Sean Ono Lennon: “Mind Games is my dad getting back on track”

Sean on working on his father's music

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The August 2024 issue of Uncut is packed full of goodies for the discerning John Lennon fan. As well as our cover story – a deep dive into Lennon’s creative but turbulent 1973/’74 – there’s a stunning Collector’s Cover, a mini Ultimate Music Guide to all Lennon’s solo albums and a unique, ultra-collective CD featuring new mixes, outtakes and more from the upcoming Mind Games deluxe edition box set.

We also spoke to Sean Ono Lennon about his work on the Mind Games release, but due to space restrictions could only run part of the interview. Here it is now in full…



UNCUT: Can you start by giving me your personal overview of Mind Games, the period in which it was recorded and where you feel it stands in your father’s canon? 

SEAN ONO LENNON: Mind Games was always one of my favourite of dad’s albums. I grew up listening to it without realising it had to some degree been overlooked when it came out. So to me it has always been one of his strongest records. The title track alone lives on the very top shelf of my favourite John Lennon tunes. It’s an absolute masterpiece. 

To me it sounds like he was working very hard to make a more polished record after what had been a period of raw rock n roll activism with Sometime In New York City, (an album that was difficult for some fans to appreciate). The fact that he was producing himself, and doing an incredible job without Phil Spector’s help, while in the midst of a separation with my mother — it must of been a difficult time for him, and I think he really stepped up to the plate and did an amazing job. The music may not have been in sync with where the world was at commercially, but the songs stand for themselves and after all these years have come to represent some of his best work to many fans. I had an amazing time overseeing the mixes, and was really struck by the level of musicianship throughout. The band is exceptional, and you can tell (perhaps unlike on Sometime In New York City), that the musicians are really trying their best at every moment, and working hard to bring as much musicianship and beauty to each song as they can manage. My father famously made the album cover himself, an amazing collage with my mother as a mountain hovering over him as he recedes into the distance — a visually striking image that says a lot about the time period and what they were going through personally.


Unlike his previous solo albums, I think Mind Games strikes a beautiful balance between being raw and personal, speaking to his political philosophy, while also inserting a much needed feeling of fun and humour throughout. I think the chemistry of these elements is well balanced on this album, making for an extremely moving, while also extremely enjoyable musical journey.

What are the album’s biggest strengths?

The biggest strength of the album are his production and his singing. He’s really at his best. Some of the his best vocal performances are on this record. Especially the outro of Mind Games, he slides up effortlessly to a falsetto on the word ‘love’ that is as haunting and inspiring as anything he ever sang with the Beatles.

There’s a sense this record has been unfairly overlooked – why do you think that might have been?

There was a sense at the time that the album was overlooked. I think that kind of thing happens a lot for whatever reason. Rolling Stone didn’t like Led Zeppelin. The Beatles never really winning any Grammys for best album. Sometimes the world isn’t ready to give certain music a chance, or even understand it. I don’t think that’s a reflection of the music’s quality, but more about where the world is at. My parents had just confused a lot of people between Two Virgins and Sometime In New York CIty, they had thrown people off a bit—and frankly had thrown themselves off too, getting mixed up with some questionable characters (Jerry Rubin), and getting surveilled by the FBI, and then realizing many of the so called revolutionaries they had linked up with were actually not the best people. It was a strange time and I think the music and the reception of it were connected to the changes that were happening. But I do think Mind Games is clearly my dad getting back on track, after what was a very experimental, and volatile period that was very creatively fruitful, but at times went a bit out of control. Plus it was a very competitive time, with a whole new generation of talented young artists dominating the charts. But what does that say about Mind Games as an album? Not much in my view. People for whatever reason were not in the right mood for it. But looking back and listening I think we can all see it for the incredible album that it is. I do consider it a masterpiece.

What were your objectives for Mind Games when you began working on the reissue?

Well for me it’s about trying to find the most interesting and creatives ways I can of revisiting the music. If I’m going to spend time working on Dad’s music I want to work as hard as I can to innovate and be creative. So I had all sorts of potentially out-there ideas: launching launching the meditation mixes with Lumenate, working on the deluxe and super deluxe sets for 2 years trying to making them something memorable, something you’d never seen before. Now more then ever an artist like my dad is competing against a whole new world of music and entertainment. In order to get him the attention he deserves I feel I have to really work hard on trying new things. I want to get as much attention for his music and make it as fun as humanly possible for the fans. We have a lot of other stuff coming too that are in the works this year for Mind Games. To me there’s no point in rereleasing his music if I don’t try and push it as far as I can in terms of creativity.

As you worked on Mind Games did you learn anything new, or did anything surprise you, about this period in your parents’ life?

Listening to Ken Asher’s tracks really blew me away. I’m such a big fan of his work with Jim Henson, it was really amazing realising all the little tricks he pulled with the keys. The musicianship generally speaking is truly stellar on this album throughout. And truthfully I didn’t realise what a good song Aisumasen was until I worked on bringing out the best bits. Suddenly the song sounds like one of the best tracks off Plastic Ono Band. So I have to admit remixing did make me rediscover some songs I’d never paid as much attention to.

The Mind Games box is out-of-this-world – please tell me how this came about, which elements you are most proud of and if there is anything you wanted to do that didn’t quite make it….

We’ve been working on the box set for years now. Initially I thought, Mind Games… game, what if we ‘gamified’ mind games? So that’s all I’ll say but there are many levels to this launch including and far beyond the box set that I hope will potentially entertain and engage fans for possibly years to come. My main goal was to just do something really different. To blow minds so to speak. I think when people actually see how far we went with it, they will understand how it all fits together, and why they are as they are. The websites. The box sets. The music. They all intertwine in a way that is ready to be discovered.

What was your favourite part of the process?

My favourite part is mixing. I love getting to be that intimate with my dad’s music. It feels like an honor, but also I’ve spent my whole life getting good at that type of thing, and it’s a great feeling to be able to put those skills to work while spending time in my father’s world. I really enjoy and feel very lucky.

We are very excited to have nine exclusive Mind Games tracks on our covermount CD from the Mind Games CD. Could you please introduce this for our readers in around 100 words?

This Uncut mix shows examples of the types of mixes we’ve included. I think listening to these mixes will give you a sense of the broad scope you can expect from the box sets. From very polished and what I would consider ‘ultimate’ mixes, to raw elements, and outtakes. We’ve really tried to include everything we possibly can. Really looking forward to hearing people’s feedback. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done on an album that has always meant a lot to me personally.


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