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Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions

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Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions

Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions
Studio album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Released 9 May 1969 (1969-05-09)
Recorded 4–25 November 1968, at Room 1, Second West Ward, Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London;
2 March 1969, at Lady Mitchell Hall, Cambridge University, Cambridge
Genre Avant-garde[1]
Length 50:56
Label Zapple
Producer John Lennon, Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono chronology
Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions
Wedding Album

Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions is an album of avant-garde music released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in May 1969 on Zapple, a sub label of Apple. It was a successor to 1968's highly controversial Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins,[2] and was followed by the Wedding Album. The album peaked in the United States at number 179. The album, whose title is a play on words of the BBC Radio show Life with The Lyons, was recorded at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London and live at Cambridge University, in November 1968 and March 1969, respectively. The Cambridge performance, to which Ono had been invited and to which she brought Lennon, was Lennon and Ono's second as a couple. A few of the album's tracks were previewed by the public, thanks to Aspen magazine. The album was remastered in 1997.


Anthony Barnett.[nb 2][9] Ono, who was going to cancel her performance, was persuaded by Lennon to perform.[8] Lennon and Ono had their first performance together for The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus film, where they were part of the band The Dirty Mac.[10]

Recording and content

Concepts from Fluxus art were used for the album; Ono has used ideas from it before.[10] The album opens with an improvised recording titled "Cambridge 1969",[nb 3] recorded on 2 March 1969 at Cambridge University, before a live audience,[12] which became Lennon and Ono's second performance together, but their first released performance[nb 4][10] and the first performance by a Beatle without the rest of the band since their main line-up's formation.[5] The piece takes up all of side one and consists of Ono's vocalisations and screaming accompanied by electric guitar feedback from Lennon.[14] Saxophonist John Tchicai and percussionist John Stevens join Ono and Lennon near the end of the piece.[15][16] Throughout the performance, Lennon kept his back to the audience.[8] The original version of the piece was longer.[12] In a 2010 interview with Cambridge News, Tchicai said that the concert was split in two: the first set was Lennon and Ono, and the other consisted of jazz improvisation players.[9] Recalled Tchica, Lennon and Ono said to the players: "If you would like to join us for some improvisation, please do."[9] Barnett said that Lennon had been "trying to show off and be more avant-garde than anyone in avant-garde music".[9]

Side two of the album was recorded on a cassette tape in their suite at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London.[6] "No Bed for Beatle John" consists of Lennon and Ono singing the text of press clippings about themselves,[17][18] including reports of the hospital not giving Lennon a bed to stay in during Ono's miscarriage, and EMI refusing to carry Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins because of its controversial sleeve,[5][19] in a cappella chant style.[nb 5][17] "Baby's Heartbeat" is a looped infant mortality recording, made with a Nagra microphone, of John Ono Lennon II's ill-fated actual palpitations.[14][15] Ono first referenced infant mortality in her book Grapefruit, then in her song "Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City" from her album Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.[15] "Baby's Heartbeat" is similar to the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" in that both end suddenly.[20] "Two Minutes Silence" follows; made as a tribute to composer John Cage's 4'33" in that, similar to Cage's avant garde composition, though Lennon and Ono's track is completely silent.[22] It is not known if the song was meant as a memorial for John Ono Lennon II.[22] The album closes with "Radio Play", which includes sounds of a radio with brief moments of Lennon and Ono having a conversation and Lennon making a phone call in the background.[17] An edited version of this recording was released on the flexi record[17] that was with given away with Apsen.[6]

"Song for John", one of the songs that was included on the flexi record,[6] features a "Dear Prudence"-like chord progression,[12] in a medley with "Let's Go on Flying" and "Snow Is Falling All the Time", and was written by Ono before she had met Lennon.[23] The entire medley was recorded at Queen Charlotte's Hospital.[23] By this time, Ono was looking to sign a record contract, and "Song for John" was going to be part of her first album. Ono commented, "A record company had suggest I do an album of my sort of freak-type freestyle things, one of which was Song For John."[23] Ono wrote the song when "thinking about wanting to meet somebody who could fly with me".[23] Lennon became the first person to hear the demo, so Ono "felt a sentimental reason for the name to be John."[23] Ono later did a re-make of the song for her album Approximately Infinite Universe.[23] "Snow Is Falling All the Time", similar to a nursery rhyme, was re-made as the B-side to "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", retitled "Listen, the Snow Is Falling".[23] "Mum's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow", which features Lennon on acoustic guitar, is an early version of what would become "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)".[23] This version was later included on the Rykodisc issue of Lennon and Ono's Wedding Album.[24]

Release, reception and aftermath

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [25]
MusicHound woof![26]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide [27]

Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions was released on 9 May 1969 in the UK[nb 6] and 26 May 1969 in the US,[nb 7] on the Apple subsidiary label Zapple.[17] While EMI didn't distribute Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins,[5][19] they did for Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions.[8] The album still failed to chart in the UK,[12] but it managed a number 179 peak in the US.[17] The album sold about 60,000 copies in the US,[5] while about 5,000 were sold in the UK.[12] Lennon was disappointed that Apple hadn't given any promotion to the album.[28] The title is both a parody on the name of the BBC radio comedy Life with the Lyons,[29] and a reference to the press, who would follow Lennon and Ono everywhere.[10][30] The album's original inner sleeve was printed with the song titles and the names of the musicians for each track.[8] The album was released in Japan by Zapple;[nb 8] a promo edition of the album was released on red vinyl.[8] A reissue included, instead of the innner sleeve, a four-page sheet with lyrics.[nb 9][8]

