Available On: Side 2 of the Live Jam disc included with Sometime in New York City, released in the U.S. on June 12, 1972. This performance was subsequently issued, with an alternate mix, on disc one, “A Typical Day On the Road, Part 1”, of Frank Zappa’s 2-CD live set, Playground Psychotics, originally released in 1992 on Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin label; it was re-released on Ryodisc in 1995.
The performance was captured on 16 mm film and insofar as I know, has not been officially released on video.
It comes out that people like me have to save themselves, because we get fucking kicked! Nobody says it! Zappa’s there screaming, “Look at me, I’m a genius, for fuck’s sake, what do I have to do to prove to you son-of-a-bitches what I can do and who I am and don’t dare fuckin’ criticize my work like that! You who don’t know anything about it!” Fucking bullshit! I know what Zappa’s going through! And a half! I’m just coming out of it now, just fuckin’ hell, I’ve been in school again, I’ve had teachers ticking me off and marking my work! Fuck you all! If nobody can recognize what I am, fuck ’em!
-John on recognizing himself as a genius at age 9, Lennon Remembers, New Edition, Jann S. Wenner, @ 2000 Verso/Rolling Stone Press, originally published in 1971
The Mothers of Invention were much like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, in that their membership fluctuated, and in fact they had disbanded in 1969. The Mothers had only recently reunited in 1971, not long before the John and Yoko set. Both bands were also led by men with distinctive absurd artistic tendencies.
This session had its genesis in an interview with the Lennons by Village Voice writer Howard Smith on his WPLJ-FM show. Smith was off to interview Frank Zappa (Dec. 21, 1940–Dec. 4, 1993) next and asked if John would like to come along, and naturally he said yes.
Zappa recalled, “A journalist in New York City woke me up–knocked on the door and is standing there with a tape recorder and goes, ‘Frank, I’d like to introduce you to John Lennon’, you know, waiting for me to gasp and fall on the floor. And I said, ‘Well, okay. Come on in.’
“And we sat around and talked, and I think the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re not as ugly as I thought you would be,’ So anyway, I thought he had a pretty good sense of humor so I invited him to come down and jam with us at the Fillmore East. We had already booked in a recording truck because we were making the Live at the Fillmore album at the time.”
The track listing may be confusing, so I’ll lay them both out to be sorted. On John’s Live Jam disc, included with his 1972 LP Sometime in New York City, it goes “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, “Jamrag”, Scumbag” and ‘Au”. The alternate mix on Zappa’s Playground Psychotics (1994) lists them as “Well”; “Say Please” & “Aaawk”, a double renaming of “Jamrag”, which was a cover of Zappa’s tune “King Kong”; “Scumbag” and “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono”.
This was one of the last concerts to be held at the Fillmore East. After only three years of groundbreaking concerts, the venue closed on June 27, 1971. Fillmore East–June 1971 was released Aug. 1971, two months after John’s encore appearance; yet the encore wasn’t included on this album; instead it would be saved for Playground Psychotics.
The audience must have been surprised when John and Yoko stepped out for the encore, John in an off-white suit and black guitar. “This is a song I used to sing when I was at the Cavern in Liverpool. I haven’t done it since,” John said by way of introductions.
The only tune that kept true to the performance in either mix was “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, a 1958 hit by the Olympics. Well, at least it proved that John could carry a blues song. The only detraction was Yoko’s wailing after every line of every verse. She seemed to be on a one-track mind that night; all she managed to offer was the same wail.
(Ironically the live cover of ‘Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)” was released decades before the studio version saw daylight on the John Lennon Anthology and the smaller compilation Wonsaponatime in 1998.)
“Jamrag” was where they were sued by Zappa because they stole the melody to his song “King Kong”. That song was composed in 1967. Zappa and the Mothers had been performing it in concert throughout 1968, where it quickly became a concert favorite. It was finally committed to vinyl on 1969’s Uncle Meat as an 18 minute-plus track. I gotta credit the Mothers for stamina in keeping up the rhythm for 18 minutes.
