Yoko Ono Lennon and Capitol/UMe will mark the 50th anniversary of John Lennon’s staging post John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album with an eight-disc super deluxe box set edition on April 16. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – The Ultimate Collection is described as an “immersive, deep listening experience and in-depth exploration” of a record that Lennon regarded as “the best thing I’ve ever done.”
The new release is fully authorized by Yoko Ono Lennon, who oversaw the production and creative direction. It features the same audio team that worked on the acclaimed 2018 set Imagine – The Ultimate Collection, including triple Grammy-winning engineer Paul Hicks and mixers/engineers Rob Stevens and Sam Gannon. The new Ultimate Collection is launched, with pre-orders of the album, by today’s global release of the new Ultimate Mix of one of its most memorable songs, “Mother.”
The new incarnation of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band puts the listener in the center of the studio as it explores the recording sessions for the project at EMI Studios 2 & 3, Abbey Road. It presents Lennon’s post-Beatles singles “Give Peace A Chance,” “Cold Turkey,” and “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” from their inception to final masters, via scores of unreleased and rare demos, rehearsals, outtakes, jams, and studio conversations. The listening experience reveals the creative genesis of these Lennon staples, in a set that features 87 never-before-heard recordings, among 159 tracks across six CDs and two Blu-ray audio discs.
The haunting, funereal bells and emotional wails of the opening “Mother” laid bare that Lennon’s first solo studio album was going to be unlike anything he had done before. The set was recorded in 1970, shortly after the demise of The Beatles, and was inspired by the primal scream psychotherapy that he and wife Yoko Ono had been practicing with Dr. Arthur Janov.
Lennon was joined on the album by the minimalist Plastic Ono Band, featuring Ringo Starr on drums and Klaus Voorman on bass, with producer Phil Spector. The LP saw John stripping away all artifice to deliver a visceral, artistic exorcism that was confessional, raw, painfully honest, and his most personal work. It stands tall as a masterpiece of his solo years, and the moment at which he bared his soul for the world to hear.
“With the Plastic Ono Band albums,” writes Yoko in the preface of the accompanying book, “John and I liked the idea of this really raw, basic, truthful reality that we were going to be giving to the world. We were influencing other artists, giving them courage, giving dignity to a certain style of vulnerability and strength that was not accepted in society at the time. It was a revolution for a Beatle to say, ‘Listen: I’m human, I’m real.’ It took a lot of courage for him to do it.”
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – The Ultimate Collection offers a total of 11 hours of music. The box set includes two postcards (“Who Are The Plastic Ono Band?” and “You Are The Plastic Ono Band”), a “War Is Over!” poster, and a comprehensive 132-page hardback book with lyrics, rare photos, tape box images, memorabilia, and extensive notes.
The book, designed and edited by Simon Hilton, compilation producer and production manager of the Ultimate Collection series, the book traces the story behind each of the songs and the making of the album in John and Yoko’s words and of those who worked alongside them, in both archival and brand new interviews.
The unique expanded edition includes the improvised jams that John and the band would play between takes, as a counterpoint to the the intense subject matter of the album. It has the full live recording session of Yoko’s companion LP, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, presenting the songs in full, unedited lengths and speed, and includes three unreleased improvisations.
Mirroring the previous Ultimate Collection, the new set offers a variety of listening experiences that are at once immersive and intimate. They range from the brand new Ultimate Mixes of the album, with John’s vocals front and center of the sonically upgraded sound; the Elements Mixes, which isolate and bring forth certain elements from the multitrack recordings, revealing even deeper levels of detail and clarity; and the Raw Studio Mixes, which invite listeners to experience the moment John and the Plastic Ono Band recorded each song, mixed raw and live without effects, tape delays or reverbs.
The Evolutionary Documentary is a unique track-by-track audio montage detailing the evolution of each song, from demo to master recording via instructions, rehearsals, recordings, multitrack exploration and studio chatter. The Blu-ray discs present an array of listening options including high-definition, studio quality 192kHz/24bit audio in stereo and enveloping 5.1 Surround and Dolby Atmos mixes.
The album will also be released concurrently in multiple physical and digital configurations. A single CD editon includes the Ultimate Mixes of the original album and the three non-album singles, and there are expanded 2CD or 2LP version that add a disc of outtakes of each song.
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – The Ultimate Collection is released on April 16. Pre-order it here.
