Back in September of 2021, a series of previously-unreleased tapes featuring interviews with John Lennon conducted by Canadian journalist Ken Zeilig on three occasions in 1969 and 1970 were put up for auction. Lennon was a game interview subject during this time, and his insights helped contextualise what the breakup of The Beatles was like in real-time.
Lennon was famously dismissive of a number of Beatles tracks over the years, but he was mostly diplomatic while the band were still together, at least in name. Lennon had actually privately left the group by the time his correspondence with Zeilig was finished, but he had yet to publicly announce his departure. As such, he talks about The Beatles as a present-tense entity on the tapes. Like any curious onlooker, Zeilig asks Lennon what his favourite Beatles songs are.
“I’m prejudiced, I like my own, you know. [laughs] I like ‘Revolution #9’,” Lennon explains in the interview. The experimental track that serves as the penultimate track on The White Album was the most sonically ambitious and nebulous recording that The Beatles ever put their name on, and it wasn’t universally loved by the group. Paul McCartney attempted to keep it off the final cut of the album, but Lennon persisted, and eventually, the sound collage found its way towards the end of the vinyl pressing.
Lennon recalls how the band were often characterised as innovators, but Lennon demurred on this point. “People said the Beatles created a whole new way of life and thinking. Well, we didn’t, we were part of it,” Lennon says. “If there was a big wave in the ocean which was the movement, we were on the front of the wave. But we were not the movement itself.”
For a track like ‘Revolution 9’, which was influenced by the forward-thinking compositions of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Lennon saw it as a reflection of the world around him. ‘Revolution 9’ was an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens; just like a drawing of a revolution,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970. “All the thing was made with loops. I had about 30 loops going, fed them onto one basic track. I was getting classical tapes, going upstairs and chopping them up, making it backwards and things like that, to get the sound effects.”
When pressed by Zeilig to include some other songs from the Fab Four in his list of favourites, Lennon continued to list off compositions that he was primarily responsible for: ‘I Am the Walrus’, ‘Rain’, and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. Lennon also included ‘A Day in the Life’, which started out as a solo composition but was greatly altered with the help of McCartney. ‘A Day in the Life’ represented a rare occurrence of Lennon and McCartney working together equally on a composition during the later stage of The Beatles’ recording career.
John Lennon’s favourite Beatles songs:
- ‘Revolution 9’
- ‘I Am The Walrus’
- ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
- ‘A Day in the Life’