(P.S.–‘jamrag’ was British slang for a sanitary napkin. Sorry, TMFI)
Basically, in this venue, it was John and Yoko screaming back and forth, with Zappa jerking his middle finger up, eliciting even more shrieks. It actually had to get a minute and a half into it before it approaches anything constituting a melody. Don Preston gives a prominent keyboard solo, but Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s vocals had been turned down on the Live Jam mix…as well as Yoko’s cat-killer wailing, ironically.
On Playground Psychotics, “Jamrag” gets split up into “Say Please” and “Aaawk”, still with no mention of “King Kong”, though Zappa had every opportunity to do so on his own CD. Perhaps he was hoping to avoid any more lawsuits, or he had no interest in stirring up any more hornet’s nests. Who knows? The “Aaawk” section brings forward the guitars. Zappa probably renamed that part ’cause that’s what Yoko’s screeching sounds like halfway through the song.
“Scumbag” was a long jam consisting of John calling out two words over and over–with less Yoko. Literally, as partway in someone rushes onstage to drape Yoko in a bag, from which she wails on unimpeded.
Halfway through, Zappa breaks the Fourth Wall, calling to the audience, “Hey listen! I don’t know if you can tell what the words are to this song but there’s only two words and I’d like you to sing along ’cause it’s real easy, anyone who comes to the Fillmore East can sing this song. The name of the song is “Scum Bag”, OK, and all you gotta sing is ‘Scum Bag!” All right brothers and sisters, let’s hear it for the Scum Bag!”
That bleeds over into the last number, “Au”. On Playground Psychotics, the last number in John’s show was retitled, appropriately enough, “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono”. Zappa and the Mothers exited the stage while John bent over the loudspeakers and left his guitar spewing feedback over the crowd, whose cheers had been scrubbed from the Live Jam. Yoko’s siren wouldn’t come in until two minutes in, and thankfully the feedback almost–but not quite–drowns her out.
Finally, when the noise is over, everyone comes back onstage to say goodnight. “I’d like to thank Frank for having us on,” John says. “Yeah, he’s the greatest,” Yoko adds.
“After they had sat in with us, an arrangement was made that we would both have access to the tapes…He wanted to release it with his mix, and I had the right to release it with my mix–so that’s how that one section came about. The bad part is, there’s a song that I wrote called ‘King Kong’ which we played that night, and I don’t know whether it was Yoko’s idea or John’s idea, but they changed the name of the song to ‘Jamrag’, gave themselves writing and publishing credit on it, stuck it on an album and never paid me. It was obviously not a jam session–it’s got a melody, it’s got a bass line, it’s obviously an organized song. Little bit disappointing. I’ve never released my version of the mixes of that night.”
Do you ever intend to?
“One day yeah–but it would be drastically different because there were things that were edited out of their version and certain words that were being sung that were removed because of the editorial slant that they wanted to apply to the material and I have a slightly different viewpoint on it.
–Zappa recalls on The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disc, Baktabak CD CBAK 4012/ UK 1985, interviewer unknown, transcribed by Robert Moore; interview conducted c. 1984
This was probably the second-fastest turnaround between the performance of a live show and its release since Live Peace in Toronto, barely a year after the session. The show was fine, of course; what went into the mix on the Live Jam LP wasn’t the Lennons’ finest moment. Technically it was supposed to be a ‘free’ bonus disc, except that it was given a separate catalogue number which pushed up the price of the total album package. As Zappa said, he got the raw end of the deal.
When it comes to mixes, I have to give this one to Zappa. Well, the audience was brought forward significantly. Zappa’s vocals and Jim Pons’ bass are more audible I believe on Zappa’s mix than on the Live Jam. At times it seems Zappa and the Mothers had been erased altogether from the Live Jam version.
Interestingly, Sometime in New York City was the last LP to carry the Plastic Ono Band name, as the Nixon Administration had already taken up its campaign of government harassment against the Lennons.