WHEN YOKO ONO AND SEAN Lennon set out to create a music collection to honor the late John Lennon’s 80 th birthday, they knew that another greatest hits collection wasn’t something fans needed or wanted. Instead, together with the core team that crafted 2018’s highly successful Imagine The Ultimate Collection box set, they delivered John Lennon. Gimme Some Truth. The Ultimate Mixes. Released by Capitol/UMe on October 9, Lennon’s actual birthday, this box set includes not only new stereo mixes drafted from the original multitrack session tapes, but also high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz stereo, 5.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos mixes of each, available on an additional Blu-ray audio disc in the album’s deluxe box set (reviewed on page 72).
Ono had begun the Ultimate Collection series with Lennon’s 1971 classic, Imagine, which not only had powerful new mixes of the album tracks created by triple-Grammy–winning engineer Paul Hicks, but session outtakes and fascinating “Evolution” audio montages by Sam Gannon detailing the recording development of each song. The series will continue with Lennon’s first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which is currently in the works.
For this release, though Hicks would once again be called on to create new mixes, they differ, in a way, from those on the Ultimate Collection sets. “The Ultimate sets are really about being the ultimate exploration of the album as a deep listening experience, to allow fans to not only be entertained, but educated and inspired,” explains Ono’s compilation producer, Simon Hilton. “For this package, we knew it would include the Ultimate Mixes, but this time, this was purely focused on master takes. We weren’t going to explore all of that peripheral material.”
What separates Gimme Some Truth from previous Lennon “greatest hits” collections, besides the new mixes, is its track selection. The list, compiled by Yoko and Sean, brings fans a greater sense of Lennon’s messaging and career than a basic hits set would have. “We didn’t want it to be just another John Lennon ‘best of’ album, because there’ve been so many,” Hilton explains. “It was really important to make this quite different,” both in its sound quality and song choice. “Both of those things really help create a set that sits better, sonically, as a group. Sean sequenced the album. It’s almost like your dream John Lennon concert, taking you through John’s repertoire, from beginning to end, mostly chronologically, with ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and ‘Happy Xmas’ at the end, as encores.”
The set spans two CDs, with Lennon’s earlier material on the first, and 1974 and beyond on the second disc, which contains a good many tracks from the 1980 Double Fantasy sessions, John and Yoko’s return to recording after a five-year absence. “Nearly all of John’s songs from those sessions are here, something Sean felt very strongly about. He was there— he lived through that time, as a young boy. They mean the world to him.”
The album title itself—the name of one of Lennon’s strongest tracks on Imagine—was chosen quite early on in the process, Hilton notes. “It was felt to be the most important and potent phrase,” over “Power to the People” or “Give Peace a Chance.” “It’s especially the most relevant to 2020. And that also influenced the choice of tracks, being relevant to now and to the overall theme of the set, where each song represents a core essential or existential truth.”
Mixing Gimme Some Truth
There were a few other members of the engineering team apart from Hicks. Sam Gannon managed the audio archive for the project, as he had done previously on Imagine, shepherding original masters and accompanying resources (such as tape box images and the original engineers’ track sheets showing what was on each track of the multitrack tapes). The original tapes were transferred at Abbey Road by veteran Matthew Cocker, who had worked on the label’s Beatles 50 th anniversary box sets. And from New York, Lennon audio archivist, engineer, and producer Rob Stevens supplied the hi-res Pro Tools files, which Gannon would then tidy up, performing any restoration needed (as detailed below), before forwarding them to Hicks. The final mixes and compilation were, at the end, mastered in analog at Abbey Road by Alex Wharton, another veteran of recent Beatles/solo projects.
Track sheets, by the way, were somewhat of a new invention in the early days of Lennon’s solo work, arriving around 1971. Prior to that, when Abbey Road was still recording on 4- or 8-track tape, the engineer would simply write the track breakdown on the tape box label, along with descriptions of takes (and identification of the master). “Even as late as Plastic Ono Band, in 1970 at Abbey Road,” Gannon notes, “there was just listing of takes, etc., on the box, with no track sheet.”
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