A lot of people who "know of" this album are going to think this review a bit ludicrous on its surface, but those who "know" the record will get it. This 50th Anniversary reissue celebrates the 1969 release of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's third experimental recording -- known to most fans as John & Yoko's Wedding Album. The time has never been more ripe for reconsidering this brave and brilliant work on multiple levels.
So put away any preconceptions and lets look at this album for the grand art statement that it is: a celebration of two great public artists' love for one another, the scrutiny they faced every hour of the day from fans and onlookers alike as well as their bold quest for world peace. In a way, these collaborative albums -- this plus its precusors Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins and Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions -- were John Lennon and Yoko Ono's most pure artistic statements, made without concern for commercial consideration. The album didn't chart in the UK but apparently (according to the Wiki) it peaked at number 178 on the US pop charts and stayed there for three weeks. That is a pretty remarkable feat when you stop to think about it.
John & Yoko's Wedding Album was a grand way of peacefully protesting the Vietnam War that was raging at the time, using their fame and fortune to secure global headline messaging about peace and love at a time when hatred was threatening to become the norm. For those who were not there or aware at the time, basically John and Yoko realized that pretty much anything they did in public was going to garner headlines, such was their fame and influence. So they decided to put that power to positive use through a series of peace-driven publicity events and activities.
For this run of two "bed ins," they invited the press into their hotel bedroom after their wedding, which of course was attended in droves with the media feasting on the prospect of something juicy and weird. However, nothing strange happened. Wearing conventional pajamas, the newlyweds delivered heartfelt messages of peace and love, which were reported on. At the second event they recorded the now classic anti-war peace anthem "Give Peace A Chance."
From the official website for the new reissue of John & Yoko's Wedding Album this quote segment (from the album) offers more insight to the purpose of the recording:
"In our way, we're just announcing [that] we're open to all invitations or suggestions to work for world peace," Yoko says in Wedding Album's side-two sound collage, "Amsterdam." "We're doing it in our way," she says. When a reporter notes that some observers were "suspicious" of Lennon and Ono's very public actions, she responds, "Let them criticize us." But in their own ways, she adds, others should "do something" to encourage peace, noting, "All you need is courage."
We could use some 21st Century John & Yoko level peace-centric messaging activities these days from current artists with equivalent media clout, frankly.... just sayin'...
John & Yoko's Wedding Album became a sort of instant collectors item and by the late 1970s it was commanding some serious coin among Beatle fans and rare record collectors in general. I only owned a copy of this album on LP once before (and I traded it to get my first real good acoustic guitar, my older brother assuring me at the time that John would have approved). Twenty years later I found a sealed 8-track Cartridge copy which I still have, unopened. So its been fun to finally hear this again after all these years!
From an audiophile perspective, this reissue is quite remarkable. The pure white standard-weight vinyl is quiet and transparent allowing you to focus on the rhythms of their individual heartbeats -- yes, recordings of John and Yoko's actual heartbeats -- pulsating in each channel while John and Yoko repeat their names to one another in a variety of timbers and tempos from romantic cooing to pained screaming. It really is a quite interesting epic update of a sketch by legendary comic musician composer Stan Frieberg --- his 1951 debut single was called "John and Marsha" -- if you have an open enough mind to put yourself into this moment in time. If you ever needed a recording to test your system's Stereo separation, well John & Yoko's Wedding Album may be your jam!
Side Two is recorded in their hotel room in Amsterdam after their private wedding on Gibralter, the first of two "Bed Ins For Peace." In some ways, this side of John & Yoko's Wedding Album is a bit less experimental yet no less engaging to the listener than Side One. It opens with a Church-like spiritual, "Lets Hope For Peace," chanted by Yoko followed by interview snippets explaining what they were doing there. A sort of audio documentary, you'll hear the sounds of Amsterdam and other audio-verite experiment moments with snippets of Lennon playing his acoustic guitar while they chant slogans ("grow your hair!" ... "bed peace!").
The recreation of John & Yoko's Wedding Album is a labor of love from Sean Lennon to his Mother and Father, celebrating a moment in time that should not be forgotten. It includes all the original artwork (save for the Apple Records label, replaced by completely appropriate Grapefruit imagery instead -- echoing the name of Yoko's landmark 1964 artist's book, for those of you not in the know), a photo of their wedding cake, a booklet of press clippings, a poster with scenes from their wedding and more. Watch Sean Lennon's fun unboxing video for a sneak peek of what to expect (click here). You can find John & Yoko's Wedding Album streaming up on Tidal but, really, you'll be missing out a good portion of the physical experience by only listening to the stream (click here for that)
You owe it to yourself you experience this complete John and Yoko package. Their messages of peace are palpable and still relevant 50 years on given the challenging times we are living through.
"All we are saying is give peace a chance..."