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John Lennon

+ {John Lennon & Yoko Ono} + {The Plastic Ono Band}

To many popular music pundits, JOHN LENNON was the epitome of the rock’n’roll idol, inspirational and influential from his halcyon BEATLES days in the 60s to his sublime solo outings in the 70s. After his untimely assassination/murder just as he was “starting over” in the early 80s, one can only ponder what the 40-year-old might have achieved in the following decades had he been allowed to live. LENNON remains a much revered genius, an artist who attempted to alienate the pop industry with non-conventional music styles. He was also a peaceful man whose outbursts and human frailties seemed to be portrayed falsely by the media, especially in his BEATLES days. His love of Yoko Ono was undoubtedly a turning point, finding both himself and the world around him a happier place to live. Although some of his songs exploded into frenetic rock anthems of anti-war and anti-government sentiments, his music, in its many facets, showed a poetic beauty and untouched romance.
Born John Winston Lennon, 9th October 1940 in Liverpool, England, his early pre-Fab Four days have been well documented: the harrowing childhood choice of having to choose to live with his mother or his estranged father, the death of his mother Julia (when she was struck by a car) when he was only seventeen, his secretive marriage to Cynthia (until they divorced in 1967) and his dabbling with LSD. John’s non-BEATLES film career was rather brief and in 1967, he acted in the movie How I Won The War, a military comedy of sorts that was as zany as any `Help!’ `A Hard Day’s Night’ or `Magical Mystery Tour’ could be.
While still a member of The BEATLES (late 1968), John teamed up with his new girlfriend at the time, YOKO ONO, to record the controversial and avant-garde UNFINISHED MUSIC NO.1: TWO VIRGINS {*3}. The cover-shot displayed a full-frontal nude photo-shoot of the couple, while the recording itself was the result of one day in the studio with a handful of instruments dubbed with tape loops and sound effects. The album was sold in brown paper wrapping to apparently save embarrassment to both the customers and the retailers! During spring next year, its follow-up UNFINISHED MUSIC NO.2: LIFE WITH THE LIONS (1969) {*3} hit the shops and continued their anti-commercial, free-form direction, the songs mainly recorded on a small cassette player. Now married to Yoko (on the 20th March ’69), he even changed his middle name by deed poll from Winston to Ono. After the Lennon’s completed an 8-day peace protest by publically lying/sitting in a hotel bed, their PLASTIC ONO BAND ensemble debuted by way of mantra anthem `Give Peace A Chance’. This gave John his first non-BEATLES hit as it rose into the UK Top 3 and US Top 20. Later that year, `Cold Turkey’ (a drug withdrawal song), also gave him a Top 30 smash on both sides of the Atlantic. Towards the close of ‘69, LENNON unveiled two albums, one another avant-garde diversion with Yoko THE WEDDING ALBUM {*2}, and the other a more standard “conventional” product from the PLASTIC ONO BAND in LIVE PEACE IN TORONTO 1969 {*6}, a record which breached the US Top 10. The collective also scored with another UK/US Top 5 hit `Instant Karma’, a platter which was produced by Phil Spector early in 1970. In April that year, The BEATLES officially split prior to the release of another No.1 album `Let It Be’.
John then concentrated wholly on his solo career, returning with his/their first studio album proper JOHN LENNON / PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970) {*9}. Confessional and cathartic (having just taken primal scream therapy with Dr. Arthur Janov in L.A.), John’s introspective songs dealt with his angst and his fears through `Mother’ (a US-only minor hit), `God’, `Isolation’, `I Found Out’ and `Working Class Hero’. The set was topped off by another non-album Top 20 anthem `Power To The People’.
On the 3rd of September ‘71, LENNON went to New York to live with Yoko and a month later, his classic album IMAGINE {*10} – co-produced by Spector – topped the charts in both the US and the UK (its US-only title track hitting No.3). Featuring former BEATLES buddy GEORGE HARRISON (on dobro), BADFINGER associates Joey Molland and Tom Evans, plus Mike Pinder (from The SEARCHERS), bassist Klaus Voorman, drummer Alan White and sax man King Curtis, there was indeed a harmonious, home-studio feel to the proceedings. Of course there was a fair share of sniping and griping, examples stemming from `How Do You Sleep?’ (directed at former writing partner McCARTNEY), the self-explanatory `I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ and `Jealous Guy’ (a paean to himself!). `Crippled Inside’ and the paranoiac `Gimme Some Truth’ were two further acerbic assaults, while the sole co-Yoko cue was the delicate `Oh My Love’ (the finale tipped his hat to his missus by way of `Oh Yoko!’).
