Home demoes were nothing new for John Lennon. The singer often kept a tape recorder handy at any place he might have found himself in, and famously had one at his dining room table to record ideas if they came to him spontaneously. A fair number of classic Beatles songs came when Lennon was either eating breakfast or simply relaxing.
For the recording of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, most of the album’s songs started out as rough homemade versions that featured only Lennon and an acoustic guitar/piano. ‘My Mummy’s Dead’ was retained in this format for its haunting lo-fi sound. But even though Lennon was purposefully aiming for an unadorned, stripped-back sound that would heavily contrast the lush overdub-heavy production of albums like Abbey Road, he still went into the studio to flesh out arrangements.
Not that those arrangements got augmented by string arrangements or endless layers of guitar. The set up was simple: Lennon on guitar or piano, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Ringo Starr on drums. Takes were mostly live and recorded quickly to retain the magic that came from impulsive decisions. This can be heard in Lennon’s unhinged vocals and wild instrumental playing: with nowhere to hide, the results were raw and ferociously unique.
The album climaxes on the track ‘God’. Rare for the album, Lennon brought in Billy Preston in order to add ornate grand piano lines, giving the song a real sense of beauty that contrasts with the purposefully ugly qualities found on the other songs on the album. The original demo, however, is quite different.
Instead of a monster piano-driven ballad, the home demo finds Lennon singing the track as a folky acoustic guitar song. Faster and less intense than the final version, Lennon still has the form and structure down, all the way down to declaring his lack of belief in his former band. His lack of belief in Bob Dylan is fairly ironic here, considering how this version closely resembles Dylan’s early style of music.
Lennon also repeats the entire form one more time and doesn’t state his belief in Yoko in the home demo. These aren’t major differences: Lennon was clearly just woodshedding the track and perfected it by the time he got into the studio. The intense crescendo from the home demo is played relatively straight on the studio version, and the distortion Lennon manages to get from his acoustic guitar would have been fascinating addition had it made the final cut.
Check out the home demo for ‘God’ down below.