Walls and Bridges
‘Possession is nine tenths of the problem’
– Dr. Winston O’Boogie
John Lennon with The Plastic Ono Nuclear Band/Little Big Horns/and the Philharmonic Orchestrange
Produced by and Arranged by John Lennon
By the summer of 1974, John had been living apart from Yoko for nearly a year. Quartered in Los Angeles he entered a boisterous spell tagged Lennon’s Lost Weekend. He had mislaid his creative focus, too. There were chaotic attempts to record an album of rock’n’roll oldies with Phil Spector, partly to forestall a lawsuit from one Morris Levy (For more of this story see the Rock’N’Roll album).
The Spector sessions collapsed, and the legendarily eccentric producer withdrew, taking the tapes with him. This “oldies” project quietly shelved, John consoled himself in the company of famous friends and a lover, May Pang, an assistant to the Lennons in New York. He arranged to produce an album for the great singer Harry Nilsson, called Pussy Cats. And slowly, amid the turmoil, John regained his musical purpose.
One aspect of this recovery was a return to New York, the city that still connoted, for John, serious work and responsibility, unlike the rootless hedonism that beguiled him in LA. The Record Plant East was booked and work began on the fresh material John was amassing. Like its predecessor Mind Games, the new album would be self-produced. As to the musicians, among familiar names like Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann and Nicky Hopkins was a host of Lennonesque pseudonyms (Dr. Winston O’Reggae, Rev. Fred Ghurkin, Booker Table & The Maitre D’s, etc) and a couple of luminary guests that included Nilsson and the hottest rock star of the moment, Elton John.
It was Elton who spotted the chart-topping potential of ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’, a storming track to which he contributes. Indeed he won his friendly bet that this song would be Lennon’s first solo Number 1 – for which his “price” would be a guest appearance by John at Elton’s Madison Square Garden show. The album’s second highlight is the mesmerising ‘#9 Dream’, which is both a nod to John’s abiding affinity with that number and a brilliant evocation of the lucid state between sleep and awaking. Its untranslatable ‘Ah! Böwakawa poussé, poussé’ is, in fact, a mysterious fragment from such a dream. Those songs already nudge Walls And Bridges towards greatness but they are only two of many. There is the charming diversion ‘Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’, and that rarest of rarities, a Lennon instrumental, this one called ‘Beef Jerky’. A fascinating curio is ‘Steel And Glass’, so reminiscent of Imagine’s ‘How Do You Sleep?,’ and plausibly assumed to be about John’s estranged manager Allen Klein.
By far the bigger part of the album, though, is occupied by music of loss and loneliness. It is impossible not to characterise ‘Walls And Bridges’ as “the Lost Weekend album”. We are pointed to the thought that such unhappiness did, at least, give John a musical shot in the arm. Be that as it may, Walls And Bridges really is the great overlooked record of John Lennon’s solo years.
Among its bluesier numbers sit the mournful ‘Old Dirt Road’, the downright desolate ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)’ and the gaunt surrender of ‘Scared’, a number as stark as anything John has ever written. Then there are songs of tenderness and regret, like ‘Going Down On Love’, ‘What You Got’ and ‘Bless You’, all bathed in a glow of loving sadness. Lennon was famously autobiographical but, of all his albums, only John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band comes as near to abject, cathartic soul-baring as Walls And Bridges.
Images from the album cover
Childhood drawings by John Lennon.
Photo by Bob Gruen ©1974 Bob Gruen
While his struggles with US immigration dragged on, John re-established himself in New York and made renewed overtures to Yoko, with whom he had never lost contact. One must wonder whether Walls And Bridges played a part in their eventual reunion.
First, however, there was the business of Morris Levy’s lawsuit and the rock’n’roll oldies that John had promised to record in settlement. (The snippet we hear of ‘Ya Ya’ on Walls And Bridges was a sop to this dispute, but also a touching moment of closeness between John and his son Julian). By quickly revisiting his past, he might finally clear a path to his future. And sure enough, in 1975, John Lennon’s life would enter a new and unprecedented phase.
Written by Paul DuNoyer
Included in EMI’s 2010 Lennon 70 Definitive Remaster of Walls and Bridges.
Read Paul’s book, Working Class Hero: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song.
