The U.S. vs. John Lennon: Motion Picture Soundtrack
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2006, Volume 13, #10
Written by John Metzger
There is no better country in the world than America, but that doesnít mean that its government doesnít have its share of problems. As the old adage goes, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." In spite of the best intentions of the United Statesí founding fathers, its leaders, on several occasions, have used fear as a weapon for achieving their own political gain. After the Soviet Union developed an atomic bomb and China fell to the Maoists, Senator Joseph McCarthy began labeling anyone who disagreed with him a communist. His crusade stretched far beyond Capitol Hill, and united with J. Edgar Hooverís FBI, he compiled extensive secret files on celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin. So relentless was the persecution by McCarthy and Hoover that after Chaplin ventured home to England, his permit for reentry to the United States was denied.
By the early 1970s, McCarthyís crusade had become a distant memory in the minds of the public, but Hooverís obsession with chasing subversives and radicals had continued almost unchecked. As the fighting in Vietnam intensified and the anti-war movement gained momentum, paranoid President Richard Nixon joined with Hoover in order to thwart the successes of the countercultural movement. Former Beatle John Lennonís popularity combined with his uncanny knack for condensing complex issues into simplistic but highly resonant statements such as Give Peace a Chance made him a prime target for neutralization. He was relentlessly pursued and threatened with deportation, but he never backed down from his beliefs.
Lennonís persecution at the hands of a government that had run amuck is the subject of the recent documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, and appropriately, 40 of his songs were utilized to score the film. Granted, the resulting soundtrack ó which contains only 21 selections, thus lending credence to the notion that a second volume is inevitable ó hardly provides a comprehensive survey of his work, and taken out of context, the collection also fails to tell any semblance of a story. Nevertheless, it is a remarkably strong assemblage of material.
As an inducement to fans, The U.S. vs. John Lennon: Motion Picture Soundtrack naturally contains two previously unreleased tracks. The first is a ragged rendition of the protest tune Attica State that was culled from a 1971 rally on behalf of John Sinclair, and the second is a version of How Do You Sleep? that, stripped of its vocals, highlights its ominous arrangement as well as George Harrisonís razor-sharp, slide guitar accompaniment. Elsewhere, snapshots of Lennonís life drift through tracks like The Ballad of John & Yoko and New York City, while Love and Oh My Love reflect his devotion to his wife.
Not surprisingly, however, the bulk of The U.S. vs. John Lennon: Motion Picture Soundtrack focuses upon Lennonís social and political outrage. Subsequently, it provides a forum where Working Class Heroís excoriation of an apathetic society can brush against Power to the Peopleís uplifting, gospel-imbued call to arms. Granted, the outing is a far cry from being a revelation, and, without a doubt, there are better retrospectives available to both the uninitiated as well as to casual fans. Yet, with songs that range from the timeless anthem Imagine to the oft-overlooked, posthumously released nugget Nobody Told Me and from the hypnotic mantra I Donít Wanna Be a Solider Mama, I Donít Wanna Die to the biting bitterness of Gimme Some Truth, the collection also serves as a potent reminder of the power that honest, heartfelt music can wield. Ĺ
The U.S. vs. John Lennon: Motion Picture Soundtrack is
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box