John Lennon – Mind Games (1973)

History: In early 1973, John was starting to hit his limit. He was caught up in court battles to try to stay in the United States, and the FBI was tapping his phone and otherwise tracking his movements, convinced he was a political threat. On top of this, he and Yoko started having problems that would lead to their separation around the time this album was recorded.

My own personal history and initial prediction: The title track is the only song I am familiar with, and I like it okay. My hope is that this will be something a little more radio friendly than Some Time in New York City, or at least have a clearer message than that one did.

What I worked on while listening:

Looking at this picture I can more clearly see the image taking shape than I can when I’m actually working on it. You get so focused on filling in the little spaces.

Review: This is the first album John produced by himself, and his unique production style is introduced to us right from the very beginning, as the album starts with the title track that sounds as if someone hit record some time after the song actually started. It’s an interesting way to throw us right into it. As I said above, the song is just okay to me. It’s not bad, it’s not great. I think the concept of “mind guerrillas” kind of throws me off, even if I understand the idea behind it.

This is followed by “Tight A$” which in my opinion is probably the strongest song on the album. It also reminded me a lot of Dylan, very much like “Norwegian Wood” in terms of cribbing on his style, though obviously from a different era. I played it for my husband, a huge Dylan fan, asking him what he thought of it (without telling him my opinion) and he came to the same conclusion. It’s interesting though that most of what I’m seeing online seems to credit early rockabilly sounds instead. It’s possible that this could be the kind of thing where the two of them were both influenced by the same thing and presented a similar style, but it was definitely striking to me at least.

“Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)” has a similar feel to it, while also incorporating a political message. “Only People” is also political in nature, and I should stress that when I say political it’s really more of a “peace and love over hate and greed” kind of political, not delving into specifics like he did on Some Time in New York City. It also has a really fun unique energy to it. But it seems clear that over the couple months John was recording this, the main thing truly on his mind was begging Yoko for forgiveness.

Five of the eleven songs on the album are all about their relationship, either talking about how they can work things out, or just flat out saying I’m sorry. Listening to “Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)” I could tell what point of the breakup this was, because there’s just something about it that lacks authenticity. This is a man who feels bad that he’s hurt the one he loves, but doesn’t seem to have truly let it sink in that he needs to change. So many of the words of these songs are stressing their past, and the belief that they can work things out, but also give me the vibe that if I was in Yoko’s position, I wouldn’t truly be ready to just let it all go either. Maybe it’s easy to say that with the benefit of knowing how this will all play out now, but it’s definitely the vibe I’m getting.

Musically these songs are primarily what I would call decent and pleasant to listen to, even if none of them jump out at me as being truly special. They’re folksy and bluesy ballads primarily, with additions like organs, pedal steel guitar, mellotron, etc. to make them stand out a little more. “One Day (At a Time)” features a really strange choice by John to sing falsetto for most of it that really doesn’t work for me. It’s a shame because I really like the backing vocalists, both here and on the other songs they appear on the album, they make a good accompaniment for his voice. By comparison I really like the breathy quality he throws into his voice in “Intuition” so I guess it’s good that he was experimenting here, he just didn’t always hit the mark. The instrumentation on “You Are Here” had me thinking of Hawaii with its mood.

“Meat City” is a strange one to end the album on. Musically it’s fantastic, a real rocking number that’s a nice change after listening to some of the lighter stuff before it, but its lyrics seem to make no sense what so ever. It’s far more “Come Together” than “Glass Onion” as far as John’s plays on words can go, primarily just coming off as gibberish than anything clever.

For this album I decided to try out giving it multiple listens as compared to the one and done I’ve largely been doing with the others up to now. But I have to admit that I started listening on a Saturday and was feeling a bit done with this one by the time it got to Tuesday. I think it’s absolutely worth listening to if you haven’t before, but the songs seemed more likely to get tired for me rather than grow in appreciation with repeated listens.

Next Time: We finally get another album from Ringo, fittingly titled just Ringo.

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