Wedding Album (with Yoko Ono) (1969)
When John Lennon finally married his newfound inspiration and publicly proclaimed love of his life, Yoko Ono, he wanted to invite the entire world to his on-the-lam love-in. Armed with his own record label (a perfect co-conspirator to any bewildering Beatle inspiration), a pair of tickets to Gibraltar, and a public already bracing for his next serving of incomprehensible sonic slop, Lennon unleashed a valentine to his Japanese performance art mate. The results remain baffling some 50-plus years later. Even on the heels of his quizzical ‘composition’ for the White Album (the aural collage “Revolution #9”) and a pair of perplexing collaborations with his bride to be, nothing could have prepared the faithful for this pre-sold souvenir of their hero’s disillusionment and dissatisfaction with being a cultural benchmark.
Indeed, all three of Lennon’s initial ‘statements’ in repudiation of his feuding bandmates were deeply personal and highly counterproductive. Even for an audience willing to accept almost anything a Beatle did, these meandering collections of song snippets, tape loops, vocal exorcisms, and acid-flashback examples of musical self-abuse were trials. In combination with the outright affront of some of the material (Lennon and his love naked on the cover of Two Virgins, the post-miscarriage hospital pic from Life with the Lions), the lad from Liverpool still believed that he had tapped into a new form of expression. It would take the personal psychological screams of Plastic Ono Band to ‘cure’ him of this delusion once and for all. It’s interesting to note that Lennon never publicly went back to this kind of bold basement experiment in the years following their release.
As for Wedding Album, it’s your typical slice of self-aggrandizement wrapped in a series of head-scratching aural enigmas. Side One (remember, this is back in the day when music came in discernible LP parts) featured the newlywed and his divisive bride saying each other’s names — over and over again. Sort of like an acting experiment, the two use the various emotional interpretations of “John” and “Yoko” as expressions of their love, their fears, and the sex — the additional backing of their heartbeats adding a final sledgehammer sign of their passion. At 22 minutes, it’s a test for any novice Beatle acolyte. Even the most fervent of fans tend to avoid Lennon’s performance pieces as dull, droning dreck. Side Two livens things up a bit like the famed couple stage their notorious “Bed-In” peace protest honeymoon in Amsterdam. Using the push of the press to provide snippets of interviews and other conversations, we get to hear the political awakening of a man who, for the longest time, was a well-meaning mop-top ready to explode rhetorically.
As an insight into his mind, as a declaration of affection and intent, Wedding Album is more than just a masturbatory mess. It’s a weird sort of proto-tabloid take, a precursor to the now prevalent public intrusion into the lives of the celebrated, the privileged, and the famous. Lennon even went so far as to commission famed photographer and graphic artist John Kosh to create an elaborate box set for the album. In included a reproduction of the marriage certificate, various press clippings, a series of sketches and drawings, and perhaps most famously, a “slice” of cake (actually, a triangular photo), served up in a special white envelope. With Apple’s manufacturing arm at the ready to indulge such whims, Lennon was doing more than producing product: he was making a statement.
In fact, Wedding Album stands as a significant album in Lennon’s discography. While Plastic Ono Band would indeed be the final brick in his crypt of disillusionment, this piece in his initial trippy triptych was a clear announcement of intent. For those who didn’t like Ms. Ono — too damn bad! This was the woman he chose to spend the rest of his life with, and he was going to celebrate her in any way he felt appropriate. Similarly, the days of being a sidelined wallflower apologizing for name-checking Jesus and offending the teenyboppers were over. Lennon had opinions, and Wedding Album was the vinyl primer of such mass communication sentiments. While he would eventually take his call to arms to weird, wonky places (Nutopia? Bagism? Really John?) Wedding Album introduced the newest incarnation of the once favored phenomenon — deeply in love and mad as Hell.
Of course, something like Wedding Album would never exist today. We no longer allow our pop artists to “waste” our time with such seemingly trivial excess no matter how super their star. We will let them make movies, star in silly TV shows, write meaningless memoirs (or even worse, psychobabble self-help books), and even champion their Money grubbing Madison Avenue savvy with a series of headphones, wines, and custom ringtones. But if Lady Gaga decided to release a 50-minute iTunes musing on the state of her complicated love life and political views, Fuse-nation would be wetting their hipster hiking shorts. Wedding Album is proof that the Beatles’ phenomenon reached far beyond the band’s power to make memorable music. There was a time when the individual members could do whatever they wanted — and for at least one of them, the intent was stereophonically clear. — Bill Gibron