John Lennon is an undoubted icon. The original Fab Four founder, who would have turned 80 this year, 40 years on from his tragic death, it’s almost breathtaking the wide-reaching impact the bespectacled Beatle had on not only music but the entire 20th century and still even to this day. Through his songs both with and without The Beatles, Lennon created a picture of visceral humanity that very few could match and off-stage he was as equally rich with the great and the grime of the human race.
It is clear that Lennon’s presence will be felt for some time yet. Every day he is gaining new fans and followers who still not only adore his music but are happy to follow his mantras and philosophies, revel in his written word and lust over photos. “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love,” the musician once said. “When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance,” and it is in that quote we get a real glance at the man he was.
“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant,” Lennon continued. “You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.
“It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.”
Deeply creative, spiritual and, at times, outspoken, across 80 entries we’ll show you not only the good side of Lennon but his ferocious side too, after all, it was this duplicity, this very duality of human life that the singer embodied so effortlessly.
80 of John Lennon’s most iconic moments:
80. Meeting Paul McCartney
In 1957, when Paul McCartney heard that The Quarrymen were performing at a nearby village fete, he had no idea of the boy he would meet there and the journey they would take together.
There he watched John Lennon perform for the first time, singing Gene Vincent’s ‘Be-Bop-A-Lua’ he wowed the audience and left an indelible impression on McCartney. In turn, backstage, Macca grab a guitar and sang some Eddie Cochran hits. It was enough to confirm the iconic Lennon-McCartney partnership.
79. Sniffing the bottle of coke
In The Beatles film A Hard Days Night, Lennon got to show off a few doses of his caustic wit. The film, musical comedy directed by Richard Lester, followed all four Beatles during the height of Beatlemania and attempts to portray 36 hours in the lives of the group.
While there are many moments which stand out, one now-iconic scene came when Lennon sniffed the top of a Coke bottle and left wordplay lovers reeling.
78. Outlasting Nixon to get his green card
During the early seventies, John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were the targets of a long-running FBI surveillance campaign. Under the direction of President Richard Nixon, Lennon was refused citizenship because of a 1968 cannabis conviction and targeted because of his outspoken left-wing views.
Eventually though, after tireless campaigning, Lennon and his team won the case, largely by outlasting Richard Nixon who was removed from the White House in 1974. Lennon picked up his green card in 1976 and set precedent for immigration reforms.
77. His appreciation for Bob Dylan
If there’s one artist who can attest to having the biggest influence on The Beatles and, of course, John Lennon, then it has to be Bob Dylan. The singer’s ability to put his personal expression into his songwriting inspired all of the members of the Fab Four.
Lennon often cited the freewheelin’ troubadour as a huge inspiration and said that he sometimes wrote his lyrics “a la Dylan”. While Bob would get upset about the imitations from time to time, it was the ultimate compliment in Lennon’s world.
76. A Matter of Pee
During what is known as ‘The Lost Weekend’, a the time Lennon spent travelling the dive bars and gutters that both coasts of America had to offer, the singer became a close pal of Harry Nilsson. While Nilsson was a more than capable drunk, Lennon flailed in comparison.
Nilsson also came equipped with a bit of an entourage, including Keith ‘the loon’ Moon. The Who drummer was famous for breaking up hotel rooms and it appears as though he had a dislike for the structural integrity of studios too. The drummer promptly urinated all over the studio, which led John Lennon to write this furious letter.
The heavy weight of Beatlemania had put John Lennon on his backside within only a few years. In 1965, with a new view on pushing himself artistically and committing his own life to the music, Lennon wrote one of his most revealing pieces in the form of a pop song. ‘Help!’ is one of The Beatles’ best songs because of it.
Often referring to the track as the moment he was “crying out for help,” Lennon has mused that the song certainly ranks among one of his favourite songs. When questioned as to why he replied: “Because it’s real.”
74. His strong philosophies
Many things can be levelled at John Lennon but a fence-sitter certainly isn’t one of them. It’s wholly unimaginable that today’s pop stars would speak their mind as caustically and often as Lennon did. But it also meant he delivered some poignant schools of thought too.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”John Lennon
73. Writing ‘Fame’ with David Bowie
When David Bowie was struggling with his management, he met up with John Lennon and penned a middle-finger to what we know as celebrity culture in the form of Bowie’s iconic song ‘Fame’. “We’d been talking about management, and it kind of came out of that,” recalled Bowie in 2003.
“He was telling me, ‘You’re being shafted by your present manager’ (laughs). That was basically the line. And John was the guy who opened me up to the idea that all management is crap.” Featuring on Young Americans, it set the tone for Bowie’s own soul revolution. It also cemented the duo’s friendship, which lasted all the way until Lennon’s tragic death in 1980.
72. A bet with Elton John welcomed his final show
John Lennon’s final live performance wasn’t because of a touring schedule or because he had a new hit record out. It was because he lost a bet with Elton John. “Elton was in town and I was doing it and needed the harmony,” recalled Lennon of the recording process for his single ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’. “He did the harmony on that and a couple more, and played beautiful piano on it. And jokingly, he was telling me he was going to do this Madison Square Garden concert — he said, ‘Will you do it with me if the record’s Number One?’
“And I did not expect it to get to Number One at all. I didn’t think it had a chance in hell. I said, ‘Sure, sure, sure I will.’” ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’ would be Lennon’s first solo number over the pond which meant Lennon would have to pay up. He joined Elton for a performance at Madison Square Garden some of which you can see below.
71. He and Paul McCartney wrote songs “eyeball to eyeball”
For the first part of The Beatles’ career, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were expected to work fast. They delivered a sensational amount of content, including films and albums that all needed songs. It meant the duo would often be locked “eyeball to eyeball” writing tracks for intense sessions.
“We wrote alot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball,” recalls John Lennon with Playboy in 1980. “Like in ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ I remember when we got the chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u/ got that something.’”
