Walls And Bridges
Released: September 1974
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 35
Certified Gold: 10/22/74
Up here where I live, we call it "bummed out." Sorry if that's dated or slangy, but we've got a lot of aging hippies up here -- I sometimes think I'm running an old hippies' home -- and perhaps you recall that it means feeling, as John puts it in one song, down and out. Everybody, just about, seemed to be feeling bummed out when this album showed up -- not just the people around me but some people I know in New York, and some the Sunday Times seems to know about, and some other people I heard about through friends in Texas. Everyone seemed to be having personal problems and money problems, and some were additionally plagued with animal problems. In my case, it's been the damned cats, knocking things over and generally carrying their selfishness to ridiculous extremes.
So here's old John, pretty generally bummed out himself, I suppose, having ironically good luck with the timing on this downer. I didn't even bother to blink when I heard on the radio that it was the "number one album in Boston" even before I'd heard my supposedly early review copy. I'd heard too many bummed-out stories by then. Of course there are a lot of references to John's Yoko problem in here, and who expected otherwise? Of course there is a good deal of honesty, but not what one would call real depth. And of course there are so-called attempts to cheer someone up, which of course are so pathetic -- that poor "Ya Ya" thing at the end and that distasteful teenybopper ending grafted onto "Surprise Surprise," especially -- they actually help make it all the more melancholy. Everyone in Boston, or anywhere else, probably knew what to expect. But you know what else is in here and isn't really surprising either? Jazz chords, for one thing. I believe John, you know, I believe him about how painful it all is and all that, but I don't quite believe what he once said about never listening to pop music to see what might be trendy.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 3/75.
There has never been any question concerning the magnitude of John Lennon's talent, and here he serves up what may well be his most versatile and musically excellent album yet. Lennon offers his usual dose of good, healthy basic rock, a format he has always been master of and which is lacking in so many other LPs today. At the same time, he gives the listener a selection of marvelously handled ballads, a standard and a great oldie, all done in a skillfully professional style. Superb production throughout, using strings in the most tasteful manner possible, woodwinds that blend rather than distract, and the rock is just that, good solid rock. The vocals are almost haunting in places but are magnificent throughout. In all cases, this undoubtedly is the best solo project Lennon has come up with, perfect for AM or FM play and chock full of potential singles. Best cuts: "Whatever Gets You Through The Night," "Bless You," "#9 Dream," "Steel And Glass," "Ya Ya."
- Billboard, 1974.
Written and recorded in New York in a fortnight's outporing of creativity, Walls And Bridges proved to be John Lennon's most diverse, insightful -- and commercial -- in years. The 10 songs synthesized the confused and painful emotions he had experienced during a six-month spree of partying and dissipation in Los Angeles, the most notorious incident being forcibly shown the door at the Troubadour Club along with drinking companion Harry Nilsson after heckling a Smothers Brothers performance and striking a waitress in March 1974.
Because most of the record's lyrics explore the barriers separating himself from others, while also frequently expressing the hope that these might somehow be overcome, John chose the title Walls and Bridges. "Walls," said Lennon, "keep you in either protectively or otherwise, and bridges get you somewhere else." In its searing emotional intensity, Walls and Bridges resembles John's first post-Beatle album, while the richly textured arrangements and melodic diversity recall Imagine. But Walls and Bridges also features an ingredient that those earlier confessionals conspicuously lacked: vintage Lennon humor, which can go a long way toward alleviating the potential heaviness of John's subject matter.
A renewed determination to find a few laughs even in the face of adversity illuminates every aspect of Walls and Bridges from the inclusion of a brief, good-natured duet between Lennon and 11-year-old son Sean -- along with a booklet of paintings John did himself when he was that age -- to the half dozen playful pseudonyms ranging from Rev. Thumbs Ghurkin (piano) to John's favorite, Dr. Winston O'Boogie (electric guitar); and Lennon's Dylanesque acoustic strumming on "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out" is credited to Dwarf McDougal -- Dwarf being Dylan's music company and McDougal the name of his Greenwich Village street.
Walls and Bridges' lusher, more languid songs bring to mind similarly reflective Beatle "classics" like "Strawberry Fields Forever." The most popular of these proved to be "Number Nine Dream," easily the most poignant melody Lennon had written since "Imagine." John and Yoko once considered nine their lucky number and had often cited it in their work. In this song Lennon looks wistfully back at their relationship, which though at the time it "seemed so very real," has now passed into nostalgia as an elusive, magical dream.
On this exquisite recording John draws upon the sort of dream-world effects he had used in his late-Sixties Beatles music: gauze-like orchestrations, tapes of voices whispering "John, John" that are reversed toward the the end of the song, passages written in an imagery language (unlike those on "Sun King," however, these reportedly came to Lennon in an actual dream).
Another Walls and Bridges track, "Bless You," is also dedicated to Yoko. On this song, however, the music is most un-Beatle-like, featuring the sort of jazzy diminished-seventh chord progressions Paul had recently dallied with on Band On the Run's "Bluebird."
In "Steel and Glass" John paints a considerably less charitable portrait of another "old friend of mine" -- a slimy New York wheeler-dealer generally assumed to be Allen Klein. The melody and tough, ominous string arrangement are almost identical to those of "How Do You Sleep?," and its message is no less scathing that its predecessor's.
Walls and Bridges frequently explores a theme rare in the forever-young world of rock 'n' roll: fear of aging and death. "Nobody loves you when you're old and greey" sings the ravaged ex-Beatle. "Everybody loves you when you're six foot in the ground." A hounded self-portrait called "Scared" is prefaced with an actual recording of howling killer wolves.
Yet the aging process also seems to have brought John a more tolerant and philosophical perspective. Instead of "preaching practices," as had once been his wont, the only advice he doles out now is "Whatever gets you thru the night, 'salright, 'salright...." This good-natured and highly danceable track, which preceded Walls and Bridges as a single, features Elton John on piano, organ, and vocal harmonies. During the recording session for Elton's remake of "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" Elton made Lennon promise to put in a guest appearance at his forthcoming New York concert should "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" reach Number One, which despite Lennon's doubts did indeed make it all the way to the top of the charts. On November 28, 1974 he joined Elton on stage at Madison Square Garden to sing both songs.
With the release of Walls and Bridges, everything suddenly seemed to be coming together again for John Lennon. He had succeeded in electrifying a live audience for the first time in two and a half years, scored his first non-Beatle Number One single (oddly enough, the last of the Fab Four to do so), and produced an album that was a success at every conceivable level (honorary critic Ringo Starr only slightly exaggerated the sentiments of many reviewers when he proclaimed Walls and Bridges "the best album of the last five years").
Walls and Bridges first appeared on the Billboard chart on October 12, 1974, reaching #1 and spending a total of 27 weeks.
- Nicholas Schaffner, The Beatles Forever, 1978.
These songs seem more felt than those on Mind Games, probably because they express personal pain rather than generalized optimism -- "Bless You," to Yoko in someone else's arms, is a real leap. But the melodies are received, the accompaniment ordinary, and the singing disoriented. What can it be like for this ex-Beatle to trade harmonies with Elton John (who sings backup on "Surprise, Surprise," just as Lennon does on Elton's new single) in the inescapable knowledge that it's Elton who's doing him the favor? B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Craftsmanlike pop-rock featuring the uptempo #1 hit "Whatever Gets You Through the Night," its Top Ten followup, "#9 Dream," and some lovely album tracks. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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