Gimme Some Truth  John Lennon The Ultimate Mixes

Another murder most foul to revisit. Where were you on December 8th 1980 when the terrible news broke that John Lennon had been assassinated? A girlfriend and I were having dinner with Chuck and Nancy (not Schumer and Pelosi) and with Arnold and Maria (yes, Schwarzenegger and Shriver).

In those days, news came via a phone call. My friend picked up the phone and his face turned ashen, doubly so since he had a Kennedy family connection, which explains Arnold and Maria’s presence.

We dropped our utensils and ran to the television. It was another awful evening, one of many for the Baby Boomer generation.

John Lennon would be 80 years old today, assuming that years of “excess” hadn’t taken him well before now as it has so many other rock stars—even those who like Lennon cleaned up their acts.

Many Beatles fans, even in 1980— years after the band broke up—had a mixed relationship with John Lennon. When, in the song “God” from the 1971 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, he sang “I don’t believe it Beatles” (never mind that he further rubbed it in singing he didn’t believe in “Jesus”, “Kennedy” and “Elvis”) and that “the dream is over”, the sense of abandonment and betrayal was palpable. Fans worldwide felt it, in part because it was among his finest vocal performances.

True, Lennon was just saying “time for you to grow up because I have”. That was a worthy message and probably a much needed generational slap in the face, but as he ticked off the list of what he no longer believed in having gone through primal therapy, saving “Beatles” for the final dagger thrust it felt like nothing less than an ambush.

I remember at the time thinking “Well fine, you no longer believe in Beatles, or Elvis or apparently fandom, so just stop making records and sail off into the sunset with your Yoko”.

But, of course as the 1970s got rolling that album also contained “I Found Out” one of Lennon’s most bitter and truthful songs that resonated deeply. It’s not among the 36 songs on this compilation.

Most fans vowing to abandon Lennon quickly returned when late in 1971 he released Imagine a commercially successful album containing many enduring Lennon songs including this box set’s title, though, “How Do You Sleep?” his vicious dig at Paul McCartney unsettled and repelled many fans (though in Lennon’s undated interview here he insists that “Paul personally doesn’t feel as though I insulted him or anything because I had dinner with him last week; he’s quite happy. If I can’t have a fight with my best friend I don’t know who I can have a fight with”. Also among the interviews Lennon says of “Come Together” “…it is nothing like the Chuck Berry song.”

The unpredictable artist then ran off the commercial rails with Some Time in New York a double LP set backed by Elephant’s Memory. It was a sophomoric, moralizing “revolutionary” album that included songs with some laudable themes dealing with women’s equality, race relations and Britain’s role in Norther Ireland but it was heavy handed and a commercial failure. It also dealt with Nixon’s deportation plans for Lennon, a black mark on American “freedom”.

Other than the title track Mind Games released late 1973 was a dispirited set. During the recording Lennon and Yoko broke up and thus began his two year “Lost Weekend” during which he shuttled between L.A. and New York, finally returning in 1974 to record Walls and Bridges, which included “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and the haunting “#9 Dream”. During the “Lost Weekend” Lennon also co-wrote “Fame” with David Bowie.

Lennon took a five year musical break to devote himself to raising son Sean. In the fall of 1980 he recorded the single “(Just Like) Starting Over” and later released the album Double Fantasy. And then……. The posthumous album Milk and Honey was released in 1984.

The 36 songs presented here in a 4 LP box and a 2 CD+ Blu-ray package containing both high resolution stereo and surround mixes in 5.1 and Dolby Atmos, with hard bound book are culled from singles (including “Happy Xmas [War Is Over])”, album tracks, live performances (including a memorable “Come Together” with Lennon backed by Elephant’s Memory at the One to One Concert recorded August 30th 1972 at MSG) and the 1980 “Grow Old” cassette demo produced in 1998.

Lennon the great rock and roll singer, Lennon the tender romantic, Lennon the skilled melodist, Lennon the angry kid, Lennon the amateur psychiatrist, Lennon the uncompromising idealist, Lennon the leftist “community organizer”, Lennon the self-centered, Lennon the singing my personal love sentiments to the world, and Lennon the great guitarist and producer are all represented here, artfully condensed down from the classic albums and the failures into a powerful summation of an artist whose contributions to our Boomer lives and generations beyond cannot be overstated. How lucky we were/are to have him come along when he did. How sad he left so early.

The concept here was to remix the songs from the multitrack tapes, remaining faithful and respectful to the originals, while producing greater overall sonic clarity and especially concentrating on clarifying John’s vocals, which he often underplayed because he didn’t think he was a good singer.