Recorded & Mixed: Record Plant East, NYC: July-August 1974
Released UK: 4 Oct 1974
Released USA: 26 Sept 1974
Jim Keltner: drums
Jesse Ed Davis: guitars
Dr. Winston O’Ghurkin: guitar on ‘Going Down On Love’
Hon. John St. John Johnson: guitar on ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’
Kaptain Kundalini: guitar on ‘What You Got’
Dr. Winston and Booker Table and the Maitre d’s: guitars on ‘Beef Jerky’
Rev.Fred Ghurkin: acoustic guitar on ‘Bless You’
Dr. Dream: acoustic guitar on ‘#9 Dream’
Dr. Winston O’Reggae: acoustic guitar on ‘Steel and Glass’
Dwarf McDougal: acoustic guitar on ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)’
Eddie Mottau: acoustic guitar on ‘Going Down On Love’, ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’, ‘Old Dirt Road’, ‘What You Got’, ‘Bless You’, ‘Scared’, ‘#9 Dream’, ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’ and ‘Steel and Glass’
Klaus Voormann: bass
Nicky Hopkins: piano on ‘Goind Down on Love’, ‘Old Dirt Road’, ‘What You Got’, ‘Scared’, ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)’, ‘Steel and Glass’ and ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)’, electric piano on ‘#9 Dream’
Rev. Thumbs Ghurkin: piano on ‘Old Dirt Road’
Mel Torment: piano on ‘Scared’
Ken Ascher: electric piano on ‘Going Down On Love’, ‘Old Dirt Road’, ‘Bless You’ and ‘Scared’, clavinet on ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’, ‘What You Got’, ‘#9 Dream’, ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’ and ‘Steel and Glass’, mellotron on ‘Bless You’, organ on ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)’
Arthur Jenkins: percussion on ‘Going Down On Love’, ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’, ‘What You Got’, ‘Bless You’, ‘Scared’, ‘#9 Dream’, ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’, ‘Steel and Glass’ and ‘Beef Jerky’
Little Big Horns: Bobby Keys, Steve Madaio, Howard Johnson, Ron Aprea and Frank Vicari on ‘Going Down On Love’, ‘What You Got’, ‘Scared’, ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’, ‘Steel and Glass’, ‘Beef Jerky’ and ‘Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)’
Bobby Keys: tenor saxophone on ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’
Sir Elton John: organ and piano on ‘Whatever Gets You Through The Night’, vocal harmony on ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ and ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’
Harry Nilsson: background vocal on ‘Old Dirt Road’
Howard Johnson: baritone saxophone on ‘Scared’
The 44th Street Fairies: May Pang, Lori Burton, Joey Dambra and me background vocals
Lolly and Stan: extra added attraction on ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox)’
Julian Lennon: drums on ‘Ya Ya’
Dad: piano and vocals on ‘Ya Ya’
All songs written by John Lennon except ‘Old Dirt Road’, Lyrics by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, Music by John Lennon, and ‘Ya Ya’ by M.Robinson/L.Dorsey/C.L.Lewis.
All tracks © Lenono Music except 3 © Lenono Music/EMI Songs Ltd, 12 © Tro Essex Music Ltd.
Elton John appears through the courtesy of DJM Records Ltd.
Harry Nilsson appears through the courtesy of RCA Records.
Produced and Arranged by
John Lennon with the Plastic Ono Nuclear Bad/Little Big Horns/and The Philharmanic Orchestrange.
Recorded at Record Plant, New York.
Engineer: Shelly ‘I can’t take the pressure’ Yakus.
Over-dub Engineer: Jim ‘What it is’ Iovine.
Strings and Remix Engineer: Roy ‘I only like singles’ Cicala.
Also thanks to: Pappa Denis Ferrante, Rod, Corky, Howie, Dave, Bruce, Frankie and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, ya’ll.
Mastered at The Cutting Room, Record Plant, New York by Gregg Calbi and Tom Rabstnek.
Orchestration and Conducting: Ken Ascher.
Special thanks to Howard Johnson for his hornspiration and Steve Madaio and Bobby ‘Did I play that?’ Keys for extra-curricular.
Production Coordinator: May Pang.
Art Direction/Design: Roy Kohara.
Original childhood paintings by John Lennon.
Photography: Bob Gruen
‘On the 23rd Aug. 1974 at 9o’clock I saw a U.F.O.
First released: 26 September 1974
1974 – Original Stereo version: LP, 8 Track & cassette
1987 – First released on CD
2003 – 5.1 Stereo Digital Remaster & Remix: selected tracks on Lennon Legend DVD
2005 – Stereo Digital Remaster & Remix: CD, LP
2010 – Stereo Remaster of original J&Y Master: 24-96, CD, LP, Mastered for iTunes AAC, MP3
2003 5.1 Stereo Digital Remix for Lennon Legend DVD:
Executive Producer: Yoko Ono
Remixed by Pete Cobbin
Produced by Yoko Ono
Remix engineer: Peter Cobbin
2010 – Lennon 70 Definitive Remaster:
Producer: Yoko Ono
Remaster Engineers: Paul Hicks, Sean Magee