The most hyped set of the year has to be the new John Lennon anthology, assembled by Yoko Ono and containing 96 songs, mainly in demo and live form, from Lennon’s solo career. Wonsaponatime culls 22 tracks from that collection and should be all the casual fan needs.
The highlights are the raw, acoustic demo of “Working Man’s Hero,” a biting attack on the socialization process of school and career and an early version of “Imagine,” complete with a churchy-sounding organ, a bit of ironic Lennon humor given the “and no religion too” line in the song. Then there’s the caustic punch of “How Do You Sleep?,” a post-Beatles breakup swipe at Paul McCartney and achingly powerful “God,” where Lennon tosses out the sum total of his previous rock ‘n’ roll fantasies and his position as a generational leader to focus on a new beginning as a family man.
Too often overlooked in the wake of the Beatles, Lennon’s solo output was among the best music of the 1970s, though it was occasionally marred by a continuing fascination with resurrecting the 1950s songs of his youth.
Lennon’s best work was characterized by the brutal honesty of his songwriting and the raw emotion of his musicianship. If there’s anything that Wonsaponatime proves, it is that from the earliest demo version of a song to its final recorded form, Lennon never held anything back in any performance and that is what gives his songs their eternal resonance.