Sean Lennon wanted to retain the “analog” nature of the originals so Paul Hicks who engineered and mixed the compilation (he did likewise on the 2018 Imagine box set) did as much as possible in the analog domain, rather than resorting to “modern” effects. The original analog multitrack tapes were baked and transferred to I assume high resolution digital (the set doesn’t provide that detail but I assume, like the Imagine box it was 96/24).

The remixes were partly done at Henson Recording Studios in LA (formerly A&M Studios) using vintage analog plate reverbs and outboard effects. The book credits also list Abbey Road Studios, Sear Sound, The Hix Factory and REVL8 as mixing locations.

The resulting stereo files were taken to Abbey Road for mastering, again, according to the annotation “…entirely in the analog environment”. Hicks writes about “finishing in analogue”, but what exactly that means he doesn’t make clear. Nor does it really matter. What matters is how these remixes sound.

Naturally I started with the 4 LP box set (two LPs in each of two gatefold jackets), lacquers cut and pressed at GZ Media with files supplied by Alex Wharton at Abbey Road Studios. The box includes a poster, a sticker, two post cards and a booklet.

These mixes are definitely and unsubtly warm! The warmth works great on many tracks and not so well on others—and that’s both on CD and LP, though the CD sound is somewhat brighter, more dynamic and puts greater emphasis on the bass lines. I don’t know if GZ fiddled with the files to attenuate the bass somewhat because all of it can be cut if it’s there to cut.

The third track, “Working Class Hero”, had me thinking “This is now a folk song”, so warm and rich is the acoustic guitar and Lennon’s voice. Somewhere along the line, and sorry I didn’t take notes, I found myself saying, “This is just too warm on top”! Cymbals have to clash!” But that’s just being picky. If this set is John Lennon, Folk Singer I’m okay with that because Lennon’s vocals star and that’s the point.

These mixes exude intimacy in ways the cooler originals missed (yes they were AAA but many were also were from the coke era) and while I usually object to mix uniformity from originals that were all very different, it works well here.

If you have to choose one package, I’d go with the CD+Blu ray. The 4 LP set does not include the book and the book is key. Each song is well annotated in Lennon’s own words taken from interviews (plus many include Yoko’s comments), and each song gets full and thorough credits plus more (photos memorabilia). I’ve yet to explore the Blu-ray. I wanted to get this published on Lennon’s birthday. Happy Birthday John Lennon. Sorry to say war is hardly over but this superbly produced and packaged set is a birthday present from you to us. It is a long overdue definitive “greatest hits” package very well presented.

1986 WRXL limited edition single to benefit food bank

Yoko Ono's authorization letter

MalachiLui's picture

did GZ cut lacquers or DMM for this? i know they have the option of both, but their default is DMM. clarity on this would be appreciated.

as much as i typically hate 'best of' compilations, i found this one thoroughly enjoyable and the sound quite good (streaming MQA on tidal)

Michael Fremer's picture
I will find out!
Andy18367's picture

Mikey, this is a great piece. While I appreciate your TT material, I never realized how good a writer you can be. Perhaps you would consider doing more of these (longer form memories/anecdotes plus review).

Thanks again.

Michael Fremer's picture
I put a great deal of time and effort into this one and I appreciate your comment
dial's picture

This woman killed the group and then her husband.Some say USA or NY cause his death.
Love the song GST especially BBC Generation X version when one says buy expensive stereos.

Michael Fremer's picture
That is harsh. Lennon would probably say she saved him....
dial's picture

I read several books and articles about his life, all telling the same stories about drugs -mainly heroin-, coming from different people. Also she ruined many records just being there and when she 'sings'... How can anyone listen to Unfinished music n°1 & 2 etc ?!

Michael David's picture

You may wish to visit the source. This documentary streams until 11/05. Classic moment while Lennon is performing Cold Turkey live on stage and Yoko is doing her turkey screams - i,yi,yi,yi,yi,yi,yi,yi,i. In agreement, well written piece Mikey!

Paul Boudreau's picture

Amazon sez: “ The definitive new Best Of John Lennon - 36 tracks completely remixed from master tapes, giving these classic songs a new life for generations to come and sounding better than ever before. 2 CD/Blu-ray features 36 tracks in hi-res stereo 96/24 PCM, new 5.1 surround mixes and Dolby Atmos for the ultimate immersive experience. With an incredible 124-page book with rare photos and extensive notes from John, Yoko and more. Foldout 2-sided poster, 2 postcards and GIMME SOME TRUTH. bumper sticker.”

Dolby Atmos?

Michael Fremer's picture
That's in the review here too. Yes, there's a 5.1 mix and a Dolby Atmos mix too. But as I wrote I've not yet had a chance to listen to the surround mix (I don't have an Atmos set up). Mixer Hicks is a very tasteful guy so don't expect 'stuff' in the back channels as much as a greater sense of wrap-around space.
Paul Boudreau's picture

I do remember where I was, living in a group house in Chevy Chase, DC. I put his portrait from the White Album in a frame which a small gang of us took to our favorite Tex-Mex bar/eatery on U Street. The bartender put it behind the bar while we were there. We raised a glass or three to the memory of Winston. Pretty shocking to think how long ago that was.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Right, I should have been more clear and wrote something like "I wonder what that sounds like?"