70. He enjoyed his freedom
From a very early age, Lennon proved himself to be a considerably bright student all except for the listening to the teacher part. Young John often found himself in the naughty corner and it’s because he enjoyed his freedom so much.
While it was part of the reason Lennon would fall out of love with The Beatles, his free-thinking philosophy did mean he offered up some beautiful quotes.
“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”John Lennon
69. Performing Johnny B. Goode with Chuck Berry
Pretty much every rock ‘n’ roll act of the 1960s owes a great deal of gratitude to Chuck Berry. The granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll has a host of admirers but not all of those fans got to perform with him as John Lennon did.
In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono took over the US TV programme The Mike Douglas Show for a whole week. The results were varied but one high point was seeing Lennon and Berry rip through a rendition of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ for the audience. It would be a feat that his son, Julian would later repeat.
68. He hated a lot of The Beatles songs
John Lennon’s inability to keep his thoughts to himself has landed him in hot water with Beatles fans on numerous occasions. The singer has often shared his dislike for some of their songs and there’s a list he positively hates.
While much of the dislike is focused on poor lyrics or songs being “meaningless” some of his initial disdain for the tracks resonated similarly to how you feel about a long-term ex shortly after a break-up. It’s a toxic mix.
67. He laid down the first ever guitar feedback on record
On one song, John Lennon claimed to have recorded the first-ever guitar feedback, a sound that would soon become a staple of avant-garde rock music. It was a claim that he was happy to double-down on in his infamous interview with Playboy in 1980, “That’s me completely,” he says in reference to ‘I Feel Fine’.
“Including the guitar lick with the first feedback anywhere,” he added. “I defy anybody to find a record… unless it is some old blues record from 1922… that uses feedback that way. So I claim it for the Beatles. Before Hendrix, before The Who, before anybody. The first feedback on record.”
66. “More popular than Jesus”
The interview Lennon conducted with Maureen Cleave on March 4, 1966, was no different to the hundreds he had done prior to this moment. The conversation fell as part of Cleave’s weekly series titled ‘How Does a Beatle Live?’ in which she would speak to each member of the band and publish a two-page piece in the newspaper.
In his conversation with Cleave, Lennon made the following statement: “Christianity will go,” he began almost flippantly. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
Some weeks later, the interview was picked up and ran as a sensationalist story. It grabbed worldwide attention and forced The Beatles into a potentially dangerous situation with the fervour of America’s fundamentalists Christians burning Beatles books and albums. Eventually, Lennon confronted the situation.
Without a pre-written speech prepared, Lennon spoke clearly to the journalists and explained himself in the best way he could. “I’m not anti-God, anti-Christ or anti-religion,” he said. “I was not knocking it. I was not saying we’re better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I happened to be talking to a friend and I used the word ‘Beatles’ as a remote thing – ‘Beatles’ like other people see us. I said they are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus. I said it in that way, which was the wrong way.”
65. He and Paul McCartney nearly reunited The Beatles on SNL
There are a lot of ‘nearly’ moments in rock and roll history, a chance meeting or decision that almost descended into something iconic. One of the aforementioned situations that has always lingered is the very real moment that Saturday Night Live nearly reunited The Beatles on this day in 1976—had John Lennon and Paul McCartney been bothered to get up from watching it on TV.
After a skit from Lorne Michaels, the show’s producer, saw the comedian do a piece to camera setting himself the challenge to reunite The Beatles, the ears of John and Paul pricked up. Though it would never materialise, Paul McCartney later revealed: “John said, ‘We should go down, just you and me. There’s only two of us so we’ll take half the money.’ And for a second. But It would have been work, and we were having a night off, so we elected not to go. It was a nice idea – we nearly did it.”
64. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ isn’t about acid
Looking back, you’d be forgiven for thinking it, not only were all the letters put right in front of them but the lyrics in the track are certainly on the wilder side. But nevertheless, up until his death, Lennon never caved on the track Sgt. Pepper track being about drugs.
The title is about all you would need to spark theories that this song was about acid. The fact that it came equipped with some of Lennon’s most visually inspiring and kaleidoscopic lyrical imagery only added to the misconception, but Lennon was always resolute in his defence that he had no idea the song’s title, spelt out LSD, “I had no idea it spelt LSD. This is the truth: my son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds,’ and I thought, ‘That’s beautiful.’ I immediately wrote a song about it.”
63. Lennon and Dick Cavett shared a special friendship
Across two shows in 1971 and 1972, Lennon used the landmark Dick Cavett Show as vital pieces of communication. First in ‘71 when he offered up some reasons for The Beatles breaking up and then the following year when he decreed that the FBI had him under surveillance.
Whenever the Beatle was speaking with Cavett he was warm and engaging, far removed from other interviews when he was far more guarded. But with Cavett, he was open and honest. It offered millions of Americans a new side of the singer.
62. He was a Freudian nightmare
Having sadly lost his mother at an early age, Lennon dealt with the traumatic emotions through his music and he was never ashamed to let them play out. It meant some of his work wasn’t for the faint-hearted including a Freudian nightmare.
The song ‘Julia’ was certainly inspired by his mother but the real overarching influence came from Yoko Ono, with the line “ocean child calls me” being a particularly obvious reference to Ono’s surname which means ‘child of the sea’. “Julia was my mother. But it was sort of a combination of Yoko and my mother blended into one,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980.
61. He was accused of sabotaging a Beatles song
John Lennon’s bass performance on ‘The Long and Winding Road’ is almost certainly one of the low points of his career with The Beatles. In fact, it was so bad that many have accused him of sabotage.
The song was scheduled for the Let It Be Sessions and was subjected to Lennon’s lazier tendencies. Lennon was never truly invested in the filming/recording project: “We’re lazy fuckers, and we’ve been playing for 20 years, for fuck’s sake,” he said. “We’re grown men, we’re not going to sit around rehearsing. And we couldn’t get into it, and we put down a few tracks and nobody was in it at all. It was just a dreadful, dreadful feeling and, being filmed all the time, I just wanted them to go away.”
