|Walls and Bridges|
|Studio album by|
|Released||26 September 1974|
|Studio||Record Plant East, New York City|
|Genre||Rock, pop rock|
|John Lennon chronology|
|Singles from Walls and Bridges|
Walls and Bridges is the fifth studio album by English singer-songwriter John Lennon. It was issued by Apple Records on 26 September 1974 in the United States and on 4 October in the United Kingdom. Written, recorded and released during his 18-month separation from Yoko Ono, the album captured Lennon in the midst of his "Lost Weekend". Walls and Bridges was an American Billboard number-one album and featured two hit singles, "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" and "#9 Dream". The first of these was Lennon's first number-one hit in the United States as a solo artist, and his only chart-topping single in either the US or Britain during his lifetime.
In June 1973, as Lennon was about to record Mind Games, Ono decided that she and Lennon should separate. Lennon soon moved to California with his and Ono's personal assistant May Pang, after Ono had egged her on, and embarked upon an 18-month relationship with Pang he would later refer to as his "Lost Weekend". While he and Pang were living in Los Angeles, Lennon took the opportunity to get reacquainted with his son, Julian, whom he had not seen in four years.
Lennon had planned to record an album of rock 'n' roll oldies with producer Phil Spector, but these sessions became legendary not for the music produced but for the chaotic antics fuelled by alcohol. Lennon and Pang returned to New York and Spector disappeared with these session tapes. Around this time, Lennon had written several new songs during a stay at The Pierre and started recording a few home demos.
Lennon was rehearsing his new material with a handful of musicians at Record Plant East in New York City in July 1974. Musicians included Jim Keltner on drums, Klaus Voormann on bass, Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, and Arthur Jenkins on percussion. These were some of the players Lennon had been with in Los Angeles, but here they were under orders to avoid the drinking and carousing that had characterised the earlier interaction. The core players would be billed on the album as the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band, a variation on the Plastic Ono Band conceptual group moniker that many of Lennon's solo efforts were credited to.
The musicians worked out their own arrangements in a short time, and the recording advanced quickly. Ron Aprea, saxophonist from the Little Big Horns, said that: "Since he had no formal training in arranging, he would sit in the control room and let us make up our own parts. If he liked what we played, he would let us know ... If we thought we could get it better, he would say 'go for it'." Aprea also said that the brass section was done in a two-week period. Lennon later said that it had been "an extraordinary year for me personally. And I'm almost amazed that I could get anything out. But I enjoyed doing Walls and Bridges and it wasn't hard when I had the whole thing to go into the studio and do it. I'm surprised it wasn't just all bluuuuuuggggghhhhh." Several rehearsals were released on the posthumous albums Menlove Ave. and John Lennon Anthology.
The version of "Old Dirt Road" that was included on Menlove Ave. features the song in its basic shape, while the version on John Lennon Anthology shows the song in a more advanced form, similar to the master take. After the basic tracks were recorded, the process of overdubbing began. Overdub engineer Jimmy Iovine said the sessions were "the most professional I have still been on ... John knew what he wanted, he knew how to get what he was going for, he was going after a noise and he knew how to get it ... His solo thing had an incredible sound to it. And he really had his own sound." Despite Record Plant being one of the most state-of-the-art recording studios in New York at that point, Lennon's vocal overdubs were done with an old stage mic, which had been left in a bass drum for years. Iovine said that "(it) was an old beat up one ... so it was dull in a way, but John's voice was so bright, that it sounded incredible on it. It turned out to be great vocal sound, like on '#9 Dream'." After the basic track for "#9 Dream" had been recorded, Ken Ascher added the orchestral arrangement Lennon had originally written for the Nilsson track he produced, "Many Rivers to Cross".
"Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)" originally was a short piece, which featured Lennon on electric guitar, that later became the song's middle 8. On another demo for the song, the song had been reworked, to a similar form to the final version, featuring Lennon on acoustic guitar. When Lennon went into Record Plant to record the song, however, parts of the demos were dropped. The song features vocal overdubs from Lennon and Elton John. Lennon's piano demo for "Steel and Glass" has completely different lyrics to the finished version, while a rehearsal from Menlove Ave. has the song with a slower tempo and Lennon on acoustic guitar, with incomplete lyrics. During one of his frequent visits from England to visit his father during this period, eleven-year-old son Julian Lennon attended the recording sessions and they did a casual cover of the Lee Dorsey oldie "Ya Ya". Lennon surprised Julian by including it as the album closer with the credit: "Starring Julian Lennon on drums and Dad on piano and vocals". Pang recalled the younger Lennon's response, telling his father "If I'd known, I would have played better!" Lennon also sends a message to publisher Morris Levy, who was expecting Lennon's next release to be the Oldies album, in the introduction to the song ("Ya Ya" was part of Levy's song catalogue, which Lennon was obligated to begin recording songs from due to a settlement of an earlier lawsuit). Cut from the album at the last minute was a track called "Move Over Ms. L"[nb 1] which was placed between "Surprise Surprise" and "What You Got" before Lennon changed the track list. It would eventually appear as the B-side to the single "Stand by Me". The song would also be given to Keith Moon for his only solo album, Two Sides of the Moon. Also recorded during the session was a demo for Ringo Starr: "Goodnight Vienna".
