Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon

CD Cover John Lennon

Review by Darren Gawle

Of course, having heard "Imagine" so often that it means virtually nothing more than another Christian Children's Fund infomercial these days, you could be excused for having virtually forgotten about how remarkable a person John Lennon actually was. That Lennon's memory hasn't been completely debased (Look at Elvis. Look at Marilyn Monroe.) is one of the great mysteries of popular culture.

Certainly no other figure in popular culture of the last thirty years has had their psychological makeup picked over as much as Lennon's. Still waters may run deep, but the maelstrom of Lennon's mind ran through to the other side of the world. And, as he considered all art to be self-referential and ultimately irrelevant if it didn't expose the personality of the artist, Lennon's body of work from 1965 to 1975 launched more bullshit armchair psychoanalysis than the world really should have put up with. With lyrics like "Mother, you had me / But I never had you," though, are you really surprised?

Legend, then, is a trawl through the mind of a man who never really could deal with the tug-of-war between what he was and what society wanted him to be. We get Lennon the heroin addict ("Cold Turkey"), Lennon the Maoist ("Power to the People," the opening mumblings of "Woman"), Lennon the self-righteous jet-set peace junketeer ("Give Peace a Chance"), Lennon during primal scream therapy ("Mother"), Lennon the... well, you get the picture.

After a five-year layoff, John Lennon returned in 1980 with the much-maligned Double Fantasy album. This was a new John Lennon; a family man, mellowed out and content to bake bread at home with his new son. Some people couldn't handle this -- certainly Mark Chapman couldn't. You know the rest.

The penultimate irony of Legend is that, if John Lennon had the most finely-tuned bullshit detector of any musician of the past thirty years, he's turning over in his grave now that the politically correct contingent at EMI have ensured that you won't be hearing "Woman is the Nigger of the World" here. (And, no, Oasis fans, the opening track on Legend is not Lennon's cover of "Don't Look Back in Anger.")

The Kids in the Hall may have dismissed 'greatest hits' compilations as something for housewives and teenage girls, but if you're looking to rediscover the man of a thousand and one 'what if...' scenarios, then Legend is a more than adequate place to start.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on November 22, 1997

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