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1968

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins

‘It was midnight when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful.’

– John Lennon, 1970

John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

 

Track Listing

  1. 14:17

  2. 14:45

Bonus Track

  1. 4:03
'Two Virgins' (1968) Drawing by John Lennon

Turns out the very sound of falling in love is just as abstract, subjective and loopy as the concept itself. Yoko Ono and John Lennon are two of history’s greatest lovers, and Two Virgins is the musique concrète fever dream document of the pair falling in love in real time. The album is a curious and amazing suite recorded over one weekend in Spring 1968 at Lennon’s Kenwood home: Distant conversations; comedic role playing and footsteps; laughter, birdcalls and plunking piano lines; silly songs and space; tape delay stretching shrieks, bass rumbles and moans to the moon and back again. It’s two young people attempting to weird one another out, attempting to make one another laugh, falling deeply into one another. John mucks around with delay and loops while Yoko exercises her expressionist vocalisations.

The smoke and wine is nearly audible. Two Virgins begins with a looping bird-like whistle that almost immediately threatens to clip as the magnetised tape erodes around it. But miraculously, not for a moment do these sounds ever register as foreboding or violent. It unspools into a sort of stretched and warbled piano waltz as Ono’s singular vocal explorations arch above it. In the last few minutes of Side A, we hear Ono and Lennon mock domestic life over a low, ringing drone. ‘Is that you? Is that you?’ Ono calls out. ‘It’s just me Hilda, I’m home for tea.’ Lennon responds in a shrugging lower register.

It’s a perfect, genius antidote to the preceding 13 or so minutes. After all the distorted samples and noisy disturbances, the humorous and commonplace exchange grounds us once again. Moments like this — moments that assure things never get too depersonalised — pepper Two Virgins.

John & Yoko, 1968 Photo by Keith Macmillan ©1968 Yoko Ono
John & Yoko, 1968 Photo by John Lennon ©1968 Yoko Ono

Upon its release in 1968, Two Virgins became instantly famous/controversial for its now-iconic cover, featuring Ono and Lennon standing nude together. For market, Apple Records interns had to bag the album up so that all but their heads were covered.

Please be reminded, however, that this avant-garde domestic field recording also charted on the US Billboard album charts. Of course, that speaks to the international fame of the nude people on the cover. But I’d like to think it also speaks to the raw, universal power of the wild, creative love shared by these two people. Nothing about Two Virgins is safe. It would be a risky move today for artists in the larger, pop-culture conversation just as it was a risky move in 1969. But this is an uncomfortably private, two-person dialogue about — and celebration of — experimentation, inspiration and play. And these two souls bravely let us look through the keyhole.

Stills from the film 'Two Virgins' (1968) by John & Yoko ©1968 Yoko Ono
Recorded & Mixed: John Lennon’s Kenwood home studio, Weybridge, England: 19-20 May 1968
Released UK: 29 Nov 1968
Released USA: 29 Nov 1968

Sleeve notes

John Lennon and Yoko Ono: all instruments and vocals
Produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Recorded in John Lennon’s home studio in Weybridge, Surrey, England May 1968
Cover design by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Made in Merrie England

‘Two Virgins Side One’ contains a sample of ‘Together’ (De Silva, Brown, Henderson) ℗ Campbell Connelly

‘Two Virgins Side Two’ contains a sample of ‘Hushabye Hushabye’ ℗ Copyright Control

 

Versions Available

1968 – Original Stereo version: LP, 8 Track & cassette

1991 – Rock Classics first release on CD

1997 – Rykodisc Remaster on CD

2016 – Secretly Canadian LP, CD, MP3

 

1997 – Rykodisc CD release:

Remember Love
B-Side to ‘Give Peace A Chance’ written by Yoko Ono
John Lennon: acoustic guitar
Yoko Ono: vocal
Produced by John and Yoko.
Recorded in Room 1742 Hotel La Reine, Elizabeth, Montreal by Les Studios André Perry, 7585 Malo, Ville De Brossard, P.Q. Canada, June 1, 1969.
© Ono Music (BMI) adm. by Sony/ATV Songs LLC

Two Virgins
Re-release produced by Yoko Ono and Rob Stevens.
Remastered by George Marino and Rob Stevens, Sterling Sound, New York City.
Thanks to Brian Hendel for additional archival material and advice.
Rykodisc catalog number 10411
Two Virgins (John Lennon, Yoko Ono) © Lenono Music Ono Music (BMI) adm. by Sony/ATV Songs LLC
© & ℗ 1997 Yoko Ono

 

2016 – Secretly Canadian remaster:

Reissue Executive Producers: Sean Lennon, David Newgarden, Ben Swanson, Chris Swanson, Darius Van Arman
Reissue Art Direction: Daniel Murphy
Design: Miles Johnson
CD and Digital Remastering: Greg Calbi and Ryan Smith
Vinyl Remastering: Greg Calbi and Sean Lennon
Research & Production: Karla Merrifield, Simon Hilton, Sari Henry, Kevin Duneman, Julio Cann, Ed McEntee

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