All it took was one song. A track buried as the fifth song on Mind Games, was the last stand of John Lennon’s political theme sound that he co-opted in the early 1970s. He was moving towards lyrics with a more personal edge. “Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)” was the song that caught my ears, as a naïve 17-year-old, on a college radio Beatles show in San Antonio. From John Lennon’s energetic spoken word introduction, “All right boys, this is it, over the hill!” to the extraordinary wailing guitar-like-sound coming from my Mami’s car speakers. I was hooked. “Lucie” was an illuminating, rebellious and strange song that was new to these virgin ears. Almost instantaneously, after the DJ announced the song, I instructed my Mami to drive me to my favorite used LP store in San Antonio, called, ironically enough, Apple Records. I walked in and asked for the Lennon album that had “Bring on the Lucie”. They handed me Mind Games and my life was changed forever.
I wasn’t the only one changing. “Bring on the Lucie” was the first spark of the evolution of Lennon from activist back to artist. Previous to 1973, Lennon’s political messages were cluttering the songs with preachy vibes that most of his fans rejected. “Bring on the Lucie” was a signal of an end of his lyrical protester. His new raw and vibrant style would lead to even more confessional recordings that would reconnect Lennon with a loyal audience that had abandoned him six months earlier when he released the radically tinged Some Time in New York City.
“Bring on the Lucie” is the sound of a major turning point in John Lennon’s solo career. Around that time, a few years before he began the Mind Games sessions in 1972, Lennon and his partner Yoko Ono were getting seriously involved with Abbie Hoffmann and the Yippie political movement. This extracurricular activity resulted in Lennon’s most unpopular album Some Time in New York City. The problem was Lennon thought he had been cured from the harrowing yet masterful sound of Plastic Ono Band with the sugarcoated aura of Imagine. That lesson was short lived beginning with “Women is the Nigger of the World” and “John Sinclair.” The message was politically sour and his fans had rebuffed that album. Lennon got lost in the idea of trying to change the world while realizing musically and lyrically with Mind Games that he was a songwriter and his songs could be a vehicle for change. With “Lucie”, Lennon could be the soundtrack on the car stereo but not the one leading us behind the wheel.
Lennon was always a better artist than activist, and this is where “Bring on the Lucie” comes in. Mind Games was released approximately six months after New York City. In that time, Lennon’s world had changed. John and Yoko split. Because of this major personal break-up, Lennon had to re-evaluate his personal and creative life. The first thing that happened was that Lennon left the Dakota and got an apartment in the West Village of New York with his new personal assistant May Pang. She encouraged him to express his emotions in songs and record the results in a new album. Pang was more like an inspirational and creative muse who helped spark a new creative mindset for Lennon in the studio. He dropped his overtly political slant and on song five of Mind Games, the sugarcoated sweetness that Lennon claimed to have found in Imagine was resurrected for “Bring on the Lucie”.
Initially, most critics and fans praised aspects of Mind Games, but they over looked “Lucie” as the symbol for the creative changes that were on the horizon of Lennon. You can hear from the opening songs of Mind Games, especially with “Tight A$, this was a much different album than its predecessor, Some Time in New York City. Lennon was striving for more introspective numbers and leaving his political songs mostly to his unpopular past. “Bring on the Lucie” is overtly one of Lennon’s most lyrical political songs, but thanks to the dynamic studio musicians, “Lucie” doesn’t sound like a typical protest song. “Lucie” has an ironic and satirical view that maybe he was mocking the whole idea of freeing people with a song. I don’t think we were supposed to be taking Lennon literally, which is the reason the sound of the song is so unique and unusual.
As a 17-year-old fan, the first thing I remembering hooking me is the echo of Flying Burrito Brothers member “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar. His country-esque guitar vibe howls all through the song like a gyre in a Yates poem. I can’t forget Gordon Edwards and his unheralded funky “Fat Albert Theme” like bass line thumping throughout. Hearing the eclectic rhythms lessened the impact of Lennon’s biting tone. “Lucie” wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously. John Blaney in Lennon & McCartney: Together Alone, described “Bring on the Lucie” as, “The song that has more humor than anything on Some Time in New York City.” The backing track has a more sugary backbeat than any song he had recorded in recent memory. Most of Lennon’s popular early work were all personal yet serious classics like “God”, “Imagine” and “Jealous Guy”.
To me this guitar wail is more of a personal call to arms for Lennon to liberate himself from trying to “free the people” alone. And you can find proof of this at the bridge after the first chorus.
“Well we were caught with our hands in the air
Don’t despair paranoia is everywhere
We can shake it with love when we’re scared
So let’s shout it aloud like a prayer.”