The title of the album refers to the barriers that Lennon had constructed between himself and others and to his hope that those barriers could be surmounted. Lennon said, "Walls keep you in either protectively or otherwise, and bridges get you somewhere else."
Walls and Bridges has a variety of musical stylings and many of the lyrics make it clear that Lennon both enjoyed his new-found freedom and also missed Ono. "Going Down on Love", "What You Got" and "Bless You" address his feelings toward Ono, the last one the most explicitly, while the first track that Lennon wrote when he and Pang went to New York, "Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)", was about Pang. "Steel and Glass" included a sinister riff reminiscent of "How Do You Sleep?", Lennon's audio argument with Paul McCartney from the Imagine album, although the digs this time were thought to be directed at former Beatles manager Allen Klein.[nb 2] "Scared" is a haunting track exploring Lennon's fear of ageing, loneliness and the emptiness of success. The album also includes some of Lennon's most uplifting songs, namely its two singles "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" (which features Elton John on piano and harmony vocals) and "#9 Dream" (the instrumentation evokes a dream, as well as reflective Beatles songs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Sun King"). Lennon took the title for "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" from a phrase uttered by TV evangelist Reverend Ike, while part of his inspiration when writing "#9 Dream" was George Harrison's song "Try Some, Buy Some", particularly the melody played by the string section on that track. Another of the album's more upbeat songs is "Beef Jerky", an R&B-inspired instrumental. "Old Dirt Road" uses the road as a metaphor for a point of stability in an unstable world and a life subject to variability.
The lyrics of "Going Down on Love" reflect Lennon's feelings during his so-called "lost weekend" separation from wife Yoko Ono. The song's title incorporates a sexual pun. After the release of Walls and Bridges, Lennon called the jazzy "Bless You" the "best piece of work on the album ... that seems to be the best track, to me." Another notable track is "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)", which Lennon wrote in 1973 while he was in Los Angeles. The lyrics describe the emptiness he felt as well as his disillusionment with show business.
When discussing the recording of the album, in an interview the following year with Pete Hamill in Rolling Stone, Lennon recalled: "Elton sort of popped in on the sessions for Walls and Bridges and sort of zapped in and played the piano and ended up singing 'Whatever Gets You Thru the Night' with me. Which was a great shot in the arm. I'd done three quarters of it, 'Now what do we do?' Should we put a camel on it or a xylophone? That sort of thing. And he came in and said, 'Hey, I'll play some piano!'" "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)" was later remembered by Lennon as an expression of his feelings about the lost weekend period. Lennon imagined Frank Sinatra singing it: "I don't know why. It's kind of a Sinatraesque song, really. He would do a perfect job with it. Are you listening Frank? You need one song that isn't a piece of nothing. Here's one for you, the horn arrangement and everything's made for you. But don't ask me to produce it."
Originally, Lennon planned to use some of his childhood drawings for the cover of an oldies album he had begun in 1973, but when he put that on hold to record Walls and Bridges, he decided to use the artwork already in production. The album's elaborate outer jacket featured some of his drawings, including one portraying a game of football, specifically the goal scored by George Robledo in the 1952 FA Cup Final (with a player wearing 9, foreshadowing his lifelong fascination with that number), and a series of photos of his face with different expressions. The front cover contained two flaps which, when folded, would create several interchangeable "Lennon faces", some of them silly.
The album's art direction was credited to Capitol's in-house designer, Roy Kohara. The booklet inside the LP included a front photo of Lennon with no glasses and a back photo of Lennon with five pairs of glasses piled on top of one another, both by American photographer Bob Gruen. The inner sleeve contained another portrait as well as a horizontal melange of the other photos.
Inside the booklet were lyrics and instrumental credits for the songs, which conveyed Lennon's trademark sense of humour, with many aliases for himself including Rev. Thumbs Ghurkin, Dwarf McDougal, Mel Torment, Hon. John St. John Johnson, Dr. Dream and Dr. Winston O'Boogie. More 1952 colour drawings from the 11-year-old Lennon were included, with subjects varied from the American Old West (dedicated to his aunt and guardian, Mimi Smith) to landscapes to a portrait of his schoolteacher, Mr. Bolt.[nb 3] Also included was a genealogical treatise on the surname Lennon and related forms from one of Edward MacLysaght's books. While mentioning the British sailor John Lennon and the American labour leader John Brown Lennon of many decades past, the entry ends with a slight about the surname family generally being undistinguished, to which Lennon offered a hand-written "Oh Yeh?" Finally, the booklet contains a claim that Lennon saw an unidentified flying object on the evening of 23 August 1974.
