Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions

‘That’s just saying whatever you want it to say. It’s just us expressing ourselves without any words or format, not formalising the sound we make to words or to make music or beat.’

– John Lennon, 1969

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

Track Listing

  1. 26:31

  2. 4:41
  3. 5:10
  4. 2:00
  5. 12:35

CD Bonus Tracks

  1. 1:29
  2. 8:47
Life With The Lions rear cover detail

If Two Virgins is the ecstatic, musique concrète first kiss shared between two of pop culture’s greatest lovers, then Life with the Lions is the sound of the pair validating their love as something impenetrable and timeless. It’s when we, the listener, begin to fully understand that the scope of their recording efforts was much more than a recording collaboration, and something closer to a performative documentary, a declaration of ‘Our life and our love is our art — every nitty, gritty part of it.’

John & Yoko at the Amsterdam Bed-In for Peace, 1969 Photographer Unknown ©1969 Yoko Ono
John & Yoko at the Montreal Bed-In for Peace, 1969 Photo by Ivor Sharp ©1969 Yoko Ono

The collection begins with a more straightforward — at least in terms of explaining what it is — piece of improvised music, edited down from a live performance at Cambridge University’s Lady Mitchell Hall in March 1969. By Life with the Lions’s release in May 1969, Yoko Ono and John Lennon had begun performing avant-garde music together publicly. But the 20-minute-plus, improvisational ‘“Cambridge 1969”’ represents just the second time Lennon and Ono had performed a public concert together (the first was The Rolling Stones’ long dormant concert film Rock and Roll Circus). As Ono begins a sustained, atonal throaty wail, Lennon uses his guitar feedback to match Ono’s resonance. They play and share in various stops and starts of sustainment for several minutes. You can feel Lennon become more and more confident in this public avant-garde coming out party for him. And you can hear Ono feeding off the growing confidence, as the conversation between feedback and vocalisations become more varied and playful. By the time drummer John Stevens and saxophonist John Tchicai enter, it almost comes as a release from the intense exchange.

The entirety of Side B was recorded in a patient suite at London’s Queen Charlotte Hospital where Ono was admitted with pregnancy complications and ultimately lost a child. The album cover photo was taken in the suite, with Ono in her hospital bed and Lennon in a sleeping bag made up on the floor next to her, both of them looking exhausted from the process. The side begins with ‘No Bed For Beatle John’, a sing-songy reading of gossipy newspaper clippings wherein the press thought it newsworthy to report upon Lennon’s lack of a hotel bed. The cover image and track become especially cheeky given that Ono and Lennon spent a good amount of time in bed in 1969 as part of their famous Bed-in for peace protests against Vietnam. ‘Baby’s Heartbeat’ is exactly 5 minutes and 10 seconds of the unborn John Ono Lennon’s heartbeat, made all that much heavier by the following piece ‘Two Minutes Silence’. The silence is the absence of that tiny heartbeat and, one must assume, a moment of personal meditation for the lost pregnancy. Where most of us would make such a sorrowful moment one of our most private. ‘Radio Play’ brings a touch of levity to the preceding two tracks, at least until one considers what they would be doing in their hospital suite after the loss of the child. Likely, you’d be mindlessly doing something like flipping back forth on a radio dial until the punches of sound and static became a calming, lulling rhythm — anything to take your mind off things for a moment.

Recorded: November 1968, Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, London, UK; 2 March 1969, Lady Mitchell Hall, Cambridge University
Released UK: 09 May 1969
Released USA: 09 May 1969

Sleeve notes

Yoko Ono: vocal
John Lennon: vocal, guitar
Mal Evans: watch
John Tchicai: saxophone (courtesy of John Tchicai)
John Stevens: percussion (courtesy of Marmalade Records)

“Cambridge 1969” (Lennon/Ono)
Recorded live at Lady Mitchell Hall, Cambridge, England on March 2nd, 1969 with thanks to Antony Barnett the producer of ‘A Natural Music Nothing Doing in London Concert.’
Published by Northern Songs

No Bed For Beatle John (Lennon/Ono)

Baby’s Heartbeat (Lennon/Ono)

Two Minutes Silence (Lennon/Ono)

Radio Play (Lennon/Ono)

All published by Apple Publishing Ltd.
Recorded on a cassette at Queen Charlotte Hospital Second West Ward, Room 1 London, England, 4th/25th November 1968

Front Photo by Susan Wood
Back Photo by permission of Daily Mirror
Sleeve design by John Lennon/Yoko Ono


Versions Available

1969 – Original Stereo version: LP, 8 Track & cassette

1997 – Rykodisc Remaster on CD

2016 – Secretly Canadian LP, CD, MP3

1997 Rykodisc release:

Song For John (previously unreleased version)
Yoko Ono: vocal
John Lennon: acoustic guitar
Recorded on 1/4″ tape by John Lennon, 1968.

Mulberry (previously unreleased)
Yoko Ono: vocal
John Lennon: acoustic guitar
From the same tape as ‘Song For John’.

Rerelease produced by Yoko Ono and Rob Stevens.
Remastered by George Marino and Rob Stevens, Starting Sound, New York City.

℗ 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

First released: 09 May 1969