John Lennon – Lennon – The 1980 Video collection (His Masters Choice – HMC 034)
Disk One; Dear Yoko (Two demos) / I’m Losing You 1 / I’m Losing You 2 / I’m Moving On / Beautiful Boy 1 / Beautiful Boy 2 / Starting Over – Kiss, Kiss, Kiss / I’m Losing You (1998) / I’m Losing You (1998 – Behind The Scenes) / Woman – Complete original 20/20 broadcast / Walking On Thin Ice / 1980 Hit Factory & mixing session / John and family in Japan Electronics store
Disk 2; The Milk and Honey TV special / Nobody Told Me (1983) / Grow Old With Me (1983) / Steppin’ Out (1984) / Borrowed Time ( 1984 – card version) / Borrowed Time (1984 – Slate Version) / Every Man Was A Woman Who Loves Him (John version) / It’s Alright ( 1984 – Sean Version) / Milk And Honey (Re-release promo spot) / Starting Over (1992) / Nobody Told Me (1992) / Grow Old With Me (1992) / Steppin’ Out (1992) / Borrowed Time (1992).
Through the VHS / Laserdisc era, John Lennon was very well served for music videos. Eager to record almost each and every portion of his life, film was in abundance and, after his early death, Yoko was able to supplement a lot of the videos that were created afterwards to promote the albums ‘Double Fantasy’ and ‘Milk And Honey’ with hitherto unseen home footage of John enjoying life in ‘retirement’. It was also a market that the remaining Beatles don’t really tap in to leaving John streets ahead in the marketing leads and with a viable back catalogue to sell.
Yoko has prevented the release of some video however, anything that doesn’t suit the Lennon brand or that John himself didn’t enjoy has been carefully stored away. Of course Beatles collectors have been save enough to know what is out there, some of the collectors material came from the Dakota itself as one time Lennon aide Frederic Seaman is alleged to have lifted from files but one set has evaded collectors circles since it was filmed, according to John, the film was dumped in his bath tub to ruin in but prints have been found to remain as they appeared on the internet in July this year, available for only a few days before they were taken down. These clips – part of around 20 minutes of full film – are of a session at the Hit Factory studio in New York of John performing, “I’m Losing You” and Yoko recording “I’m Moving On”. John was apparently on a coke high and working his way through miming to a playback of the track for the camera – despite apparently being unhappy with those sessions John looks like he’s having a great time though this could be more to do with the effects of the marching powder that he’s alleged to have been on.
HMC has liberated this material and transferred it to it’s own home as part of videos made to accompany the music. The HMC label have been prodigious in releasing hours of audio for the Lennon fan – a feat that the Japanese label VOXX was able to do around 15 years ago but unfortunately, it wasn’t to last and the glut of Lennon recordings had dried up until c. 2010 when the HMC label begun their launch schedule. This, then, is possibly the most exciting video news to come out of Lennon circles for quite some time and throws HMCs latest release in to high collectability straight away. The rest of the material that the label have compiled all draws around Lennon’s final years too and features several rarities and upgrades that have never been seen or are unavailable apart from on your old VHS tapes or out of date video disks.
The first video was recorded at cold spring harbour, two different takes of “Dear Yoko” recorded with a home video camera. John is sat in a dimly lit front room, wearing a hat, getting steadily more giddy as he plays, kicking his legs out as he gets happier with how the take is going. the quality of the tape is primitive at best but a brilliant upgrade to the versions that we’ve had before. The recording is split in to two parts – the first take with John’s introduction, the second take performed after John has watched back his performance the first time (and presumably taken note of the light as the lampshade behind him has tilted, these is light added to the front and his positioning has changed. These is still some ghosting due to he light sources but it doesn’t really matter as it doesn’t get in the way of the performance.
The first take of ‘I’m Losing You’ features a blend of the 12 September, 1980 video with John in the Hit Factory studio thrashing away at his guitar, dressed in red shirt, black jacket playing his Sardonyx guitar – most of this tends to be for the effect of playing for the video however as he appears to be playing scant effort to actually play – all crossed with parts from the 1998 video with Cheap Trick while the band play but also interspersed with the animations from the video. The regular version of ‘I’m Losing You’ plays underneath. The second take of ‘I’m Losing You’ is an amalgamation edit of solo shots of John, film of keyboardist George Small and various shots of the clapper board, sound tracked by the Anthology early take – medley between “I’m Losing You” and “Long Lost John”. For the shots of John playing in the studio this is gold as these are the tapes that were supposed to have been mashed up in the bath as John thought he looked ‘Like a bird’, his micro-biotic diet, slimming him down to a shadow of his ‘fat Beatle’ days.
“I’m Moving On” features shots of Yoko in the studio, around the streets of New York, in central park and from the window at the Dakota but with the added bonus of more of the footage of John playing with the band in the studio (Rick Neilson and Bun E. Carlos). Some of these clips were also used for Yoko’s solo video, ‘Walking on Thin Ice’
“Beautiful Boy” features primary shots of the family at Sean’s fifth birthday party (Sean received a full sized pinball machine, like you do) and other video camera footage of the family out on vacation boating, cuddling up on the sofa, smoking Sherman’s cigarettes (Maybe this was Yoko’s choice of smoke) and of the magician asked to perform at John and Sean’s double up party at the Tavern on the Green.