Unsure of which track should be the album's lead single, Lennon enlisted the help of Al Coury, vice-president of marketing for Capitol Records. Lennon had been impressed with the "magic" that Coury displayed in the commercial success of McCartney's Band on the Run album. Coury chose "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" as the first single.Walls and Bridges was released on 26 September 1974 in the US, and on 4 October 1974 in the UK.[nb 4] The release was accompanied by an advertising campaign, created by Lennon, called "Listen To This ..." (button, photo, sticker, ad, poster or T-shirt). The backs of 500 New York City buses were plastered with the slogan "Listen To This Bus". Television commercials depicted the LP jacket with its many "Lennon" faces; as with the radio segments promoting the album, these commercials featured a voiceover from Ringo Starr. Lennon returned the favour by supplying the voiceover in commercials for Starr's Goodnight Vienna album, which he had also helped record. In the UK, EMI released an interview single to promote Walls and Bridges,[nb 5] featuring Lennon in conversation with Bob Mercer.
In America, the album debuted on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart on 12 October and reached the top ten on 2 November. It was awarded gold record status on 22 October in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America. The album and the single topped Billboards listings during the same week (16 November). Both releases also topped the US charts compiled by Cash Box and Record World. In the UK, the album reached number 6, and the single peaked at number 36.Walls and Bridges spent a total of 27 weeks on Billboards Top LPs & Tape chart.
"Whatever Gets You thru the Night" was Lennon's first number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist. This achievement, together with the US success of the album, marked a comeback for Lennon, whose career since Imagine in 1971 had trailed that of his former Beatles bandmates in terms of commercial success. When asked for his opinion of Walls and Bridges during the press conference for his 1974 North American tour, George Harrison described it as a "lovely" album. Ringo Starr said he admired all of Lennon's work, apart from Some Time in New York City, and he lauded Walls and Bridges as "the finest album in the last five years by anybody". McCartney said it was a "great" record but added: "I know he can do better." McCartney cited the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" as an example of how Lennon could be "more adventurous ... more exciting".
Shortly after its release, Lennon personally mixed a true quadrophonic version of Walls and Bridges ("for the 20 people who buy quad", he joked in his 1974 WNEW-FM radio interview in New York). The quadrophonic mix was issued only on 8-track in the US.[nb 6] "#9 Dream", backed with "What You Got", was released as a single in the US on 16 December 1974, and a month later in the UK, on 24 January 1975. The single peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 23 in the UK.
During the recording of "Whatever Gets You thru the Night", Elton John had bet Lennon that the song would top the charts. Never believing it would, Lennon agreed to perform live with John if it did. Having lost the wager, Lennon appeared at John's Madison Square Garden show on 28 November, performing "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" together with the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". All three tracks were later released on an EP, 28th November 1974, in 1981. Lennon later played tambourine on John's "The Bitch Is Back". The Madison Square Garden show was Lennon's last major live performance.
|All-Music Guide to Rock|
|The Music Box|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
Walls and Bridges received a mixed response from contemporary music critics, although it still garnered Lennon his most favourable reviews since Imagine. Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone magazine said he felt that songs on side two such as "#9 Dream" and "Surprise Surprise" make the album "diverse and spirited", but that side one's songs about Lennon's emotional loss were inconsistent. Gerson also opined that only "Scared" "throbs with the primal fear and sense of confinement of his earlier solo LPs".Robert Christgau, writing for The Village Voice, gave it a "C" (retrospectively raised to a "B-") and attributed the songs' lack of quality to Lennon's "disorientation and lost conviction". In his review for Melody Maker, Ray Coleman described Lennon as "the most interesting ex-Beatle" and concluded of Walls and Bridges: "This is a truly superb album by any standards, words and music a joy to hear, by a musician who has a rare talent for selling love without making you cringe." In another positive review, Billboard found the album's production "superb", its ballads "marvelously handled", and all songs "done in a skillfully professional style". The magazine cited it as possibly Lennon's "most versatile and musically excellent album yet".
