So many records that influenced me when I was a pre-teen and teenager were second-generation interpretations. I heard Eric Clapton before I heard Freddie King, I heard John Fahey before I heard Skip James, and I heard the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band before I heard Muddy Waters.
The John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album is possibly one of the first punk records ever. Released in 1970, along with its almost visually identical sister record, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s album was influenced by primal-scream therapy, and it became his chance to expose his eruptive underbelly without compromise. To me, it’s also an underrated guitar record. It influenced me as a player, and it’s uncompromising bravery influenced me as an artist.
“I Found Out” resembles a Muddy Waters dirge, and the chorus has a guitar part as crude as serving dinner guests raw meat dripping with blood. Lennon’s guitar has more fuzz than notes, and his “solo” is a series of repetitive stabs that taught me less can be way more.
“Well Well Well” is another great guitar track. Lennon plays mangled double-stops that support his vocals, and this kind of primal playing really rocked my 12-year-old world. It still sounds incredible to me today. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is not all raw meat, however. “Hold On” has a lovely, vibrato-laden pentatonic guitar that sounds like Curtis Mayfield through a blender, and “Look at Me” has a “Julia” [Beatles] vibe, but it’s delightfully more direct.
I’m amazed that “Mr. Wall of Sound,” Phil Spector, produced this stark-sounding album. Ringo said that Spector arrived on the second day of recording, after Lennon, bassist Klaus Voorman, and himself had already established the record’s bare-bones sound. Kudos to Phil for not messing around with perfection!
Though John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is known as the “primal scream record,” I think it’s much more than that. It’s a study of raw guitar and honest, unedited emotion, and, thanks to Lennon’s uncompromising and urgent artistry, it’s an album that’s still worth discussing almost 50 years after its release.
Jim Campilongo’s new live album, Live at Rockwood Music Hall NYC, is available now.