You Say It’s Your Birthday: An ME tribute to John Lennon

“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
Goodbye, goodbye

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
Goodbye, goodbye

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:

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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.”

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

*And I thank you all.

**If you’ve never seen it, Nowhere Boy is a good fictionalized movie about John’s relationship with Julia.

34 thoughts on “You Say It’s Your Birthday: An ME tribute to John Lennon

  1. Nice playlist. I agree Lennon’s solo output varied, but there’s still a good deal of great music.

    It’s kind of incredible he has been dead for close to 40 years, almost as long as he lived!

    I almost would have missed his 80th birthday, which I suppose would have been unforgivable for an outspoken Beatles fan, and decided to repost a playlist I originally had published in January 2018.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew it was coming and I almost missed it. I wrote this thing in a couple of hour sprint late this afternoon. BTW, there’s something on public TV tonight at 9 about John in NYC.

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  2. Lennon was certainly quite the character & his work reflected that. It’s not really aged too well (my opinion), but “Power to the People” is still a favourite of mine. Likely because it really spoke to the naive, rebellious lad that I was when it came out. I still dream that it could be possible….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lennon’s solo output does not compare to his Beatles stuff. And I agree some if it hasn’t aged well. But as mentioned in the piece, I was suprised that there were more songs I liked than I thougth. Which pleases me.

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    1. Did I tell you that my wife and I went on a cruise with my friend Steve and his wfie a couple years ago? They had a music trivia game. There were two of us against a table of six or seven. We tied. Then Steve got excited and wanted to jump up there like we won fucking Jeopardy or something.. I told him to relax.

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        1. I suppose so. But even I’m not what anybody would refer to as cool, I’d still rather play a Bogart-type scene. “Listen, sweetheart,” I would say to some ’40s bleached blonde.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Plus is covers with the Beatles like ‘Money’ and ‘Twist and shout’ I like the rockers he does. People forget what a hard rocking band they were. Where they cut their teeth. He has that husky voice that worked.

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        3. Yeah. He did that whole ‘Rock and Roll’ album. I liked the early stuff he sang with the Beatles. ‘Anna’ is one of my favorites of that era. Very soulful singing on his part.

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        4. Well, that’s largely because you’ve seemed indifferent. But here’s what I can’t figure out. You’re a big Kinks fan. So, British (very), Sixties, rock with a big dose of pop, clever lyrics. So, essentially, like the Beatles. So how is it you like them and not the Fab Four? If Ray Davies had grown up in Liverpool he could easily have been John’s partner. I don’t get it.

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        5. Dont know if I can explain it Doc. I’m more of a Who/Kinks guy as you know. Maybe more of an edge? Little more street? Plus so much is written about the Liverpool guys. You are very honest in your liking of them. I certainly don’t dislike the music just the other stuff appeals more to me. You know that I like the Beatles early stuff better. I guess closer to the roots. No denying the quality of their music. Pretty good batting average. My ear just took me to other places. I never got into John solo. Just never sought it out I first heard Jealous guy from Roxy Music. So I hope that explains things. Funny guy huh? Plus he loved his gal unconditionally (Nothing to do with music) Admirable.

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        6. I’ve thought about this before and yea, there’s one big difference. The Who, Kinks, Stones, Yardbirds – all London born and bred. So probably true there’s an edge as they call came from a bluesy, hard-edged street place. But the Beatles were from way up north in Liverpool. Those guys used to hear import records that sailors brought in. But the Mersey stuff was definitely more music hall, more lightweight, more pop. If anybody had the balls in that band it was John. He was not a blues guy but when you hear stuff like ‘Yer Blues’ or ‘I Want You’ that’s all Lennon. I love all those bands you love from London. But the Beatles and Stones are on another level for me, two sides of the same coin.

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        7. Yup, well said Doc ( And researched). Thing is, the Beatles were no boy band, they came from hard places from what i gathered and learned their chops playing gigs in tough places. They were not pretenders. Here it is in a nut shell, different musical ideas and musical directions. Lets embrace that. You take those bands out of the music world and there would be a big fricking hole. The world would definitely not be whole. I heard Ray Davies say something recently, something like “he just tries to be a little more friendly with people”. Think about it Doc. Simple but hey, it might work. Good night fella.

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        8. Ray isn’t known for his shining personality. Kind of a loner. I’m not even sure he ever hangs out with any of his peers from that era. Kinks and Beatles played shows together at different points and John derided them as copycats.
          I would take your statement further and say that if you took British rock out there would be a giantic hole.

          Liked by 1 person

        9. John wasnt afraid to shoot his mouth off. I think a lot of those guys like Ray have mellowed with age (except Ginger). Looking back at the fights and thinking maybe I was a little to wound up. Could you imagine The Kinks and the Beatles in a creative situation in the studio. Someone would have got physically hurt.

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        10. The Kinks were too busy fighting with each other. Most of the Brits spent their time making sarcastic remarks about each other, mostly class-based. “Oh, he’s a fookin’ wanker from Saint Smitherington-on-Cheesecake” or whatever. I was just reading that Gilmour and Waters fought all the time and almost came to a fistfight. Creative differences. You know how it is.

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        11. They all liked to mouth off. The creative thing is a set up for confrontation. Poor Keith moon took a few licks for the band but from what i gather The Kinks are the champs. The brothers were bad enough but Avory and Dave took it to another level. You think alcohol had something to do with it?

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