The album's front cover photo was taken by Susan Wood[5] while Ono was bedridden in Room 1, Second West Ward, at Queen Charlotte's Hospital. The back cover was a news photo of Lennon and Ono leaving Marylebone Police Station on 19 October 1968, after their arrest for .)[12] Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions was reissued through Rykodisc under the observation of Ono,[12] with two bonus tracks, "Song for John" and "Mulberry",[5] on 3 June 1997.[nb 10][8] Edmund O. Ward wrote in Rolling Stone magazine that the album was "utter bullshit" and "in poor taste".[29] In a review for Cambridge Evening News, Douglas Oliver said the Cambridge concert was "strange and chilling. Not in a bad sense, but because there was so much unusual texture. At no time did the music become comforting. It was an extraordinary experience."[15] The couple followed the album with the Wedding Album.[31]

Track listing

All pieces by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Side one
  1. "Cambridge 1969" – 26:31
Side two
  1. "No Bed for Beatle John" – 4:41
  2. "Baby's Heartbeat" – 5:10
  3. "Two Minutes Silence" – 2:00
  4. "Radio Play" – 12:35
CD bonus tracks
  1. "Song for John" – 1:29
  2. "Mulberry" – 8:47



  1. ^ All by Ono, except where noted. Side one: "Song for John"/"Let's Go on Flying"/"Snow Is Falling All the Time", "Mum's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow", "No Bed for Beatle John" (Ono and Lennon). Side two: "Radio Play" (Lennon).[6]
  2. ^ The concert came about as Barnett "wanted to put on a concert of new, improvised music".[9]
  3. ^ With Ono, The Flaming Lips made a remix of "Cambridge 1969", re-titled "Cambridge 1969/2007", that was included on the album Yes, I'm a Witch.[9][11]
  4. ^ The Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus would be shelved[10] until 1996.[13]
  5. ^ Lennon would employ a similar style to a song in a Bob Dylan-like voice,[20] in November 1978, known as "News of the Day (From Reuters)".[21]
  6. ^ UK Zapple ZAPPLE 01[17]
  7. ^ LP: US Zapple ST 3357; 8-track: 8XT-3357[17]
  8. ^ Japan Zapple AP-8782[8]
  9. ^ Japan Zapple EAS-80701[8]
  10. ^ US Rykodisc RCD10412[8]
  1. ^ Shepherd, John, ed. (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume 1: Media, Industry and Society (Volume 1. ed.). London., [England]: Continuum. p. 154.  
  2. ^ Blaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 8.  
  3. ^ Calkin, Graham. "Unfinished Music No.1 - Two Virgins". Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Everett, Walter (1999). The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 161.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "John Lennon Discography". Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Blaney 2005, p. 11
  7. ^ Blaney 2005, pp. 12–13
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Blaney 2005, p. 16
  9. ^ a b c d e f Dening, Lizzy (8 October 2010). "How John Lennon turned to Cambridge for life after The Beatles". Cambridge News. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Urish, Ben; Bielen, Kenneth G. (2007). The Words and Music of John Lennon (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Praeger. p. 7.  
  11. ^ Jurek, Thom (2007). "Yes, I'm a Witch - Yoko Ono".  
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Calkin, Graham. "Unfinished Music No.2 – Life With The Lions". Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  13. ^ Farley, Christopher John (18 October 2004). "Technology: STARRY CIRCUS". Time. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Noyer, Paul Du (2010). John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. p. 13.  
  15. ^ a b c d Blaney 2005, p. 17
  16. ^ Ingham, Chris (2009). The Rough Guide to the Beatles (3 ed.). Rough Guides UK.  
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Blaney 2005, p. 13
  18. ^ Bari, Martha Ann (2007). Mass Media is the Message: Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1969 Year of Peace. ProQuest. p. 77.  
  19. ^ a b Blaney 2005, p. 10
  20. ^ a b Urish; Bielen 2007, p. 8
  21. ^ Miles, Barry; Badman, Keith, ed. (2001). The Beatles Diary After the Break-Up: 1970–2001 (reprint ed.). London: Music Sales Group.  
  22. ^ a b Blaney 2005, p. 18
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Blaney 2005, p. 12
  24. ^ Madinger, C. & Easter, M. (2000). Eight Arms to Hold You. 44.1 Productions. pp. 21, 30–32, 77–78, 81.  
  25. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Unfinished Music, No. 2: Life with the Lions – Yoko Ono". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 February 2012. 
  26. ^ Gary Graff & Daniel Durcholz (eds), MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press (Farmington Hills, MI, 1999; ISBN 1-57859-061-2), p. 667.
  27. ^ "John Lennon: Album Guide | Rolling Stone Music". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  28. ^ Edmondson, Jacqueline (2010). John Lennon: A Biography. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood. p. 122.  
  29. ^ a b Blaney 2005, p. 15
  30. ^ Bari, Martha Ann (2007). Mass Media is the Message: Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1969 Year of Peace. ProQuest. p. 76.  
  31. ^ Tillery, Gary (2009). The Cynical Idealist: A Spiritual Biography of John Lennon (1st Quest ed.). Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Pub. House. p. 95.  

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