After the Beatles split, all four members were given complete artistic freedom without the fear of being criticized by the other three. While George Harrison was the first Beatle to hit it out of the park with All Things Must Pass, John Lennon was experiencing critical acclaim with the Plastic Ono Band. While the first recording featured such classic tunes as “Mother” and “God,” it didn’t spawn any hits for Lennon. However, his singles were giving his ex-band mates a run for their money. Unlike Paul McCartney, John’s music was personal, raw and exposed. Just five years before his murder, Shaved Fish was released in October 1975 to both critical and commercial success and became one of the first platinum records.
Essentially a greatest hits album, Shaved Fish featured some of Lennon’s most prolific songs from his post-Beatle career. “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded during the Lennon’s infamous 1969 bed in. It features John on the acoustic guitar and a smattering of tambourines while the crowd around the bed chants “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” The guitar-driven “Cold Turkey” was released as a single in 1969 where John tells the story of coming off heroine. You can almost feel his pain as he screams in sure agony. Lennon was a strong voice to the anti-war movement and he penned several songs about it including “Instant Karma! (We all Shine On)” and “Power to the People.” Both songs were produced by Phil Spector and featured his infamous “wall of sound.”
While he paid homage to his mother on the White Album in 1968 with “Julia,” he revisited the topic with the track “Mother.” Unlike the tender “Julia,” “Mother” has a dark ominous beat as you are transported into Lennon’s mind as he screams “mamma don’t go, daddy come home!” Never one to shy away from controversy, he offered up “Woman is the N****r of the World.” The tune has a waltz feel which is slightly upbeat, but the lyrics are deep as he compares women to slaves. John caught hell for use of the N-word despite his attempts to clarify that it wasn’t about race. From the album of the same name, “Imagine” became Lennon’s swan song as he promoted world peace. The ballad featured John on a grand piano and despite being produced by Spector, it had limited overdubs. The song would prove to be Lennon’s best-selling single as a solo artist.
Teaming up with Elton John on the all-out pop song, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” Lennon again received critical and commercial success. The tune was more Elton-ish as it featured heavy piano and a catchy beat. After reading Mind Games: Guide to Inner Space, John took the song “Mind Games” to the Beatles during the Let it Be sessions, but hung onto it until 1973. Almost a ballad, the tune had an anti-war sentiment as John sang “make love, not war.”
“#9 Dream” came to John in a dream which is very telling as John’s vocals are almost muted among a wash of sound. The airy track was a hit single from Lennon’s Walls and Bridges. The song contained a very unusual chorus as John repeated “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé.” Lennon said that, too, came to him in a dream and doesn’t mean anything. The album ends with another anti-war song, “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Released in 1971, it was a campaign for peace where the couple rented out several billboards in 12 cities which said, “War Is Over! If You Want It – Happy Xmas John and Yoko.”
In October 2015, Shaved Fish celebrated its 40th anniversary. Unfortunately, it also marked the 35th anniversary of Lennon’s untimely death. If you’re not currently into John Lennon but are curious about his music, Shaved Fish would be a good starting point.