There can be no doubt that, by 1969, John Lennon had reached a new phase in his life. Already beginning to ween himself off The Beatles hype, despite being a year or so away from officially disbanding the group, Lennon had found a new muse in Yoko Ono and a cherished new sense of experimentation. It saw the songwriter dive into some of his most avant-garde work, including the album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins.
The first dabble in the expansive and creative world Lennon and Ono would provide for one another, the album charted on the US Billboard chart and saw the Beatle step away for the Fab Four more permanently than ever before. Recorded in a single night, the album has always been typified by one Lennon quote: “It was midnight when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful.”
The album may well have found good favour with Lennon’s fans, but it wasn’t the same case for the authorities in New Jersey’s Newark airport who seized 30,000 copies of the album as it landed from Apple Records. It wasn’t the unusual songs and sonic structure on the LP that offended them but the cover.
The original artwork sees Lennon and Ono standing side by side in the nude. While the image was well-intentioned as a reminder of the humans beneath the idols as well as the vulnerability of new love, the record became a huge controversy. Apple Records foresaw the issue and had the album bagged so that only the head of the artists could be seen. However, this wasn’t enough for those at Newark airport.
“We were both a bit embarrassed when we peeled off for the picture, so I took it myself with a delayed-action shutter,” Lennon later recalled of the famous image which was taken in Ringo Starr‘s basement following Lennon’s departure from his first marital home.
“The picture was to prove that we are not a couple of demented freaks, that we are not deformed in any way and that our minds are healthy,” claimed the singer. It’s a fair point. Even by 1968, the images of Lennon and Ono were being constantly shared in tabloids and music magazines with salacious attachments.
By today’s standards, it would still be relatively difficult to have the album pass a censorship check. However, Lennon saw it a different way: “If we can make society accept these kinds of things without offence, without sniggering, then we shall be achieving our purpose.”
You can listen to the album below: