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1972

Sometime in New York City

‘Most other people express themselves by playing football at weekends or shouting. But here am I in New York and I hear about thirteen people shot dead in Ireland and I react immediately. And being what I am I react in four-to-the-bar with a guitar break in the middle.’

– John Lennon, 1972

John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephants Memory plus Invisible Strings
Produced by John and Yoko and Phil Spector

Track Listing

  1. 5:18
  2. 3:49
  3. 2:56
  4. 4:07
  5. 4:34

  6. 5:03
  7. 2:59
  8. 3:31
  9. 4:09
  10. 7:14

Live Jam

  1. 8:35
  2. 16:06

  3. 4:41
  4. 5:36
  5. 4:27
  6. 8:10
John and the Plastic Ono Band, Lyceum Ballroom, 12 December 1969 Photographer unknown ©unknown

Early in their partnership John Lennon and Yoko Ono, had a brilliant insight. Since everything they did, whether personal or artistic, seemed to be causing a media frenzy, why not use that space to positive effect? If they got married, or arrested, or held an art show, or made a collaborative album, it was headline news. What would happen if the Lennon’s lent all their notoriety to the simplest – yet most vital – message of all?

One spectacular result of this new strategy was their single, ‘Give Peace A Chance’. Recorded during their Bed-In in Montreal in 1969, it combined John’s gift for a chorus that could hook the world, with Yoko’s insight that our hyper-media culture was an ideal platform for performance art.

'Give Peace A Chance' (1969) single sleeve
'Power To The People' (1971) single sleeve
'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' (1971) single sleeve

Soon his musical output bounced between the overtly universal ‘Give Peace A Chance’ and the personal soul-searching of his solo debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. His most successful album, Imagine, had elements of both. Through it all, a talent he recognised in himself was his knack for a big, instant anthem. In the lineage of ‘All You Need Is Love’ were other classics of unashamed sloganeering like ‘Power To The People’ and ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’. They satisfied an artistic craving, too, for what songwriter would not love to match the moral resonance of ‘We Shall Overcome’, or the perennial popularity of ‘White Christmas’?

Famously impatient, John had yet another itch to scratch. He wanted to write, record and issue his records in a heartbeat. He nearly did it, too, with the marvellous ‘Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)’, which he’d sent from his imagination to the record stores within two weeks. And now, in February 1972, he found himself a resident of Greenwich Village, right in the creative heart of the most dynamic city on earth. He’d hooked up with a radical bar-band called Elephant’s Memory, whose funky swagger suited John’s new mood. Sometime In New York City is the album they made together: it’s a world away from the studio-crafted art rock of the Sgt. Pepper era five years earlier; this is fast, reactive, rough-and-ready music, to be released in all its imperfections, as hurriedly as a daily newspaper.

Barely six months earlier, John and Yoko still lived in the gracious seclusion of Tittenhurst Park, outside London. They had moved to New York, in part, to further Yoko’s quest for custody of her daughter Kyoko. In the event, continued squabbling with the US immigration authorities made it risky to leave the country, and their stay assumed a permanent look. That was fine by John, who took to the gritty downtown scene with gusto, mixing at his Bank Street apartment with Yippies, Black Panthers and street musicians.

For the first time since Liverpool Art School, John was revelling in bohemian life, an escapee from suburbia. New York, he marvelled, was a latter day Rome, the cultural hub of the known world. At the same time, beneath the glitz it was a little like Liverpool- another streetwise seaport where Lennon’s salty wit was right at home. In March 1972, the album was recorded. Phil Spector co-produced once more, at least at the final mixing stage, while Elephant’s Memory were augmented by the renowned drummer Jim Keltner.

Plastic Ono Elephants Memory, 1972 (with invisible strings) Front row, left to right: Richard Frank Jr., Yoko, John Second row, left to right: Stan Bronstein, Wayne Gabriel, Adam Ippolito Third row, left to right: Gary Van Scyoc, Jim Keltner Back row: Invisible strings Photo by Bob Gruen ©1972 Bob Gruen

But there was plenty for the Lennon’s to feel angry about. ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Luck Of The Irish’ report an especially bitter period in Northern Irish history. John, given his Liverpool-Irish heritage, was swift to attach his name to the anti-colonial cause. ‘John Sinclair’ and ‘Angela’ respond to some individual cases, the former of the radical writer and rock manager, incarcerated on a grotesquely inflated drugs charge, and then of the black radical Angela Davis, accused of complicity in a shoot-out. The deficiency in ‘headline news’ songs, of course, is that every day brings new headlines to replace them. For all their honest rage and historical interest, some of the topical songs have dated less well than the more general numbers. ‘New York City’, especially, is the great overlooked Lennon rocker, bursting with all the energy that he was absorbing from his new environment. And at the end there is Yoko’s upbeat and witty boogie, ‘We’re All Water’, affirming our common human spirit. It’s as if to answer a cynical enquiry about the preceding numbers: ‘Why should we care?’

