On Westwood One’s The Lost Lennon Tapes Radio Documentary

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I’ve recently been listening to The Lost Lennon Tapes, a 200-odd hour long documentary on the life and music of John Lennon that was broadcast on the Westwood One Radio Network in the late-1980s.

I’ve known of the series for a long time, but I’d never heard it, though I did hear, on occasion, some of its successor series, The Beatle Years in the early- to mid-90s.

The Lost Lennon Years is hosted by Elliot Mintz. Mintz was a Los Angeles disc jockey in the 1970s, and he became a personal assistant and spokesman for Yoko Ono. (I believe that he’s currently Paris Hilton’s press flack, and I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned Paris Hilton in any capacity in this blog.). Looking at the time The Lost Lennon Tapes first aired, Albert Goldman’s The Lives of John Lennon had just been published, which painted John in a vastly negative light. Projects like The Lost Lennon Tapes or the Imagine: John Lennon film documentary were likely produced as a corrective to Goldman’s biography.

In each hour-long episode, Mintz presents some biographical information about Lennon and/or the Beatles, plays some of the official discography (at least through the late-80s) of both Lennon and the Beatles, and then dips into things like Lennon’s demo tapes or session outtakes, Lennon’s interviews or appearances on television or radio, or new interviews with people that Lennon loved or worked with.

As a host, Mintz suffices. To some extent, I expect Mintz to show a bias toward the Lennon mythology that Yoko Ono has spent the past thirty years promoting. I expect Mintz to take potshots at Paul McCartney, I expect Mintz to paint certain events surrounding the Beatles’ final years in a negative and sensationalistic light. To my surprise, Mintz is more even-handed that I would expect; the show has featured interviews with May Pang, John’s girlfriend and lover during the “Lost Weekend,” when other projects, like Imagine: John Lennon, have tried to pretend that she never existed. Based on what I’ve heard thus far (just five percent of the series), I’d venture to say that someone coming to this series in the late-1980s would have gotten quite a bit out of each episode.

This isn’t to say that The Lost Lennon Tapes presents an unbaised viewpoint on Lennon’s career, because it doesn’t. Mintz relies heavily on Jann Wenner’s interview with Lennon in 1970, which found John at his angriest and most anti-Beatles. Mintz also presents an odd view of the Beatles’ break-up that places the blame on McCartney for keeping the band going as early as Sgt Pepper which stifled Lennon’s creative energies. In Mintz’s defense, he lacks the past twenty years of Beatles scholarship to draw upon. Someone listening to these now would find Mintz’s assertions occasionally baffling as a result.

As for the episodes themselves, I’ve found them scattershot. Mintz may begin with an interview from 1973, then play a Beatles track from the Please Please Me sessions, then an outtake from Walls and Bridges (John’s 1974 solo album). There’s no sense of how things fit together, and I can’t help but think that this is a deliberate editorial choice. (To get an idea of how random the series can be, look at this episode guide.) A more focused presentation, such as focusing on a single song and following its development for an hour, would make more sense, and it’s unfortunate that the episodes are as random as they are. The idea of the series is to provide a look into Lennon’s life and work and not a comprehensive audio biography.

I’m glad to have found this series in the wild mists of the ‘net, though I doubt I’ll ever listen to all 200-odd hours of The Lost Lennon Tapes.

8 thoughts on “On Westwood One’s The Lost Lennon Tapes Radio Documentary

  1. Allyn as an avid Lennon follower could you pls tell me what site you have been listening to in respect to the Lennon Westwood Radio Series. Even better would be, the ability to download the complete series.

    Hoping to hear from you soon

  2. Allyn in respect to my earlier comment I forgot to mention could you pls advise me by email.

    Thank you once again

    1. Walter, I found the entire batch on the Usenet group alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.beatles. All 221 episodes were posted in February, and if you have Usenet access, they may still be downloadable from there.

      Alternatively, try here: http://littleabby.podomatic.com/ Some of the complete episodes have been posted as podcasts. (And really, there’s not much difference between a radio show and a podcast.)

