This is a John Lennon song that I never heard before, and it fits this week’s theme for Song Lyrics Sunday with the prompts Alone/Confined/Depressed/Isolated/Restless/Solo .
After listening to several other songs that fit the prompt, I chose this one because I have always been a big fan of the Beatles and John’s solo career.
Words and Music by John Lennon
People say we got it made
Don’t they know we’re so afraid
We’re afraid to be alone
Everybody got to have a home
Just a boy and a little girl
Trying to change the whole wide world
The world is just a little town
Everybody trying to put us down
I don’t expect you, to understand
After you caused so much pain
But then again, you’re not to blame
You’re just a human, a victim of the insane
We’re afraid of everyone
Afraid of the sun
The sun will never disappear
But the world may not have many years
Isolation was included on Lennon’s first solo album in 1970, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, released on the Apple label. It is the last song on Side One. The song is about Lennon’s feelings of vulnerability, dissatisfied with the way his life was going. The Beatles had broken up and he was feeling disillusioned with fame, especially because he and his wife Yoko Ono were the subjects of attacks. At the time, he was full of insecurity and self-doubt, feelings brought on by his extensive drug use. In Isolation he found release, inspired by Primal Therapy which he experienced in the summer of 1970, guided by Dr. Arthur Janov. The song was recorded in September-October 1970.
In the first verse, he is saying that even though he and Yoko have everything, they feel as lonely and isolated as everyone else. The second verse alludes to the couple’s political activism and the way people reacted to it caused even more isolation. The third verse is more generalized to include all those who have caused his pain; he absolves them because they are only human, and all of humanity is victim of insanity at times. The fourth verse generalizes even more, putting people’s fears of each other and even the sun into the context of a universe which may be permanent, but our planet may not be, this last concept illustrated by the song’s abrupt ending.
The pain the song addresses is enhanced by musical dissonance, especially the use of semitone, or half step, intervals. Musicologist Wilfred Mellers called Isolation an “Anglicized version of Negro piano blues.” The instrumentation starts with just drums, played by Ringo Starr, and piano, played by Lennon, as back up to his vocals. As the song becomes louder and more emotional, an organ, also played by John, is added. There is also a bass guitar played by Klaus Voorman, a German artist and musician who designed the covers of albums of the Beatles and many other bands. The mood of isolation is enhanced by silences incorporated into the sad melody.
Several covers were made of the song, including by Marianne Faithfull and Snow Patrol (a northern Irish-Scottish indie rock band) in 2005. Harry Nilssen, Joe Cocker, and Matthew Sweet, among others, also recorded the song. Johnny Depp and Jeff Beck have released the newest version, in April 2020.