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Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins is an album released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in November 1968, on Apple. Following Lennon's wife, Cynthia Lennon, going on holiday, it was the result of an all-night session of musical experimentation in Lennon's home studio at Kenwood. Lennon and Ono's debut album is known not only for its avant garde content, but also for its cover. The album cover features Lennon and Ono naked, which made the album become controversial – to both the public and the record company, EMI, who refused to distribute it. To calm down the controversy, the album was sold in a brown paper bag, and distributed by Track and Tetragrammaton, in the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. The album, while failing to the chart in the UK, reached number 124 in the US. The album was followed by Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions.
Beatle John Lennon met Yoko Ono in November 1966, at the Indica Gallery in London, thanks to its owner, John Dunbar. Dunbar was helping Ono set up a conceptual art exhibit, which Lennon was asked to preview. Lennon called the exhibition "positive". Wife Cynthia Lennon, feeling miserable and distanced from John, went on holiday to Greece with Jenny Boyd and Magic Alex.[nb 1] Lennon called Ono and invited her over for the night. The album itself began when Ono had mentioned her curiosity into Lennon's avant-garde home recordings, after Lennon asked "Do you want to hear some of the things I've been playing around at in my studio?" Lennon then proceeded to play her some of his tapes: comedy recordings and electronic sounds, both of which Lennon knew the rest of the Beatles wouldn't allow inclusion on their albums. After hearing the tapes, Ono was awestruck and recommended the pair do their own recording. Cynthia would later return abruptly to find Ono with John. The "Unfinished Music" series was an attempt for Lennon and Ono to keep a record of their life together. With Ono's Grapefruit in mind, Lennon and Ono had imagined that the sound was not printed into the vinyl's grooves, but was meant to be thought of by the listener's mind. Lennon described "Unfinished Music" as "saying whatever you want it to say. It is just us expressing ourselves like a child does, you know, however he feels like then. What we're saying is make your own music. This is Unfinished Music."
The recordings that ended up on the album consist largely of tape loops, playing while Lennon tries out different instruments (piano, organ, drums) and sound effects (including reverb, delay and distortion), changes tapes and plays other recordings, and converses with Ono, who vocalises ad-lib in response to the sounds. Both Ono and Lennon have had experience in musical experimentation: Ono staged various multimedia events in New York in the early 1960s, and Lennon with his audio experimentation in the Beatles. While Lennon's songwriting partner Paul McCartney had experiments that did feature on Beatles albums, Lennon's experiments did not. Lennon's longtime friend Peter Shotton remembered later in his memoir that many of the loops heard on the album were made by Lennon and himself, in the days before the recording. Lennon recorded directly to two-track stereophonic, but much of the source material was monophonic. A recording of "Together", written by George Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, is heard in the background.
Shortly after the release of the album, Lennon said in an interview that he believed the album "can change people", as others "have changed my head, just with their records." Lennon then claimed "that's what Yoko and my singing is, to change it like that". Lennon recalled Ono's influence on him, and making the album, in an interview in 1980 with Playboy's David Sheff: "Well, after Yoko and I met, I didn't realize I was in love with her. I was still thinking it was an artistic collaboration, as it were – producer and artist, right? ... My ex-wife was away ... and Yoko came to visit me. ... instead of making love, we went upstairs and made tapes. I had this room full of different tapes where I would write and make strange loops and things like that for the Beatles' stuff. So we made a tape all night. She was doing her funny voices and I was pushing all different buttons on my tape recorder and getting sound effects. And then as the sun rose we made love and that was Two Virgins." The album was Lennon's first recording project that did not feature any help from the rest of the Beatles. Parts of the album become reminiscent to that of later editions of the Beatles' Christmas flexi recordings.A pirate CD issue with brown flap obscuring most of the cover, partially imitating the brown bag that enclosed LP editions.
