Spurred on by McCartney’s Band on the Run comeback, Lennon produced one of his finest albums with 1974’s Walls and Bridges. The record was infused with the pain of Lennon’s separation from Yoko Ono, in the same way that Dylan’s crumbling marriage fueled his mid-’70s masterpiece Blood on the Tracks. Lennon’s growth as a producer was also apparent between this album and 1973’s Mind Games, with Walls and Bridges being his most sophisticated production achievement. Double Fantasy (co-produced with Jack Douglas and Ono) was perhaps a tad too slick and soft.
Originally inspired by The O’Jays’ “Money Money Money,” “What You Got” was Lennon’s funkiest rocker, complete with R&B horns. His savage howling was in the vein of the White Album’s “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey,” with a voice six years older and more ragged for wear.
Singing how he didn’t value what he had till after he blew it, he could be referring to Ono, his musical reputation (after the poorly received album Some Time in New York City), or the respect of the public (after being thrown out of L.A.’s Troubadour club twice for drunken boorishness). Back when the Beatles were kings of the jungle, Lennon could be a lout in the nightclubs and no one dared say boo. The Made-for-VH1 film My Dinner with Jimi recounts how he rudely put down the Turtles when they visited London. He was so cruel that one of them quit the music business forever. But as Lennon’s hits dried up, do did people’s patience for him heckling people and getting into bar fights. In “What You Got” he concedes he’s like the naked clown in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and begs for one more chance.
Lennon did all he could to promote Walls and Bridges, creating an ad campaign called “Listen to This,” with buttons, photos, stickers, T-shirts, and posters on the back of 2,000 buses. Starr did the voiceover for TV and radio ads just as Lennon narrated ads for Starr’s 1974 album Goodnight Vienna. Lennon got his second chance, with both Ono and the public.