Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK singer-songwriter who rose to fame as one-quarter of the Beatles and half the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney. He started the whole thing by forming the Quarrymen while still in school, but contemplated a solo career from the time the Beatles stopped touring in '66. Collaborations with lover Yoko Ono incl. Unfinished Music Number 1: Two Virgins, Number 2: Life With The Lions and Wedding Album '68--9, avant-garde improvised works reflecting her arty pretensions. Live Peace In Toronto '69 was a stroll through mixed Beatles and rock'n'roll set with Eric Clapton, others, one of his first gestures for world peace (he returned his MBE '69 in protest at British involvement in Nigerian Civil War); carried on with single 'Give Peace A Chance' (no. 2 USA/UK '69) and bed-in for peace at Amsterdam Hilton following marriage (to Ono); singles continued with jagged, frightening 'Cold Turkey' infl. by Janov's 'primal scream' therapy, sugared philosophical pill 'Instant Karma' (prod. by Phil Spector); unpredictable scattershot approach '69--70 informed his '70s music. First solo LP John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band '70 flashed back to unhappy childhood with songs like 'Mother'; notable track was acerbic 'Working Class Hero' (later covered by Marianne Faithfull); stripped-down instrumentation with only Ringo Starr and bassist Klaus Voorman underlined personal, often brutal nature of the work. Imagine '71 continued introspective mood with songs like 'Jealous Guy' and 'Crippled Inside', but Spector's prod./arr. softened the edges. The title track became his best-known song, a hymn to non-materialism extrapolated from Ono's Grapefruit book: the LP was no. 1 both USA/UK, also contained thinly veiled attack on McCartney 'How Do You Sleep'. The Lennons decamped to NYC where he spent the rest of his life, though anti-establishment stance provoked a four-year wrangle for 'green card' enabling him to live and work there. Although it successfully alienated the authorities, Sometime In New York City '72 crammed too many causes into a double album, one disc backed by Elephant's Memory, the other a 'live jam' with members of the Mothers of Invention (recorded at the same shows that prod. the Mothers' Fillmore East June 1971). 'It became journalism and not poetry,' he later said. He hadn't learned the lessons of hit '71 singles 'Power To The People' and 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)': you need a good tune even if you're an ex-Beatle. Mind Games '73, Walls And Bridges '74 went easier on the politics, but lacked bite; the latter continued his obsession with his own childhood, with his drawings as an eleven-year-old on the cover; the LPs book-ended a period of separation from Ono: they reunited after he celebrated his first solo US no. 1 hit with backing vocal by Elton John by appearing at Madison Square Garden with John Nov. '74: he sang the hit, 'Whatever Gets You Through The Night', and Beatle standards 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'. Rock 'N' Roll '75 paid homage to Hamburg era, cover saw him lounging under a neon sign wearing a leather jacket; incl. minor hit cover of Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me'; compilation Shaved Fish same year was his last release for five years as he retired to bring up his son Sean. He took out a newspaper advert '79 to explain his decision to become a recluse in NYC's Dakota apartment building; emerged the following year with Ono to sign with newly-formed Geffen label, releasing no. 1 LP Double Fantasy: they had released simultaneous albums both called Plastic Ono Band '70; now they alternated 14 songs on one album; instead of reliving his own childhood he celebrated Sean's happier one with 'Beautiful Boy', her role with 'Woman'. As the optimistic 'Just Like Starting Over' reached top ten USA he was shot to death 8 Dec. on the steps of the Dakota by schizophrenic fan Mark Chapman.

Albert Goldman's The Lives Of John Lennon '88 was an example of his style of character assassination; Lennon's personal assistant Frederick Seaman was accused by Yoko of stealing his journals, finally published Living On Borrowed Time mostly about John's last two years: he and Yoko had a strange relationship, but he was a strange man, riddled with grief and guilt. An international outpouring of grief at his murder astonished many, yet in spite of his uneven solo output, his mind often cluttered by bitterness, his aspirations were those of a generation: Chapman's undiagnosed mental illness prevented the possible fruits of a more stable life, as well as ending constant rumours of Beatles re-formation. Posthumous tributes incl. Ono's Seasons Of Glass '81, compilation The John Lennon Collection '82 incl. '70s hits with best of Double Fantasy, Heart Play '84 (an unfinished interview), Milk And Honey '84 (out-takes, six each by John and Ono); Menlove Avenue '86 (after a street in Liverpool) had Warhol cover, out-takes from Walls And Bridges and Rock'n'Roll; two-disc Imagine: John Lennon '88 was soundtrack from a TV documentary.