Defend the Indefensible: "Sometime in New York City"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Driver 8, Jul 15, 2005.

  1. Driver 8

    Driver 8 Senior Member Thread Starter

    John Lennon's Sometime in New York City may be the most critically panned album ever released by a solo Beatle. According to the Rough Guide to the Beatles, STiNYC is "among the lowest artistic points of any Beatle.” Every review I've ever read is pretty much the same.

    Not only is it critically slammed, STiNYC is practically out of print. The only record store where I have ever seen a copy of this album on CD is my local Tower records, which had one copy (which I bought). My copy is in an old-fashioned double jewel box. The mastering is terrible. The sound is dull and muffled and reminiscent of the mastering on the original CD issue of All Things Must Pass.

    Not only is the album practically out of print, it’s been written out of John’s history. The ongoing remastering campaign of John’s solo CDs jumped from Imagine to Mind Games without including STiNYC. Although the 1975 singles compilation Shaved Fish included "Woman Is the ****** of the World," the current Lennon Legend CD and DVD pretend like STiNYC never happened, again skipping straight from Imagine to Mind Games.

    How bad is this album? Does it have any redeeming merit?

    The most obvious change is from Imagine is that vague admonitions such as “Imagine there’s no heaven / it’s easy if you try” have been replaced by lyrics such as “Why the hell are the English there anyway? / As they kill with God on their side! / Blame it all on the kids and the IRA! / As the bastards commit genocide!”

    In a contemporary interview with the NME, John attempted to justify the political content of STiNYC:

    “Life’s too short … and suddenly you’re 30, and there’s all these things going on in the world, and there’s so much to do that you never got around to doing because you were doing whatever it was people expected of you.”

    “The point now, is that I want to say whatever it is I’ve got to say, as simple as the music I like. And that’s rock ‘n’ roll - and to match the lyrics to the music. So now it’s ‘A-WOP-BOP-A-LOO-BOP, Get outta Ireland’ … I suppose it looks more preachy than it really is … most other people express themselves by shouting or playng football in the weekend. But me, here I am in New York and I hear about the 13 people shot dead in Ireland, and I react immediately. And being what I am, I react in a four-to-the-bar with a guitar break in the middle … I don’t say ‘My God, what’s happening … we should do something.’ I go: ‘It was Sunday Bloody Sunday and they shot the people down.’ It’s not like the Bible. It’s all over now. It’s gone. It’s finished. There is no more … If the people on the street think about it, that’s all there is to it really - except to say to those people who might be thinking along the same lines as me and Yoko, you’re not alone. That’s like what I was trying to say in ‘Imagine.’”

    “When we made [STiNYC] we weren’t setting out to make the Brandenburg Concerto or the masterpiece everyone always tries to write, paint, draw, or film. It was just a question of getting it done, putting it out, and the next one’s coming up soon. We needn’t have done it. We could have sat on ‘Imagine’ for a year and a half. But the things on ‘New York City’ were coming outta our minds and we just wanted to share our thoughts with anybody who wanted to listen.”

    I tend to agree with John. Even though some of the lyrics on STiNYC are heavy-handed, he was on the right side of the issues of the day. If you can judge a man by his enemies, it’s telling that the Nixon administration devoted so much time and energy to its attempt to deport John and deny him a green card. They obviously feared outspoken critics like Lennon saying to those who might be thinking along the same lines as him and Yoko, “you’re not alone.” It’s interesting, too, that other artists who have written political songs on the exact same subjects that Lennon tackled on STiNYC have come in for nowhere near the same amount of criticism that Lennon did - I’m thinking of “Sweet Black Angel” by the Rolling Stones, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2, and even “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” by Paul McCartney. Dylan’s “Masters of War” is a pretty heavy-handed protest song, but doesn’t receive the same criticism from left-wing rock critics that STiNYC does. I tend to agree with John’s assessment that “Imagine” was a political statement with sugar on top for those who couldn’t handle a more direct song. And from the "bigger than Jesus" flap on, I think a lot of people never forgave their once-beloved moptop for expressing any idea more controversial than "I want to hold your hand."

    Probably the single biggest factor behind STiNYC’s invisiblity today is the use of the word “******” in the title of “Woman Is the ****** of the World.” This must have been awkward in 1972, but in 2005, people would rather just sweep this song under the carpet than deal with the point John was trying to make in this song. This was a case of John going too far in trying to appropriate a racial slur in order to force listeners to confront sexual prejudice.

    Leaving the lyrics behind and focussing on the music, the most obvious change for the worse from Imagine is the substitution of New York hacks Elephant’s Memory for sidemen such as George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voorman, and Alan White. Had John had the same top-quality backing musicians that he had on Imagine, “Woman Is the ****** of the World” could have been a musical statement as powerful as “How Do You Sleep?”. Again, a proper remastering of this album would probably help matters considerably. I’d love to hear a mint vinyl pressing to compare to the wretched CD.