Lennon and Ono used a time-delay camera, which was set up by Tony Bramwell, to take nude photographs of themselves for the album's cover, which were taken at 34 Montagu Square, in early October 1968. Lennon explained that they "were both a bit embarrassed when we peeled off for the picture, so I took it myself with a delayed action shutter." The front cover showed them frontally nude while the rear cover showed them from behind. Lennon's idea was to have the nude shot for the front album cover. Neil Aspinall said that Lennon gave the roll of film to an Apple employee, known as Jeremy, with instructions that the pictures were to be developed. Jeremy said that the pictures were "mind-blowing", Aspinall, however, said that "Everything was always "mind-blowing" to Jeremy" then going on to say: "but – just that one time – he was actually right. He couldn't believe it."
The cover provoked an outrage, prompting distributors to sell the album in a plain brown wrapper, covering the nude front cover. Quotes from Genesis Chapter 2 were placed on the back of the brown bag, which were chosen by Derek Taylor. The album's title came from the couple's feeling that they were "two innocents, lost in a world gone mad", and because after making the recording, the two consummated their relationship. Lennon had said that the album cover "just seemed natural for us. We're all naked really." Ono saw the cover as a significant declaration: "I was in the artistic community, where a painter did a thing about rolling a naked woman with blue paint on her body on a canvas; ... that was going on at the time. The only difference was that we were going to stand together, which I thought was very interesting ... it was just standing straight. I liked that concept." Copies of the album were impounded as obscene in several jurisdictions (including 30,000 copies in New Jersey in January 1969).Lennon commented that the uproar seemed to have less to do with the explicit nudity, and more to do with the fact that the pair were rather unattractive (and the photo unflattering; Lennon described it later as a picture of "two slightly overweight ex-junkies").
Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins was released by Apple in the US in stereo on 11 November 1968,[nb 2] and in mono and stereo on 29 November 1968 in the UK.[nb 3] The mono version was issued only in the UK via mail order. The album was distributed by Track in the UK and Tetragrammaton in the US, after EMI refused to produce the cover or sleeve the record, because of the cover photo, unless it was changed.[nb 4] EMI, however, pressed the record in Britain, while the album cover was printed by Technik. Apple got around the sleeve packing problem by hiring several Apple scruffs to package the album. Apple employee Jack Oliver had the Apple scruffs packing the record into sleeves "in the basement of the old Apple shop".
It had taken Lennon six months to persuade the fellow Beatles to agree to the release of the album, and despite being against the cover, fellow Beatle Paul McCartney was asked to provide a note on the album cover, which read: "When two great Saints meet, it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a Saint." In the UK, the quote, and album title, was on the album's back cover.Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins failed to chart in the UK (and only 5000 British copies were ever pressed), but managed to reach number 124 in the US, after 25,000 copies had been sold.Several months after the release of the album, Capitol issued to employees promotional blank picture disc copies of the album, in June 1969. The couple released two related recordings later on,Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions and the Wedding Album.
The cover art changed three times, one for each of the album's three 8-track issues: Tetragrammaton had the back cover used as the front cover art, North America Leisure Corp reinstated the original front cover, and finally General Recording Tape released the 8-track with a paper sheet sleeve. The album was reissued in the US during the 1970s and 1980s. One edition on the Rock Classiscs label,[nb 5]claimed to be distributed by Tetragrammaton and not mastered from the original tape, but merely transferred from another copy with audible surface noise, released in January 1993. The album was officially reissued on Rykodisc on 3 June 1997,[nb 6] under the observation of Ono, with an additional bonus track — "Give Peace a Chance"'s B-side "Remember Love". This edition of the album is slightly edited; it is missing about 30 seconds of audio from the end of second side, as well as a few seconds from the start of side two. Several pirate copies of the album do exist.
The album was disliked critically and by Lennon's fans. Actress Sissy Spacek, using the pseudonym Rainbo, recorded the song "John, You Went Too Far This Time" about the album cover.[nb 7]William Ruhlmann of Allmusic said the album was "not unlike what you might get if you turned on a tape recorder for a random half-hour in your home", calling the music "naked".
- Side one
- "Two Virgins Side One": – 14:14
- Side two
- "Two Virgins Side Two": – 15:13
- "Two Virgins No. 6"
- "Hushabye Hushabye" (composer unknown)
- "Two Virgins No. 7"
- "Two Virgins No. 8"
- "Two Virgins No. 9"
- "Two Virgins No. 10"
- Bonus track
- "Remember Love" (Ono) – 4:05