was such an 'action-reaction' situation that this was just one more thrilling thing.
And, of course, the Sunday papers were at us, and at this photograph. This filthy thing! 'Look at These Filthy People!' and there was a big circle over the naughty part and an arrow: 'This is where the naughty part would be if people like us were not so decent. We wouldn't dream of showing it to you – but aren't they awful!'

So I found something – I got a Bible. There's always something to hand, isn't there? And there was a bit in the book of Genesis which said: 'The man and his wife were naked and not ashamed,' or something like that, which I thought was suitable. John and Yoko were not married – but hey! This was life and... 'Here's this thing in the Bible – now what are you press going to do about it?"
Derek Taylor

Yoko Ono’s radical influence on pop history has inspired generations of visionary musicians. Deeply rooted in Fluxus, Ono’s newly-reissued early albums help to detail her broader artistic intentions.

Courting confusion is part of the job description for anyone working in the avant-garde. Some experimenters meet this requirement with the equivalent of a shrug, while others take to the task with more evident relish. For over half a century, the singer and visual artist Yoko Ono has found herself in the latter camp, gleefully scrawling her new approaches into the official ledgers of cultural production.

The editors of the recent volume Fluxbooks credit Ono’s 1964 Grapefruit as being “one of the first works of art in book form.” Ono’s early short films likewise helped expand cinematic practices. In the years before she started dating a Beatle, Ono sang with one of John Cage’s most trusted musical interpreters, and turned a New York loft space into a contemporary-art destination that drew the likes of Marcel Duchamp to her door.

Yet this multimedia artist’s most notorious act of provocation was her approach to becoming tabloid fodder. She took one of the world’s most popular musicians and hurried along his engagement with the experimental fringe (an attraction already evident in John Lennon’s work, as early as 1966’s Revolver). In some quarters, she’s never been forgiven for this. But Ono’s radical influence on pop history has also inspired generations of visionary artists.

The Lennon/Ono collaborative albums were a critical part of their take on celebrity coupledom. Their first two LPs carried the series title “Unfinished Music,” a conceptual gambit with deeper roots in the aesthetic of the Fluxus art movement than in that of the British Invasion. The first set to be issued, subtitled Two Virgins, was a sound-collage set reportedly produced during their first night together. The album’s name, and the full-frontal nudity of its cover, referenced the couple’s sense of innocence in approaching a new beginning—as well as the fact that the recording took place just prior to the consummation of their relationship.

As the product of a first date, Two Virgins is fascinating. As a sound artifact from the initial decade of Fluxus-inspired activity, it has plenty of competition. Casual clips of the couple’s conversations—mixed in alongside Lennon’s tape loops—blur the distinction between the private and the public-facing. This approach recalls efforts by some of Ono’s contemporaries, like Charlotte Moorman and Benjamin Patterson. But what makes Two Virgins distinct is the range of Ono’s voice. In the opening moments, she contributes some pure-tone humming, which sounds downright companionable amid Lennon’s meandering keyboard motifs and reverb tape-effects. Four-and-a-half-minutes in, Ono unleashes the first of her extended yelps, from the top of her range. Even if you know it’s coming, this sound always registers as shocking.

This aspect of Ono’s musicianship confused (and enraged) large portions of Lennon’s audience. Despite her purposeful variations of timbre and her ability to hit notes cleanly, Ono’s recourse to this proto-punk wail was often decried as unmusical. And after the White Album’s “Revolution 9”—a much tighter collage created by Lennon, Ono and George Harrison, now sometimes interpreted by classical musicians—she was often accused of being the driving agent behind the Beatles’ breakup.

Tensions from Beatlemania carry over into the couple’s second, less idyllic “Unfinished Music” release, subtitled Life With the Lions. Corporate tussles between the Beatles and their record label provide some of the inspiration for “No Bed for Beatle John,” a piece recorded in Ono’s hospital room, following a miscarriage. The album’s dominant track, though, is the side-length workout “Cambridge 1969,” a live recording driven by Lennon’s guitar feedback and Ono’s harshest vocalizations.

In failing to create much interest over its 26 minutes, “Cambridge 1969” reveals something important about Ono’s art. The performances of hers that work don’t do so merely because she can kick up a unique noise. Instead, the takes that have true liftoff usually find her switching up those extreme textures with greater frequency. Unlike some of the composers she hung out with, circa 1961, Ono is not a drone artist. She’s an expert in subtle variations, carved from blocks of seeming chaos.

Her 1970 album Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band is a triumph, in part, because it sounds fully aware of this reality. It’s also iconic because it contains some of Lennon’s most aggressive guitar work. Opener “Why” hurtles from its needle-drop opening, with slide guitar swoops and febrile picking that anticipate the variety of Ono’s vocal lines. When the singer enters, she wastes no time in applying a range of approaches to her one-word lyric sheet. Long expressions full of vibrato give way to shorter exhalations, rooted in the back of the throat. Spates of shredded laughter communicate the absurdist good humor that’s often present in Ono’s work. The minimalist pounding of drummer Ringo Starr and bassist Klaus Voormann is there as a foil, propped against all the invention on offer from Ono and Lennon.

“Why Not” inverts this script by arranging similar licks inside a slower tempo. Ono’s voice becomes more pinched and childlike, while Lennon’s guitar lines have a bluesier profile. Elsewhere, Ono puts a new spin on an “instruction” piece from her Grapefruit book, with the echo-laden “Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City.” Here, in another surprise, Ono’s voice sounds stolid and more traditionally “correct.” That feel is subsequently obliterated by the noisy middle section of “AOS,” a track Ono recorded in ’68 with saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s band. The Lennon-led backing group returns for the final two pieces of the original LP configuration, which have a comparatively calmer air.

Like Lennon’s ’70 solo album of the same name (and near-identical cover), Ono’s Plastic Ono Band initially scans as acerbic, yet manages to create a supple variety of song-forms from that opening template. Ono’s absorption of her new husband’s sonic language was only beginning to pay dividends, too. As Sean Lennon’s Chimera imprint and the Secretly Canadian label continue to reissue her catalog, Ono’s subsequent experiments with rock and pop formats will come into clearer view for audiences that have only heard rumors about her craft. Still, these opening reissues—which come complete with era-appropriate B-sides and outtakes—all manage to reflect a key aspect of Ono’s broader artistic intentions, as defined in a 1971 artist’s statement: “I like to fight the establishment by using methods that are so far removed from establishment-type thinking that the establishment doesn’t know how to fight back.”

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