Writing for the NME, Charles Shaar Murray described the musicianship as "faultless, if a trifle pedestrian" and the production "as smooth and silky as any discerning hi-fi buff could want", but considered the songs to be "mostly a drag, and worse, most of them are solidly rooted in the Lennonlore of old". While deriding "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out" as "the rankest and most offensive piece of self-pity that Lennon has yet indulged in", Shaar Murray concluded of the album: "None of this mediocre waste is worthy of the man who wrote 'Working Class Hero' and 'I Found Out'." In another unfavourable review, for Creem, Wayne Robins described Walls and Bridges as "the latest chapter in John Lennon's Identity Crisis" and a work made up of "weary cliches". Of the two tracks that he deemed "good", Robins added: "'Old Dirt Road' shows the brilliant instinct for phrasing and rhythm of language that a guy named John Lennon used to have before he started hiding behind walls of aliases like Dr. Winston O'Boogie, and sleeping under bridges played by that Plastic Ono Sominex Band. ZZzzzzz."
In their 1975 book The Beatles: An Illustrated Record, NME journalists Roy Carr and Tony Tyler characterised the album as "generally lacklustre", saying that the lyrics "seem mechanical, cranked-out, like well-worn conversational gambits", while praising the "abrasive" quality of his voice and the "excellent" musicianship. In his Rolling Stone feature on Lennon that same year, Pete Hamill wrote that the album's music was "wonderful" and that "the songs were essays in autobiography, the words and music of a man trying to understand a huge part of his life." In his 1977 book The Beatles Forever, Nicholas Schaffner opined that the album's "searing emotional intensity" recalled Lennon's 1970 John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, while the "richly textured arrangements and melodic diversity" harkened back to Imagine. In the first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979), Greil Marcus gave the album two stars out of five, saying that it, along with Mind Games, lacked a real point of view and that "with what appeared to be panic, [Lennon had] substituted production techniques for soul, building a bridge to his listeners with his sound but erecting a wall around himself with empty music."
Writing in The All-Music Guide to Rock (1995), William Ruhlmann described Walls and Bridges as "craftsmanlike pop-rock" with "some lovely album tracks".Uncut gave it four stars and asserted that "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" "remains one of Lennon's best post-Beatles achievements".AllMusic senior editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine finds the album "decidedly uneven", "containing equal amounts of brilliance and nonsense", with the lesser tracks "weighed down by weak melodies and heavy over-production". In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide of 2004, "#9 Dream" was singled out for praise as "a heavily atmospheric number boasting cool cellos and fine singing". Lennon biographer Philip Norman wrote in 2008 that "Most of the tracks had an upbeat, brassy feel, strangely at odds with John's recurrent, often desperate admissions of longing for Yoko", and that the chord sequences used often echoed those from his previous work with Ono.
Walls and Bridges was Lennon's last album of original material until 1980's Double Fantasy, although a follow-up, titled Between the Lines, was planned for late 1975. Tony King, an Apple vice-president, confirms this. King also says that Carlos Alomar was to hire a group of black musicians, and that Lennon had written the song "Tennessee" for the album. In a 1975 interview for the Old Grey Whistle Test, Lennon indicated he was planning a new album and a TV special.
Walls and Bridges was first re-released on vinyl in the US in 1978, then again in 1982, and 1989, on Capitol. After Lennon's death, the album, along with seven other Lennon albums, was reissued by EMI as part of a box set, which was released in the UK on 15 June 1981.[nb 7] It was re-released on vinyl in the UK in 1985, on the Parlophone label.[nb 8]Walls and Bridges was first released on CD on 20 July 1987 in the UK,[nb 9] and nearly a year later in the US, on 19 April 1988.[nb 10] The album was released again on vinyl, this time as part of EMI's limited edition "The Millennium Vinyl Collection" series, in 1999.[nb 11]
Walls and Bridges was released in a remixed and remastered form in November 2005[nb 12][nb 13] (although four of the original tracks - "Old Dirt Road", "Bless You", "Scared" and "Nobody Loves You" - were not remixed). The remastered version featured an alternative cover. This new cover retained Lennon's signature and hand-written title, but used one of the portraits Bob Gruen took for the album instead of Lennon's childhood drawings. The bonus tracks for the reissue include "Whatever Gets You thru The Night" performed live with Elton John, a previously unreleased acoustic version of "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down And Out)", and a promotional interview with Lennon.
Capitol again reissued the album on 4 October 2010. This version was a remaster of the original album mixes and used the original cover art; the album was available separately[nb 14] or as part of the John Lennon Signature Box.[nb 15]
All songs were written by John Lennon, except where noted.
Credits were adapted from the album booklet.
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||60,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||500,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
John's next albums, Some Time in New York City (1972), Mind Games (1973), and Walls and Bridges (1974), received mixed reviews.
Craftsmanlike pop-rock featuring the uptempo #1 hit 'Whatever Gets You Through the Night,' its Top Ten followup, '#9 Dream,' and some lovely album tracks.