Bootleg Bin: John Lennon – Dakota Demos

Tomorrow — October 9 2010 — would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday. He died just after he turned 40. Here’s a look at some recordings he made in the last few years before his tragic passing.

As the liner notes to the 1996 collection, Free As a Bird: The Dakota Beatle Demos put it, “In 1980, John Lennon wanted his public to believe that his music had deserted him for five long years before miraculously returning with a fury. While the story makes for good PR, this collection of home demos from the ‘Dakota Years’ evidences exactly the opposite.”

Instrumentation on these cassette-based demos was limited to piano, acoustic guitar, occasional electric guitar, a rudimentary beatbox keeping time, and John’s untreated voice. To overdub, John would play along with the recording from one deck while the second recorded. Needless to say, Free As a Bird is not studio fidelity.

Yet the music remains. Unreleased takes of the title track and “Real Love” offer additional insight into John’s compositional process. Unique, embryonic versions of released songs “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “I’m Stepping Out” are here too.

The most revelatory tracks are the ones that Yoko hasn’t seen fit to release. During his exile, Lennon composed songs for a musical titled “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” “India” tells a story set against the backdrop of The Beatles‘ 1968 visit with the Maharishi. The song ranks among the most “finished” of his unreleased projects.

“She is a Friend of Dorothy’s” is a lyrical departure for Lennon, a poppy piano number about a lesbian friend. “Whatever Happened To…” is a rocking number written for the musical. It features some of John’s most melodic guitar work, and could have worked well in his 1980 sessions with Cheap Trick. “Now and Then” was considered and rejected for Beatles Anthology-era overdubbing. The brief, electric confessional “You Saved My Soul” is in the vein of the songs on Double Fantasy.

Hardcore Beatles/Lennon fans count this collection among the “core collection” of unreleased material.

Difficulty to Locate: 5 out of 10
General Listenability: 9 out of 10


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