John Lennon’s answer was “Yes.”
The power of the Beatles’ breakup was such that when they each went their own way many of their fans followed all of them. I was one, purchasing all their first solo albums and several that followed from Paul and John.
Mind Games was John Lennon’s fourth album after the breakup, released in the fall of 1973 while I was on a semester break from college. The captivating cover art was itself memorable. The following year the title song from the album went gold as a single. This single is the focus of this blog post.
In the early 70’s John Lennon’s songs were very open about his inner struggles, his conflicts with family, relationships and religion. A previous album captured his explorations with primal therapy as one method of dealing with these inner conflicts. I think to some extent this candor in his songwriting is what made these albums so riveting.
Songs have hundreds of ways of introducing themselves. Sometimes it’s a guitar lick or piano riff after which each of the other musicians joins in. Sometimes they join in one at a time and build layers to form a backdrop for the vocals. Sometimes it’s the snap of a drumstick blast, like a starter’s pistol, as in “Like a Rolling Stone.” Sometimes it’s an unhurried signature drum intro like “Honky Tonk Women.”
In this case, from the first moment “Mind Games” begins with a shimmering, scintillating tapestry of sound, full and flowing, perfectly reflecting this sense of entering a timeless stream that has no beginning and no end, the wheel of life as it were. Three notes, one sustained, over and over and over.
The effect is especially mesmerizing because it begins on the third note of the sequence, the sustained high note, which creates the impress that you entering something the pre-exists your presence here. At the song’s close the theme keeps reverberating, performing its writhing “ritual dance in the sun.”
In 1963 Eric Berne published the best-selling Games People Play, introducing the popular culture to the concept of transactional analysis. A few years later session musician Joe South produced his one and only mega-hit in a song by the same name. “Oh the games people play now, every night and every day now, never meaning what they say, never saying what they mean.”
John Lennon offers a different take in this one, foreshadowing a concept that would memorably re-emerge in his song/album Double Fantasy with Yoko.
In the movie Yellow Submarine we find Lennon quoted as saying, “It’s all in the mind, you know.” An extreme version of this philosophy embraces the notion that reality as we know it is all in our minds. That is, there is no objective reality but only a projected reality. Lennon’s behavior did not affirm this solipsist view, however, but reflected an ongoing concern for the world at large, and a commitment to peace and love.
The song “Mind Games” was itself written in the late 60’s before the Beatles parted ways, originally titled “Make Love, Not War.” The inspiration for the song came from another book about games called Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston.
The line “Yes is the answer” is an acknowledgement of the artpiece by Yoko that originally brought them together. Too often, as Eric Berne documented, the games we play keep us apart. John Lennon’s appeal is for us to play a different kind of game that brings us together.
We’re playing those mind games together
Pushing the barriers planting seeds
Playing the mind guerrilla
Chanting the Mantra peace on earth
We all been playing those mind games forever
Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil
Doing the mind guerrilla
Some call it magic the search for the grail
Love is the answer and you know that for sure
Love is a flower
You got to let it, you gotta let it grow
So keep on playing those mind games together
Faith in the future out of the now
You just can’t beat on those mind guerrillas
Absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind
Yeah we’re playing those mind games forever
Projecting our images in space and in time
Yes is the answer and you know that for sure
Yes is surrender
You got to let it, you gotta let it go
So keep on playing those mind games together
Doing the ritual dance in the sun
Millions of mind guerrillas
Putting their soul power to the Karmic wheel
Keep on playing those mind games forever
Raising the spirit of peace and love
On this day, February 20 1970, the John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band single Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) was released in the U.S. eventually climbing to #3 with a Yoko Ono number on the flip side.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com