The second version of Beautiful Boy – quieter in sound quality as opposed to what the art work tells us – features the family at the circus (John with a two year old Sean) then flashes to cuts of an older Sean on vacation, aping around for the camera also interspersed with shots of the family out at Cold Spring harbour.
A early studio take of ’Starting Over’ soundtracks John and Yoko walking through Central Park, meeting guys at the basketball court then returning to the Dakota and concluding with outtakes from the bedroom scenes from the official video as the couple laugh their way through the nude scenes. An abbreviated “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss” features more footage from the bedroom scenes.
The third “I’m Losing You’ video, made to promote the Anthology boxed set, is a black and white promo featuring the 1998 Cheap Trick alongside animated versions of John’s illustrations and vintage footage of the Lennons mostly from the ‘Imagine’ footage but with some earlier stills thrown in. Then a making of ..’ video follows following the making of the 1998 video. This features the illustrators giving insights in to their part in the work along side interviews with the band and footage of the producers of the video. Essentially an in-house video which would be quite boring were it not for the bands reminisces of the original sessions and these are quite brief anyway. Quite nice if you like to watch people working in a film studio maybe.
We then have video from the 20/20 premier of the ‘Woman’ video, released after John’s assassination. This begins with an introduction by way of Barbara Waters explaining Yoko’s letter to the press and then a long introduction to the video itself. We’ve all seen this video – Clips of John and Yoko walking through Central Park the week before John was shot, edited alongside solo shots of Yoko alone in a snow covered park along with a series of more famous shots of the couple together and solo. In hindsight, it all appears like it’s Yoko’s love letter to herself but at the time, just over a month since the shooting, it would have appeared much more of a pleasing tribute that it is.
The Video for Yoko’s ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ is, once again like the other side of the Plastic Ono Band album. This is Yoko looking 80’s cool, stalking New York’s streets once the snow had melted, later getting accosted by paparazzi alongside home footage of Cold Spring Harbour and then the bedroom footage for ‘Just Like Starting Over’. We also have Yoko stood in the Dakota building, staring out at Central Park, looking back at her self (or rather someone wearing her white coat)
The lesser seen footage of the interview and mixing session at the Hit Factory is very interesting. The sound is much better than I’m used to hearing – Especially on the Voxx CD from the early 2000’s. Very grainy, dark footage (Was this requested by John because of his appearance?) from VHS tape, it’s some of the most natural footage of John that we have from the time as John, aware that the camera man was there, isn’t speaking in to the microphone, more having an informal chat. Most of the interview is obscured by the deafening noise of audio being mixed or the television being played (There are plenty of Star Wars effects being made in the background so as soon as John starts to riff on a story, he’s rendered almost inaudible. It is nice to have footage of John in such long form and at the time, his most relaxed. The tracking goes wild at times too so don’t expect the clearest viewing experience. Footage lasts around 27 minutes. The first DVD ends with footage of the Lennon family recorded shopping in a Japanese electrical store for national TV. John mugs for the camera politely while he browses. The footage lasts around 15 seconds maximum so don’t expect much from this one
Disk two presents the ‘Milk And Honey’ TV special from 1984 as Yoko takes us through the posthumous album via rare footage of John and Yoko (Most of which never gets shown when you see tributes to John nowadays so looks refreshingly new – Including footage from the One To One rehearsals which were launched earlier this year but never appeared) , Yoko’s own sessions for the album and interviews with a very waspish Sean – He had obviously taken a lot from his dad in the 5 short years.
Yoko does tend to get a hard time from Robert Christgau, the interviewer and it makes you wonder why, because she was still promoting her product, that she decided to take so much flack – Her answers are hardly pithy or brilliant put downs so to hire someone who really charges her with tough questions seems a curious way of working.
The original ’Milk And Honey’ videos follow – “Nobody Told me’, ‘Grow Old With Me’, ’Steppin’ Out’, and two different versions of ‘Borrowed Time’; various VH1 fare generally but without the watermarks as they could come from station master tapes. Quite obviously archival footage from throughout the John and Yoko years features predominantly but there is a little early Beatles footage too along with shots of blooming flowers and Sean from the ‘Milk and Honey’ sessions mixed in.
Further to the singles from the album we have John’s version of ‘Every Man Who Has A Woman Who Loves Him’ from the tribute album that was released a couple of years later. This was a newly produced video featuring a storyboard all of it’s own, shot almost exclusively at a British seaside town it features two lovers in the throes of of a loose courtship, two old ladies lurk in the background as a comedic foil to the story. The only John or Yoko involvement is the music, there is however, a nod to John’s famous Hamburg pose at the very end. it isn’t always master tape quality however and is a little ‘old tape’. Sean’s ‘It’s Alright’ follows. The worst type of contrivance made in the 1980’s in a cute, Benetton ad kind of way, who could argue against the pop career by a Dead Beatles son by that age? It is however, trash.
A promo for the re-released ‘Milk and Honey’ follows (Funny how the album seemed to have been deleted and rereleased a couple of times in it’s own time) – An instore promo, it features a voice over promoting the album while video clips for the 1992 reissues play. There then follow 5 newly compiled videos for the 1992 reissues of the ‘Double Fantasy’ and ‘Milk and Honey’ album, straight from Laserdisc. Different to the previous promos, the sound is also a little louder.
Needless to say, the set is a must have for the Hit Factory footage alone. The home video recordings, the upgrades to the promos are all exquisitely produced too. Lets home HMC have some more audio available to them to match these sessions in such good quality too.