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Gun or I Am The Wal­rus, they were good enough to sug­gest that, once he had worked him­self back into the groove, there would be bet­ter to come.

A new ver­sion of the al­bum is among the lat­est set of reis­sues, stripped back to the orig­i­nal ba­sic rhythm tracks and un­adorned vo­cals and mak­ing it even more ap­par­ent that with these last songs, in­clud­ing (Just Like) Start­ing Over, Watch­ing The Wheels, I’m Los­ing You and Woman, he was con­sciously hark­ing back to the mu­sic he loved in his early teenage years.

Rock­a­billy and doowop pro­vide the sturdy struc­tures, with a nod to the skif­fle of the Quar­ry­men as he sings “Long, long lost John” over the fade of I’m Los­ing You, in a de­lib­er­ate echo of Lon­nie Done­gan’s ver­sion of a song bor­rowed from Woody Guthrie.

Now, too, we can hear him pref­ac­ing (Just Like) Start­ing Over with: “This one’s for Gene and Ed­die and Elvis ... and Buddy!” This was Len­non ex­ca­vat­ing his roots and he might have car­ried on with that for a while. He would cer­tainly have ad­mired the way some of his con­tem­po­raries make new mu­sic while re­tain­ing the in­tegrity of the sounds that first in­spired them. The chances are, how­ever, that – af­ter ef­fec­tively missing out on punk and the new wave, which hap­pened dur­ing his vol­un­tary en­gage­ment with house-hus­bandry while Yoko worked at con­sol­i­dat­ing their for­tune – he would have found a way to en­gage with more in­no­va­tive sounds, rather than set­tling for the kind of tra­di­tional AOR tex­tures that were added in the fi­nal stages of the pro­duc­tion of Dou­ble Fan­tasy.

His views on Auto-Tun­ing would have been in­ter­est­ing. Jack Dou­glas, the pro­ducer of Dou­ble Fan­tasy, in which John’s songs were al­ter­nated with Yoko’s, re­mem­bered bar­ring them from each other’s ses­sions, not least be­cause John was un­able to re­strain him­self from point­ing out when Yoko was sing­ing flat. But he was a big fan of some­thing called ADT – au­to­matic dou­ble track­ing – a de­vice which split a singer’s voice in two to cre­ate the sort of ef­fect that dis­tin­guished many pop records in the late 1950s and early 60s.

If it made him sound like the records he ad­mired, it was OK.

Tones of nostal­gia

(clock­wise from top left) Paul McCart­ney, Ringo Starr, John Len­non and Ge­orge Har­ri­son in 1967.

He had been away from Eng­land for al­most a decade when he died and vis­i­tors from the old coun­try were of­ten re­galed with his yearn­ing for Choco­late Oliv­ers. London cer­tainly missed him. As long as the Bea­tles were head­quar­tered at 3 Sav­ile Row, with its pa­rade of bizarre hang­ers-on, the city seemed to have a cen­tre of vi­brancy and an un­fail­ing source of head­lines. New York turned out to be a bet­ter place to live, but he had been bruised by the bat­tle to ob­tain his res­i­dency per­mit and by the dis­cov­ery that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had been watch­ing him as a re­sult of his as­so­ci­a­tion with the Yip­pies and the Black Pan­thers.

The brief flow­er­ing of a well-mean­ing but in­co­her­ent po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness seemed to have gone dor­mant in the last phase of his life; he had be­come sus­pi­cious of those who ar­rived pro­claim­ing high ideals but wanted only to ex­ploit his celebrity and per­haps grab some of his loot.

Ac­cord­ing to his most re­cent bi­og­ra­pher, Philip Nor­man, his 40th birth­day found him grow­ing “in­creas­ingly nostal­gic about his home­land, pin­ing for Bri­tish in­sti­tu­tions and val­ues he had so an­grily spurned”.

There was talk of re­turn­ing on the QE2 for a voy­age that would end with the ship dock­ing in the Mersey. He even spec­u­lated that he and Yoko would spend their later years, af­ter Sean had left home, liv­ing among the artists in St Ives. Per­haps he would have re­sumed the en­gage­ment with art that be­gan at Liver­pool Col­lege of Art in 1957, or found time to ex­plore once again the love of sur­re­al­is­tic word­play that crack­led through In His Own Write and A Spa­niard In The Works.

Drawn to strong char­ac­ters

No doubt, some ver­sion of those no­tional events would have taken place. If all other lures had failed, the death in 1991 of his Aunt Mimi – the lov­ing but stern Mimi Smith, his mother’s sis­ter, who brought him up from child­hood through ado­les­cence – would have drawn him to Poole in Dorset, where she lived out her last years in a bun­ga­low paid for by a nephew who adored her de­spite that cel­e­brated early warn­ing: “Mu­sic’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a liv­ing from it.” Per­haps it was the for­ma­tive su­per­vi­sion of the dis­ci­plinar­ian Mimi that gave him the habit of putting his trust, not al­ways wisely, in strong, self­as­sured char­ac­ters: Yoko, Spector, and the New York hus­tler Allen Klein, whom he brought in af­ter Brian Ep­stein’s death to sort out the Bea­tles’ af­fairs, to McCart­ney’s dis­gust.

And then there was Ge­orge Har­ri­son’s death in 2001. Len­non and McCart­ney even­tu­ally set­tled their dif­fer­ences, ma­jor and mi­nor, but as long as the four of them were still alive John al­ways stood in the way of what he be­lieved would have been the in­evitable an­ti­cli­max of a pub­lic get-to­gether with Paul, Ge­orge and Ringo, even when im­plored by Kurt Wald­heim, the sec­re­tary­gen­eral of the United Na­tions, to per­form at a fundraiser for the sur­vivors of the Cam­bo­dian geno­cide.

Loy­alty to Yoko surely played a part in turn­ing him against a project that would in­evitably have re­minded his au­di­ence of how much they missed the old re­la­tion­ships be­tween the four mu­si­cians, be­fore the ar­rival of pow­er­ful women pulled the two prin­ci­pal fig­ures into a new phase of their lives from which re­treat be­came im­pos­si­ble. What­ever else the fu­ture might have held, there would have been no Bea­tles re­union. – Guardian News & Me­dia 2010 n John Len­non’s Sig­na­ture box-set is re­leased by Warner Mu­sic Malaysia.

The Bea­tles:

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