John Lennon – The Piano Tape (Strange Apple SAR-016)

The Piano Tape (Strange Apple SAR-016)

(66:26):  Make Love Not War, I’m The Greatest, How?, Child Of Nature, Oh Yoko!, Sally And Billy, Rock & Roll People, Oh Yoko!, Help!, Untitled Instrumental, John and Yoko’s Ascot Christmas Message, People Get Ready / How?, How?, My Heart Is In Your Hands, Mailman Bring Me No More Blues, I Promise, You Know Hard It Is, I’ll Make You Happy.  Bonus Tracks:  Mind Games (Make Love, Not War), Mind Games (I Promise)?

The Piano Tape on Strange Apple presents the piano demos recorded at  Ascot Sound Studios, Tittenhurst Park, Ascot, England in November 1970.  The content is identical to Compositions(Vigotone VT-191) with the addition of several bonus tracks from the 1998 John Lennon Anthology.  These tracks were floating around, but Vigotone’s release in 2000 was the first time the entire tape was presented in one place and proved to be one of the seminal Lennon outtake tapes for the collection. 

It is an amateur recording featuring only Lennon at the piano singing these songs.  But the sound is very good for its origin and fascinating to hear songs in various stages of development.  It was recorded after the release of Lennon’s first solo LP Plastic Ono Band and contains many songs that would appear on Imagine in 1971 and on Mind Games in 1973.

“Make Love, Not War” starts off the tape, which is an early form of the song “Mind Games” three years before its release.  The first verse, “make love, not war / I know you’ve heard it before” is unique but the chorus bears a lyrical similarity.  Lennon sings “love is the answer and you know that it’s true” instead of “Love is the answer and you know that for sure.”

“I Am The Greatest” is two attempts at the song that Lennon would later give to Ringo Starr to be the first track on Ringo.  “How?” is featured as a false start, then with a complete run-through.  The first pass here is a very tentative attempt with John singing in the plural: “How can we go forward when we don’t know which way we’re facing.”  “Child Of Nature” is a revisit to a demon he originally wrote in 1968 after the trip to India.  The tune would be used for “Jealous Guy” on Imagine.

“Oh Yoko” in its final form would be an up beat and catchy pop song. But this thirty second fragment is very slow, ponderous and John calling it “another freaking song.”  Two attempts at a song called “Sally And Billy” follow.  It sounds like a cross between “Remember” from Plastic Ono Band and David Bowie’s “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  Lennon stated about this time in Rolling Stone that he felt composing autobiographical tunes to be easier than third person narratives, which is probably why this tune was abandoned only to be picked up again in 1976 later but never completed.

“Rock And Roll People” is an attempt at a song  that he would give to Johnny Winter.  Lennon’s version would surface in 1986 on Menlove Ave.  It is followed by two more attempts at “Oh Yoko,” just as slow and dreary as the first.

Lennon mentioned a desire to re-record the Beatles’ song “Help!” in a slower arrangement, and he spends two and a half minutes working on that on this tape.  He abandons the effort since he couldn’t work out the chords for the chorus.  At one point Yoko makes a comment and Lennon replies by saying:  “I don’t care how you want to sing it, Dear, I’m singing it meself at the moment…”

A four minute meandering improvisation follows which morph into two attempts at a Christmas message.  A short cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” runs into a second attempt at “How?,” this time sung in the familiar first person.

“My Heart Is In Your Hands” is an uncompleted fifties style piano rocker in the style of Fats Domino and follows with “Mailman Bring Me No More Blues.”

“I Promise” is an ode to his wife Yoko.  The structure of the piece bears a similrity to “Oh!  Darling” from Abbey Road.  The bridge was used for “Mind Games” later on.  “You Know How Hard It Is” is an unreleased song.  It is up tempo and sounds sounds closer like a Double Fantasy outake. 

The bonus tracks are further demos for “Make Love, Not War” taken from the John Lennon Anthology in excellent sound quality.  It’s been a decade since Vigotone released this tape in its entirety.  Strange Apple is very good in presenting material and this release is in keeping with that.

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