    But there is still some powerful music on STiNYC. I find the trilogy of “Luck of the Irish,” “John Sinclair,” and “Angela” on Side Two to be the most musically effective stretch of the album. “Luck of the Irish” is a great, catchy acoustic ballad - until Yoko opens her mounth. I presume that it’s John playing the wicked resonator/slide guitar part on “John Sinclair” - easily the strongest tune on the album. “John Sinclair” also features flashes of the trademark Lennon wit: “It ain’t fair / John Sinclair / in the stir for breathing air.” The chorus of “Angela” - the “they gave you cofee / they gave you tea” section, is also strong.

    Anyone else secretly enjoy STiNYC?
  2. bartels76

    bartels76 Forum Hall Of Fame

    Doesn't it have that cool version of Instant Karma on there that there is a video for or am I thinking of something else? It plays at the Hard Rock Cafe all the time.

    Is that whole show filmed?
  3. Driver 8

    Driver 8 Senior Member Thread Starter

    The cool video for Instant Karma that you are thinking of is the Top of the Pops appearance for the song - it's available on the Lennon Legend DVD. The only time that Lennon appeared on Top of the Pops as a solo artist, iirc. There was a bonus "live jam" album included with Sometime in New York City that featured a 1969 Plastic Ono Band concert and a 1971? New York concert with Lennon and Frank Zappa.
  4. JPartyka

    JPartyka I Got a Home on High

    It's been so long since I've listened to the album. I only own a purple-label Capitol edition on vinyl, though I do have a few cuts on CD thanks to the Lennon box set.

    "New York City" is the highlight for me. What a great, powerful rocker! "John Sinclair" and "Woman is the ..." are all right. Beyond those cuts, I didn't find much to like. It's one thing to write songs with militant or confrontational lyrical content, but when you pair them with music that's not much more palatable, the result will be more or less unlistenable. I think this is what happened with the majority of the album.
    Ryan Lux likes this.
  5. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Side 3 is the high point for me - 16 minutes of ""Don't Worry Kyoko" (yes I'm serious). Unfortunately, Yoko's bleating ruins "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)".

    As for the "album proper" - I like a few songs, "Angela", "Woman is...", and "Luck of The Irish" (always a favorite on St. Patrick's Day). The rest I could live without. I'd give it 2 1/2 stars, only 2 stars without "Don't Worry Kyoko"...
  6. Cheepnik

    Cheepnik Overfed long-haired leaping gnome

    I love "Woman is the [Oppressed Minority] of the World;" it's one of my favorite solo Lennon tracks. The message in the lyrics is no less relevant and on target now than it was then, and I just love the way the track sounds -- messy, compressed, and "Spectorized" in the best way.

    Otherwise, I like the live "Cold Turkey" and "Well (Baby Please Don't Go). The rest of the studio LP is pretty duff, although "New York City" isn't a bad Chuck Berry cop.

    Setting aside the music, the label (with John's face morphing into Yoko's) is kinda neat, as is the cover "photo" of Nixon dancing naked with Chou En-Lai (I think).
    Buddybud and linklinc like this.
  7. Jimbo

    Jimbo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Zero/Zero Island
    "New York City" is a nice, rockin' paean to John's adopted home. "Sisters O Sisters" is Yoko at her most listenable. Past that...I don't wanna violate any forum rules, but let's say that most of the politics don't play well anymore. "Free all prisoners, jail all judges"?--nah, that ain't gonna work.
    TonyACT and internetcurmudgeon like this.
  8. 93curr

    93curr Senior Member

    you really shoud track down a copy of Zappa's 'Playground Psychotics' album, contains the same Zappa/Lennon/Ono material, but MUCH better mix and edit. ('Well' is on side 4 and 'Don't Worry' is on side 3 of 'Some Time', though; different shows)

    as I have never, in all my years as a man, made any woman "paint her face and dance" so I never felt the need to sing along with 'Woman Is The N-Word.' it just always seemed like unnecessary overstatement.

    I never really minded the album, though. I certainly like it more than 'Walls And Bridges.' it's got a nice Alban Berg/Hanns Eisler feel to it.

    it certainly is of its time, though. having the album cover as a newspaper was appropriate.

    for the record, my copy is the UK CD (on EMI, not Parlophone, strangely) and it doesn't sound all that bad (certainly nowhere near ATMP). was the US edition different? I know I've seen copies here in Canada where the "live Jam' cover was missing the red ink changing the 'Mothers/'Fillmore East' artwork. the UK one (double jewel box with one booklet) reproduces the altered cover correctly.
  9. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    A few decent tracks, but taken as a whole, it was just too much for this listener. I also believe "Woman Is" is a load of crap, something so obvious and misguided we can only blame Yoko for the idea...and most of the rest of the album, probably.