      Good hunting! 🙂

  3. My name is Dave Kephart. I am the engineer of the original Lost Lennon Tape series. It should be noted that Elliot Mintz was not responsible for the content of the series. He merely read the script provided to him. The full credit (or responsibility) for the nature of its content, the sequencing, the editorial decisions and chronology belong to writer/producer Stephen K. Peeples. As to the “scattershot” comment – one must understand the constraints we were under while producing this project. We were not supplied ANY material until December 1987. The series was to begin in February 1988, which it did, kicked off by a 3-hour special written by Westwoood One producer Bert Kleinman. We were initially told that the series would last one year. Due to these time constraints, there was no way we could go through the wealth of material before the series began, so we literally presented the material as we went through it. Surely had we the time to preview all the material before the series began, the chronology would be different. It was a once weekly program, not intended to be enjoyed back to back in sequence.
    On a technical note, it is very sad that people are still listening to those very poor copies of the program culled from radio broadcasts turned into mp3s. Even if one were to obtain the original vinyl discs issued to radio stations, the quality would suffer. That is because, due to very poor business decision on the part of Westwood One, instead of issuing CDs (as most syndicators were by then doing) the shows were pressed to vinyl with severe limitations. Because the show required nearly 30 minutes on each side of the record, the mastering engineers butchered my work by compressing it HEAVILY and rolling off a substantial amount of low frequency content. The horrendous result, including all the inherent record surface noise, clicks, pops etc. is what everybody to this day has heard.
    I retained for myself original master copies. I am amazed that no one has attempted to contact me regarding this extensive series. In short, no one has actually heard the program the way it was intended, save those of us who actually produced the program.

    Dave Kephart – Engineer Lost Lennon Tapes Premiere, and first 126 episodes of the series.

  4. Hey Dave, I wish I had some way of contacting you… I’d love to make uncompressed digital copies of those tapes and make them publicly available for all Lennon’s fans. Is there any way to contact you?

  5. Hi, Dave K. Interesting information and insight to the show. Hard to believe they gave you guys such a tight timeline to get shows together in a cohesive way. I really, really enjoyed the show. I was going to college at the time and would retire to the attic of this old victorian house that I rented with 6 other dudes in Toledo’s old west end neighborhood to try to pull Detroit’s 97.9 “the wheels” radio station in every Sunday night to listen to the show. If it was staticy i had this T antenna that

  6. Oops – got cutoff there. Anyway, to sum – I went through great lengths to try to listen to the show and it really turned a music fan who was interested in Lennon into a huge Lennon fan of both his music and him as a person. That show really gives great insight into who Lennon was and how he lived. They should still be broadcasting those copies!!!

  7. It’s a pleasure that I find myself here after discovering your write-up about the Lost Lennon Tapes Allyn. Well done sir! My only regret is not finding your blog six years ago! The radio show was indeed totally awesome, & they couldn’t had picked a better deserving person other than Elliot Mintz to host the program. Besides being a great radio series, it also helped heal some of the wounds suffered after John was abruptly taken away from us all. I mean, just the opportunity hearing his voice again suggested he was still here with us – & in a way, never left. It was comforting believing that, just as the thought of John’s spirit living on today & out there still playing in the cosmos.

    Funny, I still remember those U.S. Military sponsor spots associated with the programs. Ha, “I’m sure John would had enjoyed that!” Another thing that still sticks in my head (& to this very day), is how one young girl, standing outside the Dakota’s, described the tragedy that December night. She remarked, “It’s as if someone took a Rembrandt painting off the wall & tore it into shreds”. I recall it was chilly & damp that following evening-morning, & she failed miserably in her attempt of holding back the tears – all while stuttering & shivering from the cold. Yet no one from the crowd, other than this young child of nature, could had summed it any better than that. Wow! I think John would had really admired her reaction to that (somewhat unsympathetic) interviewer, too. After all, John himself had a great way with words… & to those who even “dared” interviewing him. Of course John was the great mastermind of communication in both his words & music, not to mention those protest rallies. It was especially a rare treat whenever John (Dr. Winston O’Boogie, I should say) dropped in over at WNEW-FM, filling the role as a Disc Jockey or giving his take on the current weather forecast – in that Liverpudlian-New-York attitude sort of way. I think even Elvis himself would had gotten a kick from the doctor! John too, never made it a secret that he would like to have his own radio show, & in great cosmic fashion, he finally got what he wished for. Oh & of course, hearing the newly discovered gems from the attic were fantastic too! Moreover (& despite how some may feel), I believe Yoko deserves a warm pat-on-the-back for unselfishly sharing such a treasure trove. “Thanks Yoko!”

    Anyway, that’s what inspired me to catch the radio show whenever it aired, &, what provoked me to share my thoughts here as well. Both John & the show really had that much of an impact & influence while growing up (across that other pond) in New Jersey. Another fact of the matter is that I’ve been searching the internet trying to find copies of that broadcast now & then. More like ‘scouring’ hi & low, I should add. Just as Greyray, the poster above who replied. And, as a weird twist of faith, is how I happened to have landed here. So glad I did because it’s obvious there are many who hold the same interest & would enjoy a second listen, or perhaps catch up some “missed” broadcasts. After all, there were a total of 218 weeks & that’s an incredible number of episodes for any one artist!

