Formed in 1969, the Plastic Ono band initially served as an alternative outlet for John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono during the fractious final days of the Beatles. The band’s debut single, ‘Give Peace A Chance’, was recorded live in a Montreal hotel room during the much-publicized ‘Bed-In’ and featured an assortment of underground luminaries attending this unconventional anti-war protest. A more structured unit - Lennon, Ono, Eric Clapton (guitar), Klaus Voormann (bass) and future Yes member Alan White - was assembled for a Canadian concert captured on Live Peace In Toronto 1969. This audio-verité release contrasted Ono’s free-form and lengthy ‘Don’t Worry Kyoto’ with several rock ‘n’ roll standards and a preview airing of ‘Cold Turkey’, the nerve-twitching composition which became the second Plastic Ono single when the Beatles spurned Lennon’s initial offer. Bereft of the cosy sentiments of ‘Give Peace A Chance’, this tough rocker failed to emulate its predecessor’s number 2 position, a fact noted by Lennon when he returned his MBE in protest at British passivity over conflicts in Biafra and Vietnam.
An expanded version of the unit performed at the Lyceum in London during a UNICEF benefit and the Plastic Ono name was also used in a supporting role on several ensuing John and Yoko releases, notably John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, the artist’s first, and arguably finest, solo album. Inspired by Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream Therapy, the album was a veritable exorcism of all Lennon’s past demons, and a harrowing yet therapeutic glimpse into the abyss of his soul from the bleak atheism of ‘God’ to the Oedipal ‘Mother’, the self-mocking ‘Working Class Hero’, the elegiac child-like wonderment of ‘Remember’, the confrontation with the self in ‘Isolation’ and the spine-chilling, macabre nursery rhyme ending, ‘My Mummy’s Dead’. Voormann was the sole survivor from the earlier version of the Plastic Ono Band, which had included George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Although the epithet also appeared on Imagine, Some Time In New York City, and Walls And Bridges (where it was dubbed the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band), it simply applied to whichever musicians had made contributions and had ceased to have any real meaning.