This lack of energy that Lennon had for the project is evident throughout the sessions but, on ‘The Long and Winding Road’, he leaves no question marks about his desire to leave the group.
60. He created one of the best covers albums ever
Perhaps a little jaded from songwriting or perhaps more likely a little cut loose from his usual songwriting routine, Lennon found himself some classic rock songs to cover on his sixth solo studio album.
Brought together with the help of infamous producer Phil Spector, Lennon may have found a lot of personal troubles during the recording of the album but what emerged from it was a rock-solid record filled with solid rock.
See Lennon’s Ben E. King cover of ‘Stand By Me‘ for perhaps the definitive version of the song.
59. ‘I Am the Walrus’
Lennon was quick to lean heavily on his inspirations when writing songs and the words for ‘I Am The Walrus’ leapt right up from the page. The song was directly inspired by the work of Lewis Carroll and sees Lennon use an allegory to create a mystifying point.
“Walrus is just saying a dream,” recalled John in his infamous 1980 interview with Playboy. Like many dreams, the song is actually a composite of a few different themes. The basic rhythmic pattern came from one song about inner-city police which Lennon had based on a police siren. The other two threads were dreamed up when Lennon was high on acid, with one being written as if he was on a cornflake.
In the same 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon confirmed: “The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko.” It sees Lennon put down on paper the fuzzy drug-fuelled sessions that underwrote the band’s output at this time and also showed that songs don’t necessarily have to mean anything to be considered great.
58. Lennon was never afraid to put love first
As aforementioned at the top of this list, John Lennon was a believer in the power of love and everything that came with it.
The former Beatle was an activist for love, he pushed the message of unity with every passing minute and, more often than not, that same message seeped its way into his music.
“We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practised in broad daylight.”John Lennon
57. Bed In for Peace
March 25th, 1969, just days after their wedding day, John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously invited the press into their suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel as they attempted to use their honeymoon in a bid to raise awareness for world peace.
Lennon professed: “We knew whatever we did was going to be in the papers. We decided to utilise the space we would occupy anyway, by getting married, with a commercial for peace,” before adding: “We would sell our product, which we call ‘peace.’ And to sell a product you need a gimmick, and the gimmick we thought was ‘bed.’ And we thought ‘bed’ because bed was the easiest way of doing it, because we’re lazy.”
While the images of Lennon and Ono awaiting a maid to make their bed for them has produced countless cries of champagne socialism, the fact the pair were willing to use their platform at all was a landmark moment in the sixties. The pair would again take to their beds in a bid for peace in Montreal. It made up a larger campaign which saw Lennon spearhead a world movement.
56. He and George Harrison shared their first acid trip
Harrison and Lennon were the slightly naughtier side of the Fab Four. It meant they were always likely to be the first two Beatles to try acid. It just so happens that they both took it together under the tutelage of the Demon Dentist John Riley.
There’s no doubting it changed Lennon’s thinking and would go on to influence countless Beatles songs as they, like the rest of Britain’s youth, enjoyed the acid rock generation.
55. The White Album was his favourite Beatles record
The guitarist picked 1968 effort The White Album, perhaps largely because it would’ve annoyed his songwriting partner Paul. McCartney was never a fan of that album and Lennon revealed his theory as to why, “[Paul] wanted it to be more a group thing, which really means more Paul. So he never liked that album.” It’s a record that is full of hits, from ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’ to ‘Blackbird’ to ‘Helter Skelter’ and beyond, it’s an undeniable powerhouse of a record.
Speaking with Rolling Stone, he continued with a swipe at Paul’s favourite Beatles record Sgt. Pepper: “I always preferred it to all the other albums, including Pepper, because I thought the music was better. The Pepper myth is bigger, but the music on the White Album is far superior, I think.”
54. He only complemented one Paul McCartney song
McCartney and Lennon may well have been songwriting partners but, by the end of their working together within The Beatles, very few tracks were jointly created by the Liverpudlians. Normally songs were brought in by each member, tried and tested then possibly recorded. It meant that a strong rivalry, possibly built out of prehistoric machismo, blossomed and meant compliments, especially in front of one another, were unlikely.
Apparently, the only time this happened was on the Beatles is the seventh studio album Revolver. It’s the moment on the record that the Fab Four began truly experimenting and breaking free from their boyband image. “It was ‘Here, There and Everywhere’,” McCartney explains in the interview.
“John says just as it finishes, ‘That’s a really good song, lad. I love that song.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes! He likes it!’” When asked as to whether he was openly complimentary with Lennon, he says he did, but that “you’d normally have to be a little drunk.”
53. He created his own philosophy—’Bagism‘
As Ono and Lennon continued their campaign for peace in 1969, the pair also began to peddle one of their philosophical theories—bagism. The notion is, if everyone were dressed in the same bag, covering oneself head to toe, then there would be no prejudice and increased communication.
It’s a premise that holds weight but was never clearly explained by the singer. Instead, he would be wheeled out on talk shows and asked to explain it, usually with audiences laughing at the sheer volume of the word ‘bag’. It takes nothing away from the fact Lennon was willing to do it though, even if it isn’t your bag.
52. “The Walrus was Paul”
On some songs, Lennon gave an accurate and harsh view of himself, sometimes on songs he allowed narratives and storylines to play out. On other songs, he deliberately messed with Beatles fans for a kick. ‘Glass Onion’ was the latter.
The song was written by Lennon and contained some incendiary lyrics. “The Walrus was Paul” may seem simple enough but after ‘I Am The Walrus’ saw so many conspiracy theories pop up, Lennon decided to add in this lyric to get tongues wagging even more.