    At the time, however, wasn't sure what was worse: this, Paulie's attempt at political commentary("Give Ireland Back To The Irish"), or "Mary Had A Little Lamb"...:D

    Mackaveli and 2141 like this.
  10. bluesbro

    bluesbro Forum Hall of Shame

    I like the album, for sentimental reasons. I even like Yoko studio songs. The album original package is very nice. The cover is great. The songs are dated, but if you place yourself in the place and time it was released, it took a lot of guts to release an album like that.

    + Lennon and Zappa playing together. :thumbsup:
    David Kellar, Buddybud and linklinc like this.
  11. antonkk

    antonkk Senior Member

    "Woman is the ****** of the world" is a killer tune! :righton:
    Buddybud and linklinc like this.
  12. Anthology123

    Anthology123 Senior Member

    In an interview with JL, he was slammed by mostly white audiences for using the N word, but when he was approached by members of the black community, they knew where he was coming from and understood his use of the word in the context of the song.
  13. Duke of Prunes

    Duke of Prunes New Member

    Santa Rosa, CA
    What about the fact that they took a Frank Zappa song and took Zappa's name off of it, retitled it "Jam Rag" and gave fallacious credit to Lennon

    From The Zappa Patio:

    Some parts of Playground Psychotics, that feature John Lennon & Yoko Ono, were also released on John Lennon's album Some Time in New York City in 1972 (20 years before Zappa's release). On Lennon's album (outrageously), "King Kong" was given the fictitious title "Jamrag", and miscredited to Lennon. JWB has straightened out which parts are on which release, and how the releases differ:

    I have the video and the only thing that is missing from both versions is a bit of jamming in "Well (Baby, Please Don't Go)". Lennon's version has a fade out in the middle of "Well", where it crossfades into the improvisation right after the meltdown of "Well". (This improvisation is also known as "Say Please".) Afterwards, the entire performance is intact.

    Zappa's version is shorter, but is much better. It has a jam edited out of the middle of "Well". The meltdown connecting "Well" and "Say Please" has been edited out and the tracks segue. The main theme to "King Kong" has been removed, so the end of "Say Please" edits right into the "King Kong" keyboard solo ("Awwwk"). From that point on, the performance is intact. I should also mention that the introduction is edited differently on both versions.

    Lennon's is the most complete, but it was butchered by Phil Spector, with possible help from John and Yoko. Also, Yoko was insecure about the performance. She was heckled by the audience and teased by Flo & Eddie. Flo & Eddie were removed from Lennon's mix, as well as Don Preston. And Jim Pons's bass was replaced. Then a nice layer of echo was laid right on top. A disgrace.

    (John also elaborates a little on the Yoko-teasing bit:

    ... some (including Zappa himself) have cited that Flo & Eddie were teasing Yoko, and that is why their vocals were mixed out. But I have a film of this performance, and Flo & Eddie & Yoko are laughing and having great fun during the whole thing. Maybe they felt that people would misinterpret the vocals. ("I'm gonna put my Yoko records in a scumbag ... now Yoko's in the scumbag ... [Yoko gets in a big white bag] ... eveybody's got a scumbag ..." I mean, it certainly wasn't a mean-spirited performance on anybody's part. Who knows what the real reason was. Don't forget, John & Yoko's tapes were handled by Phil Spector, who is notorious for inexplicably butchering things.)

    From Ben H:

    The inner bag for Some Time in New York City was a xerox of the original Mothers LP cover, with extra graffiti scribbled on it by J&Y. Also, this part [the second record, live with the Mothers] of the double album became a separate release as a cassette and 8-track with it's own seperate catalogue number. I've never seen an 8-track copy (I'm told it's super rare, not surprising considering the awful racket it contains) but I did use to own a cassette copy, but for some reason I sold it ... I've never seen another.
  14. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Well, it almost makes me wanna weep, the idea of ever hearing it again....:D

    I was there, thought it sucked in '72, and it still sucks 33 years later, IMO....

    What 'guts'? It takes guts for an unknown artist to release something like this, possibly risking being labeled a radical and never having much of a career(and very few did: Gil Scott-Heron was the exception, not the rule). It was easy for Lennon to put this out: he was rich, didn't have to care whether it sold or not. Beyond that, he and Yoko had already tormented us with TWO VIRGINS, LIFE WITH THE LIONS, and the WEDDING ALBUM. Wasn't that enough penance for Beatle fans to put up with for a lifetime? :laugh: Apparently not, since he gaves us this as well....:p

    showtaper likes this.
  15. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Heh, yeah. Didn't much like that album. Not only for the fact that I HATE being preached to or lectured, but the sound quality was so zonky; nothing under 150 cycles, nothing over 8k. I mean, even on my baby stereo I could hear that something was "off".

