John Lennon – [CD/DVD]

Friday, 29 October 2010

Alright, so a couple of die-hard super-fans have already begun to publicly complain that, while the recent John Lennon remaster initiative claims to be an 'extensive' or 'complete' endeavor, there are a few things missing. "What could possibly be missing," you ask? A bunch of things – according to those die-hard-ests making the biggest noise. According to the true-blue few, in addition to the bonus tracks that were "unearthed" and appended to those reissues of Rock 'N' Roll, Plastic Ono Band, Mind Games and Walls And Bridges which already came out within the last ten years, a remastered reissue of Lennon's original singles collection, Shaving Fish [released in 1975 on Capitol/EMI/Apple –ed], is not included in the release schedule. There is a reason for that omission; since his passing in 1980, no less than ten “greatest hits” or “best of” sets which compile definitive cuts from Lennon's solo songbook have been released, and most of them include the fifteen songs that appear on on Shaved Fish. Simply said, there are some songs that everyone can agree are essential to both the pop music and pop culture canons, and they've been repackaged so often that reissuing Shaved Fish would just be redundant. So why release and promote Power To The People – a fifteen track sampler that will invariably be accused of leaving some important moments out according to some rabid super-fans over the other more expansive sets or incisive ones? Simply said, Power To The People does offer something different and many things of value, and the combination of those two elements make it a unique face in the crowd.

First off, here's what everyone expects: the fifteen cuts collected on Power To The People are what people would contend are the absolute best, signature songs in Lennon's songbook. With very few exceptions, they are the songs that everybody knows, culled from the singer's seven full-length solo albums and the two big “single only” releases. Those fifteen songs – including “Imagine,” “Gimme Some Truth,” “Instant Karma,” “Happy Xmas,” “Stand By Me” and Watching The Wheels” are a full-course serving unto themselves, and that would be enough of an introduction for new fans, but the two-disc Power To The People set goes a step further and shows those who buy the set something that not many do: the videos shot to promote Lennon's albums released before the multi-media music explosion  of the Eighties.

Unlike modern music videos which often present a totally fantastical image of a musician, the Lennon videos present a very stark and (compared with modern videos) unadorned impression of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the very moment the tape rolled; both “Power To The People” and “Gimme Some Truth” are the sociopolitical songs that represent a climate of upheaval here, and show Lennon and Ono at their activist best; shots of the couple marching for causes and protest dominate their respective run-times (in fact, because footage was so rare, some scenes are duplicated between videos) and present a powerful image of belief and the actions of it. Elsewhere, “live” footage (but with studio-recorded audio cuts) illustrates how low the budgets for videos were (particularly in “Instant Karma,” where it's perfectly apparent that no musician is actually playing) but how much of an impression could be made without much production value. Finally, there are the embryonic storyline videos included on Power To The People. Again, the videos have nowhere near the fancy, big-dollar production values of modern videos (“#9 Dream” amounts to a series of near still-shot montage images), but some – like the captivating video for “Jealous Guy,” which centers around a rowboat ride and really furthers the romantic angle of the song and the home movie footage of Lennon and a very young son Sean – not only manage to make a point but also create an enduring image of John Lennon, what he stood for and the images he thought would best present those things to audiences.

"So,” you're asking, “Are the videos and remastered production of the audio tracks on the CD really worth purchasing another best-of compilation of John Lennon's songs?” Well, the answer to that question is entirely dependent on your impressions and opinions of the remasters in the first place. There's no arguing that it's handy to get “Happy Xmas” and “Instant Karma!” remastered in a more economical set than the John Lennon Signature Box Set or the four-disc Gimme Some Truth set released as part of 2010's reissue campaign, but if a fan is already planning on purchasing those, Power To The People is a bit superfluous. By the same token, the videos included on the DVD disc here are worth a look from a “fan interest” standpoint and that, combined with the songs and the overall design of the set (the booklet included contains some great photos, discourse on Lennon's music and a password to access the John Lennon Universe installation on EMI's tribute web site) make it a solid, economical buy.



Power To The People: The Hits
is out now in CD and CD/DVD formats. Buy them here and here respectively on Amazon.

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