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
“Isolation” is a 1970 song appearing on John Lennon’s first official solo album release, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It ends side one of the album, and is the fifth track. In the Philippines Apple Records released “Isolation” as the b-side to “Mother”, the single off John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, in contrast to most countries where the b-side was Yoko Ono’s “Why.” It was also released on an EP in Mexico along with “Mother,” “Look at Me” and “My Mummy’s Dead.
At the time, Lennon began to feel disillusioned with fame and where his life was heading, with the break-up of the Beatles, the attacks he and Yoko Ono were facing at the time, as well as acute insecurity and self-doubt brought on through his extensive drug use.” “Isolation” reveals Lennon’s feelings of vulnerability, despite his fame and fortune. Beatles biographer John Blaney sees this as continuing the theme of the album, as Lennon strips away another layer of myth that hides the true reality. Blaney sees this revelation as being particularly painful for Lennon, for whom belonging and acceptance was very important.
The lyrics begin by stating that even though he and Ono seem to have everything, they are still as lonely and isolated as everyone else. The second verse focuses on the couple’s political activism, which many oppose generating even further isolation. The third verse generalizes the situation further. Lennon acknowledges that the people who have caused his pain can’t be blamed, since we are all part of the same irrational world, and thus we are all victims of the world’s insanity. This verse borrows from an older song, Barrett Strong’s “Oh I Apologize,” the b-side to his 1959 single “Money (That’s What I Want).” In “Oh I Apologize” Strong sang “I don’t expect you to take me back/after I’ve caused you so much pain.” The third verse of “Isolation” begins “I don’t expect you to understand/After you caused so much pain” before noting that the listener is not to blame. The fourth and final verse puts people’s fears of each other and even of the sun into the context of a universe in which the sun is permanent but our world may not be.
Musicologist Wilfrid Mellers describes “Isolation” as an “Anglicized version of Negro piano blues.”The instrumentation begins with just drums and piano backing Lennon’s vocals. When Lennon’s vocals become more emotional, an organ is added to the instrumentation.