John Lennon – A Rock Icon
John Lennon was an English musician, writer and artist, belonging to one of the most successful and influential bands, The Beatles. Lennon was the leader of the group, as well as rhythm guitarist/keyboardist, vocalist and the other half of the celebrated Lennon-McCartney songwriting team. By 1964 The Beatles were famous on a global scale.
When the band were on the verge of breaking up over a lot differences, Lennon released his first album outside the Beatles in 1968, the experimental Two Virginswith future wife Yoko Ono, and the single “Give Peace A Chance”, considered an anthem in the height of the Vietnam War.
Lennon engaged in political activism, and because of his anti-war activities he was almost deported from the US under the Nixon administration. He eventually settled in the country and began a semi-retirement in 1975. In 1980, he staged a return with the album Double Fantasy, but his comeback was cut short by his tragic death on December 8 that year. Lennon’s enduring legacy and influence not only rest on his music, but also on his activism, writings, art and unique personal beliefs as well.
John Lennon is, no doubt, one of the most celebrated iconic figures in pop music history. Many people praise his wit, humor and genius, while detractors criticize his lack of true musical talent (as compared to Paul McCartney’s) and for being a “poser” in so many ways. Whatever their opinions may be, they cannot deny Lennon’s impact and influence to people even in generations after him.
John Lennon was born John Winston Stanley Lennon in Liverpool, England on October 9, 1940. Growing up, Lennon was a rebellious teen and an infamous figure at school. Soon he formed a band, the Quarrymen in 1956, starting as a skiffle group. Then he met Paul McCartney for the first time on July 6, 1957, making up the nucleus of the Beatles. George Harrison eventually joined the band as the lead guitarist. They eventually renamed themselves as “The Beatles.” As the band was beginning to take shape and Brian Epstein entered into the picture as their manager, the band sacked their former drummer Pete Best and replaced him with Ringo Starr. And the Beatles were complete – and this lineup would endure from 1962 until the band’s split in 1970.
From their position as mainstream stars in the UK in 1963, The Beatles then overtook America in 1964, igniting the “British Invasion.” Soon the Beatles became global pop stars, and even at the height of Beatlemania, Lennon began to explore projects outside the group. He released two best-selling books “In His Own Write” and “The Spanner In The Works,” and starred in How I Won The War which was directed by Richard Lester, who had helmed the two Beatles movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help!
While still with the Beatles, Lennon got to explore himself musically out of the group only in 1968, as tensions grew among him and his other band mates. He released his first solo project Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins with Yoko Ono, whom he would later marry (he was then married to his first wife, Cynthia Powell, with whom he had a son, Julian). The album’s cover ignited a controversy because of the picture of him and Yoko naked.
He would release other avant-garde recordings before he issued his first single outside of The Beatles, “Give Peace A Chance” in 1969 with his own group the Plastic Ono Band; it was recorded during Lennon’s “Bed-In” honeymoon in Montreal, Canada. It peaked at #14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the UK singles chart, and became one of the anthems of the Vietnam anti-war movement. Lennon sent back his MBE to the Queen as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigerian Civil War (Biafra), America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the poor chart performance of his single “Cold Turkey” (the last of which he joked about, perhaps). His political activism, while earning the admiration of fans and colleagues, was frowned upon by others.
Another non-album single “Instant Karma!” became his first US Top 10 hit, peaking at #6 in 1970. It was followed by “Imagine,” probably his most famous solo recording and also the best-selling single of his own career. It has been covered a lot of times by several artists.
In 1973, Lennon battled against deportation attempts by the Nixon administration due to his anti-Vietnam war campaigns. Eventually, Nixon was embroiled in his own political scandal – Watergate – which forced him to resign, thus the deportation order was rescinded. Lennon received his green card, signifying permanent residence in the US.
He and Ono separated for 18 months (1973-1975) which Lennon referred to as “the lost weekend.” He began to drink heavily, and had a relationship with another woman named May Pang, whom Ono herself suggested to Lennon as part of an arrangement while they remained separated. During this time, Lennon recorded Walls and Bridges which yielded his only #1 single “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” He also co-wrote David Bowie’s first US #1 hit “Fame” (1975), as well as played guitars in the song. Lennon then released another album Rock and Roll, an album of covers of rock classics.
When Lennon’s second son Sean Ono Lennon was born on his birthday in 1975, Lennon retired from the music scene for a while to devote himself being a househusband. He emerged in 1980 with his brand new album Double Fantasy, whose single “(Just Like) Starting Over” predated the release of the album. Initially, Double Fantasy received lukewarm reviews from critics – but it was to be his final album.
John Lennon seemed ready to do music for good, until his murder on December 8, 1980 cut short all such aspirations. His assassination shocked fans all over the world, triggering an overwhelming outpouring of grief. Lennon’s death helped Double Fantasy to climb all the way to the Billboard 200 chart, selling three million copies. Singles from the album – “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Woman” and “Watching The Wheels” – all became Top 10 hit singles.
Milk and Honey was released in 1984, becoming Lennon’s first posthumous album. It contained tracks that were to be made as a follow-up for Double Fantasy, but Lennon’s untimely death led to the temporary postponement of the project. Although its commercial reception didn’t surpass or equal of that of Double Fantasy, it nevertheless did well enough on the charts.
In the years following his death, several compilations and greatest-hits albums have been issued, most notably 1998’s Anthology and Wonsaponatime, and 2004’s Acoustic.
John Lennon’s voice can be heard on the Beatles’ Anthology 1 and Anthology 2 compilation albums through the tracks “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love,” which had been originally recorded as home demos by Lennon and then were incorporated with contributions from his former Beatles band mates McCartney, Harrison and Starr, reworking them to become full songs.
Whether there are fans or critics of his body of work, John Lennon will forever be an iconic rock star with the verbal wit, intelligence, humor, and the voice for the social conscience. His songs will remain in the hearts of those who have been touched by his music, even over three decades after his death.