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John Lennon – Life Is What Happens (Barrier BAR-050/51)

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Life Is What Happens (Barrier BAR-050/51)

Disc 1: Beautiful Boy (1980 – electric guitar demo with rhythm box), Beautiful Boy (1980 – electric guitar demo with rhythm box), Beautiful Boy (1980 Bermuda – acoustic guitar demo with rhythm box take 1), Beautiful Boy (1980 Bermuda – acoustic guitar demo with hand claps), Beautiful Boy (1980 Bermuda – acoustic guitar demo with rhythm box take 2), Beautiful Boy (1980 studio – rehearsal), Beautiful Boy (1980 studio – take), audio verite (1980 studio – rehearsal discussion during recording of Beautiful Boy), Beautiful Boy (1980 studio – alternate vocal take from vocal booth), Beautiful Boy (1980 studio – unedited rough mix), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 1), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 2), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 3), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 4), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 5), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 6), Serve Yourself (1979 piano demo version 7)

Disc 2: untitled instrumental (1978 – acoustic guitar demo), Illusion (1980 – acoustic guitar demo), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1978 – acoustic guitar demo), News Of The Day (1980 – electric guitar demo take 1), Maggie Mae (1980 – acoustic guitar studio jam), Be Bop A Lula (1980 – electric guitar studio jam), You Saved My Soul (1980 – last Dakota demos electric guitar take 1), You Saved My Soul (1980 – last Dakota demos electric guitar take 2), Life Begins At 40 (1980 – last Dakota demos acoustic guitar with rhythm box), Grow Old With Me (1980 – last Dakota demos piano with rhythm box), Grow Old With Me (1980 – from the movie Imagine soundtrack), audio verite (1980 – last Dakota demos with John and Sean), Dear John (1980 – last Dakota demos with acoustic guitar and rhythm box), She’s A Friend Of Dorothy’s (1980 – last Dakota demos piano take 1), She’s A Friend Of Dorothy’s (1980 – last Dakota demos piano take 2), She’s A Friend Of Dorothy’s (1980 – last Dakota demos piano take 3), audio verite (1979 – John and Sean), audio verite (1979 – Thanksgiving John, Yoko, and Sean), audio verite (1980 – interview with Japanese radio)

Life Is What Happens is the fifth volume in the long running series releasing every shred of tape from John Lennon’s final recording sessions for Double Fantasy and Milk And Honey on the Barrier label. The series began in 1999 with the release of It’s Hard To Be Butterflies (BAR 007-008) with “I’m Stepping Out” demos and has been followed by For The Other Half Of The Sky (BAR010/11) and Fantasy Sessions Vol.3 (BAR012/13) in 2000, and We’d Like To Change The Tempo Now (BAR 014/15) in 2002.

The liner notes state: “The recordings presented in this two CD set, the fifth release in a series to chronicle the Double Fantasy / Milk And Honey sessions, have been sourced from the original tapes compiled for the Lost Lennon Tapes radio show, rather than from the tapes actually used for the broadcasts. Thus these tapes, unlike other versions that have been featured from the broadcast, do not contain any annoying American voiceovers or bullshit and are compiled session by session, rather an in an ad hoc manner.  The tapes have been compiled from a number of different sources and occasionally two separate tape sources were required to produce the completed track.”

All of this material has been released before. The Chapter One label in Italy was one of the first to anthologize Lennon’s studio demos over with Studio Tracks (CO25131) and Recording Sessions. Serve Yourself (VT-CD04) on Vigotone-Dynaton is another release with some of these demos. The sound quality is mixed between home demos and studio outtakes but is all very listenable. The studio outtakes are especially sharp and in brilliant quality.

As the title suggests “Beautiful Boy” is the focus with the development of the song, from initial demo to final unedited take, dominating the first disc. The earliest demos of the song show that the basic structure of the song including most of the lyrics (including the Coué mantra) intact. The very first track is ten minutes of Lennon repeating the words while strumming the guitar to a rhythm box. The third track, the first Bermuda demo, reveals the original name of the song was “Darling Boy”.

The studio outtakes record Lennon given instructions to the band and listening to one of the Bermuda tapes for a guide. He gets impatient at one point and starts yelling at the musicians. The rest of the disc is filled with seven piano demos of the unreleased song “Serve Yourself”. This was a song Lennon wrote in response to Dylan’s conversion to Christianity in 1979 and is a parody of “Gotta Serve Somebody”.

The basic message of the song is that you can’t rely upon anybody else since “there ain’t no waiters here, honey” and echoes the Dylan track with saying “you may believe in devils, you may believe in lords but you gotta serve yourself”. The lyrics degenerate into absurdity as the takes go on (“you may believe in Mickey Mouse, you may believe in Donald Duck, but who you gonna turn to when you need a buck”), but does becomes more interesting musically with mock gospel interjections. The second disc is a potpourri of various home demos made in Lennon’s final years. None of the songs were developed but are interesting to hear.

“Illusion” is a fascinating song that gives insight into his possible direction in the 1980′s and could have been another classic if developed. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is obviously a Dylan parody (“Lord, take this makeup off of me”), but the funniest thing is “News Of The Day”. This is the tape were Lennon is singing about the day’s news as a Dylan song (“I hear a ballad coming”).

“She’s A Friend Of Dorothy’s” sounds like a 1930′s song and might have been developed for a possible musical by John and Yoko. The final tracks are non-musical recordings of John, Yoko and Sean talking and the last track is a telephone interview John gave to a Japanese radio station saying how much he misses Japan with “Starting Over” serving as bumper music. Since this release covers the very final home demos this is probably the final volume in Barriers documentation of this material. Hopefully in the future they can turn their efforts to other John Lennon demo recordings. Life Is What Happens is a fascinating and comprehensive collection that is highly recommended.

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John Lennon - Life Is What Happens (Barrier BAR-050/51), 2.5 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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