"Walls and Bridges"—John Lennon’s Lost Weekend Album
John Lennon created this album during the time he was in his lost weekend phase. Yoko Ono told John to leave. There were a few reasons why Yoko said she needed to be separated from him. One reason that was given in the movie LennonNYC is that John was depressed after he had tried to get McGovern elected for President. He was asking the young voters to vote for McGovern, but it didn’t go as John and his activist friends predicted. Richard Nixon won the election in 1972. John Lennon and Yoko went to a party hosted by Jerry Rubin. John was drunk when he got there. He pulled a lady out of the group and went to another room and made love to the woman. Yoko understood why he did it, but she felt he was angry, that they had been together 24 hours a day since they met, and they needed space from each other. She wanted to find herself and he needed to find himself again. She thought it would be good if he went to Los Angeles. This was the start of Lennon’s "lost weekend," as he would call it, and it last eighteen months. Yoko knew he wouldn’t go by himself and she asked May Pang, an employee that had worked with them for three years, to go with him.
The time away from New York City and Yoko was a dark time for John. He started drinking heavily and doing more drugs. He started hanging out with Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, and Ringo Starr, all of whom were major party animals. After 18 months John decided to go home to New York and to begin recording the album Walls and Bridges, his fifth studio album. It was released in 1974.
John wanted to use his old artwork for an album cover on the album Rock N’ Roll, but he had put that album on hold and began Walls and Bridges first, so he decided to use the artwork on this album. He had two hit singles from the album; one was “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” with Elton John and the second single was "#9 Dream." The album reached number one on Billboard and it was the only good thing that came out of his time in a downward spiral, except for the fact that he also got closer to his first son Julian during this period.
The album is a winner and one I just discovered. John made a masterpiece of an album, and you can hear that he is going through some turmoil but that he is trying to remain upbeat despite it all. William Ruhlmann described Walls and Bridges as "craftsman like pop-rock" with "some lovely album tracks" and biographer Philip Norman wrote in 2008 that "most of the tracks had an upbeat, brassy feel, strangely at odds with John's recurrent, often desperate admissions of longing for Yoko" and that the chord sequences used often echoed those from his previous work with Ono.
Let us look at the songs on this album and what makes it a rock and pop classic still.
Going Down on Love is the first song on the album, and it appears on side B of his single release Jealous Guy. It is a strong song that lets the listener know that John is having trouble with his personal life. This song is funky and rocks out at the same time. According to BeatlesBible.com, Despite the sexual innuendo of the title and chorus, Going Down On Love was a bleak summation of Lennon's state of mind since he and Yoko Ono had parted company. "When the real thing goes wrong/And you can't get it on/And your love she has gone/And you got to carry on," he sang ruefully.
Elsewhere he turned through his back pages with a reference from Help! a Beatles hit from nine years previously: "Somebody please, please help me/You know I'm drowning in a sea of hatred." This was Lennon at his most rootless and directionless, but as ever able to turn his uncertainty and desperation into clear-headed confessional song writing. This was a great song to set the tone of the album, and what John was trying to convey.
Whatever Gets You Through The Night this was John’s only number one single in his lifetime. He recorded the song with Elton John. The song has prominent saxophone and piano and it is a song that starts out fast and never loses momentum. Elton told John that the song was going to be a number one for him, but John wasn’t so sure. Elton John made a bet with John and said if the song reached number one John would have to sing a song with him at Madison Square Garden. The song reached number one, and John appeared at the concert to do that song and two others with Elton a magic night it must have been. May Pang said this about the inspiration for the song, At night he loved to channel-surf, and he would pick up phrases from all the shows. One time, he was watching Reverend Ike, a famous black evangelist, who was saying, 'Let me tell you guys, it doesn't matter, it's whatever gets you through the night.' John loved it and said, 'I've got to write it down or I'll forget it.' He always kept a pad and pen by the bed. That was the beginning of Whatever Gets You Thru The Night'.
Old Dirt Road is the third song on the album. John slows things down a bit on this song. It has a few sounds of I am the Walrus and that is cool. The song almost has a country sound to it, and I love some of the lines of the song especially the line, “Trying to shovel smoke with a pitchfork in the wind” is so visual and it conveys a hopelessness that Lennon was feeling at the time. John co-wrote the song with Harry Nilsson, a talented singer and songwriter in his own right, and they created a lovely song. John didn’t think much of the song stating he and Harry wrote it while they were drinking and looking for something to do. The song is no throw away, it is a song that creates a mood and it has a tender feeling to it.
