Jem Records Celebrates John Lennon is a brand new CD with new recordings that Lennon and Beatle fans will savor as if they’re opening a new Beatles’ Anthology disc. The 13 songs range from pop Beatle melodies like “You Can’t Do That” to the emotional Lennon wail heard on “Cold Turkey” all the way to the quirky, rarely, if EVER covered “What’s the New Mary Jane”.
The Weeklings open and close the disc by starting out with John’s precursor to “All You Need is Love”: “The Word”, with drive and style. Their closing track on the disc was originally just a strange Lennon number nudged off of The White Album that this author has NEVER heard covered, “What’s the New Mary Jane”. Lennon remarked, “It was “just me, George and Yoko sitting on the floor at EMI just fooling around”. You’ll enjoy their rendition. The Weeklings have been delighting music fans with their unique, often searing renditions of Beatles songs and they bring it home on this disc.
New York’s The Midnight Callers provide a crisp, clear and sharp 60-second rendition of John’s “Child of Nature” and “Jealous Guy (originally taken from “Child of Nature”). For Lennon, Maharishi’s lectures were a revelation that impacted his songwriting for the remaining balance of his lifetime. “Child of Nature”, originally recorded during the Beatles’ Esher demo session at George’s bungalow when they returned from India in the spring of 1968. The Midnight Callers then celebrate the energy and power inherent in “It Won’t Be Long,” the explosive introduction to 1963’s With the Beatles album, complete with an intro.
Taking their name from Lennon’s turn as Musketeer Gripweed in Richard Lester’s tragicomic “How I Won the War” (1967), The Grip Weeds bring their high-energy, power-pop resonance to The Beatles, delivering memorable takes of “You Can’t Do That” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” With “You Can’t Do That,” the band re-imagines the song’s chiming Rickenbacker sound and relentless forward momentum. Even more dramatically, The Grip Weeds’ take “Strawberry Fields Forever” to new heights, punctuating the original song’s inner beauty and bombast at every turn.
A master of the retro-pop, British Invasion sound, Johnathan Pushkar provides some of the collection’s most heartfelt and moving recordings. With “I Call Your Name,” Pushkar demonstrates his mastery of The Beatles’ 1964-era recordings, reveling in the band’s buoyant early forays into romantic storytelling. Pushkar contrasts “I Call Your Name” with his bittersweet reading of Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over,” the single that spearheaded the release of the former Beatle’s Double Fantasy return to the charts in 1980. Written during the months before Lennon’s murder, “(Just Like) Starting Over” offers a mature love song that pulls no punches in addressing the realities of growing up and growing older.
The Anderson Council tackle one of Lennon’s most challenging solo compositions with “I Found Out,” originally released on the “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” LP in 1970. For Lennon, “I Found Out” offered a searing turn on humanity’s penchant for false idols and religious fanaticism. With the band’s intriguing blend of power-pop tendencies and singer-songwriterly awareness, The Anderson Council hoists Lennon’s banner high, reminding us—five decades later—about the dangers of losing ourselves to groupthink and unexamined belief systems.
A UK-based psychedelic beat band, The Gold Needles provide colorful cover versions of Lennon’s Beatles for Sale-era “No Reply” and “Cold Turkey/Hey Bulldog.” For “No Reply,” The Gold Needles imbue Lennon’s original composition with a sinister urgency, highlighting the speaker’s ominous perspectives on love and obsession. For “Cold Turkey/Hey Bulldog,” the band affords listeners with a hard-edged, metal-tinged take on Lennon’s songwriting, circa 1968-1969. Drawing on the introductory riff from “Hey Bulldog,” The Gold Needles offer a searing reading of Lennon’s confessional composition about the psychosocial ills of heroin addiction.
Jem Records Celebrates John Lennon is rounded out by Richard Barone’s cover versions of “Revolution/Power to the People.” As an accomplished rock musician, the former Bongos front man provides welcome highlights from Lennon’s renowned activism in the name of social change. As with The Gold Needles’ “Cold Turkey/Hey Bulldog,” Barone’s medley merges Lennon’s music and lyrics in innovative fashion. In the process, Barone commemorates the songwriter’s timeless proclivity for concocting peace anthems that resonate across the decades. Play this one LOUD!
So as the twenty-first century snakes its uneasy course into an increasingly complex and unknowable future, we need Lennon’s thoughtful and inspiring songs more than ever. Jem Records Celebrates John Lennon offers the panacea that we need in these challenging times.
– Kenneth Womack
Jem Records has emerged as one of the industry’s most iconic label and distribution groups during the 70’s and 80’s, co-founded by Marty Scott in 1970, Jem Records the 1970s and 1980s, affording consumers with a wide array of import, indie and it’s Passport/PVC labels that simply wouldn’t have otherwise reached the marketplace. Jem Records was beloved among music fans who wanted ready access to artists from across the globe. Rebranded by Scott in 2013, Jem Records has continued this remarkable tradition of innovation.