“Who on earth you think you are? A superstar? Well right you are.” – Instant Karma
This one kinda snuck up on me even though I kept hearing about John’s 80th birthday. I happened to be listening to The Beatles channel on Sirius and McCartney said that he and John were always struggling to be the leader. But he admitted that all the other guys were “fans” of John and that Lennon was the one with the true leader personality. If you’ve read 35,000 Beatles books like I have you’d know that.
When John wrote “Help,” – as McCartney notes – he meant it as literally a cry for help. He was drowning in the band. We didn’t know it. Hell, McCartney didn’t know it. They were just swept up in the fame and fortune and everything that goes with it.*
John Lennon either wrote or co-wrote some of the greatest music the world has ever known and he was easily one of the most influential people of the 20th Century. However, I confess that I found his solo career to be very much of a mixed bag. But I found on putting together this list that there were a lot more of his songs I dug than I remembered. I’ll sample a few here and then put all eighteen songs on the Spotify list. It will be well worth your time.
First up – “Mother.” John Lennon’s father abandoned him. And his mother was killed crossing a street after he had reconciled with her at 17.** (McCartney’s mother died when he was 14 which they both admitted was a bond between them.)
Wikipedia: “Lennon was inspired to write the song after undergoing primal therapy with Arthur Janov, originally at his home at Tittenhurst Park and then at the Primal Institute, California, where he remained for four months. Lennon, who eventually derided Janov, initially described the therapy as “something more important to me than The Beatles.”
Mother, you had me but I never had you
I wanted you, you didn’t want me
So I, I just got to tell you
Father, you left me but I never left you
I needed you, you didn’t need me
So I, I just got to tell you
The song starts with an ominous bell. Later, on Double Fantasy, Lennon would do a song called “(Just Like) Starting Over” which started with light bells a response to “Mother’s” heaviness:
When I did a post on “Working Class Hero” a while back I said this, “But for me, the crowning achievement was a song called “Working Class Hero.” By this time Lennon had dropped any pretense of sugarcoating his lyrics and was calling it as he saw it. (Frankly, I sometimes missed that earlier artistry. But this was something altogether deeper.)
I find it interesting that Lennon – a Dylan devotee – says, “When they’ve tortured and scared you for 20 odd years, then they expect you to pick a career.” Dylan – in “Subterranean Homesick Blues” says, “Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift.” Indeed. Anyway, I won’t try to put any interpretive spin on this. The words speak for themselves.
Wikipedia says that “Instant Karma’s” lyrics focus on a concept in which the causality of one’s actions is immediate rather than borne out over a lifetime.” I hope the Republican party in my country is listening. Ye shall reap the fucking whirlwind.
Nice “live” version here:
Lennon’s final album was called Double Fantasy and one of my favorite songs from that – or any – album is “Beautiful Boy.” It’s a love song to his son Sean. The good news is that in the last five years of his life, by his own admission John became a better father, husband and man than he had been. He had pretty much exorcised his demons.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in one non-Lennon song showing his roots in early rock, soul and R&B. From his Rock and Roll album,here’s Ben E. King’s (with Leiber and Stoller) “Stand By Me.”
Finally, let’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Wikipedia: The song was written during Lennon and Ono’s “Bed-In” honeymoon in Montreal, Quebec, Canada When asked by a reporter what he was trying to achieve by staying in bed, Lennon answered spontaneously “Just give peace a chance.”
The song was recorded on 1 June 1969 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. The recording session was attended by dozens of journalists and various celebrities, including Timothy Leary, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, Joseph Schwartz, Rosemary Woodruff Leary, Petula Clark, Dick Gregory, Allen Ginsberg, Roger Scott, Murray the K, and Derek Taylor, many of whom are mentioned in the lyrics.
Lennon played acoustic guitar and was joined by Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers, also on acoustic guitar.
*And I thank you all.
**If you’ve never seen it, Nowhere Boy is a good fictionalized movie about John’s relationship with Julia.