“I threw the line in – ‘the Walrus was Paul’ – just to confuse everybody a bit more,” recalls Lennon in 1980, speaking with David Sheff. “And I thought Walrus has now become me, meaning ‘I am the one.’ Only it didn’t mean that in this song. It could have been ‘the fox terrier is Paul,’ you know. I mean, it’s just a bit of poetry. It was just thrown in like that.”
“Well, that was a joke,” concedes Lennon in the same interview.
51. The number nine
John Lennon’s connection with the number nine goes all the way back to his birth. Born on Wednesday 9th October 1940, the singer would be followed by the number throughout his life and as he became infatuated with numerology following the slowing of his musical career, his obsession only grew.
Back in Liverpool, Lennon’s first home was at 9 Newcastle Road, Wavertree, an address which saw a number of different nine-letter words. It was here that a Beatles song featuring the fabled number was written, ‘One After 909’. “That was something I wrote when I was about seventeen. I lived at 9 Newcastle Road,” remembered Lennon, speaking with David Sheff of Playboy
“I was born on the ninth of October—the ninth month [in the Chinese calendar]. It’s just a number that follows me around, but numerologically, apparently, I’m a number six or a three or something, but it’s all part of nine.” The singer’s fascination with the number would infiltrate his life and become a part of it until his death.
50. Bob Dylan gave him and The Beatles their first joint
Yes, it was Bob Dylan who got John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr stoned for the very first time. Meeting in 1964 after a show in New York, the group invited Dylan along to their hotel room for a bit of a party, the drugs came out after a spot of confusion.
Dylan thought they were singing “I get high” in the chorus of their 1964 hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. John Lennon was quick to explain that the often misheard lyric was actually, “I can’t hide.” A touch embarrassing, perhaps? Not for long at least.
Beatles aficionados will tell you, and there’s a lot of them, that the band had in fact smoked weed during their time in Hamburg but they remained sturdy in their stance that it had had no effect on them. Dylan, likely seeing this as a challenge of sorts, as any regular smoker would when faced with the annoying statement of “weed doesn’t really get me high”, passed the bag of weed to tour manager Maymudes and asked the road manager to roll a joint.
Maymudes, a seasoned smoker, rolled a joint quickly and passed it to Lennon who, in turn, swerved the advance and passed it quickly aside to Ringo Starr allegedly saying, with classic caustic wit, the drummer was his “royal taster”.
Starr was quick to light the joint and go about his business and, while seemingly unaware of conventional spliff politics, held on to the joint instead of passing it along. Maymudes, realising that he was dealing with some amateurs, rolled a joint for each member of the band. Starr shared the story’s natural conclusion with late-night TV host Conan O’Brien in 2012 saying: “We got high and laughed our asses off”
49. ‘Jealous Guy’
‘Jealous Guy’ is the very inner workings of John Lennon, it is the iconic man putting himself on the canvas, warts and all, an unflinching dissection of everything that is good and bad about him. Mostly the bad.
Inspired by his time with the Maharishi, the song has since become a vision of Lennon’s life at the time and a candid moment of vulnerability. Speaking with David Sheff in 1980, he revealed: “The lyrics explain themselves clearly: I was a very jealous, possessive guy. Toward everything. A very insecure male. A guy who wants to put his woman in a little box, lock her up, and just bring her out when he feels like playing with her. She’s not allowed to communicate with the outside world – outside of me – because it makes me feel insecure.”
Speaking with the BBC, Lennon revealed further, “When you actually are in love with somebody you tend to be jealous, and want to own them and possess them one hundred per cent, which I do… I love Yoko, I want to possess her completely. I don’t want to stifle her, you know? That’s the danger, that you want to possess them to death.”
It’s not a unique feeling, it’s one that many of us have experienced but far, far fewer have ever expressed. This is why it deserves to be to the top of this list. ‘Jealous Guy’ shows that John Lennon committed himself completely to his art.
48. He gave Ringo a song so it wouldn’t ruin his reputation
On a lot of the band’s early songs, Lennon and McCartney, the two clearly more advanced songwriters would often write tracks that either George Harrison or Ringo Starr could sing. However, sometimes he had ulterior motives.
The White Album song ‘Goodnight’ would prove to be so tender, so emotionally charged and so delicate that Lennon decided he was not the right man to bring the song home and instead gave the song’s lead vocal over to Ringo Starr, so as to save his caustic rocker image.
Speaking in 1968, Ringo Starr noted that it was such a diversion from Lennon’s usual sound that most people thought it was McCartney who had written the song. “Everybody thinks Paul wrote ‘Goodnight’ for me to sing, but it was John who wrote it for me. He’s got a lot of soul, John has.”
“I think John felt it might not be good for his image for him to sing it, but it was fabulous to hear him do it, he sang it great,” said Macca remembering one of the early sessions of the track back in 1994.
“We heard him sing it in order to teach it to Ringo and he sang it very tenderly. John rarely showed his tender side, but my key memories of John are when he was tender, that’s what has remained with me— those moments where he showed himself to be a very generous, loving person.”
47. He wanted Eric Clapton to join The Beatles
He may have been George Harrison’s best friend, but John Lennon adored Eric Clapton. As well as asking the acclaimed guitarist to join him on a cruise around the world, playing concerts for peace, Lennon was also keen to have Clapton in The Beatles.
After a particularly stressful day had sent George Harrison spiralling out of the studio, seemingly leaving the band forever, Lennon was quick to ask Clapton to fill in for him. “I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play,” he told Get Back director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “We should just go on as if nothing’s happened.”
46. The angry letter he wrote to Todd Rundgren
In 1974, just as Rundgren had just released his highly celebrated experimental album Todd and on the promotion run, the musician sat down with Melody Maker magazine for an interview about his new material—but Rundgren didn’t stay on topic and soon enough talked turned to the man of the moment, John Lennon.