American politics (Vietnam, Nixon and the senate) had always been at the core of LENNON’s angst-ridden passion, and its ugly head cropped up on the singer’s next JOHN & YOKO / PLASTIC ONO BAND (etc.) half studio/half live workout SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY (1972) {*5}. Penned with/without or together with his domestic accomplice Yoko, the first disc fell short of its targets, while the anti-commercial concert disc recorded with either GEORGE HARRISON on board at The Lyceum in London or The MOTHERS OF INVENTION at Fillmore East, was a rock’n’roll jam of excess and self-indulgence. Sentimental and classy was their 1972 UK Christmas hit `Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, a poignant platter, given it was one of the greatest festive songs of its day.
A return to the Top 20 with both the title single and its parent LP, MIND GAMES (1973) {*7}, LENNON was at least back to his best on some of the more conventional cuts (`Out Of The Blue’ and `One Day (At A Time)’), but LENNON wouldn’t be LENNON without removing his comfort zone via rockers `Meat City’ and `Bring On The Lucie (Freda Peeple)’.
Recorded during a hiatus and cooling-off period with Yoko, WALLS AND BRIDGES (1974) {*6} came about during his infamous year-long “lost weekend” exile in California. Although it contained LENNON’s first US chart-topper in `Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ (a funky duet with his pal ELTON JOHN), it was a tad uncomfortable and at times mediocre, although exceptions were `No.9 Dream’ (another cross-Atlantic hit) and `Old Dirt Road’ (penned with NILSSON). While he fought to stay in America after being ordered by immigration authorities to leave, LENNON went through drinking bouts and wild parties with his other buddies RINGO STARR, KEITH MOON, DAVID BOWIE and HARRY NILSSON (he also augmented the latter on his `Pussy Cats’ set and co-penned `Fame’ with BOWIE).
Not a particularly creative time for John, he almost immediately come up with ROCK’N’ROLL (1975) {*6}, an amiable/good-time set of celebratory cover versions from the 50s, namely GENE VINCENT’s `Be-Bop-A-Lula’, BEN E. KING’s `Stand By Me’, LITTLE RICHARD’s `Rip It Up’ & `Ready Teddy’ medley, CHUCK BERRY’s `You Can’t Catch Me’ and `Sweet Little Sixteen’, FATS DOMINO’s `Ain’t That A Shame’, Bobby Freeman’s `Do You Want To Dance?’, Al & Albert Collins’ `Slippin’ And Slidin’’, BUDDY HOLLY’s `Peggy Sue’, SAM COOKE’s `Bring It On Home To Me’ & `Send Me Some Lovin’’ medley, Larry Williams’ `Bony Moronie’, Lloyd Price’s `Just Because’ and a leftover from his previous set: Lee Dorsey’s `Ya Ya’.
Things looked brighter for John that October when his deportation battle looked like keeping him in America, while the birth of John and Yoko’s reunification (Sean) on the 9th of October ‘75, put paid to U.S. court appeals winning their case. LENNON then went into house-husband retirement to look after the boy in their Manhattan apartment, and was soon to receive his green card allowing him to permanently reside in the States.
However, in 1980 John returned to the studio once again, David Geffen offering to release an album on his self-titled imprint. In November that year, DOUBLE FANTASY {*7} was released, a split LENNON/ONO set that duly topped both US and UK album charts. There was also a return to the singles chart when the ironically-titled `(Just Like) Starting Over’ cracked the Top 10. Of LENNON’s songs, the aforementioned opening single, plus `Watching The Wheels’, `Woman’ and `Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ – all future hits – gave the album some stability, while Yoko’s saviours came via `Kiss, Kiss, Kiss’ and a few others.
Tragically, on December 8, 1980, just as he was leaving his apartment block, John was shot four times by a deranged fan, Mark Chapman. He died shortly afterwards at Roosevelt hospital. Not surprisingly, the aforementioned “Starting Over” 45 climbed back up the charts and peaked at No.1, with a re-issue of `Imagine’ following it to the top early in 1981. His killer was subsequently sent to a mental institution for the rest of his life amid rumours of his alleged associations with the darker elements of government and beyond.
Under a plethora of understandably exploitative releases, the collaborative John & Yoko “follow-up” MILK AND HONEY (1984) {*6} was served up by Polydor Records, a consumer-friendly attempt that garnered some nice sentiments through `Borrowed Time’, `Grow Old With Me’ and John’s last great track and hit single, `Nobody Told Me’.
John’s son from his first marriage, JULIAN LENNON, was to take the mantle from his late father, scoring several hits in the latter half of the 80s; SEAN LENNON would also carve out his own solo career, while mum rallied in her own inimitable “fashion” via recordings and artwork.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-BG // rev-up MCS Dec2011

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