Take 5: Julian Lennon

While it’s true that the listening public probably wouldn’t know his name if he weren’t the son of one of the most famous and important musical figures who’s ever lived, Julian Lennon is a music artist whose work merits attention. After a lengthy period away from making music, John Lennon’s eldest son – who turned 60 on April 8 – returned last September with Jude, his first new album in more than a decade. The new album features a strong track in its single, “Lucky Ones.” Here’s a look back at five key tracks from the back catalog of Julian Lennon.

“Valotte” from Valotte (1984)
From the single’s picture sleeve that strongly echoes a Hamburg-era photo of his father to Phil Ramone’s production choices, most everything about Julian’s debut demonstrates a conscious attempt to build on the sound and character of his father’s solo-era style. But none of that should take away form the fact that “Valotte” is a stirring, catchy pop ballad. My review of the Valotte album is here.

“Stick Around” from The Secret Value of Daydreaming (1986)
Even the first few seconds of the single from Julian’s second album place the song firmly in its time: ‘80s synthesizer/sequencer textures, pig-squeal guitar fills, gunshot snare drums. But as mainstream 1980s pop goes, “Stick Around” has its charms, and Lennon deserves points for moving in a harder-edged musical direction. My review of The Secret Value of Daydreaming is here.

“Now You’re in Heaven” from Mr. Jordan (1989)
John Lennon famously collaborated with David Bowie, co-writing, playing guitar and singing on the Thin White Duke’s “Fame” in 1976. Thirteen years later, Julian Lennon released this track, one that borrows much of its character from Bowie’s ‘80s work circa Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down. It’s difficult to know exactly what bits of Julian’s own musical identity figure into the song, but weighed on its own, “Now You’re in Heaven” is a perfectly acceptable piece of late ‘80s album-oriented rock. My review of Mr. Jordan is here.

“Saltwater” from Help Yourself (1991)
Julian took a couple of years’ break after Mr. Jordan, and when he returned with his fourth album, he seemed to have moved back toward making music that expressed musical ideas that suited his talents more closely. The lovely, thoughtful, meditative and eco-topical “Saltwater” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on his dad’s Mind Games or Walls and Bridges LPs. The retro keyboard hearken back to the mid ‘60s, and the lead guitar break is a dead ringer for one of his father’s closest mates, George Harrison (it’s actually played by the great Steve Hunter). My review of Help Yourself is here.

“I Don’t Wanna Know” from Photograph Smile (1998)
Julian took an even longer break after his fourth LP, with a seven-year wait until the release of Photograph Smile. Arguably, it was worth the wait: “I Don’t Wanna Know” is a delightful slice of Beatlesque janglepop, with a strong melody, scintillating vocal harmonies and a catchy melody full of subtle yet clear nods toward the Fab Four. And the music video doubles down on the Beatleisms, adding up to Lennon’s strongest outing since his debut. My review of Photograph Smile is here.