John Lennon - Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon

Bill Cummings 03/10/2005

Rating: 4/5

If he were still alive, John Lennon would be 65 this year. It makes me wonder what he'd be up to: would he still be at the forefront of musical invention of contemporaries like John Cale, or wallowing in the stench of his own importance like Paul McCartney? The answer probably lies somewhere on this new repackaged two disc version of his greatest solo hits and "key" album tracks: Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon Collection.

It's probably fair to say Lennon's solo work was superior to that of any other Beatle, but it's also fair to say he did miss the mark sometimes too. Disc One is a testament to some of his best work alone: From the gloriously classic “Imagine” where above “that” piano line Lennon imagines a world without boundaries or limits, a Utopia if you will (“You may say I'm a dreamer/but I'm not the only one/I hope someday you will join us/And the world will be as one”) to the heartbroken power of “Jealous Guy” (“I didn't mean to hurt you/I didn't mean to make you cry”). Lennon's voice was typically brilliant, not technically as good as McCartney's but he has that rare, raw edge that crucially allowed him to connect emotionally with the listener, similar to Dylan in the way he could almost reach out of the speakers and grab your heart or your balls. Elsewhere “Instant Karma” is brilliant: the kinetic energy of the vocal to the off kilter drumming is almost a forerunner for punk such is its visceral power. The stark acoustic balladry of “Working Class Hero” sums up perfectly why Lennon was a voice for his generation: the Dylan-esque power of this song that pinpoints what the working class often have to put up with. (“They hurt you at home and they hate you at school/They hate you if your clever and they despise a fool/Till your so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules.”)

Elsewhere songs about his life and career range from the contemplative ditty “Watchin the Wheels” that nods towards the demise of the Beatles (“No longer sitting on the merry go round/I just had to let it go”) to the countless songs about his love for Yoko, OK you can't begrudge what was obviously a extreme emotional bond between the two, but I must question the amount of songs about Yoko on this album? Some are of obvious quality - “Woman” and “Real Love” spring to mind - but others such as “Oh Yoko” and “Oh My Love” come off as being musically trite when compared to his best work.

Disc Two is a patchier affair, the use of the word “definitive” to describe this collection means that each must be judged by this marker: I'm unsure whether things like “Scared” or “Out of The Blue” really merit this title. But elsewhere the quality still shines through “Mind Games” is a pleading and honest, whilst “Gimme some truth” is a stream of conscious fist in the face. There are also autobiographical songs: A lullaby to Sean Lennon on “Beautiful Boy”, “Darling Boy”, the Childhood the haunting primal scream of “Mother” and the comedown blues of “Cold Turkey”

A hundred years from now, John Lennon will still be remembered as an icon in the truest sense of the word. Although in his personal life he was a flawed man, for a whole generation he was their voice: a working class poet, a peace fighting, all-or-nothing man, this collection is a sharp reminder of his power at a time when the world is in the midst of war and disaster much of his words and music still have relevance today.