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John Lennon 70th Birthday Offers Best Opportunity to Fully Appraise His Songs
John Lennon

Oct. 9 marks what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday - a milestone hard to grasp when the final photo of the man froze him in time at the age of 40, senselessly assassinated 30 years ago this coming December. Now that the compact disc format is threatened with extinction, it could also be the last chance for the music industry to package his song legacy. Or, at least, to celebrate it in anything resembling the form experienced by most people who came into adulthood in the 20th century.

Whether it's veneration, exploitation or some combination of the two, Lennon's longtime label EMI is seizing the day with a blow-out campaign of reissues the week of his birthday. Besides the de rigueur greatest-hits collection and a more all-encompassing four-CD survey, a whopping 11-CD 'Signature Box' repackages all of his studio albums (digitally remastered, of course) and singles with a disc of outtakes and home recordings. Also available is a two-CD edition of 'Double Fantasy,' the last Lennon release (co-billed to Yoko Ono) he saw reach the light of day in his lifetime, one disc being the "John Lennon original remastered" mix of the album, the other presenting "stripped-down" or less elaborate versions of its songs.

The four-CD set is titled 'Gimme Some Truth' after one of Lennon's hardest-hitting early solo songs, but in real truth there isn't much on these releases that will spark reappraisal of his career. Unless you're coming to John's solo output from scratch, you've likely heard everything here, even the mediocrities (like much of 'Mind Games') and failures (like most of 'Some Time in New York City'). The die-hards will have at least some of the previously unreleased material on bootlegs, and some similar rarities have already shown up on collections like 'Anthology' and 'Acoustic.' But whether you feel obliged to upgrade your Lennon collection for (possibly) the last time or take it as an occasion to listen to your pal's copy (or, heaven forbid, download it), what does hearing his core solo work top-to-bottom do to us emotionally, even if you're already intimately unfamiliar with it?

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