    Still, if I heard it again I might like it, who knows? It's been 30 years..
    Marc Perman and Ryan Lux like this.
  16. Driver 8

    Driver 8 Senior Member Thread Starter

    I disagree. The recent controversy over the Dixie Chicks' comments concerning George W. Bush shows that taking a political stand can damage even the most established artist's career. And the Dixie Chicks were the biggest thing going in country music at the time. One reason that I have been listening to Some Time in New York City a lot lately is that the current political climate in the United States is very similar to that under the Nixon administration when STiNYC came out: the United States is waging an unjust war built on a foundation of lies, and the administration targets anyone who criticizes its policies as un-American. Because of Lennon's outspokenness, the FBI kept files on him, and the Nixon administration did everything it could to have him deported.

    I always find it amusing that when a left-wing musician releases any kind of political statement whatsoever, it is dismissed as "preachy" or none of the artists' business to comment on politics, but Republican movie stars such as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger seem to get a free pass from the media in this regard.
    ILovethebassclarinet likes this.
  17. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Nice work bringing politics into a SOME TIME IN NYC thread...:D Too bad, then, that there are few real comparisons between the two conflicts. What's more, the Dixie Chicks survived the furor, and AFAWK, no one is keeping files on anyone..nor would it do any good if they were. As for the war being 'unjust,' who says, you? If the majority didn't believe that freedom for Iraq is just, then we'd hear about it, no?

    These are politicians, not musicians. Besides, no one denied the Dixie Chicks free speech; those whose speach is equally free had every right to disagree with their stance. And the other side--particular certain country musicians--has been heard from too.

  18. Great Deceiver

    Great Deceiver Active Member

    New Jersey
    sorry not to threadjack, but "woman is the ****** of the world" from shaved fish is taken from Sometime in New York City? or was it a studio recording?
  19. JWB

    JWB New Member

    Yeah, same version.
  20. 93curr

    93curr Senior Member

    both. only sides 3 and 4 are live recordings. sides 1 and 2 (from whence one would find WITNOTW) are studio.
  21. Norbert Becker

    Norbert Becker Senior Member

    Philadelphia PA
    It is from the studio album of STINYC.
  22. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    It's not that this album was so horrible, but for some music lovers of a certain age, the Beatles went from Abbey Road to these wacked-out solo albums in just two years. John without Paul and you get this. Paul without John and you got Kreen-Akore. Sigh.. :cry:
    Mr.Sean, Buddybud, 2141 and 1 other person like this.
  23. Lord Hawthorne

    Lord Hawthorne Currently Untitled

    Portland, Oregon
    That's what John wanted to believe, but I saw a number of Black women get uncomfortable when that song would get played at a party or other such gathering of young people, and some of the Black men got really pissed, even though (or maybe because) they were clear on what the song was saying. John may have cared about social issues, but he wasn't exactly phoning in a report from the front lines having just arrived from the protective walls of Ascot. That album was presented as an us-vs-the-pigs (and if you ain't us you're the pig)diatribe that elided over the humanistic points of "Imagine"'s message and was instead loaded with hubris and revolutionary chic.
    Some good music on John's part, some wretched lyrics (especially Yoko's contribution to "Luck Of The Irish"), and an album that screwed the other Beatles, along with John, as it failed to go gold and kept the four comitted to EMI until 1976 (EMI made a pact with the Beatles that if they could all come up with 10(?) gold sellers in a row, they would be released from their contract. STINYC was to be the last of that series. J&Y bought up enough copies of Two Virgins, Wedding Album, etc to qualify them as gold, but really believed their revolutionary album would be a blockbuster on the charts, as well as smashing the state). Sometimes a single spark doesn't start a prairie fire.
    mozz likes this.
  24. Oatsdad

    Oatsdad Oat, Biscuits and Abbie: Best Dogs Ever

    Alexandria VA
    Defend "Some Time"? Not me - it's an atrocious album. There's a good reason almost nothing appears from it on the "Lennon" boxed set...
    Paper Shark, Trader Joe and 2141 like this.
  25. monkboughtlunch

    monkboughtlunch Senior Member

    Kansas City
    The song "New York City" is great--a great pastiche of Chuck Berryism.

    The "protest" songs find Lennon taking shots at the Establishment. But they don't bear repeated listenings very well. Yoko's material is awful. Still, WITNOTW and John Sinclair have their moments.

    The live disc is crap, but Baby Please Don't Go is worth a listen.

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