1973 would prove to be one of John Lennon‘s most trying years. After positioning himself as one of the most politically active artists in rock, the backlash against Lennon began to take hold. Some Time in New York, his previous album, received largely negative reviews and was largely ignored commercially, thanks to its polarizing political content and messages. Lennon decided to move away from the more extreme causes, partly to rejuvenate his music career and partly out of a desire to stay in the United States.
Before the recording of the Mind Games album officially began, Lennon was ordered by the Nixon administration to leave the country. He had 60 days from the final week of March, but Nixon’s involvement with the Watergate scandal had increased by this time. Lennon was able to fight off the deportation, but the stress involved had put a strain on his relationship with Yoko Ono, who was granted permanent residency. Right before the sessions were set to begin for Mind Games, Lennon and Ono separated.
The confusion and uncertainty Lennon was feeling at the time are all over Mind Games: there are humourous tracks like ‘Tight A$’ and ‘Meat City’, but also devotional odes to Ono in ‘One Day (At a Time)’ and ‘Out the Blue’. It makes for a remarkably uneven album, but there was no mistaking the power a poignancy of the album’s title track. Featuring Lennon’s own version of the Phil Spector wall of sound that he had utilised on his previous albums, ‘Mind Games’ appeared to be a stark and honest reflection of his and Ono’s difficulties.
While it certainly incorporates elements of his failing marriage, Lennon also uses the song to promote some of his lingering political ideas, specifically in the “love is the answer” and “make love not war” sections of the track. “Yes is the answer” relates back to an art piece of Ono’s that first caught Lennon’s eye back in the 1960s, and his disappointment in the deteriorating relationships is palpable.
After the release of Mind Games, Lennon moved out to California with his assistant, May Pang, for his infamous “Lost Weekend”. There, he hooked up with Harry Nilsson and increased his drinking substantially. His recording was sporadic, and his attempts to corral both himself and Nilsson on the latter’s Pussy Cats album proved to be disastrous, with Nilsson allegedly damaging his voice beyond repair during the sessions thanks to strain and alcoholic intake.
But it wasn’t all drunken nonsense for Lennon: he managed to reconnect with his son Julian while living in Los Angeles, and a renewed relationship began to form. When Lennon decided to move back to New York in mid-1974, he encouraged Julian to visit more often, leading to Julian’s guest appearance as a drummer on the final track of the Walls and Bridges album, ‘Ya Ya’.
Not long afterwards, Lennon and Ono reconciled, Ono became pregnant with their son Sean, and Lennon opted to take a sabbatical from music to raise him. There would be a half decade long gap between Lennon’s recordings, and when he returned, the world of rock had forever been changed by the likes of punk and new wave. Lennon’s previous favouring of lush arrangements were no longer en vogue, and tracks like ‘Mind Games’ would rarely be referenced again until after his murder in 1980.
Listen to the isolated vocals for ‘Mind Games’ down below.