Listen to this track by Lost Weekend-embroiled ex-Beatle and solo singer-songwriter John Lennon. It’s “#9 Dream”, a single as taken from his 1974 album Walls and Bridges. This was the album created during a period that Lennon spent away from his wife Yoko Ono, with the exile purportedly on her mandate. Lennon left New York City with his personal assistant and soon-to-be lover May Pang (with Pang’s going along allegedly also Yoko’s idea), bound for Los Angeles by the end of 1973.
This period is widely associated with a time of indulgence on Lennon’s part. Upon his arrival in L.A, partying (too) hard with Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon, being rude to staff at the Troubadour Club while wearing a tampon on his head, and actually and getting kicked out of that same club for heckling the Smothers Brothers were among some of the highlights – or low-lights.
It’s not exactly the picture of the peace-loving, and peace-promoting figure we’ve come to associate with Lennon today. And it would have been easy to forget his calibre as a songwriter around this time, too. His previous album Mind Games didn’t fare so well critically speaking. The one before that Some Time In New York City was (and is!) also noted for being uneven at best. Getting his mojo back must have been a mandate for him. He had a lot to prove by 1974.
“#9 Dream” was certainly a step in the right direction, being a sort of child-like and sonically gauzy tune that captures Lennon’s fantastical eye where subject matter for pop songs is concerned. But, did it get him to where he wanted to go? And if so, where was that exactly?
This “Lost Weekend” period is known to be one for chemically-abetted self-indulgence and late blooming adolescent antics. But, it was also a fertile one for John Lennon where his creative drive was concerned. He’d spent time working up a covers album from late ’73 and continuing sessions in ’74. Some of the recording sessions around this time were legendary for being chaotic excuses for A-list musicians to get loaded. The project was shelved for a time when Phil Spector kept the tapes of the sessions under bizarre circumstances (hey – it was Spector!). That record was eventually released in February of 1975 – Rock ‘n’ Roll.
But even if his work schedule was bogged down by indulgence and weirdness, overall this period was a time when he was actively and enthusiastically involved in making records and writing songs, for himself and for other people as well. He helped his buddy Harry Nilsson make Pussycats. He’d also pen “Goodnight Vienna” for Ringo Starr, play on the album of the same name, and help Ringo promote it. All the while, he had this album, Walls and Bridges, to work on, which would include songs that would put him in the top ten again; “#9 Dream” and “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”. By early 1975, he’d work up “Fame” with David Bowie after a day of jams, which turned out to be one of Bowie’s best known hits.
So, John Lennon was still a formidable songwriter and musician during this 18-month period, despite the distractions of the so-called Lost Weekend. Arguably, it was his most productive period since the Beatles split. To me,”#9 Dream” is one of his greatest achievements to be compared to that earlier period, too. It’s light-as-air, with a melody that captures his tenderness of spirit and his love for otherworldly imagery. It’s infused with his keen sense of wonder, and his ear for how chords and melody lines converge to make memorable, timeless pop music.
As any Lennon fan will tell you, it’s very difficult to separate his songs from their creator. In this case, the song came out of a dream he’d had, including the Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé refrain which features in it. May Pang’s heat-whispered “John” and “Nohj” solidifies who is at the center of this song.
But besides that very personal source of inspiration, I think John Lennon had other very personal forces influencing how this song, and others on the Walls and Bridges album came out. I think he was literally trying to tear down walls, and repair bridges.
With May Pang’s support, he’d re-connected with his 11 year old son Julian at this time whom he’d not seen in four years, with the younger Lennon playing drums on the album’s closer; Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya”. He’d reconciled with his former bandmates too, particularly with Paul McCartney, with whom he informally jammed while in Los Angeles. And there was a certain re-connection with his own identity happening around this time too. As if to reference “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”, which was inspired by Julian’s drawing, with the album’s record sleeve featuring another child’s drawing, this time one created by his 11 year old self.
I think this record was about coming home.
Appropriately, and musically speaking, “#9 Dream” indeed sounds like a return to the kind of innocence and wonder that characterized a certain kind of song he’d always been capable of. Much of his solo work had become stark and polemical up until this point. But, “#9 Dream” embraces a sort of sumptuousness instead. This put it alongside “Lucy…”, “…Mr. Kite” “Dear Prudence”, “Cry Baby Cry”, and “Because” with ease.
By January of 1975, Lennon had enjoyed a number one record in “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, and the adulation of a live crowd when Lennon appeared on stage at Madison Square Garden with Elton John. “#9 Dream” scored him an appropriate chart position of – wait for it – #9.
By this time, he’d also reconciled with another important person in his life, Yoko Ono. In this, his wish to come home was certainly granted on this front as well.
For more information about John Lennon’s Lost Weekend period, check out May Pang’s book, Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon.
Remember kids, tomorrow is October 9th, John’s birthday (he would have been 72!). Send your birthday greetings to JohnLennon.com.