Somewhere down the line, the conversation deviated to former Beatle Lennon and Rundgren wasn’t about to hold his tongue: “John Lennon ain’t no revolutionary. He’s a fucking idiot, man. Shouting about revolution and acting like an ass. It just makes people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “All he really wants to do is get attention for himself, and if revolution gets him that attention, he’ll get attention through revolution.”
Lennon did not take kindly to the words and after making a light plagiarism case, wrote: “I don’t represent anyone but my SELF. It sounds like I represented something to you, or you wouldn’t be so violent towards me. (Your dad perhaps?)” The singer continues, clearly offended by The Beatles jibes, something Lennon himself was quite fond of doing: “Which gets me to the Beatles, “who had no other style than being the Beatles”!! That covers a lot of style man, including your own, TO DATE.”
He finishes the letter with the kind of fake kiss that can start riots: “Anyway, However much you hurt me darling; I’ll always love you.”
45. His school report at 15
While there are a few indicators as to whether an individual is intelligent or not, we can all be assured that a school report is certainly not one of them. As many a successful adult will tell you, their aptitude in life was often not recognised in school, in any official capacity at least, and the same can be said for John Winston Lennon.
Lennon always struggled with a rebellious nature and he opened up to Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980 about the way people perceived him. “A part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic poet/musician,” he once commented. “But I cannot be what I am not… I was the one who all the other boys’ parents—including Paul’s father—would say, ‘Keep away from him’… The parents instinctively recognised I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did.”
You can see it all in his damning school report:
French teacher: “An intelligent boy who could be very much better with a little concentration in class.”
Maths teacher: “He is certainly on the road to failure if this goes on.”
Physics teacher: “His work always lacks effort. He is content to ‘drift’ instead of using his abilities.”
Religion teacher: “Attitude in class most unsatisfactory.”
Headmaster: “He has too many wrong ambitions and his energy is too often misplaced.”
44. ‘No Reply’
1964’s Beatles For Sale is often maligned by Beatles fans who consider it one of the worst showings from the Fab Four—but there’s a lot of value in the songs if you just dig deep enough. ‘No Reply’ is often regarded as the first time Lennon put his soul to paper and made pop personal.
Some felt the track was a big hit for Lennon: “I remember (Beatles music publisher) Dick James coming up to me after we did this one and saying, ‘You’re getting better now– that was a complete story,’” said Lennon in 1972. “Apparently, before that, he thought my songs wandered off.”
43. The Lost Weekend
Another dark moment in Lennon’s life lasted a lot longer than just a moment. For months, Lennon found himself cut adrift from Yoko Ono, shacked up with their personal assistant (after a suggestion from Ono herself) and frequenting every bar he could find.
It saw him become not only a rather intolerable pig but also a cad. Lennon had reached the breaking point with fame and was now beginning to fall into the tropes of rock stardom. As well as being intoxicated with everything else, largely the 18 months Lennon spent away form Ono was spent with Harry Nilsson.
“He loved his energy; he loved his writing. What he loved in Harry was the beauty of his friendship and relaxed personality. That’s what he saw. Harry drank, a lot. But Harry was the type of guy that if you go out drinking with him, he’d be sure at the end of the night that there would be a big brawl and that you are the one who’s in trouble, even though he started it. Harry would keep feeding John drinks until it was too late.”
42. He and Bob Dylan shared a suitably stoned taxi
In 1966, D.A. Pennebaker was filming one of the brightest talents in the music world as Bob Dylan was on tour across England. Little did he know that he would also capture footage of the great John Lennon sharing a suitably stoned taxi ride with him. The two icons, of which there were no bigger at that time, talk in riddles and generally act a little messed up but it’s still vital watching.
“They had a funny relationship to begin with,” the late filmmaker Pennebaker remembered in an interview with Gadfly magazine back in ’99. “In this particular scene it was as if they were trying to invent something for me that would be amusing in some way, but at the same time they were doing it for each other.”
Adding: “It was not exactly a conversation by any means, Dylan was so beside himself and in such a terrible state that after a while I don’t think he knew what he was saying.”
41. The sad bond he shared with Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney’s relationship with his former Beatles cohort John Lennon was a unique one. With the two now-iconic musicians bonded in the most heartbreaking of ways, the shared bond which brought them together as teenagers has led to the two of them becoming as close as family.
The relationship they shared was one that was almost spiritual, the two had been through thick and thin together and the foundations of their connection was built on shared grief. When McCartney lost his mother aged just 14-years-old, it devastated him and his childhood disintegrated overnight. Suddenly he was forced to grow up in an instant, take the reigns of his family unit, and start becoming a provider. Similarly, John Lennon was also left traumatised following his mother’s sudden death which occurred when he was just 17, an incident which McCartney helped him through immensely, relating with John in a way that nobody else could
It cemented their friendship forever.
40. “Cranberry Sauce”
Whether it was an intentional way of backmasking a secret message to fans or John Lennon just being silly with words, his decision to utter the words “Cranberry Sauce” in the background of Beatles song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ would send shockwaves around the world.
The line is supposedly meant to sound like “I buried Paul”. It has become a part of the folkloric conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney is actually dead and has been replaced by a look-a-like. It is a key piece of the singer’s iconography.
39. He was thrown out of a Smothers Brothers recording
When John Lennon and Harry Nilsson visited the Troubadour on that fateful night to watch the Smothers Brothers recording, things were always destined to go wrong. Filled to the eyeballs with Brandy Alexanders, things got ugly really quickly. After some serious heckling and a bit of back and forth with the Smothers Brothers, the pair were soon asked to leave. When they refused things turned a little violent.
Security arrived and became physical with the singers after their notorious tempers gave out. Lennon was becoming more and more surly as the drinks began to set in and soon enough a full blow scuffle ensued, with Lennon losing his trademark specs in the furore. “My wife ended up with Lennon’s glasses because of the punches that were thrown,” Smothers said.
