Forty years ago this month John Lennon and Yoko Ono went into a studio in New York and started recording a new record. The record would be released in June of 1972 with the title “Sometime in New York City”. This record completely distanced Lennon from his pop past. He and Yoko had released two previous records but this was different. “Sometime in New York City” focused on politics and social issues in a way that both Lennon and Ono hadn’t allowed themselves to before. Released as a double album there are eleven songs on the first album and live tracks recorded in London and the Fillmore East. The live tracks include performances with Frank Zappa, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Keith Moon along with the Elephant’s Memory Band.
The record was not well received and poorly reviewed. It was not the sound that critics and audiences wanted from John Lennon and of course Yoko Ono was blamed and derided. Songs dealing with women’s issues, marijuana and the Irish genocide were not appreciated and the atonal sound of Yoko’s voice was attacked. When listened to today one can hear the seeds of what would eventually be termed Punk Rock. The opening track titled “Woman is the Nigger of the World” was considered shocking by the use of the word nigger even though Lennon and Ono explained that the word was used as an allegory. This resulted in the single getting very little airplay and banned in many places. The track “John Sinclair” is about a man arrested and imprisoned for possession of two joints. The refrain with its repeating “gotta” has a rhythm that predates the spare sound of punk rock by many years. The track “New York City” has echoes of Lennon’s skittle past and tells of his new life in the US and NYC. Yoko’s feminist ideals are focused on in the tracks “Sisters O’ Sisters” as well as “Woman is the Nigger of the World” and “Angela” a song about Angela Davis. The “troubles” in Ireland are the focus of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the sad and almost nursery rhyme-like “The Luck of the Irish”.
The live tracks include “Cold Turkey” and “Scumbag” as well as Yoko’s "Don't Worry Kyoko". These are the most dissonant tracks where Ono’s plaintive howls interact with Lennon’s guitar riffs. The echo-y sounds evoke and sadness and angst that would be heard in Yoko’s later work.
“Sometime in New York City” was re-mastered and reissued on CD several years ago. This is a record that truly deserves a listen and the respect that it did not receive as it was too far ahead of it time.