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 John Lennon's Solo Years

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A major reissue campaign marks what would have been the Beatle's 70th birthday.

by Simon Vozick-Levinson in Entertainment Weekly

John LennonJohn Lennon Signature Box Setohn Lennon's 70th birthday this Oct. 9 ought to have been a chance to absorb whatever new sounds he was making as he entered his old age. Since that is sadly impossible, why not honor his memory by listening again to the eight albums he recorded under his own name? A handsome if pricey new 11-CD John Lennon Signature Box Set presents all eight in freshly remastered form, plus another disc of slipshod demos and one more of non-album singles. (Also available is a separate new four-disc set that groups 72 songs thematically, as well as yet another one-disc hits compilation.) The reissues are also sold individually -- or maybe you'd prefer to dig out the perfectly serviceable remasters that each album already received over the past 10 years. But however you choose to consume it, the time has never been better to rediscover the unpredictable, challenging music Lennon recorded in his 30s.

John Lennon - Plastic Ono BandLennon kicked off his post-Beatles career with back-to-back classics. Renouncing the band's all-you-need-is-love optimism, he channeled his inner turmoil after the break-up into confrontational rock and introverted folk for 1970's Plastic Ono Band. "I don't believe in Beatles," he stated flatly on "God." Rough recordings from this era dominate the new box set's demo disc; his hoarse delivery of that line on an early take of "God" drives home just how ragged he was feeling.

John Lennon - ImagineLennon followed that blast of shell-shocked honesty with an equally surprising return to pop uplift on 1971's Imagine. Along with the sublime title track, songs like "Jealous Guy" and "Oh My Love" are as gorgeous and openhearted as anything the Beatles did. Together, these two discs -- both essential parts of any record collection, and now sounding warmer and richer than ever -- proved incontrovertibly that he was capable of greatness on his own.

John Lennon - Some Time In New York CityJohn Lennon - Mind GamesJohn Lennon - Walls and BridgesJohn Lennon - Rock 'n' RollBut what to make of the four that followed? Emboldened by these triumphs, Lennon spent the next few years indulging seemingly every nutty idea that flashed across his brain. He vented radical politics on 1972's Some Time in New York City (co-credited to wife Yoko Ono), pursued trippy tangents on 1973's Mind Games, flirted with disco on 1974's Walls and Bridges, and covered his favorite oldies in a boozy howl on 1975's Rock 'n' Roll. Casual listeners should stick to the highlights on the new best-ofs. But digging deeper, particularly into the lushly remastered Mind Games and Walls and Bridges, will yield a wealth of beautiful and bizarre obscurities for more advanced Lennonites. Even when he didn't quite achieve his far-ranging ambitions during this period, it's fascinating to hear him try.

John Lennon - Double FantasyAfter taking five years off to raise his son Sean, Lennon resurfaced in 1980 with some of his most resonant songs ever. Double Fantasy, a tribute to domesticity created in close collaboration with Ono, would have merited all its plaudits even without the added poignancy of his murder three weeks after its release. A bonus disc included with the new reissue (though -- stick with us here! -- not the box set) presents Double Fantasy in "stripped down form, minus many vocal and instrumental overdubs. Appreciators of the album shouldn't miss this intimate alternate mix -- but be warned. Hearing Lennon's barely adorned voice sing about how much he loved his family on songs like "Woman" and "Watching the Wheels" can be truly heartbreaking.

John Lennon - Milk and HoneyLennon's planned follow-up, Milk and Honey, completed posthumously by Ono and released in 1984, rounds out the reissue campaign. Experiencing it again in context only adds to the impression that a midcareer renaissance was just beginning. That sense looms over all of Lennon's solo output, in fact, giving the tunes a faint tragic cast even at their most purely joyful. The interrupted arc of the albums inside the box set's pristine white cube makes it clear that he was nowhere near finished making music when a bullet forced him to stop.

For the millions of fans still grieving, the best and only consideration is to keep immersing themselves in the complicated catalog he left behind, year after year, decade after decade. Listen enough times and you might be able to imagine another, fairer world where his musical journey didn't have to end so soon.  


news picHOT NEW LENNON MOVIE Nowhere Boy is a biopic about John Lennon's very early days (long before the Beatles), and it's a terrific film: insightful and moving, with rock & roll sequences that give you a tingle. It starts in 1955, when Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is just 15 and a slightly bratty Liverpool delinquent living with his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Before long, two things will rock his world. First, he learns that his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), lives just down the road, and he reconnects with her. She's free-spirited and a real flirt, just like John, but she's also a fragile, neurotic waif who was too immature to raise him. The second thing that happens is that he decides he wants to be Elvis Presley. The power of Nowhere Boy is that, as directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, it captures how John Lennon's deeply sordid family life toyed with his soul by not letting him know who he was. When he's drawn to the bad-boy catharsis of rock & roll, it gives him more than an outlet - it gives him an idendity, a role. (And that's before he meets a certain eager fellow named Paul, late in the film.) At first, Aaron Johnson, from Kick-Ass, seems too morose to be John Lennon, but then the Lennon personality - the wit, the casual-cruelty - emerges. By the end of Nowhere Boy, you'll feel you know John Lennon better than you ever did. A- - Owen Gleiberman





 The Long Road back to Dallas

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Who's reshooting J.R.?

by Lynette Rice in Entertainment Weekly

Dallas castold on to your cowboy hat, Dallas fans: Hollywood is attempting (yet again) to revisit the classic CBS show that aired from 1978 to 1991. TNT announced in late September that it has ordered a pilot written by Cynthia Cidre (Cane) that focuses on the sons of J.R. and Bobby Ewing. The new iteration will have a contemporary feel, but the network promises to pay homage to the old series. "This is not a remake as much as it is a continuation," says Michael Wright, TNT's head of programming. "It takes the next generation of Ewings and continues the battle."

This isn't the first time that someone's tried to revive the Texas oil family drama. Larry HagmanIn 2006, Twentieth Century Fox decided to adapt the soap for the big screen, closing deals with John Travolta, Jennifer Lopez, and Luke Wilson. But then research indicated that the Dallas brand didn't mean much to younger moviegoers, says a source close to the project. Travolta and Lopez soon dropped out. "There was so much money invested from the development that even if they made it for cheap, it would still be a really expensive movie," the insider says. Yet hunger for the show itself never waned: Dallas syndicates in 60 countries today, and Larry Hagman, who played J.R., continues to make appearances on behalf of the show. "It's like an annuity, really," Hagman, 78, tells EW. "I go out, they adore me, and then they pay you. What better job can you have?"

And it looks like it's only going to get better. TNT has already approached Hagman about appearing in the pilot, though he doesn't know how the show will evolve if it's picked up. (Cidre is staying mum on her vision for now.) But Hagman does understand the enduring quality of Dallas, which still holds the record for producing the third-most-watched episode in TV history, with 41.5 million viewers tuning in to the "Who Shot J.R.?" cliff-hanger. "Everybody in the world has an a--hole like J.R. in their lives," says Hagman. "He loved his family and had all the right instincts to keep them together, but he'd also stick a knife in their backs to keep them in line. Everybody loved to hate that guy."  

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