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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 1: John Lennon

Everyone has heard the saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s an old chestnut that must predate the Beatles, but it seems to have been coined with them in mind. I won’t waste your time by piling a bunch of effusive praise on a band that receives little but effusive praise (if you want a time-waster, check out “Face-Off #1” from August), but I’ll just plunge ahead on and say the individual Beatles’ post-1969 careers have been a little patchy. Navigating their solo waters is treacherous, and sometimes you wonder what happened to the white-hot, jaw-dropping level of creative genius that fueled the Beatles in the 1960s. It seems to have just faded away when the four individuals were separated. Much like the Sankara stones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t moments of greatness in the Beatles’ solo discography. There are. Many of them. It just requires a little stick-to-itiveness to separate the wheat from the chaff. So, armed with patience, earbuds, a copy of Madinger & Easter’s Eight Arms To Hold You: The Solo Beatles Compendium, and mp3s of each and every Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr song (the fewer questions you ask about how I got them, the better), I listened to every note so you don’t have to, and I am here to report back to you so you can fill your iPods with the cream of the solo Beatles’ output, legally purchased from a reputable vendor. And since it’s way more fun to write about things you don’t like, I’ll also be cautioning you on what to avoid.

The format will be as follows: Best Album, Best Hit Single, Best Non-Hit Song (there’s lots of treasures buried halfway through an album side), followed by the Worst of those categories, and — since I never know when to shut up — runners-up for all categories. Only official studio albums of new material will be considered. No live albums, no albums of cover songs, no bootlegs, no film soundtracks, no compilations. Because that would take forever, and hey man, I have a life.

It’s no real surprise that John Lennon has the smallest solo discography — he was murdered just ten years into his post-Beatles career, and he spent half of those ten years in retirement. His official output shrinks even more when you consider that two of his albums were credited jointly to wife/artistic partner Yoko Ono and were only partially filled with Lennon songs, one was a posthumous release containing leftovers from one of the joint albums, and one was an album of oldies covers (1975’s Rock and Roll). When he was still with the Beatles, he and Yoko put out three “experimental” albums of random noise and Yoko’s charming screeching. (Unfinished Music, Vol. 1: Two Virgins (1968), with the infamous nude cover, Unfinished Music, Vol. 2: Life With The Lions (1969), and The Wedding Album (1969)). Since these are not in any sense of the word “music” (unfinished or no), and even I won’t sit through them, they won’t be considered here. So we’re left with only four true solo albums of new material. Continue reading

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