50 Years Ago Today: John Lennon Performs Only Full Length Solo Concerts
It was 50 years ago today (August 30th, 1972) that John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed their only publicly announced, full-length concerts at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The two shows, known as the One To One concerts, included an afternoon matinee and an evening performance, and benefited the Willowbrook House, with the proceeds from the concerts going to help establish new accommodations for the mentally handicapped inhabitants of the former Willowbrook institution in Long Island, New York.
The shows also included performances by Sha-Na-Na, Stevie Wonder, and Roberta Flack. John and Yoko closed both shows with a full concert set, featuring songs by each of them, backed by their then-band the Elephant’s Memory. Lennon, decked out in iconic army fatigues, cowboy boots, and blue-tinted granny-glasses, played both electric guitar and electric piano. Yoko contributed some keyboard work, as well. The set featured mostly material from John and Yoko’s early ’70s solo albums, as well as material their recently released joint album Some Time In New York City. The couple was introduced by Geraldo Rivera, who organized the benefit.
The songs performed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono were: “Power To The People (intro),” “New York City,” “It’s So Hard,” “Move On Fast (Yoko),” “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World,” “Sisters O’ Sisters (Yoko),” “Well, Well, Well,” “Born In A Prison (Yoko),” “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On),” “Mother,” “We’re All Water (Yoko),” “Come Together,” “Imagine,” “Open Your Box (Yoko),” “Cold Turkey,” “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Yoko),” “Hound Dog,” and “Give Peace A Chance.”
Elephants Memory bassist Gary Von Scyoc (pronounced: Von SY-ock) recorded several albums with John and Yoko — and is featured on 1972’s Some Time In New York City. He recalled Lennon moving swiftly once he was geared up to record: “He respected us individually as players, and he knew no matter what, if he brought us a song, we were gonna come up with something. As far as John coming with those tunes, he used to come the night of, with a new song, every night — for two weeks straight. That’s how we cut the album. Live in the studio is a whole new thing, because we started laying down the tracks, maybe a half-an-hour after we heard it for the first time.”
Roberta Flack had the unenviable task of opening for John and Yoko at the Garden shows. Despite the constant crowd chants for Lennon, she enjoyed playing the two shows: “Everybody was happy because John was there. I heard rumors that, I don’t know how true they were, that Yoko wasn’t that happy to be there.”
Radio executive Andy Denemark attended the afternoon matinee and recalled that the show was definitely a departure from Lennon’s Beatles era: “Clearly, even though we were seeing a Beatle in concert, it was not like a Beatles show at all. John had assembled this rock band; this bunch of ruffian looking guys from New York that had a saxophone — and, I mean, it felt very street and urban, in the city sense.”
With Lennon firmly in his revolutionary “Radical Chic” period, we asked Denemark if the show felt overtly political: “It felt radical in the sense that he, if I recall, had, like, the green army jacket that he used to wear, and so it had that ‘Power To The People’ feeling. But it was very casual. I mean, the band, like I said, was a rock band that had a very kind of street look to them. I remember Lennon chewing gum — which I guess he always did, anyway, live. But, just being very laid back and it didn’t feel pressured, it seemed like he was having fun. I don’t wanna say that he was aloof, but it was so relaxed that it was like, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re doin’.”
Beatlefest founder Mark Lapidos, was at both the One To One concert, as well as George Harrison‘s Concert For Bangladesh the previous year, and says that with all due respect, Harrison’s all-star show blew Lennon’s out of the water: “The quality of music at Bangladesh was unmatched. The quality of the Elephants Memory Band backing John was fun, it was nice — (but) it wasn’t the same.”
Andy Denemark remembers that Yoko’s presence seemed like a distraction to the flow of the concert: “Yoko at that time felt like an intrusion on the show. I mean, whenever she would step up front and grab an instrument or add a vocal, it . . . my recollection is that it felt, like, ‘Go sit down.'”
Joe Raiola, the former-senior editor of MAD magazine and the writer-director of the annual John Lennon tribute in New York City, caught one of the two shows and also remembers that at the time nobody had any patience for Yoko’s music: “That concert was a benefit for the Willowbrook school, and of course it was a John and Yoko show. And I’m being honest here, I don’t know what Yoko would say, but people kind of sat through her stuff. They really didn’t want to see her — they wanted to see John. It was a package deal and they wanted to be a team. It really wasn’t until Double Fantasy that they achieved that. If they toured with Double Fantasy, I think the response to Yoko would have been considerably different.”
Raiola says that Lennon seemed comfortable onstage and even cracked a few jokes: “His humor came through, because he cracked several jokes. I remember that. I remember before ‘Come Together’ he said something like, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘(We’ll) go back in the past just once, here’s a song that I did when I was in the Rolling Stones.'”
Yoko Ono says that the negative reviews that she and Lennon garnered after the show still leave a bad taste in her mouth: “Afterwards there was such a bad review, y’know, written by somebody whose band that he liked, or something was not invited — we felt terrible about the reviews. And John said, ‘Usually they don’t really rip you when you did (sic) a charity show.’ He felt very bad because — especially bad because it wasn’t with the Beatles and he wanted to sort of show to the world that he can do it. So it was actually bad. It’s a bad memory in that sense.”
Material from the two concerts has made its way out to the public over the years. Select performances from the show’s evening performance were broadcast later that year on an ABC In Concert special, featuring highlights from all of the show’s acts.
A syndicated edition of the King Biscuit Flower Hour also included several of Lennon’s songs from the evening concert. Phil Spector supervised the original mix of the live tapes, but aside from the 1972 TV special and radio broadcast, none of his original mixes have been released.
In February 1986, Yoko released the posthumous album John Lennon Live In New York City, which featured all of Lennon’s songs, mixing performances from both the afternoon and evening shows. A video version also included two of Yoko’s six tracks.
To promote the album, she released clips of Lennon’s afternoon performances of “Come Together” and “Instant Karma” which received substantial airplay on MTV.
1998’s John Lennon Anthology featured three songs from the evening show: “It’s So Hard, “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World,” and “Come Together,” in which Lennon shouts during the chorus, “Stop the war!”
Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas, who was behind the boards for the 2010 Double Fantasy Stripped Down collection, revealed to us that he’s currently working on an expanded multi-media package of the Madison Square Garden shows.
Unlike the 1986 LP and VHS versions of the ’72 shows, he plans to include material from both the afternoon and evening charity concerts — along with the extensive rehearsals for the gigs. Douglas told us that he wants fans to be able to relive the moment with the benefit of modern technology: “What I’m proposing is that we get the One To One concert, get it to be at its proper status and sound and do a stereo and 5.1 (mix) that are worthy of the experience and make a proper DVD and get it to the fans. I would hope that we would do everything that I could get my hands on as far as footage and sound. That event really deserves more than, than we have right now.”
No release date for the package has been officially announced.