John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band The Ultimate Collection—John Breaks From The Beatles

At a time when “all you can eat” music almost force feeds us with more content than any of us can possibly consume, and “table hopping” seems to be the order of the day, it may seem counterintuitive to serve up a multi-course meal like John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band The Ultimate Collection— a 6 CD, 2 Blu-Ray deep dive remixed set that explores the deepest recesses of John Lennon’s pivotal and most consequential album.

For those wanting a tasting meal rather than a banquet, there are less ambitious editions including a two LP vinyl set the gives listeners the remixed original album cut from a high resolution file on one record and a second one that duplicates the album as a compilation of outtakes.

If any album from the rock era deserves this kind of microscopic/obsessive treatment, it’s 1970’s Plastic Ono Band in which an unbound John Lennon threw off the chains of Beatlemania while simultaneously advising his most ardent fans to take a Beatles cold shower because “the dream is over” and even more startlingly that he no longer “believed in Beatles”, he just believed in “me”, and just to be certain that everyone got the message, in “Yoko and me”.

For Beatles fans who could not deal with the rawness and especially the rejection, there was always (and still is) Paul’s more tuneful, eponymous, self-recorded debut on which he played all of the instruments and features gatefold photos of wife Linda, the kids and some cute animals. A photo of Paul with a finger up his nose is about as rough as it got. Still, there’s no denying the melodic brilliance of “That Would Be Something”, “Every Night”, “Junk” and especially “Maybe I’m Amazed”.

50 years later though, Plastic Ono Band still packs a powerful gut punch. For oldsters who lifted the stylus and got no further than “Mother, you had me, but I never had you” or who made it through to “God”, the final kiss-off where Lennon tells fans to grow up and get a life and then put the album back on the shelf or sold it, now’s the time to listen again to hear how right Lennon was and how wrong and selfish most fans were.

But this album, in whichever version you choose is especially important for younger Beatles fans who are clearly in love with the “Here Comes the Sun” Beatles. Perhaps it’s a bit of hyperbole, but QRP’s Chad Kassem has told me that he’s got one press still devoted to pressing Abbey Road ! The youngsters need a good dose of Lennon to the face.

Before going further, here’s what’s in the “Super Deluxe Box Set”: 6 CDs containing 102 new stereo mixes (6+ hour’s worth—including the three post-Beatles singles “Give Peace a Chance”, “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma [We All Shine On] ), 2 Blu-Ray Audio discs containing 159 new stereo mixes (11+ hours) in Hi-Res 192/24 stereo, 5.1 Surround and Dolby Atmos mixes, a 132 page hardcovered book containing rare photos, memorabilia and notes, plus a ‘WAR IS OVER’ Poster (as ridiculous an assertion now as it was then) and 2 Postcards. Whew!

The production began with 192/24 bit multitrack tape transfers of everything in the vaults associated with the project including 87 never before heard recordings. That’s a lot to cover and honestly, I’ve not yet heard it all. The box includes the original album remixed plus the three singles on both CD and Blu-Ray (in stereo and 5.1 surround 24-192 Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos (Blu-ray1, CD1), plus the same song selection mixed from out-takes (Blu-ray1, CD2), plus “The Elements Mixes” of the same tracks that isolates on each track certain elements (like an excruciating version of “Mother”, featuring just Lennon’s isolated vocal, which already is difficult to listen to in the final mix) and other such spotlit elements (Blu-ray1, CD3).

Next comes “The Demos New Mixes” and Remasters of the same original program in stereo and mono hi-res plus Dolby Digital (Blu-ray1 and CD6), followed by “The Raw Studio Mixes stereo 24-192 and Dolby Digital (Blu-ray2, CD4) and then “The Raw Studio Mixes” sourced from out-takes hi-res stereo and DD (Blu-ray2, CD4). That’s followed by “The Evolution Mixes” which documents the construction of each song. You hear Lennon deciding to add the bell at the beginning of “Mother” for instance but forget the little details: what you really hear listening to this absolutely fascinating disc is that despite the “raw” basic quality of the final record, these tracks were not haphazardly produced! Instead you hear Lennon in the studio chatter meticulously constructing and assembling the building blocks—simple as they seemed—almost phrase by phrase. Lennon at one point says “Klaus you are the Plastic Ono Band” (Blu-ray2, CD5). Most incredibly, you hear that those excruciating screams on “Mother” that sound as if Lennon’s voice cracks uncontrollably are actually carefully considered and repeatedly produced during the rehearsals.

