John Lennon – Shaved Fish

John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved to New York in 1971 and that Christmas they released Happy Xmas (War Is Over). To advertise the single they took billboards in 12 major cities around the world. The advert said simply: WAR IS OVER—IF YOU WANT IT. The Xmas song, along with Give Peace a Chance, became closely associated with the anti–Vietnam War movement. The FBI didn’t consider John Lennon to be a revolutionary threat because he was “constantly under the influence of narcotics”. However, the Nixon administration saw things differently and tried to have Lennon deported. From 1972 to 1975, Lennon was in and out of court battling deportation. During this period President Nixon was having a little local difficulty called Watergate and eventually had to resign. Gerald Ford, Nixon’s successor, agreed with the FBI and the deportation order was overturned in October 1975. That same month John and Yoko, under the guise of the Plastic Ono Band, released the Shaved Fish album (no doubt to help pay the court costs). From Shaved Fish this is Whatever Gets You Thru the Night

Shaved Fish is most often called a compilation album. For me it’s a proper album of sorts, because five of the 11 tracks had never appeared on any other album, being released as solo singles by Lennon during the preceeding five years.The 4th song on the album is called Power to the People. Originally released in 1971, Power to the People was inspired by an interview Lennon gave to to Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn, published in Red Mole. As Lennon later explained, “I just felt inspired by what they said, although a lot of it is gobbledygook. So I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing. I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” In otherwords, Lennon was embarrassed by the song. Forty years later I still think Power to the People is a good piece of music…

The name, Plastic Ono Band, was an identity to describe works by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and whoever happened to be performing with them. At various times this included Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Keith Moon and Phil Spector. George Harrison played electric guitar on Instant Karma, which was produced by Phil Spector and released in 1970. It’s the 3rd track on the Shaved Fish album. Instant Karma ranks as one of the fastest-released songs in pop music history, recorded at London’s Abbey Road Studios the same day it was written, and coming out only ten days later. Lennon remarked to the press that he “wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we’re putting it out for dinner.” Also on the track, doing backing vocals, are the Beatle’s roadie, Mal Evans, and their then-manager Allen Klein, as well as a dozen or so late-night revellers from a nearby pub…

“Woman Is the Nigger of the World” is a phrase originally coined by Yoko Ono during a magazine interview in 1969. In 1972 John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-wrote a song of the same name. It’s the 6th track on the Shaved Fish album and was banned in many places because of the term ‘nigger’. I can understand why some folks will be offended by this term. What you have to bear in mind is the context in which Lennon and Ono use it; ie, it’s used precisely because it is so offensive (it should be noted that Lennon championed African-American rights). Woman Is the Nigger of the World poses the question: could an archetypal British working class male like John Lennon become a feminist? It seems likely that Yoko wrote the lyrics while John took care of the music…

In 1973, Yoko Ono and John Lennon separated, and Lennon embarked on what he called his ‘lost weekend’. This involved huge amounts of booze and drugs. It also involved spending 18 months shacked up with a Chinese girl called May Pang, apparently at the suggestion of Yoko Ono (May Pang has dined out on the story ever since). Our final track from Shaved Fish is called Number Nine Dream, and was written during the ‘lost weekend’. It was released in early 1975. Number Nine Dream continues Lennon’s fascination with the number nine – he was born on 9 October, and, coincidentally, the track also peaked at number nine in the U.S. charts. The backing vocal in the song, which calls out the name ‘John’, is May Pang. Number Nine Dream has a timeless quality that resonates across the decades, and in my opinion it’s John’s best work…

Shaved Fish

Side 1
1. Give Peace a Chance
2. Cold Turkey
3. Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)
4. Power to the People
5. Mother
6. Woman is the Nigger of the World

Side 2
1. Imagine
2. Whatever Gets You Thru the Night
3. Mind Games
4. #9 Dream
5. Happy Xmas (War is Over) / Give Peace a Chance (Reprise)

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