After the Beatles broke up, its two main songwriters divided their talents - and divided their fans, friends, and colleagues into two camps. (More about the ongoing fueds here).
Paul McCartney went ever more mainstream, and kept churning out the love ditties. Lennon, by contrast, explored the obscure and flawed in love and self discovery. He also began churning out (often not-as-subtle) musical propaganda advocating world peace.
John Lennon's solo albums, though patchy to the point of pretension, contained moments of great brilliance. He created increasingly in partnership with his much maligned wife, the experimental artist Yoko Ono, who was also his muse. Some of their better work includes The Plastic Ono Band's Shaved Fish, and the more accessible Imagine.
The music on this collection paints a picture of personal growth in a conflicted setting. Not only was Yoko the victim of much good old British racism, she was also blamed, quite possibly unfairly, for the split-up of Britain's most beloved pop band. And she was teaching John what real commitment was made of.
The collection also showcases Lennon's strengthening political will. Rather than becoming more middle of the road as he aged and found love, Lennon grew more radical, and more willing to take a bullet for the cause of peace. "Revolution", a Lennon McCartney track from The White Album went "...All I can tell is brother you have to wait / Don't you know it's gonna be all right". Lennon's 1975 Shaved Fish track "Power to the People" said "Say you want a revolution / We better get on right away / Well you get on your feet / And out on the street..."
Which some would argue is SO much easier to say when you're a multi-millionaire... Yet in the end, no matter how hypocritical his message, Lennon's songs provide ongoing inspiration, cropping up at benefit and protest gigs over and over again to this day.
Working Class Hero is neither too short nor too long. It cuts out a lot of the experimental clutter that characterised Lennon's solo stuff and can be found on the four CD box set Anthology (1990), but it's also not a record company rush-job, like the cheapo and reductive Legend (2003), with its overly cute cover picture.
The most obvious thing wrong with Working Class Hero, however, is its title.
Firstly, another compilation album with exactly the same title featuring various artists and bands covering Lennon's songs was released in the 90s through Polydor.
Secondly, John Lennon was never a working class hero, no matter how much he thought it was "something to be". Working class? Sure, before the Beatles made it big. Hero? Sure, after he became an artist cum activist. But never both at once.
But Lennon was, undoubtedly, a complicated, far from saintly and courageously flexible and passionate creator, who wrote unforgettable pop rock songs. This collection remembers that man well.
- Jean Barker
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID...this really does give me most of the stuff I'd want to put in my Lennon mp3 folder, and at this point, that's about as good a recommendation as I can give a compilation-- at least until the next one comes around in a couple of years.- Dominique Leone for Pitchfork.com... this healthy selection gathers up the cream of Lennon's crop.- Dan MacIntosh for Popmatters.comWhy not invest in copies of 'Plastic Ono Band', and 'Imagine' instead? It's a more rewarding journey...- Chris Jones for BBC.co.uk
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