The were reports that Lennon had hit a waitress but they were reports he denied in 1975. Lennon said, “I got drunk and shouted…it was my first night on Brandy Alexanders, that’s brandy and milk, folks. I was with Harry Nilsson, who didn’t get as much coverage as me…the bum. He encouraged me. I usually have someone there who says ‘okay Lennon, shut up.’
“There was some girl who claimed that I hit her, but I didn’t hit her at all, you know. She just wanted some money and I had to pay her off, because I thought it would harm my immigration,” claimed the former Beatle.
38. Travelling to India
Lennon, alongside the rest of The Beatles, travelled to Rishikesh in India to undergo an intensive course of transcendental meditation. The group were part of an affluent group who travelled to the remote ashram to be tutored in the art of transcendental meditation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
As well as writing a lot of songs there, including tracks like ‘I’m So Tired’ and ‘Dear Prudence’, the time in India also gave Lennon time to think. “I don’t regret anything,” he said in 1980. “Meditation, I still believe in and occasionally I use it. And I don’t regret any of that. I don’t regret taking drugs, because they helped me. I don’t advocate them for everybody, because I don’t think I should, you know. But for me it was good and India was good for me.”
“And I met Yoko just before I went to India and had a lot of time to think, and think things out there with three months just meditating and thinking. And I came home and fell in love with Yoko and that was the end of it. And it’s beautiful.”
37. ‘Free Time’ his and Yoko Ono’s bonkers TV show
By 1971, Lennon and Ono were still on the peace march. So when they were offered the opportunity to take over an hour of television on TV station WNET they jumped at the chance with all the will in the world. This was another opportunity to spread their message of peace.
The local TV station opened its doors on October 14, 1971, happy to give it’s broadcast away their show to the two artists. The duo was the most famous couple in the world at the time and the publicity was too tempting to avoid. It meant that those tuning in saw Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Jonas Mekas’ give a wild performance of excerpts from Ono’s ‘Of a Grapefruit in the World of Park’.
The curious performance offers a glimpse into the working mind of John and Yoko—it’s a strange and liberating place to be.
36. He sometimes felt “possessed” by songs
“One of my best songs,” said Lennon of the Let It Be track ‘Across The Universe’. The song seemingly came out of nowhere for Lennon after an argument with his first wife Cynthia, “I kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song… it drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it, but I was slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn’t get to sleep until I’d put it on paper.”
Despite the seemingly prickly beginnings the track has taken on a new persona with revision and is now seen as a resplendent moment on the record, a moment where it’s easy to let the music flow through you.
For Lennon, the composition was very similar, “It’s like being possessed,” he said of writing the song, “like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won’t let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep. That’s always in the middle of the night when you’re half-awake or tired and your critical facilities are switched off.”
35. Paul McCartney and Lennon traded insults via songs
After The Beatles split, the tension between John Lennon and Paul McCartney boiled over into their songs. It saw the two acclaimed songwriters pen songs both directly and indirectly aimed at one another. McCartney struck first with the track ‘Too Many People’. It doesn’t name names or refer to specific events in the lives of John and Yoko but when you look into the lyrics it all becomes fairly obvious what the subject matter is.
In the opening verse, “People reaching for a piece of cake” sounds like it is about the latter years of The Beatles-era but if you listen to the chorus as being about Lennon and Yoko, no wonder he was not best pleased. McCartney sings “that was your first mistake. You took your lucky break and broke it in two.”
Speaking to Crawdaddy Magazine, Lennon talked about his anger upon first hearing the track: “I heard Paul’s messages in Ram—yes, there are dear reader! Too many people going where? Missed our lucky what? What was our first mistake? Can’t be wrong? Huh! I mean Yoko, me, and other friends can’t all be hearing things. So to have some fun, I must thank Allen Klein publicly for the line ‘just another day’. A real poet! Some people don’t see the funny side of it. Too bad. What am I supposed to do, make you laugh? It’s what you might call an ‘angry letter’, sung – get it?”
John Lennon would then famously bite back much harder and be not so subtle at showing his animosity to his former bandmate on 1971 track ‘How Do You Sleep’ which featured on Imagine. Lyrical content includes “the only thing you done was Yesterday, And since you’ve gone you’re just another day” – a reference to McCartney’s 1971 single ‘Another Day’.
Lennon then bizarrely acknowledged that strange conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney is dead when he sang the line, “Those freaks were right when they said you was dead”.
34. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
The track that Lennon called “my first psychedelic song” was one of the landmark moments of the band’s experimental record Revolver. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ may have been lacking the thousands of chanting monks, Lennon had originally intended for the recording but it certainly has a habit of tripping out and bringing people in.
The song was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as McCartney recalls in 1984: “John wrote the lyrics from Timothy Leary’s version of the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead.’ It was a kind of Bible for all the psychedelic freaks. that was an LSD song. Probably the only one. People always thought ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was but it actually wasn’t.”
There’s no denying though that this song was the start of the band’s love affair with LSD but it is still a stellar track in its own right. It remains one of the shining moments of free-thought and creative experimentation on the album.
33. He was an outspoken advocate for peace
As well as his demonstrations and songmanship, Lennon also used his platform to constantly refer to the idea of peace in a bid to use his position to try to effect some positive change. While it’s easy to poke holes in this cause as a touch sanctimonious, there’s no denying the esteem the drive for peace brought with it.
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”John Lennon
32. The acid-fueled road trip with Keith Richards
Often pitched as arch-enemies, there are few people who could understand what it was like to be in The Rolling Stones like members of The Beatles. Add to that their dual acceleration of funds and access to drugs and there was always going to be some crazy stories featuring two of the biggest bands of all time.
Keith Richards’ ability to churn out a bouncing riff is almost matched by his ability to drink and take drugs—but even he found his match in John Lennon, who was no slouch in the party stakes and in his memoir Life, Richards details a particularly intense and hedonistic “acid-fueled road trip”.
