John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
'I can't explain/So much pain/ I could never show it/My mummy's dead.' The final lines delivered on John Lennon's solo debut, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, summarise the tone of the album, which is one of the most emotionally raw recordings the former Beatle ever produced.
Apart from the album's lyrical content, its musical style is also unrestrained. The song structures are simple and the production is an unrefined, honest recording of a man going through emotional turmoil (the album also opens with a line addressing Lennon's mother: 'Mother/You had me/But I never had you').
The way John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was written, recorded and produced is a solid reflection of Lennon's state of mind at the time. In April 1970, the year the album was released, The Beatles broke up and Lennon joined Yoko Ono in primal scream therapy in Los Angeles, under the guidance of Arthur Janov.
This involved Lennon reliving the traumatic experiences of his childhood and confronting them in order to help him to come to terms and deal with the present. Recurring themes of his relationship with his parents, emotional pain, class issues and suffering on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, as well as the raw nature of the production, were doubtless influenced by such sessions.
The album also introduced to the world Working Class Hero, a song denouncing what Lennon saw as attempts by British society to turn the working classes into a middle-class group. Its lyrics detail a working-class character's life and how society continually presses itself against the character as he grows up under pressure to conform: 'As soon as you're born they make you feel small/They hurt you at home and they hit you at school/When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years/There's room at the top they're telling you still/But first you must learn how to smile as you kill.'
Despite fractured relationships with his parents as a child, Lennon was not raised in a working-class environment. He was brought up in an upper middle-class household by his aunt, which led some critics to state he couldn't exactly claim to be a working-class hero.
His response, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine during the week of his death, was that the song was supposed to mock people who tried to climb the social ladder. Rather than casting himself as a working-class hero, Lennon said he had experienced fame as well as anonymity, and that he had experienced both happiness and unhappiness during both periods.
Perhaps a crucial verse in understanding the meaning of the song is one in which Lennon describes the character as 'doped with TV' but who remains a peasant. Instead of simply seeking wealth, the song appears to encourage the listener to do something more radical: to chase their own dreams, not what society has dictated for them.