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Music Review: John Lennon – Power to the People: The Hits

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Most people already know that October 9, 2010, marked what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, EMI remastered his catalog, with Yoko Ono’s cooperation. His albums may be purchased individually, or as part of a box set. For those who do not wish to pay $130 for the set, the CD Power to the People: The Hits collects Lennon’s best-known songs in one place. Longtime fans may not find the CD useful (unless they are completists who collect every single Lennon album, including rereleases and hits packages), but casual and newer fans who want a brief introduction to his music should enjoy this latest hits package.

Power to the People: The Hits comes in two different versions: the first is a 15-track CD, while the second also includes a DVD featuring corresponding music videos. Most of the videos were previously available on 2003’s Lennon Legend DVD, but still serve as interesting peeks into Lennon as a performer and artist. Clips such as “Imagine” foreshadowed the modern music video in its concept and production values.

The collection includes Lennon’s most famous works, ranging from his earliest solo material (“Give Peace A Chance”) to his final completed album (“Woman,” “[Just Like] Starting Over”). As on the album rereleases, the 15 songs have been digitally remastered. Unfortunately, the CD booklet provides no information about the remastering process or, even more puzzling, the original recordings. Dates of releases and chart information would have been useful for easy reference.

Longtime Lennon enthusiasts would likely raise many objections to songs which are not included in this collection. Stellar tracks from the posthumously released Milk and Honey, “Nobody Told Me” and “I’m Stepping Out,” were released as singles and are curiously missing here. Since the album is subtitled The Hits, obviously the compilers wish to include only hit singles. But many Lennon songs that were technically not chart toppers still make for essential listening, such as “God,” “Working Class Hero,” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy).” Looking at Lennon’s previous “greatest hits” collection, 1975’s Shaved Fish, only the controversial “Woman Is the N—– of the World” is absent on Power to the People. Therefore the only album not represented is Some Time in New York City, Lennon’s most overtly political statement.

Few can argue with the hits included in this compilation, and tracks such as John Lennon“Gimme Some Truth” and “Power to the People” retain their initial, brutally honest impact. Lennon’s heartbreaking vocals on “Mother” and “Cold Turkey” effectively communicate his anguish concerning his upbringing and later struggles with drugs. In a different sense, “Jealous Guy” features Lennon confessing his difficulties with relationships. “I began to lose control,” he sings, foreshadowing his 1974 “Lost Weekend” adventures. His eventual domestic contentment, here represented by “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “Woman,” starkly contrasts with his earlier, emotionally wrenching work. Having these singles on one album makes for useful comparisons, but the track order remains a puzzle. Why is “Woman” the fourth song on the album, preceded by “Power to the People” and “Gimme Some Truth” and immediately followed by “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)?” The abrupt change in tone makes for a jarring listening experience. Again, extensive liner notes would have addressed this issue.

Overall, Power to the People: The Hits effectively targets casual fans as well as new listeners. The bare essentials all make an appearance, and may entice people to dig deeper into Lennon’s catalog. Longtime enthusiasts, however, may want to skip this release and concentrate on the remastered albums and Double Fantasy Stripped Down. But this new collection serves as a perfect gift for the fan just beginning to discover Lennon’s fascinating solo career.

 

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