The duo took themselves off on a trip around the British Isles during a rare three days off. Propelled by acid, the group spent some time in Torquay before finally getting themselves home, without much memory of the events that took place.
Richards has little recollection of the three days he and Lennon spent on the road (who would?), the Beatle didn’t have any clearer idea himself: “Johnny and I were so out there that some years later, in New York, he would ask ‘What happened on that trip?’”
31 He believed in happiness above all else
“When I was five-years-old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life,” remembered Lennon once in a famous quote.
“When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
30. The Beatles gave The Rolling Stones their first hit
Tom Wolfe once said that “The Beatles want to hold your hand but the Stones want to burn down your town” and it’s a rather telling indictment of the scene in the 1960s. After comparisons were made between the two iconic British bands in the 1960s, it became clear they were two different tribes.
The truth is, however, as much as people have always been desperate to pit The Rolling Stones against The Beatles, the two bands drew a striking resemblance in the early ’60s. Something which is even clearer after the Stones were given a helping hand from their Liverpudlian friends.
Believe it or not, one of the first major hits for The Rolling Stones came after a chance meeting with The Beatles’ principal songwriters Lennon-McCartney. It would lead to the release of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. The song, originally written by The Beatles duo, was released as the Stones’ single on November 1st, 1963, and went on to peak at number 12 on the British chart. It’s largely considered their breakthrough moment.
29. He thought The Beatles were “much better off” broken up
As soon as The Beatles broke up they were being asked if they would get back together again. For Lennon, it seemed a silly move to make. “Yes, it’s quite possible about the Beatles working as a unit, because I might play on George’s or Ringo’s if they wanted my style of playing.” But the truth was, the past had already happened and the future looks brighter than ever for the four members of the band. “Imagine how we’ve flowered since [the breakup],” Lennon told NME.
“George is suddenly the biggest seller of all of us,” Lennon added in reflection of Harrison’s debut solo album All Things Must Pass. “I think my music’s improved a millionfold lyric-wise and everything. And Ringo’s coming out and writing ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ and now he’s going to write the title song for this cowboy thing he’s in, and he’s playing a really tough guy and all that. It’s really beautiful.
“The fact is, the Beatles have left school… and we have to get a job. That’s made us work — really work harder. I think we’re much better than we ever were when we were together. Look at us today. I’d sooner have [Paul McCartney’s album] Ram, John Lennon Plastic Ono Band, George’s album, and Ringo’s single and the movies than Let It Be or Abbey Road.”
28. He was a rocker
A lover of the purest of rock ‘n’ roll, John Lennon also had the heart of a rocker. By 1968 he was ready to return to it: “What we’re trying to do is rock ‘n roll, ‘with less of your philosorock,’ is what we’re saying to ourselves,” he said of the band’s The White Album.
“And get on with rocking because rockers is what we really are. You can give me a guitar, stand me up in front of a few people. Even in the studio, if I’m getting into it, I’m just doing my old bit… not quite doing Elvis Legs but doing my equivalent. It’s just natural. Everybody says we must do this and that but our thing is just rocking. You know, the usual gig. That’s what this new record is about. Definitely rocking.”
27. Lennon and his Son made cute home recordings
John Lennon, the enigmatic singer for The Beatles, always said his son Sean felt “more like a twin” considering that they both shared the same birthday. The pair assimilated one another’s moods and often peaked and troughed in unison and, with Sean going on to have his own wonderful career as a musician perhaps, there’s some truth to it.
In the below clip, we catch a glimpse of their relationship as the pair shared a few notes. The footage comes from a rare home recording and sees Sean as a young child. On the tape, he starts singing his “favourite” Beatles song, but it’s not one of his father’s creation.
Beginning with the unmistakable tone of a happy child, Sean belts out the lines: “Do you need anybody / I need somebody to love,” with a gleeful smile across his face. “That’s my favourite song,” confirms the toddler. “Very good,” replies John. The inquisitive Sean asks: “Who’s singing? You?”, his father replies: “No. Ringo, but Paul and I are singing it with him.”
Listen to the beautiful candid moment between John and Sean Lennon as they sing Sean’s favourite Beatles song.
26. He helped Paul McCartney on his first acid trip
The story comes from the brilliant book Many Years From Now which sees author Barry Miles sit down with Macca for some lengthy conversations about the band that changed pop music forever. One particular point of interest was the substance that changed the band forever—LSD.
It turns out, Lennon would in fact guide McCartney through his first acid trip. In McCartney’s biography, the legendary Beatle detailed his experience, with Lennon: “And we looked into each other’s eyes, the eye contact thing we used to do, which is fairly mind-boggling. You dissolve into each other. But that’s what we did, round about that time, that’s what we did a lot. And it was amazing. You’re looking into each other’s eyes and you would want to look away, but you wouldn’t, and you could see yourself in the other person. It was a very freaky experience and I was totally blown away.”
25. Lennon was an avid reader
Growing up in the tough and brutal working-class streets of Liverpool was not always the kindest place for a sensitive soul like John Lennon. In fact, it hardened him quite drastically. The iconic Beatles star wasn’t always the floppy-haired loverboy that he was quickly publicised as.
In reality, Lennon spent most of his childhood escaping through the words and drawings of wonderful books. A particular fan of Lewis Caroll, Lennon was also known to have enjoyed the works of Aldous Huxley, the Beat writers including Ginsberg and Burroughs as well as a number of revolutionary texts such as George Orwell.
We’ve even got the complete Lennon library right here.
24. He hated The Beatles Abbey Road album
It’s fair to say that by the end of The Beatles, the Fab Four were permanently fed up. It means their view of the group’s last outings on record were often met with disdain by the bandmates. Lennon, in particular, had a dislike for their final recorded album Abbey Road.
“I liked the A-side,” he said without hesitation when asked about the album in 1972. “I never liked that sort of pop opera on the other side. I think it’s junk. It was just bits of song thrown together. And I can’t remember what some of it is.” Lennon would then state that “it had no life, really.”
