Monday, November 24, 2014

Memories of Elephant's Memory

Elephant's Memory is best known as the New York City band that backed up John Lennon and Yoko Ono between 1971 and 1973, including their 1972 Sometime in New York City album.  The 45 for that album's regrettably titled "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" is credited to "John Lennon/Yoko Ono with Elephant's Memory and Invisible Strings." (I talk about the single's soft rock aspects in my "Pillow Talk" chapter, along with its role as a manifestation of the feminized left.)

Before its alliance with Lennon, the group had roused the faith of Buddah Records chief Neil Bogart, much to the chagrin of future mega-manager and recent memoirist Ron Weisner:

"Like every A&R person in history, Neil's ears and heart sometimes led him astray, the most notable instance being a sloppy rock band called Elephant's Memory... How and why they managed to make a name for themselves was beyond me, because they were terrible, a true train wreck of a group...I knew that Elephant's Memory had no chance of succeeding beyond their core fan base of Lower East Side drug heads, because they themselves were Lower East Side drug heads..." (Listen Out Loud, pp. 20-21).

A fuller assessment of Elephant's Memory and the street cred that brought them to the attention of John and Yoko is available in James A. Mitchell's The Walrus and the Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution (2013). A bonus factoid: Carly Simon briefly sang in the group. Here's what Mitchell says: "One story among many in Elephant mythology was that Carly left after members of the band threw her boyfriend down the stairs; they were that kind of group, born in strip bars and befriended by motorcycle gangs."

Their chart appearances:

Elephant's Memory - "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones" (Billboard #120, entered 6/7/69). Written by Michal Shapiro and Stan Bronstein. Produced by Wes Farrell. 45: "Crossroads of the Stepping Stones"/"Jungle Gym at the Zoo" (Buddah 1969). LPs: Elephant's Memory (Buddah 1969).

The surprisingly Harper's Bizarre-like A-side barely "bubbled under." The B-side, sounding more like a Jefferson Airplane/Mamas and the Papas team up, appeared on the 1969 Midnight Cowboy soundtrack.

Elephant's Memory - "Mongoose" (Billboard #50, entered 8/8/70). Written by David Cohen, Rick Frank and Stan Bronstein. Produced by Ted Cooper. 45: "Mongoose"/"I Couldn't Dream" (Metromedia 1970). LP: Take It to the Streets (Metromedia 1970).

This high-octane groove-rocker from their Take It to the Streets album, as I've pointed out earlier, charted alongside a mongoose single by Donovan in 1970.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant's Memory and Invisible Strings - "Woman Is the Nigger of the World" (Billboard #57, entered 5/20/72). Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector. 45: "Woman Is the Nigger of the World"/"Sisters O Sisters" (Apple 1972). LP: Sometime in New York City (Apple 1972).

The picture sleeve shows the cover of the issue of Nova magazine in which Yoko Ono had coined the phrase that became the title of this single's A-side. Ono's track on side B keeps the woman theme afloat but starts out expressing ecological concern: "We lost our green land, we lost our clean air."

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