What You Got this song is John expressing himself about his loss of Yoko and the old saying you don’t know what you lost till it’s gone or as in John’s lyric till you lose it. John is begging Yoko for another chance. It would be a short time later when John was performing in concert with Elton John , Yoko was out in the audience that night. John met up with her after the concert, and from that time on they were together again.
Bless You is one of John’s favourite songs on the album. The inspiration is Yoko. She was in his thoughts during their separation and three songs were written with her in mind. They were Bless You, What You Got, and Going Down on Love. This song has a dreamy, jazzy feel to it. It wouldn’t be the song you would think could come from John Lennon, yet alone, be one of his favourite songs on the album. I guess he was day dreaming of them getting back together. In BeatlesBible.com John, said, Lennon later revealed his belief that The Rolling Stones' 1978 song Miss You was based on Bless You, although the resemblance is difficult to hear.
Bless You is again about Yoko. I think Mick Jagger took Bless You and turned it into Miss You. [singing] 'Wherever you are, child on a shooting star.' The engineer kept wanting me to speed that up - he said, 'This is a hit song if you'd just do it fast.' He was right. 'Cause as Miss You it turned into a hit. I like Mick's record better. I have no ill feelings about it. I think it's a great Stones track, and I really love it. But I do hear that lick in it. Could be subconscious or conscious. It's irrelevant. Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Scared is the sixth song on the album. The beginning of the song sounds like part of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. It begins with the sound of a wolf howling. John was never afraid to express his feelings in his songs, and this one shows him at his most vulnerable. The end of the songs tells it all,
I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired
Of being so alone
No place to call my own
Like a rollin' stone
All those wild LA nights were getting old.
#9 Dream is the second single from the album. This song sounds like a dream, and in fact John said the song came to him in a dream. He woke up and wrote down the lyrics and melody. He said he didn’t really know what the song meant, but he thought it sounded beautiful. It does have a great sound to it.
Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox) this song was written for May Pang. He had days of misery, but this song shows there was some bright days with the lady who accompanied him to LA. The song professes his love for her, but later he called the song garbage which he probably did to save hard feelings with Yoko about a song not about her.
Steel and Glass John said he wanted to write a nasty song, but he thought this song wasn’t that nasty. He said he had a couple of people in mind for who the song is about, but he wasn’t going to tell who they were. John said it wasn’t about Paul or about Eartha Kitt. Some people felt it was about the lawyer Robert Klein. He admitted he borrowed a few licks from his other song How Do You Sleep for the song. It is a song that has a gritty feel to it, and whomever it is about the listener can tell John has no respect for that person.
Beef Jerky I love this song it has that early 70’s funky sound to it, and it is the only instrumental song on the album. The guitars, the horns, the words Beef Jerky all make this song work. According to the beatlesbible.com One of the licks also had echoes from an unlikely source: Paul McCartney's Let Me Roll It, from 1974's Band On The Run, itself widely believed to be inspired by the stark John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band sound. No matter the song has its own style, and holds its own.
Nobody Loves You( When You’re Down and Out) this song really makes you feel the sadness John Lennon was experiencing during his separation from Yoko, and how he was feeling with his excesses of alcohol and drugs which can keep you feeling depressed. Beatlesbible.com stated,
The song was clearly inspired by the 1923 blues standard Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out, written by Jimmy Cox about the Prohibition era. That song recounted the tale of a former millionaire who had fallen on hard times, and reflected on the transient nature of friendships and material wealth.
Well, that says the whole story. I always imagined Sinatra singing that one, I dunno why. He could do a perfect job with it. Ya listenin', Frank? You need a song that isn't a piece of nothing. Here's one for you. The horn arrangement - everything's made for you. But don't ask me to produce it!
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
This is a song to play when you want to feel sorry for yourself. Sometimes you have to get those bad thoughts out of your system by song.
Ya Ya is the last song on the album. This song is usually done as an upbeat song light and cheery, but John drags the tune into one the blues looking back on better days. In his album Rock N’ Roll John has a much happier version that really grooves, and the whole song is performed. In this slowed down version John gives us just a snippet of the song. The most interesting thing about this version is that his son Julian is playing the drums. Julian will have that moment forever on this record.
The album Walls and Bridges gets better with every listen. John created songs that revealed all the crazy emotions he was going through at the time of his separation from Yoko. The experience may not have been something John wanted to go through, but going away from the life he felt secure with, and starting over, gave him the inspiration to write an album that has been called one of his best. I have to agree. This album should be in every John Lennon and Beatle fans collection.