Michael Fremer's picture
I think what they do is take the 5.1 mix, play it back in a studio and hang microphones high up and record it.
Paul Boudreau's picture

That’s pretty wacky! I’ve never heard it but my Panasonic plasma (remember those?) will be 10 years ago soon so maybe it’s time to consider getting something new with all the new gizmos, including Atmos.

Chemguy's picture

...for the fine essay and review. Your hesitancy in recommending the vinyl set is not skittering past me. When Mr. Fremer suggests you get the cd set, y’all better listen up.

Michael Fremer's picture
The main reason is the book, which I think is essential. The LPs sound good. I probably overdid the negativity. However, it was very warm and in this case I preferred a bit of "edge".....
SET Man's picture


It it just me, I'm a bit confused. I noticed there are 3 physical versions. CD+Blu Ray, 4LPs with Booklet and poster and more expensive 4LPs with Booklet, poster and post cards. So, both LP sets don't include the book like one in CD+Blu Ray set? And what is the booklet in the LP set?
I was thinking of getting the least expensive LP set but it is a bit of a let down knowing that they all don't include a book like the CD+Blu Ray version. So, what is the "booklet" in the LP set versions?

audiophilewannab's picture

the 4LP version...DEAD QUIET backgrounds. Spacious. Clean. A real treat. The booklet is mostly (previously unreleased(?)) photos, with a fun Warhol pic (or at least my gf had a good laugh and appreciated it ;-), I love her! ;-)...! Overall, as a fan of John's from the 60's, this will not disappoint.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

GZ allowed to cut is bad news. It's likely DMM with the computer doing the work - wide dead wax? They did a bad job recently on two R&L Thompson titles. Why wasn't this lacquer cut by one of the Abbey Road engineers? It's a mega important release for Universal. Actually might buy the CD in this case.

Michael Fremer's picture
I think if you watch to GZ Media factory tour on this site or on the AnalogPlanet YouTube channel you might reconsider your negative thinking about GZ's mastering. They have among the most sophisticated cutting systems when using supplied digital files and are capable of carrying out the client's wishes in every way including cutting lacquers or DMM. Given the importance of this project I'm assuming UMe got what it wanted. GZ's cut is very good and I probably shouldn't have so lowered the bar on it, but I found the CD's tonal balance more pleasing. However, I'm not sure GZ is to blame.
MalachiLui's picture

most GZ cuts i have sound similar to the digital files they're cut from, but that's not a bad thing. for some albums, it works best, and their cutting techniques are highly sophisticated.

xtcfan80's picture

Yes..We just viewed the doc on the making of the Plastic Ono Band LP on our local PBS station...well worth your time. As time goes on (50 years later!) I have come to to view Yoko's influence on John from a different perspective. Those who were there including Ringo and Klaus Voormann remember John as being a happy as he ever was with Yoko. Our outside perceptions are not worth squat compared to those insights.

Martin's picture

It's obvious a lot of thought went into this.
Also obvious that John Lennon, good and bad bits, for better and worse forms a large part of the soundtrack of your life.
Really nice, I just printed it out and will be reading it a couple of times in the course of the day.
Will go for the HD Tracks 192/24 download and put into my music server.

GeorgeZ's picture

NO lacquer/DMM cutting at GZ for this 4LP boxset, at least according to their runout info found on discogs. Probably the same will be true for that 2LP set.

azmoon's picture

If not GZ?

azmoon's picture

Thats what I've read in other places and would really like your take on how the vocals sound. Thanks for the review.

Buster's picture

A great piece Michael, many thanks. I will order the CD version as you suggest. Peace.

TimJoeBill's picture

I really enjoyed your review. Colourful, interesting and v well written as ever. Thanks! And yes, the mix is warm, which is refreshing and on the tracks I love most in the set, this works just fine.

ericleehall's picture

I vividly remember this being announced during Monday Night Football. I still find it too painful to relive it during retrospectives and/or biographies, so I fast forward over those parts. I also cannot watch the JFK Zapruder films. It is still that real and present for me.
I need to do that to continue to treasure the music, without constantly tying it to the fatal ending.

Telekom's picture

I remember watching the news on TV, followed by a BBC culture show about Lennon and his life and music. I remember thinking “why would someone shoot a musician?”. And then, as the critics discussed the impact of his death, I remember thinking “so a musician is really that important, beyond their music?”. Quite a shocking and instructive moment for a young person.