Kids can really surprise you sometimes.
My son, Erik, is 12 years old…and all of a sudden, he’s a huge Julian Lennon fan. Yeah, you heard right. Not a John Lennon fan, a JULIAN Lennon fan. That’s kind of like someone saying “I think Frank Sinatra Jr. is great…haven’t really heard much of his dad’s stuff.” I’m not sure how Erik got turned on to Julian, but nowadays that’s ALL he wants to hear. So I’ve been playing him as much of Julian’s work as I have in my collection, and actually, there’s quite a bit. For you see, I’m a Julian Lennon fan also.
In my opinion, Julian has only made one album. It’s called “Photograph Smile.” You’ve probably never heard of it. In fact, when most people think of Julian, they immediately see a Beatles slideshow in their heads…Julian running up to his famous father with a picture that he had drawn depicting “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”…his “Uncle” Paul writing the mega-hit “Hey Jude” to help “Jules” face the fact that his famous dad had bailed on him and his mum. Others immediately remember the awkward mid-80’s attempt to make Julian a pop star. When I heard his first single, “Valotte,” I’ll admit that it sounded hauntingly familiar to his dad’s work. But unfortunately, he was assigned a slick producer (Phil Ramone) and was all-of-a-sudden starring in a bunch of cheesy MTV videos. The record company clearly stated that they didn’t want to bank on his name. Guess what…they were banking on his name.
Julian played along, but after his sophomore effort, “The Secret Value of Daydreaming” pretty much tanked, the record industry gave up on him. He put out another couple of albums (in 1988 and 1991) where he tried to develop a “different” Julian Lennon sound, but they made him sound more like David Bowie’s son. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t great…and nobody bought them.
“Photograph Smile” is a great album. Released in 1999 on the Fuel 2000 label, Julian wrote, co-produced and co-mixed the entire effort, and even designed the artwork. In the liner notes he states that “for me, this truly feels like the first Julian Lennon album, purely because I have had the time and the space to work on it the way I wanted to. Thank you to all those patient fans out there that have waited so long…I feel I’ve done you proud this time.”
And he did. Each cut on this album is beautifully produced, and each cut oozes pop genius. There is even a cut, “I Don’t Wanna Know,” where he admittedly tries to sound like his father on an early Beatles track.
If you’re a John Lennon fan, you may want to stop reading here.
I’m going to come right out and say it. “Photograph Smile” by Julian Lennon is, track for track, better than any of the solo albums that his father put out in the 1970’s, including 1980’s “Double Fantasy.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the biggest Beatles fans you’ll find, and I especially love John’s Beatle tracks from beginning to end. But just like all the Beatles’ solo efforts, there were glimmers of greatness here and there, mixed in with a lot of filler. “Walls and Bridges” is probably my favorite Lennon album, but other than “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” and “#9 Dream,” can the average fan list any other real gems from that album? I can’t. Now I’m going to REALLY piss some people off…”Imagine” is a nice song with a nice message…but I’ve always found the song to be outrageously boring, and it’s certainly not one of my favorites. And when I hear the song “Mind Games,” I immediately think of George’s reaction to “All You Need Is Love” when John first presented it to the rest of the band…”Well, it’s certainly repetitive.”
Never mind my opinions about John Lennon. Go out and find a copy of Julian’s “Photograph Smile,” or ask if you can borrow my copy. It’s really a GREAT album. And there’s a rumor that Julian will finally have a follow-up ready to be released next year. I can’t wait to hear it.