Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins

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Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
Studio album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Released11 November 1968 (US)
29 November 1968 (UK)
Recorded19 May 1968
GenreAvant-garde[1]
Length29:27
LabelApple
ProducerJohn Lennon, Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono chronology
Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
(1968)
Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions
(1969)
 
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Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
Studio album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Released11 November 1968 (US)
29 November 1968 (UK)
Recorded19 May 1968
GenreAvant-garde[1]
Length29:27
LabelApple
ProducerJohn Lennon, Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono chronology
Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
(1968)
Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions
(1969)

Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins is an album released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in November 1968, on Apple. Following Lennon's wife, Cynthia Lennon, going on holiday, it was the result of an all-night session of musical experimentation in Lennon's home studio at Kenwood. Lennon and Ono's debut album is known not only for its avant garde content, but also for its cover. The album cover features Lennon and Ono naked, which made the album become controversial – to both the public and the record company, EMI, who refused to distribute it. To calm down the controversy, the album was sold in a brown paper bag, and distributed by Track and Tetragrammaton, in the UK and US, respectively. The album, while failing to the chart in the UK, reached number 124 in the US. The album was followed by Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions.

Background[edit]

Beatle John Lennon met Yoko Ono in November 1966,[2] at the Indica Gallery in London, thanks to its owner, John Dunbar.[3][4] Dunbar was helping Ono set up an conceptual art exhibit,[3] which Lennon was asked to preview.[5] Lennon called the exhibition "positive".[6] Wife Cynthia Lennon, feeling miserable and distanced from John,[7] went on holiday[8][9] to Greece with Jenny Boyd and Magic Alex.[nb 1][10] Lennon called Ono and invited her over for the night.[7] The album itself begun when Ono had mentioned her curiosity into Lennon's avant-garde home recordings,[10] after Lennon asked "Do you want to hear some of the things I've been playing around at in my studio?"[11] Lennon then proceeded to play her some of his tapes:[9] comedy recordings and electronic sounds, both of which Lennon knew the rest of the Beatles wouldn't allow inclusion on their albums.[12] After hearing the tapes, Ono was awestruck and recommended the pair do their own recording.[9][13] Cynthia would later return abruptly to find Ono with John.[14] The "Unfinished Music" series was an attempt for Lennon and Ono to keep a record of their life together.[10] With Ono's Grapefruit in mind, Lennon and Ono had imagined that the sound was not printed into the vinyl's grooves, but was meant to be thought of by the listener's mind.[14] Lennon described "Unfinished Music" as "saying whatever you want it to say. It is just us expressing ourselves like a child does, you know, however he feels like then. What we're saying is make your own music. This is Unfinished Music."[15]

Recording[edit]

The recordings that ended up on the album consist largely of tape loops, playing while Lennon tries out different instruments (piano, organ, drums) and sound effects (including reverb, delay and distortion), changes tapes and plays other recordings, and converses with Ono, who vocalises ad-lib in response to the sounds.[16][14][17] Both Ono and Lennon have had experience in musical experimentation: Ono staged various multimedia events in New York in the early 1960s, and Lennon with his audio experimentation in the Beatles.[18] While Lennon's songwriting partner Paul McCartney had experiments that did feature on Beatles albums, Lennon's experiments did not.[19] Lennon's longtime friend Peter Shotton remembered later in his memoir that many of the loops heard on the album were made by Lennon and himself, in the days before the recording.[20] Lennon recorded directly to two-track stereophonic, but much of the source material was monophonic. A recording of "Together", written by George Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, is heard in the background.[15]

Shortly after the release of the album, Lennon said in an interview that he believed the album "can change people", as others "have changed my head, just with their records."[21] Lennon then claimed "that's what Yoko and my singing is, to change it like that".[21] Lennon recalled Ono's influence on him, and making the album, in an interview in 1980 with Playboy's David Sheff: "Well, after Yoko and I met, I didn't realize I was in love with her. I was still thinking it was an artistic collaboration, as it were – producer and artist, right? [...] My ex-wife was away [...] and Yoko came to visit me. [...] instead of making love, we went upstairs and made tapes. I had this room full of different tapes where I would write and make strange loops and things like that for the Beatles' stuff. So we made a tape all night. She was doing her funny voices and I was pushing all different buttons on my tape recorder and getting sound effects. And then as the sun rose we made love and that was Two Virgins."[22] The album was Lennon's first recording project that did not feature any help from the rest of the Beatles.[17] Parts of the album become reminiscent to that of later editions of the Beatles' Christmas flexi recordings.[17]

Cover[edit]

CD issue with brown flap obscuring most of the cover, partially imitating the brown bag that enclosed LP editions.

