Unless you are a John Lennon completist, the recent reissue campaign of his solo catalog may leave you wondering what to buy. The late rock ‘n’ roll legend’s entire catalog was overhauled to coincide with his seventieth birthday. This time the original mixes were remastered, as opposed to the Yoko Ono authorized remixes that surfaced over the past decade or so.
The plethora of choices can be a bit confusing. Lennon’s eight individual studio albums were reissued separately. That includes the only expanded original album, Double Fantasy, which adds a second disc containing an alternate “stripped down” mix. The retail cost of purchasing those eight albums is about $126. A boxed set containing all those albums, plus non-album singles and rarities (but minus the “stripped down” Double Fantasy disc), was issued as the John Lennon Signature Box. That deluxe package will set you back $189.99 retail. A skimpy single disc collection, Power To the People: The Hits, retails for $16.99, but will satisfy only the most casual of fans.
If those price tags are a bit intimidating, but you want more then the paltry fifteen tracks on Power To the People, I heartily recommend the four-disc, seventy-two song Gimme Some Truth. This cost-effective alternative ($38.99 retail) to the above choices provides a very generous selection of Lennon’s work. In fact, the vast majority of it is present on these four discs – just not in chronological order. Not counting Yoko Ono’s songs (three on Sometime In New York City, seven on Double Fantasy, six on Milk & Honey), there are only fourteen missing Lennon studio album tracks. Grab those on iTunes and you’ll still come out way ahead of buying the albums separately.
Here’s how the tracklist breaks down. The entire eleven song Plastic Ono Band (1970) is included. All but one song, “It’s So Hard,” from Imagine (1971) is here. The least represented album is Sometime In New York City (1972), with only three of Lennon’s seven songs present (and none of the Live Jam second disc). Four songs (“Aisumasen (I’m Sorry)”, “One Day (At a Time),” Bring On the Lucie,” and “I Know (I Know)”) are missing out of eleven on Mind Games (1973). Of the dozen tunes on Walls & Bridges (1974), the only ones missing are “Going Down On Love” and the barely one minute long closer “Ya Ya.” The entire album Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975) is included. “Dear Yoko” from Double Fantasy is absent, as are “(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess” and “Grow Old With Me” from Milk & Honey.
In addition to all of the above, Lennon’s non-album singles are all included. A few additional tracks are thrown in that aren’t even found on the John Lennon Signature Box. As mentioned, the demo version of “Grow Old With Me” from Milk & Honey is missing. The arguably superior George Martin-scored version from the 1998 John Lennon Anthology is, however, accounted for.
A live version of The Beatles’ “Yer Blues” from Live Peace in Toronto 1969 (with Eric Clapton on guitar) is included. Another live track, “Hound Dog,” comes from the posthumous release Live in New York City. And from the posthumous collection of studio outtakes, Menlove Avenue, the set concludes with “Here We Go Again” – a song not found on any Lennon studio album.
While all this detail may seem a bit obsessive, hopefully it makes a strong case for Gimme Some Truth being an essential acquisition for any serious (but not necessarily completist) Lennon fan. I have all the original CD releases of Lennon’s work, having largely avoided the remixes. The remastered versions found on Gimme Some Truth sound excellent, with enhanced clarity and greater punch in the bottom end.
The songs are arranged in vague themes over the four discs. Disc one is called “Working Class Hero,” with a focus on Lennon’s more topically-oriented songs. The second disc is “Woman,” which unsurprisingly features mostly love songs. Disc four is simply “Roots” and is mostly the covers found on Rock ‘n’ Roll, augmented by the live tracks and a few original retro-rockers. I skipped the third disc, “Borrowed Time,” because it’s sort of a themeless catch all.
As far as the sequencing of each disc is concerned, it seems more or less like someone’s random playlist. It’s interesting to hear the songs out of the context of their respective albums. I forgot what a rocking track “Sunday Bloody Sunday” actually is, with a fiery saxophone solo and fine lead vocal. “Meat City” is a bouncy oddity that I had pretty much forgotten about. “Out the Blue” stands out as one of Lennon’s most impassioned love songs. Of course rather than be deterred by the sequencing, simply program customized playlists to your liking. The bottom line is, this set contains a lot of music at a bargain rate.
As is probably clear from what I’ve already said, none of the options from the current reissue campaign offers a truly complete collection of John Lennon’s music. But for the fan who wants a generous selection, the seventy-two remastered tracks on Gimme Some Truth are an exceptionally good value.