John Lennon was born on 9 October 1940 during Germany’s aerial Blitz of Liverpool during World War II. John was one of the founding member of The Beatles.
This piece of writing will focus on his solo career (1970 onwards) of probably the most famous Liverpool export of all time.
The Beatles came to an official end after the release of Let It Be in 1970. His first album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was released on 11 December, a mere eight months later.
Lennon’s emotional and self-reflective writing style came through on the album. Songs like Mother were highly personal, displaying Lennon’s pain at the death of his mother in his teenage years.
The combative and rebellious John Lennon was displayed through songs like Working Class Hero and Power to the People which became an anthem for Lennon’s peace protest movement.
Imagine was Lennon’s next LP, release in 1971. Despite some negative opinion of an album, songs like Imagine and I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier reached #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.
The album also caused controversy with the song How Do You Sleep. The song was aimed at ex-Beatle Paul McCartney after his perceived attack on Lennon and Yoko in his song Too Many People. However in later years after a softening in hostilities between the pair, Lennon claimed the record was actually an attack on himself and not McCartney.
The song Imagine reached #3 in the US Billboard Chart when it was released in 1971. Lennon’s next single release came in December 1971 with Happy Xmas (War is Over) after Lennon moved with Yoko Ono to New York.
The couple proceeded to advertise the single and their anti-war message. They bought billboard advertising space in 12 major cities around the world with the message WAR IS OVER – IF YOU WANT IT.
January 1972 saw the beginning of what could only be described as sinister campaign by the President Nixon. His administration tried to have Lennon deported on account of his pro-peace message. Lennon’s battle with deportation would continue until 1976 and only strengthened his determination to win. He continued supporting various causes he felt were worthy of debate in the public arena.
Some Time in New York City
Johns political stance continued to influence songs on his next LP Some Time in New York City, released in 1972. “Attica State” highlighted the riots by prisoners at states Penitentiary, and “Woman is the Nigger of the World” conveying disparity in social and working conditions between the sexes.
Two songs were dedicated to Ireland, north and south
Sunday Bloody Sunday condemned the British government’s actions in Derry, Northern Ireland while The Luck of Irish attempted to convey Lennon’s feelings about the wider Irish problem.
The album was a critical and commercial flop. Many radio stations would not broadcast the single “Woman is the Nigger of the World” due to the use of the racial slur.
Lennon staged two benefit concerts in 1972 in aid of the patients at Willowbrook State School mental facility. Madison Square Garden was the venue and 30 May 1972 would be John’s last full concert appearance.
Mind Games was John’s next release coming in 1973. It was while recording the album that Lennon embarked on his ‘Lost Weekend’. Lennon spent this eighteen month spell between New York and Los Angeles. He was a more social figure than he had ever been and initially enjoyed his bachelor lifestyle.
Mind Games, released in November 1973, reached #9 in the US Billboard chart, #13 in the UK album listings and wrote songs for Ringo Starr while producing music for Mick Jagger and Harry Nilsson.
By 1974 Lennon’s behavior was making the wrong kind of headlines. He and Nilsson were involved in two incidents which involved the pair being forcibly removed from trendy hotspot The Troubadour Club, Los Angeles.
Shortly after these incidents Lennon and May Pang traveled back to New York where Lennon finished production of Harry Nilsson’s album.
Walls and Bridges
Walls and Bridges became Lennon’s fourth LP release in four years. It spawned the only #1 solo record he would do during his lifetime.
“Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” was released September 23 1974 while the album Walls and Bridges made the #1 spot in the American Billboard chart.
Lennon also fulfilled a promise he had made to Elton John to perform live with him if Whatever Gets You Thru the Night reached #1 (Lennon had not been convinced of the records commercial potential).
Lennon showed up to Elton John’s Madison Square Garden date on 28 November 1974. He played Whatever Gets You Thru the Night, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and I Saw Her Standing There.
The 9th track, Dream was also released in 1974 and ironically reached #9 in the US while it could only manage #23 in the UK.
David Bowie partnership
David Bowie became a writing partner in 1975 when Lennon earned a co-writing credit on Bowie’s first US #1 Fame. He also supplied backing vocals and guitar on the record.
Lennon and Yoko Ono were also reunited in early 1975 while Rock ‘n’ Roll, a compilation album of covers was released and reached #6 on both sides of the Atlantic.
The album was born from a lawsuit about The Beatles release Come Together. The song was like Chuck Berry’s song You Can’t Catch Me and the songs publisher Morris Levy brought a lawsuit against Lennon and his record label.
The lawsuit was dropped after Lennon agreed to record a covers album including three songs from Levy’s publishing company.
The album was delayed after its producer Phil Spector disappeared with the master tapes. Recording was suspended and Lennon began making Walls and Bridges but as a result, Morris Levy resumed court proceedings suing for $42 million for breach of contract.
Lennon contacted Levy and explained the situation with Phil Spector. After having paid $90,000 Capitol records retrieved the master tapes. The album was then completed and released quickly, leaving out several of the original songs from the official recording (although these would reappear with the 2004 reissue). The albums speedy release impacted on sales but Morris Levy’s lawsuit was satisfied however the single release Stand By Me would Lennon’s last for five years.
Yoko Ono pregnancy
Yoko Ono fell pregnant in early 1975. Fearing a miscarriage (Ono had miscarried on two previous occasions), John decided to leave the music business to take care of his wife and their unborn child.
Lennon however, was contractually obliged to produce one more album and did so by releasing Shaved Fish. A compilation of previously recorded singles.
The album reached #5 in the UK and went platinum in the US where it reached a high of #13 in the Billboard chart. Thus began Lennon’s retreat from the celebrity world into the family unit devoting his time to his new son Sean while Yoko Ono successfully ran the business of Lennon’s name and his body of work.
While looking after his son, he began drawing and wrote drafts of a book. The book was built from a mix of autobiographical writing and some of the nonsense word play from earlier literary works such as In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.
1980 was an important year for Lennon, he would turn 40 and his son had begun to attend school limiting Sean’s dependence upon him as a father. It was at this point that Lennon decided to enter the music business again with his single (Just Like) Starting Over.
The record was released on 24 October 1980 and reached #3 in the US and #8 in the UK but a very sad event would soon propel the record and its parent LP Double Fantasy to the #1 spot on both sides of the Atlantic.
John Lennon’s Death
On the evening of 8 December 1980 John and Yoko Ono arrived at their home, the Dakota building. They were approached by a fan Lennon had met only hours earlier and had also given an autograph. Clutching an autographed copy of Double Fantasy, Mark David Chapman shot Lennon four times in the back, just over 15 minutes later John was pronounced dead.
Chapman admitted guilt and was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment. Thousands of people converged outside of the family home and vigils were held around the world as the news broke. John was cremated and his ashes scattered in Central Park where a permanent memorial was built called Strawberry Fields.