Lennon doesn’t have any ideas on how to free the people except for “shouting” this song as a “prayer”. You can actually hear a link sound wise from where Lennon goes from “Lucie” and Mind Games. In John Lennon: The Life, Philip Norman says of Mind Games: “[The album] suggested a retreat from all the causes and victims [John and Yoko] had championed together and a return to[…] the subject of marriage. ” On his next album, Walls & Bridges, you hear a more personal and liberated Lennon singing about “Bless You”, “#9 Dream” and his number one pop hit “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” with Elton John. Lennon’s new thematic style will culminate with his most personal songs like “Woman”, and “Beautiful Boy” on Double Fantasy.
Songs like “Watching the Wheels” wouldn’t have been written or recorded if it wasn’t for “Lucie”. But everything changed when Lennon split from Yoko. The evolution from activist back to artist can be heard on “Lucie”. It symbolically freed Lennon from his political past and resurrected him into a more loose artist searching for meaning of the love and loss in more rock & roll flavored music. Paul Du Noyer said it best when describing “Bring on the Lucie” in the newly released John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song: 1970-1980: “John recovered some of his rock ‘n’ roll bite […] thanks are due to “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s keening pedal steel guitar, and to Jim Keltner’s galumphing drums.” I believe, “Lucie” is the track that also sparked Lennon to go back to his youth and recording cover songs with Phil Spector on Rock and Roll.
The spark was lit not only with Lennon but a shy and confused teenager living in San Antonio. Once I heard the opening chords from “Lucie” I was changed. At that time, the Beatles were something that my parents introduced me to. I didn’t have any group or sound that was my own. My parents didn’t care for Lennon, particularly because of his outspoken political and his rebellious ways of excess. I knew growing up why Lennon was my favorite Beatle, but because of “Lucie” he became my all time favorite solo artist. He showed that anyone can be political and enjoy themselves while you do it. You can hear in the “Lucie’s” introduction, when Lennon calls out, “All right boys, this is it, over the hill!”
This sounds like an artist who’s hanging up his revolutionary zeal for a role as a social commentator. Blaney also said about “Lucie, “…far from sounding angry, he [Lennon] gives the impression of weary resignation, an emotion that only months earlier he wouldn’t have dared to contemplate.” “Lucie” is more a satirical piece that was Lennon’s last overtly political number. The sound of “Lucie” was Lennon’s way of not taking himself seriously in a public forum by make a more mocking tone on the absurdity of the Watergate-era of politics. Even in 1989, in San Antonio, I understood his unique Liverpuldian sense of humor, laughing all the way to the Apple Records.
“Lucie” helped me have a more cynical eye towards politics. The strange sounding song taught me just because I believe in a political cause doesn’t mean that this issue has to take over my life. Lennon learned that maybe his political dealings might have had an impact on his personal relationships. After Lennon split with Ono, Lennon’s songs went personal. “Lucie” is the turning point. He didn’t have to be political anymore. He could go back to being the lyrical lover and left the policy affairs to more qualified professionals.
“Lucie’s” popularity rose sharply after it’s inclusion in the 2006 film Children of Men. There’s something about this quasi-political song that makes you smile and want take to the streets and dance as you sing “Freda People now!” along with Lennon’s self proclaimed “Something Different choir”. “Lucie” is my favorite song. It encapsulates everything that is John Lennon, the ying of Lennon’s sugary sound with yang of his stinging yet thought provoking lyrics. “Lucie” signaled the moment, Lennon broke from his revolutionary rhetoric and spoke as a rejected lover trying to make sense of the chaos in his personal life.
Every time I spin track five on Mind Games, I am taken back to that moment when “Bring on the Lucie” came into my life. In my case, hearing “Lucie” inspired me to dive into the solo canon that was Lennon. He was and will always be my idol. I remembered the day after Lennon passed away, my elementary school girlfriend Mary, coming up to me, giving me a hug as she handed me a flower and telling me, “Sorry that your star has died.”
To me, Lennon’s not gone. He’s around when we need him. He lives every time I spin “Lucie”. He never brings me down. Lennon always knows how to pick me up. “Lucie” will always be my song. It’s the one that brought my star more clear to life. Play “Lucie” again or maybe for the first time, and you will feel the spark of Lennon’s clever sardonic wit in a song, that after one spin, changed my life. Are you ready? “Do it, do it… now!” Lennon himself is telling us, he’s out of touch, but groove to this.
After all of these years, Lennon still sounds like an antiquated revolutionary, on “Bring on the Lucie”. You can hear him eager to hang up his megaphone, for the confines of his microphone. He was determined to channel this new introspective sound that was burning from within. Mind Games was the beginning, “Lucie” was the catalyst whose rhythms resonate with me. To this day, “Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)” is Lennon’s sound of change, I will always believe in.
// Notes from the Road
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