The Ultimate Mixes
The original John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album has been faithfully remixed from the ground up by the aforementioned Paul Hicks at Abbey Road Studios under the supervision of Yoko Ono Lennon. Hicks utilized high-definition 24 bit-192kHz audio transfers of the original first-generation multitrack recordings to create the best possible recreations of the originals. The result is these new Ultimate Mixes now reveal whole new levels of sonic depth, definition and clarity, especially in 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Atmos. “Yoko is very keen that in making The Ultimate Mixes Series, we achieve three things: remain faithful and respectful to the originals, ensure that the sound is generally sonically clearer overall, and increase the clarity of John’s vocals. ‘It’s about John’ she says. And she is right. His voice brings the biggest emotional impact to the album.”
The collection includes unreleased stereo outtakes of each song which have been mixed with a balance and EQ more akin to the original album mixes, with a little bit of additional effects – in the style of a “rough listening mix” that John & Yoko and Phil Spector would have used to play them back at Abbey Road. Highlights include “Mother” (Take 61) which removes the opening bell and has the drums mixed in mono, “Love” (Take 6) with Lennon performing the song on acoustic guitar without the aid of Spector on piano and the first rehearsal of “Remember” (Rehearsal 1),which started off as a slower, more subdued, song than the rollicking one it evolved into, “Well Well Well” (Take 2) which ends with an instrumental jam, the alternate clawhammer strumming on “Look At Me” (Take 2) and “Cold Turkey” (Take 1) with some seriously funky guitar playing by John and Eric Clapton.
In addition to the outtakes, the original recordings of each song, either from a home cassette, home tape, or the very first rehearsal or run-through in the studio are included. It’s remarkable to hear how fully formed many of the songs were before they were brought to the studio and what they transformed into. Most of these recordings have never been released until now.
The Elements Mixes
The Elements Mixes mixed by Hicks bring some of the buried elements not otherwise heard, or in some cases used, up to the surface and presents them on a wider and brighter sound stage to reveal deeper levels of detail and clarity. The idea behind these is that once these elements have been heard listeners will hear details previously hidden in the album mixes in a completely way. These range from John’s isolated vocal track for “Mother,” the conga on “I Found Out,” the extra vocals on “Hold On,” the alternative organ take on “Isolation,” unused maracas on “Well Well Well” and the original guide vocal for “God.”
The Raw Studio Mixes + Outtakes
Mixed by Rob Stevens, the Raw Studio Mixes transport listeners to the center of the studio at Abbey Road to experience what it was like to bear witness to the recording sessions. The songs have been mixed without effects, tape delays or reverbs, recreating as close to possible what these performances sounded like raw and live. The Raw Studio Mixes stand on their own to provide a markedly different set of listening experiences, stripping away the sound-shaping techniques that were used in the production of the original 1970 album to reveal further nuance and depths in these unadorned studio performances.
The Evolution Documentary
The Evolution Mixes are mini-documentaries that explore the development of each song through their elements, arrangements and the musicians that play on them. Edited down from all the original 8-track multitracks, quarter-inch live recordings and mixes and a few demo cassettes by Sam Gannon, generally each Evolution Mix runs through each song’s sessions chronologically, starting with the demos and/or early takes and ending with the final mixes; documenting their creative journey from inspiration to finished work, exploring different, sometimes hidden parts of the multitracks and including all the best method, magic, craftsmanship and conversation during the development of the songs. Throughout the sessions, there is a sense of lightness and joviality that contrasts the heavy and, at times, very intense themes which run through much of the album. These mixes provide a window into that world, putting the listener in the center of the studio with John, Yoko, Phil and the Plastic Ono Band.
Despite the serious nature of the album, John and the Plastic Ono Band, which sometimes included Yoko, Billy Preston and Phil Spector, had fun in between takes by spontaneously jamming classic rock ‘n’ roll songs, improvisations and even early versions of some of John’s other songs. For the first time, these 22 jams are being made available and are presented in the order they were recorded. Some of the many gems include impromptu performances of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” Little Richard’s “Send Me Some Lovin’” and a hilarious sendup of Elvis Presley, illustrating John’s love for early rock ‘n’ roll. Other highlights include loose run throughs of “Hold On” and a couple early attempts of “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier Mama, I Don’t Want To Die,” which would end up on his next album, Imagine.
Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band – The Live Sessions
On October 10th, the day after Lennon’s 30th birthday, Yoko, John, Klaus and Ringo recorded a freeform experimental jam session that would be edited into Yoko’s concurrent album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. For the first time ever, the full session, more than three times the length of the original album, can be heard as part of the Blu-ray in its entirety. Newly mixed by Sam Gannon, it is being presented in high-res audio and in its originally performed speed with no edits, with tracks like “Why” clocking in at 18 mins and “Why Not” exceeding 21 minutes. The live session is bolstered by three improvisations that have never been released before: “Life,” “Omae No Okaa Wa” and “I Lost Myself Somewhere In The Sky.”