Lennon and Ono used a time-delay camera, which was set up by Tony Bramwell, to take nude photographs of themselves for the album's cover, which were taken at 34 Montagu Square,[21] in early October 1968.[10] Lennon explained that they "were both a bit embarrassed when we peeled off for the picture, so I took it myself with a delayed action shutter."[21] The front cover showed them frontally nude[8] including Lennon's penis and Ono's breasts and pudendal cleft, and both Lennon's and Ono's natural pubic hair, while the rear cover showed them nude from behind including their buttocks. Lennon's idea was to have the nude shot for the front album cover.[23] Neil Aspinall said that Lennon gave the roll of film to an Apple employee, known as Jeremy, with instructions that the pictures were to be developed.[21] Jeremy said that the pictures were "mind-blowing", Aspinall, however, said that "Everything was always "mind-blowing" to Jeremy" then going on to say: "but – just that one time – he was actually right. He couldn't believe it."[21]

The cover provoked an outrage, prompting distributors to sell the album in a plain brown wrapper,[8][24] covering the nude front cover.[15][23] Quotes from Genesis Chapter 2 were placed on the back of the brown bag,[15] which were chosen by Derek Taylor.[25] The album's title came from the couple's feeling that they were "two innocents, lost in a world gone mad", and because after making the recording, the two consummated their relationship.[26] Lennon had said that the album cover "just seemed natural for us. We're all naked really."[27] Ono saw the cover as a significant declaration: "I was in the artistic community, where a painter did a thing about rolling a naked woman with blue paint on her body on a canvas; [...] that was going on at the time. The only difference was that we were going to stand together, which I thought was very interesting [...] it was just standing straight. I liked that concept."[28] Copies of the album were impounded as obscene in several jurisdictions[15] (including 30,000 copies in New Jersey in January 1969).[29] Lennon commented that the uproar seemed to have less to do with the explicit nudity, and more to do with the fact that the pair were rather unattractive (and the photo unflattering; Lennon described it later as a picture of "two slightly overweight ex-junkies").[30]

Release and aftermath[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
Allmusic1.5/5 stars[31]

Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins was released by Apple in the US in stereo on 11 November 1968,[nb 2] and in mono and stereo on 29 November 1968 in the UK.[nb 3][2] The mono version was issued only in the UK via mail order.[23] The album was distributed by Track in the UK and Tetragrammaton in the US, after EMI refused to produce the cover or sleeve the record, because of the cover photo,[15][23] unless it was changed.[nb 4][10] EMI, however, pressed the record in Britain, while the album cover was printed by Technik.[23] Apple got round the sleeve packing problem by hiring several Apple scruffs to package the album.[23] Apple employee Jack Oliver had the Apple scruffs packing the record into sleeves "in the basement of the old Apple shop".[23]

It had taken Lennon six months to persuade the fellow Beatles to agree to the release of the album, and despite being against the cover, fellow Beatle Paul McCartney[10] was asked to provide a note on the album cover, which read: "When two great Saints meet, it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a Saint."[8] In the UK, the quote, and album title, was on the album's back cover.[23] Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins failed to chart in the UK (and only 5000 British copies were ever pressed),[10][15] but managed to reach number 124 in the US,[2] after 25,000 copies had been sold.[15] Several months after the release of the album, Capitol issued to employees promotional blank picture disc copies of the album, in June 1969.[23] The couple released two related recordings later on, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions and the Wedding Album.[33]

The cover art changed three times, one for each of the album's three 8-track issues: Tetragrammaton had the back cover used as the front cover art, North America Leisure Corp reinstated the original front cover, and finally General Recording Tape released the 8-track with a paper sheet sleeve.[34] The album was reissued in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. One edition on the Rock Classiscs label,[nb 5] claimed to be distributed by Tetragrammaton and not mastered from the original tape, but merely transferred from another copy with audible surface noise,[35] released in January 1993.[10] The album was officially reissued on Rykodisc on 3 June 1997,[nb 6] under the observation of Ono,[10] with an additional bonus track — "Give Peace a Chance"'s B-side "Remember Love".[15][35] This edition of the album is slightly edited; it is missing about 30 seconds of audio from the end of second side,[35] as well as a few seconds from the start of side two.[15] Several pirate copies of the album do exist.[23]

The album was disliked critically and by Lennon's fans.[36] Actress Sissy Spacek, using the pseudonym Rainbo, recorded the song "John, You Went Too Far This Time" about the album cover.[nb 7][38][39] William Ruhlmann of Allmusic said the album was "not unlike what you might get if you turned on a tape recorder for a random half-hour in your home", calling the music "naked".[31]

Track listing[edit]

All selections by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, except where noted.