    Unfortunately, just as Dave Kephart explained, there are only inferior sources available on the web, such as mp3. I was already aware of that fact a long time ago, but it’s much worse now. In fact, some have the audacity of releasing the series onto DVDs & even podcasts. Thus, degrading the fidelity of the series even further. I can only imagine these formats were chosen because, after all, it’s such a huge series. If the show was strictly dialogue, I’d be okay with the idea. But it’s not, & the show featured lots of great music & other media as well. Besides I’m a purist, & was lucky enough to be involved in trading & collecting of bootlegs since the early 80’s. I also have several versions of The Lost Lennon Tapes, such as Walrus & Bag Records (2nd edition). However, it hasn’t been easy attaining the Westwood One Radio Series. Again, the main reason is because of its size. So far, I have collected about 75% of the episodes. All sourced from needle-drops & ripped into .wav files. Sadly though, I’ve been trying to complete the series since 2008 & it has remained that way today.

    One of the reasons why I haven’t completed the series is an obvious answer… most, if not all, are lossy sourced. If you’re lucky, you may run into 2nd generation vinyl copies on CD-r but they aren’t cheap. Secondly, over the years I have come to learn that there are perhaps some inferiority with the program too. Issues like bad edits, recycled material, the conformity, & its dialogue itself. Sure, Mintz may had babbled on-top of the music from time to time, but these are minimal things as far as I’m concerned. At best, any other errors should be expected considering how long the series had aired. From what I researched, there are even those who suspect that the source of “some” of the material were from bootlegs. Material added into a few episodes as fragments or fill-ins, here & there. To me, that sounds plausible. Especially after hearing rumors insisting that a number of tracks on The Beatles Anthology were actually derived from bootlegs. Whether that’s true or not could be debated, & simply food for thought. After all it’s been bootleggers who had always provided fans the material they wanted, while more pristine versions still remain locked away in greedy commercial vaults somewhere. Simply because they’ll increase in value the longer they can hold out & maintain a tight grip on them. Think of it as gold or other precious material. Mintz himself had even mentioned that during the time of the broadcasts there was a never-ending flood of bootleg material released. Material that was almost identical to the tracks that were aired, some better or even longer? Heck, even John admitted to collecting bootlegs. All these stories are quite interesting to say the least & simply add to more unanswered questions.

    To conclude, another reason for responding is to ‘”grease the wheel”, so to speak. Especially after reading Dave’s comments. Quite frankly, I too find it surprising that nobody has made any effort to contact Dave? In other words, I would love to see an official cleaned-up, re-edited & re-scripted re-release of John’s life work someday – minus all the “repetition”. Such a Redux version that would allow engineers such as Dave & his team the much needed time to do the job they intended, instead being hurried without even a roadmap. If you think about it, much of the hard work had already been completed. First & foremost, Dave claims to still have the original uncompressed masters. Other folks like Charles Iscove, author of The Lost Lennon Tapes Project, had already painstakingly analyzed & cataloged all the episodes, coupled with descriptions. Furthermore, re-editing the fantastic dialogue that Mintz had accomplished shouldn’t be too difficult either. I imagine that the finally process would also involve the simple task of adding new narration into areas that will help make the entire series more chronologically cohesive. Come to think about it, with today’s technology, wouldn’t it a kick in the head if Dr. Winston O’Boogie himself could narrate the series? Second thought, that maybe a bit too far-fetched, although kind of cool to play with the idea just the same 🙂

    I’m sure it not as easy as all that of course! Certainly much more is involved with such a production. Yet it still sounds do-able! I strongly believe it would be a worthwhile & rewarding effort for all involved, too. Especially for us fans of John Lennon. Who knows, maybe some more “unreleased material” may even surface? As reinforcement, I wish to share a comment I came across from author & publisher Scott “Belmo” Belmer, who sums it up best: “The Lost Lennon Tapes was a unique program in that nothing like it had ever been attempted before. No single artist has had such a treatment before or since. And I am certain there will never be another radio show as historic or influential because there will never be another John Lennon.”

    Imagine… John’s Life’s Work: A “Dr. Winston O’Boogie Redux”.
    Presented in a considerate & carefully thought-out manner as initially intended.

    “Hope you got your ears on Yoko” 🙂

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