Recently, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison released extraordinary boxed sets of their first official solo albums.
What is in a boxed set? Besides the original album, freshly remastered, sometimes remixed, the set could include demos, alternate takes, jams, concerts, videos, high definition mixes on Blu-ray, new booklets and other trinkets. Popularity of the original album, consumer demand and what’s in the vault determines what’s included in the box.
Interesting that both albums were co-produced by Phil Spector, and they couldn’t sound more different. Both albums were also very personal to Harrison and Lennon. Each of the now ex-Beatles chose to release very personal projects. Paul McCartney famously produced his homemade McCartney album, and Ringo Starr brought out his album, Sentimental Journey, of covers old old standards, songs heard in his home growing up.
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was released on December 11, 1970. The album cover is a photo of John and Yoko on their estate, Tittenhurst Park.
The Lennon set I listened to had eight CDs of material, two of the Blu-ray discs. This was the super edition for the high-end audiophile and Lennon completist. This project, like other Lennon releases, were overseen by Yoko Ono. One of the chief audio engineers on this project, the All Things Must Pass box set, and recently released Beatles’ anniversary sets, is Paul Hicks.
“One of the big reasons for going to 192- 24 rather than 96-24 was how sparse it all is, the clarity, how much of the room and how much detail you can hear – in some cases you can literally hear a pin drop, and that’s part of what makes you feel so ‘present’ in the moment.” – Paul Hicks
The first disc, THE ULTIMATE MIXES, had the remixed and remastered original album with a few non-album singles released during the same era. The sound is clean and has the vocals and instruments spaced so hey do not overlap, giving even more clarity than ever. The instruments have bite, the rawness of their sound is forceful, yet not overpowering. Lennon chose to use a small core of musicians and the songs have a live feel. There was very little overdubbing, the musicianship sparse: Lennon (guitar, piano, organ, vocals), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Ringo Starr drums, percussion). Spector and Billy Preston contribute piano to one track each. That’s it.
“With the Plastic Ono Band albums, John and I liked the idea of this really raw, basic, truthful reality that we were going to be giving to the world.” – Yoko Ono
“Give Peace a Chance,” “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma” round out disc one.
What I notice most is Lennon’s voice. Over the years, the amount of reverb seems dialed down from the original recording. Lennon is known to have not like how his voice sounded on record and insisted on adding reverb and studio effects on his vocals. His voice has more clarity and a warmer, more natural sound.
The other discs consist of:
THE OUTTAKES Versions not used, different instruments or tempos.
THE DEMOS John Lennon’s home demos of each album song.
THE ELEMENTS MIXES Remixed to bring to the surface sounds that were not evident, buried in the original mix. Unused instruments, vocal guides and rougher sound elements. For example, there is a version of “Mother” featuring only Lennon’s vocal that is pretty cool, and powerful. There is a great version of “Remember” that makes it almost a jam track. Probably the best version of “Love” with Lennon on acoustic guitar and a piano instrumental attached.
THE RAW STUDIO MIXES + OUTTAKES Live and raw in studio performances without the studio gadgets and processing applied.
THE EVOLUTION DOCUMENTARY On Blu-ray, this takes the listener through the development of each song on the original album.
THE JAMS Twenty-two performances in studio of songs ranging from this on this album to working versions of future Lennon songs, to rock and roll classics.
YOKO ONO/PLASTIC ONO BAND – THE LIVE SESSIONS Live in studio performances that would be used for Yoko’s upcoming companion album.
Is it worth having multiple versions of the same song? That’s the whole purpose of these box sets, to reveal different versions, from demo to finished to live performances. Eight discs is a lot of material. It depends on the album, and the value to the listener. Lennon’s first real solo album is worth it. What I’m doing is picking my favorite version of each song and making my own alternate album.
All Things Must Pass
All Things Must Pass was released on November 27, 1970. The cover photo was Harrison and gnomes on his Friar Park estate.
The release of All Things Must Pass anniversary edition was offered in multiple formats, from the basic 3 CD (poor man’s edition) to the Super Deluxe Edition, (known affectionately as the uber edition), or as I call it, the treasure chest edition, because it comes in a large wooden box.
Back in 2000, George Harrison oversaw the release of a 30th Anniversary Edition, where he remastered the album and included an unreleased song. He did not change the sound, meaning reduce the layers of Phil Spector reverb. Interesting that Spector worked on both Lennon and Harrison’s first official solo albums.
In the years since, Harrison’s estate has released remastered versions of his solo albums, and provided a set of outtakes of songs. Harrison’s son Dhani, has been working on this new edition of All Things Must Pass for five years, utilizing the talent of Paul Hicks.