Side one
  1. "Two Virgins Side One": – 14:14
Side two
  1. "Two Virgins Side Two": – 15:13
    • "Two Virgins No. 6"
    • "Hushabye Hushabye" (composer unknown)
    • "Two Virgins No. 7"
    • "Two Virgins No. 8"
    • "Two Virgins No. 9"
    • "Two Virgins No. 10"
Bonus track
  1. "Remember Love" (Ono) – 4:05

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ John told them that if he was not working on a new Beatles album, he would have joined them.[7]
  2. ^ LP: US Apple T 5001; 8-track: US Apple TNM-85001[2]
  3. ^ Mono LP: UK Apple APCOR 2; Stereo LP: UK Apple SAPCOR 2[2]
  4. ^ EMI's chairman Joseph Lockwood once commented "Why don't you use Paul instead? He's much better looking."[32]
  5. ^ Rock Classics SSI 9999[35]
  6. ^ US Rykodisc RCD 10411[35]
  7. ^ US Roulette R-7030[37]
Citations
  1. ^ Shepherd, John, ed. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume 1: Media, Industry and Society (Volume 1. ed.). London., [England]: Continuum. p. 154. ISBN 9780826463210. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Blaney 2005, p. 3
  3. ^ a b Harry, Bill (2000). The John Lennon Encyclopedia. Virgin. p. 682. ISBN 0-7535-0404-9. 
  4. ^ Blake, John (1981). All You Needed Was Love: The Beatles After the Beatles. Middlesex: Hamlyn Paperbacks. pp. 34–35. ISBN 0 600 20466 9. 
  5. ^ Blaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-9544528-1-0. 
  6. ^ Blake 1981, p. 35
  7. ^ a b c Blake 1981, p. 44
  8. ^ a b c d "The Beatles Studio: John Lennon <> Discography <> UK Albums <> Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins". Thebeatles.com.hk. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c Blaney 2005, p. 8
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Calkin, Graham. "Unfinished Music No.1 – Two Virgins". Jpgr.co.uk. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Blake 1981, pp. 44–45
  12. ^ Blake 1981, p. 45
  13. ^ Ryan, David (2010). John Lennon's Secret. kozmik press. ISBN 9781456466008. 
  14. ^ a b c Everett, Walter (1999). The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 161. ISBN 9780195129410. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "John Lennon Discography". Homepage.ntlworld.com. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  16. ^ Noyer, Paul Du (2010). John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-84732-665-2. 
  17. ^ a b c Urish, Ben; Bielen, Kenneth G. (2007). The Words and Music of John Lennon (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Praeger. p. 6. ISBN 9780275991807. 
  18. ^ Blaney 2005, p. 7
  19. ^ Blaney 2005, pp. 7–8
  20. ^ Shotton, Pete; Schaffner, Nicholas (1984). The Beatles, Lennon, and Me (1st Stein and Day mass mkt. pbk. ed.). New York: Stein and Day. ISBN 9780812880724. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f Blaney 2005, p. 9
  22. ^ Borack, John M. (2010). John Lennon: Music, Memories, and Memorabilia. Iola, WI: Krause Publications. p. 110. ISBN 9781440216497. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Blaney 2005, p. 10
  24. ^ "Lennon's toilet in Liverpool Beatles auction". BBC News. BBC. 22 August 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  25. ^ Bloch, Avital H., ed. (2004). Impossible to Hold: Women and Culture in the 1960's. New York: New York University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9780814799109.  |coauthors= requires |author= (help)
  26. ^ Norman, Philip. John Lennon: The Life. Harper, 2008, 540pp. ISBN 978-0-00-719742-2
  27. ^ Wiener, Jon (1991). Come Together: John Lennon in His Time (Illini books ed. ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 84. ISBN 9780252061318. 
  28. ^ Blaney 2005, pp. 9–10
  29. ^ Christman, Ed (26 March 1994). "Stickered Stock: Retail's Reaction To Increased Responsibility". Billboard 106 (13): 42. 
  30. ^ Lennon, John (1986). Skywriting by Word of Mouth. Harper. p. 208. ISBN 0-06-091444-0. 
  31. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Unfinished Music, No. 1: Two Virgins – John Lennon, Yoko Ono : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  32. ^ Ingham, Chris (2009). The Rough Guide to the Beatles (3 ed.). Rough Guides UK. ISBN 9781848367524. 
  33. ^ Tillery, Gary (2009). The Cynical Idealist: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon (1st Quest ed. ed.). Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Pub. House. p. 95. ISBN 9780835608756. 
  34. ^ Blaney 2005, pp. 10–11
  35. ^ a b c d e Blaney 2005, p. 11
  36. ^ Burlingame, Jeff (2010). John Lennon: "Imagine" (Library ed. ed.). Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow. p. 108. ISBN 9780766036758. 
  37. ^ "John You Went Too Far This Time / C'mon Teach Me to Live by Rainbo". Rate Your Music. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  38. ^ Spacek, Sissy (2002). Inside the Actors Studio
  39. ^ Borack 2010, p. 124
Further listening