Plastic Ono Mothers, Filmore East, NYC, 6 June 1971 Photo by Joseph Sia ©unknown

The album faced a difficult reception on its release in 1972. A bonus disc of live tracks, some from the London Lyceum in 1969 and others from a guest appearance with Frank Zappa in New York, 1971, hardly enhanced the commercial appeal – although the delightful cover of The Olympics’ ‘Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)’ is a hidden gem in Lennon’s solo catalogue.

John had clearly been energised by New York, but his particular ambition – to write polemical songs inspired by the events of the moment – proved trickier than expected. Three or four centuries earlier, the troubadours of urban England had taken precisely the same approach. But they were not ex-Beatles, expected to lead the whole planet in a communal singalong.

Yoko reminisced: ‘We were two rebels and were quite proud of it. For this album, were Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill of the 70’s in our minds.’

Discouraged, but not defeated. John and Yoko considered their next moves. Her recording career, in fact, was shaping up rather well. For his own part, John had some serious mind games still to play…

 


Written by Paul DuNoyer
Included in EMI’s 2010 Lennon 70 Definitive Remaster of Some Time In New York City.
Read Paul’s book: Working Class Hero: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song.
Recorded and Mixed: Record Plant Studio, N.Y.C.: December 1971 – 20 March 1972
Recorded: Lyceum Ballroom, London: 15 December 1969
Recorded: Fillmore East, New York City: 6 June 1971
Released UK: 15 Sept 1972
Released USA: 12 June 1972

Sleeve notes

John: vocal, guitar & national
Yoko: vocal, drums
Jim Keltner: drums & percussion

Elephants Memory:

Stan Bronstein: sax, flute
Richard Frank Jr.: drums, percussion
Gary Van Scyoc: bass
Adam Ippolito: piano, organ
Wayne (Tex) Garbriel: guitar
John La Bosca: piano on “Born In A Prison”

Produced by John and Yoko and Phil Spector
Arrangement: John and Yoko
String Orchestration: Ron Frangipane
Engineers: Roy Cicala/Danny Turbeville
Sleeve Concept: John & Yoko – realized by Al Steckler
Sleve Design: Michael Gross

side one:
1. Woman Is The Nigger Of The World (Lennon/Ono)
2. Sisters, O Sisters (Ono)
3. Attica State (Lennon/Ono)
4. Born In A Prison (Ono)
5. New York City (Lennon)

side two:
1. Sunday Bloody Sunday (Lennon/Ono)
2. The Luck of the Irish (Lennon/Ono)
3. John Sinclair* (Lennon)
4. Angela (Lennon/Ono)
5. We’re All Water (Ono)
* slide guitar/John

Live Jam
John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with The Mothers of Invention and a star studded cast of thousands!!

side one:
1 Cold Turkey (Lennon)
2 Don’t Worry Kyoko (Ono)

side two:
1 Well (Baby Please Don’t Go) (Walter Ward)
2 Jamrag (Lennon/Ono)
3 Scumbag (Lennon/Ono/Zappa)
4 Aü (Lennon/Ono)

Photo of performers in Sometime in New York City can be found on inside left panel of jacket.
Front row, left to right: Richard Frank Jr., Yoko, John
Second row, left to right: Stan Bronstein, Wayne Gabriel, Adam Ippolito
Third row, left to right: Gary Van Scyoc, Jim Keltner
Back row: Invisible strings

Make a Love call.
Pass it on to the world.

First released: 12 June 1972

 

Versions Available

1972 – Original LP, Cassette

1987 – First released on CD

2010 – Stereo Remaster of original J&Y Master: 24-96, CD, LP, Mastered for iTunes AAC, MP3

 
2010 – Lennon 70 Definitive Remaster
Producer: Yoko Ono
Remaster Engineers: Paul Hicks, Sean Magee

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