Finally (Blu-ray2,CD6) there are jams including classics Lennon liked, like “Johnny B. Goode”, “Ain’t That a Shame”, “Good Night Irene” and even “Glad All Over”. There’s also a hilarious Elvis parody. On Blu-ray disc2 only you get Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band “Live Sessions”, which as with most things Yoko, become both more accessible and even prescient and predictive of future musical trends. It’s an unedited version of jam sessions she eventually edited down to become her “Plastic Ono Band” album with John, Ringo and Voorman behind Yoko’s truly astounding (or repellent depending upon your P.O.V.) vocal gymnastics. Speaking of Yoko, Lennon leans on her guidance throughout the “studio chatter” tracks.

The Album Remix

Can an original U.K. early pressing (first lacquer, first mother 5th stamper) possibly be beat by a digital remix on vinyl? Lennon did not like his voice and so it’s both attenuated in the mix relative to the instruments and it’s both thin-sounding (to better hide it) and “crowded”. The remix gives space to the vocals but more importantly restores the midrange clearly captured to tape but diminished with equalization in the final original mix. Here you hear way more of Lennon’s vocal textures and the work he put in expressing himself. For those who have these tracks embedded in their memory banks, these new mixes won’t be jarring but they will be illuminating and in a sense liberating. Where and why was this guy hiding?

As with many previous remixed and reimagined albums, the bass has been somewhat pumped up and not because it was attenuated on the original for technical reasons. The mixes by Paul Hicks at Abbey Road Studios under Yoko Ono Lennon’s supervision are deft and respectful of the original while opening up the vocal expanse. The top end is somewhat more reserved compared to the “lifted” highs on the original (yes, they are still there after 50 years of play), but that also serves to bring forward Lennon’s vocals and it adds some weight to the drum kit. The guitar on “Working Class Hero” is mixed to give the tune more of a “folkie” vibe than on the original. The subtle mixing shifts produce some interesting insights (at least for me). Listening to “Well Well Well” had me thinking Marc Bolan and/or Tony Visconti heard it and invented Electric Warrior (or maybe not).

So many credits missing here: the multiple mixers, box designer etc. all well done. You'll have to get it yourself for all of that, but they kept it authentic down to the misspelling of engineer John Leckie's name ("Lickie").

The perfectly pressed at GZ Media double vinyl EQ sounds ideal at least on my system. It’s warm and intimate, while still sufficiently raw, though it's a bit over-compressed compared to the original vinyl . For me, between this and the original U.K. pressing this will be the one most worth listening to overall, though as the time travel artifact the original holds sway.

Double vinyl or super deluxe box set, John Lennon’s best album by far belongs in every Beatle fan’s collection. I hope the youngsters grooving on Abbey Road take this plunge into the painful abyss of where Lennon’s 60s success and stardom eventually took him. And kudos to the entire production team that created and assembled this worthy tribute to our “working class hero”.

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COMMENTS
azmoon's picture

..and writing Mikey. This excerpt from above really struck me:

..in which an unbound John Lennon threw off the chains of Beatlemania while simultaneously advising his most ardent fans to take a Beatles cold shower because “the dream is over” and even more startlingly that he no longer “believed in Beatles”, he just believed in “me”, and just to be certain that everyone got the message, in “Yoko and me”.

way to go MF!

Michael Fremer's picture
I appreciate that very much after a Facebook day arguing with idiots...
chris8519's picture

Surprised by the statement. I’ve now had two copies. Because of those terrible heavy paper sleeves, both had a ton of paper shreds pushed into the grooves. So cleaned it. But still a ton of noise and even non fill, on both copies.

For the $69 charge, I’d say this is nowhere near perfectly pressed.
The vinyl itself is heavy and looks okay, close to an Optimal pressing.

But Michael, do you think you were sent a ringer?

Other members of a certain forum have also had problems with this pressing.
Wish they went with QRP! Instant buy.

Nathan Zeller's picture

All of my experiences with GZ Media have been incredible. They pressed the Permanent Waves box set last year, and while the mastering wasn't to my taste, the pressing quality was superb.

Michael Fremer's picture
Was sealed. I just don't believe it was a "ringer". Other members of a certain forum have issues with every record pressed, I reckon.
chris8519's picture

Good to know there are decent ones out there. The two I received were a mess, and I’m not so picky like others on that forum. But paper pulp and non fill on all sides, on two copies… so disappointing. Nowhere near the level of $35 per disc albums (compared to Tone Poets and the Verve series!).

Cool that you get sealed copies! No labels tipping the scales!

Critter's picture

My copy had similar issues with paper shreds in the grooves plus a defect that is audible during "My Mummy's Dead" as a low-pitched popping sound.

AnalogJ's picture

Michael, as much as I have enjoyed your writing over the years (most of the time), and still do, some of us out there have actually legitimately unearthed some pressing issues that you have skipped over or have been unaware of.

