The "Plastic Ono Band" in the album's title refers to the conceptual band Lennon and Ono had formed in 1969 of various supporting musicians they would use on their various solo albums.
After the Beatles' break-up in April 1970, both Lennon and Ono undertook primal therapy with the guidance of Arthur Janov for four months in Los Angeles. Forced to confront the traumas of his childhood (abandonment, isolation and death), Lennon finally let his submerged anger and hurt rise to the surface and dealt with it through his art. Similarly, Ono's concurrently-recorded album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band was a form of catharsis for her.
Returning to England that September, Lennon and Ono called upon Phil Spector, who had produced Lennon's hit "Instant Karma!" earlier that year, to co-produce both their albums with them at Abbey Road Studios. Ringo Starr played drums, while Klaus Voormann played bass. Billy Preston, who had already worked with the Beatles, supplied piano for "God". Lennon performed all guitar duties, playing most of the piano as well.
Throughout the album, Lennon touches upon many issues: the abandonment of his parents in "Mother"; the castigation of class issues in "Working Class Hero"; a reminder that despite his rage and pain, Lennon still embraces "Love"; and "God", a renouncement of external saviours. Here Lennon states that he believes only in himself, and his wife Yoko.
In 2000, Yoko Ono supervised a remixing of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band for its remastered CD reissue, including two bonus tracks: Lennon's 1971 hit "Power To The People" and "Do The Oz", which had appeared on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology. In 2003, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissued the album in 24-karat Gold CD audio and 180 gram 1/2 speed mastered GAIN 2 Ultra Analog in vinyl reissues.
The album's cover is almost identical to Ono's companion piece Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band — the difference being that on Ono's cover, she is lying on Lennon's body. The photo was snapped with a consumer-grade Instamatic camera by actor Daniel Richter who worked as an assistant for the Lennons at the time. The initial compact disc issue of the album listed the title and artist, while the 2000 remastered version restores the original artwork. In addition, the original LP did not feature a track listing on the back. Instead, the back cover showed what appears to be a school photo of Lennon in his youth (circa 1946).
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was received with high critical praise upon release. Critic Greil Marcus remarked, "John's singing in the last verse of 'God' may be the finest in all of rock." In early 1971, the album reached number eight on the U.K. and went to number six in the U.S., spending eighteen weeks in the Top 100.
In 2000 Q placed John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band at number sixty-two in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 1987, it was ranked number four on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 best albums of the period 1967-1987, and in 2003, it was placed at number twenty-two in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
"Look At Me" dates from The Beatles period, and is built on a finger-picking guitar pattern very similar to the one Lennon used in "Dear Prudence", "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and "Julia". Lennon learned this guitar technique from Donovan while the two were in Rishikesh.
The album was released in Japan under the title ジョンの魂 (John no tamashii), which translates as "John's Soul."
All songs written by John Lennon.
- Side one
- "Mother" – 5:34
- "Hold On" – 1:52
- "I Found Out" – 3:37
- "Working Class Hero" – 3:48
- "Isolation" – 2:51
- Side two
- "Remember" – 4:33
- "Love" – 3:21
- "Well Well Well" – 5:59
- "Look at Me" – 2:53
- "God" – 4:09
- "My Mummy's Dead" – 0:49
2000 reissue bonus tracks
- "Power to the People" – 3:22
- "Do the Oz" (referring to the Oz magazine obscenity trials) – 3:07 (Lennon/Ono)
- John Lennon: vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, piano, keyboards, production
- Klaus Voormann: bass
- Ringo Starr: drums
- Billy Preston: piano on "God"
- Phil Spector: piano on "Love", production
- Alan White: drums and percussion (on CD version's bonus tracks only).
- Yoko Ono: production
- Mal Evans: "tea and sympathy"