That you say things like "There are those who have issues with all records pressed", well that's just not very fair of you to say.

Those who do find "all records have issues" are not playing vinyl. They play CDs or no physical media at all.

I think most who play vinyl know it's an imperfect medium, that there may be minor flaws along the way. But there are flaws other than the occasional random snap, crackle, or pop that can really interfere with enjoying the music.

The 2019 Tone Poet and BN80 reissues, for example, had real issues with tape warble, with nothing to do with off-center pressings or LP warping. Everyone who was sensitive to the warbling heard the problems in the same places on the albums that had the problems. And someone made graphs of the soundwaves of those reissues and compared them with the same graphs of originals or other earlier reissues that exhibited no warbling. You could see the aberration graphically.

We found that some people couldn't hear the aberrations at all, while others could. Some people discovered that they are more sensitive to pitch fluctuations than others. But for those who could hear it, it really got in the way of the music.

What is interesting is that none of the 2020 and later from the series have exhibited those issues. So something has changed.

That doesn't take away that analog reproduction, when done well, conveys the flow, the heart and soul of the music, better than pretty much any other recorded medium.

But you, of all people, shouldn't deride others if you can't hear it yourself. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You have been on the flip side many, many times.

Michael Fremer's picture
Nothing has changed. Tape "scrape flutter" is a real issue but it's usually baked into the tape during the original recording.
firedog's picture

I was a young Beatles fan in 1970 and just old enough to "get" this record. It blew me away from the first listen. And it does so to anybody who opens their mind to the message Lennon is sending here.
Plus it has a series of some of the best vocal performances in the history of Rock.
This remix sounds great. The recent remixes supervised by Yoko are all well done. She's made the artistically "unauthentic" - but correct - decision to bring John's vocal up in the mix, and that lets us even more clearly hear his emotion.
Kudos to all involved.

Michael Fremer's picture
That emission. The crew "aced" this reissue.
timware's picture

a misspelling? I see a wink in that one! I think that’s why they kept it in.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Either a great t-shirt logo or a great band name.

POB has been a favorite of mine since it came out (along with the first McCartney and All Things Must Pass) albeit not something I listen to very often because of its intensity. I’ve bought the 2LP reissue because I’d probably never get through the entire big box. Never say never, though!

pchristian's picture

to the remix of the main album - IN MY OPINION. As a music fan and musician, I found the gold to be in the evolution mixes. I loved hearing how these songs came together from the demoes to the finished product.

WesHeadley's picture

I've been collecting vinyl records for quite awhile and have many dozens of pressings by GZ Media. While they generally look good, far too many suffer from excessive surface noise (I clean everything before playing with a Hannl RCM). When I do research pressing quality by occasionally visiting that forum of which we do not speak, I often see patterns in the reports on vinyl quality that bear out. Very often with GZ media-- both good, but more frequently bad reports tend to turn out to be true.

Michael, surely you are aware that that many if not all of the copies you're sent for eval/review are most definitely early or first pressings-- and those are far more likely to suffer less from pressing defects than the pressings that come off of the line later.

You've certainly been lucky, but in this area, it's not just luck. Who in their right mind would want to send you a crappy pressing (yes, I know it happens), but your mileage most definitely differs from the norm, as it does for others in your rarified position.

GZ media is not a reliably high quality vinyl presser (their Canada affiliate does seem to release better quality) and if you have enough of their "off the rack" products you inevitably learn this-- as I and thousands of other people on (say Discogs) have discovered from direct experience over time.

I still buy releases pressed by GZ, if I have no better options, as I'd rather have the music, flaws and all, than not.

Michael Fremer's picture
If I receive a bad GZ pressing I report it.
Boomer's picture

I guess that most people find something wrong about themselves and wish one thing or another was different. But I've always loved how John Lennon's, as well as Paul's and George's, voice has sounded. As for the all records have issues, I am a firm believer that is the case just about everything. Even a brand new Cadillac has an issue if one wants to delve far enough into finding one.

Thanks for all of the hard work you do for the rest of us to enjoy Mr. Fremer. It's appreciated by me and I'd say 99% of everyone else. You'll always have someone who doesn't like how their coffee tastes in the morning for one reason or another.

DJ Huk's picture

To some Beatles fans I know, Lennon talking about adding the bell would sound like a major revelation. These people were obsessed by that detail, and I trust the enclosed material will cover where they found the perfect bell to use and how many takes it took to get it right. As for Beatles being dead, I'm sure John didn't start refusing royalties, but I always went along with his contradictions because, well, he did sing the ultimate version of Twist and Shout.

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