Lennon would maintain his disdain for the record until his death and spoke again about why Abbey Road is not an album he considers part of his creative makeup. Some 10 years after its release, in an interview with Playboy’s David Sheff, he doubled down on his critique: “Everybody praises the album so much,” he told Sheff. “But none of the songs had anything to do with each other, no thread at all, only the fact that we stuck them together.”
23. He once told The Beatles he was Jesus Christ
Despite their previous clean-cut image the band were known for narcotic experimentation, especially John Lennon’s love affair with LSD. One night, during a particularly strong trip, the guitarist and songwriter found himself with the undeniable feeling that he was not only finding his spirituality within but that he was in fact, at that time (during an acid trip), Jesus Christ himself. To be John Lennon and Jesus Christ at the same time, what a lucky guy!
The story goes, according to Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles from Tony Bramwell, that Lennon was out of his mind on a strong tab of acid when he called an emergency meeting of The Beatles. The members of the group, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, soon rushed over to Lennon and met in the boardroom of their label Apple Records.
The exact ins and outs of the story are unknown but we like to think of Lennon standing before his bandmates and saying: “I’ve got something very important to tell you,” letting the energy of the statement circulate the room, “I am Jesus Christ. I have come back again. This is my thing.” Rather than being shocked or surprised or indeed committing Lennon to the loony bin, the group took it in their stride, perhaps having seen it all before.
In fact, the only member of the group to utter a single word was Ringo. The drummer let out a sigh and said, “Right. Meeting adjourned, let’s go have some lunch.”
22. He made fun of rich people at the Royal Variety
In November of ’63 The Beatles weren’t yet the stars they would become, obviously known across the British Isles they were still months away before Beatlemania had gripped the entire globe following some special TV appearances.
A special performance for the British royals which would cement their place in UK music history, not only for their unstoppably infectious ditties but for their dry wit. John Lennon would make a comment that would go down in pop history.
Anthony DeCurtis said of the moment: “People were talking about the fact that the Beatles had Liverpool accents, and that they would be performing for the Queen Mother. The class system, which is still a significant thing in England, was a far more significant thing back then. There’s this whole idea of the King’s English, and the Beatles spoke a dialect.”
The Royals, at this time, were known to be sticklers for keeping up with the traditions of the country, something which even went down to how ‘one’ spoke to Royalty. Paul McCartney was asked before the show, “Are you going to lose some of your Liverpool dialect for the Royal show?” Paul McCartney teasingly replied, “No, but you know we don’t all speak like BBC.”
It was then that John Lennon decided to make his point. He would say the phrase that would not only cement The Beatles’ place in music but set them on the path towards their current deity status. “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help,” Lennon says, gleaming at the prospect of his next sentence. “The people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewellery.”
The room erupted.
21. ‘I’m Only Sleeping’
Arguably one of the most irreverent songs on the 1966 Revolver album, ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ is beautifully constructed and gilded with the gorgeous use of backwards guitars. Lennon said the sound of the song was a representation of “me dreaming my life away”.
The song was inspired by Paul McCartney continuously having to wake John Lennon up for scheduled afternoon songwriting sessions at Lennon’s house. Journalist Maureen Cleave once said of Lennon in 1966: “He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England. ‘Physically lazy,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more’.”
The track is perfectly lethargic and wonderfully gifted in putting any rowdy thoughts to one side if only for a little nap.
20. Lennon and Ono were put under FBI surveillance
In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono went on to The Dick Cavett Show to share their thoughts on their impending immigration case. Lennon had been routinely denied US citizenship and while the official ruling was based on a cannabis conviction from 1968, he believed it was his left-wing leanings that had put him on the naughty list.
In the conversation, he even claims the FBI has him under surveillance after his outspoken views on the Vietnam War as well as other social injustices. It was a wild yet substantiated claim.
Brought to light by Jon Wiener, the FBI documented over 300 pieces of evidence on John Lennon around this time with virtually none of it having any substance whatsoever. But in 1972, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, nobody was any the wiser.
19. The furious letter he sent to Paul & Linda McCartney
As The Beatles split turned from a rivalry into a full-on feud, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were at loggerheads. Divided creatively, legally and emotionally, the two songwriters exchanged heated letters with one another in 1971. It resulted in Lennon composing a scathing letter which he addressed to Paul and Linda McCartney.
Signed by both Lennon and Ono and written underneath their Bag Productions Inc. letterhead, Lennon is replying to a letter Linda McCartney had sent him prior—a missive that he is seemingly furious about. “I was reading your letter and wondering what middle-aged cranky Beatle fan wrote it,” he began.
“I resisted looking at the last page to find out—I kept thinking who is it—Queen? Stuart’s mother?—Clive Epstein’s wife?—Alan Williams?—What the hell—it’s Linda! … Linda— if you don’t care what I say—shut up!—let Paul write—or whatever.” The state of the letter only gets worse from there.
The sweary letter features multiple digs from Lennon who goes on to say that he doesn’t “resent” his former bandmate but does feel sorry for him. On top of that Lennon rather brutally predicts that the marriage between Paul and Linda would be over within two years—in fact, their partnership would remain resolute throughout.
18. His final album may be one of his best
The final and seventh studio album to be released in Lennon’s lifetime was Double Fantasy.
A joint record with his wife Yoko Ono, the album saw Lennon return to his rock roots and deliver quite possibly his crowning solo achievement. Perhaps the most gorgeous song on the album was ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ a song about his son Sean.
Across the entire album, Lennon bares his soul and he does it with glee, like a man returning home only to find his slippers by the fire.
17. He always gave honest answer in interviews
We bet, if you looked through the wide-ranging answers John Lennon gave to the reem of interview questions he faced, you wouldn’t find many lies. He, despite his failings, was an extremely honest man and, in his interviews, he always answered plainly.
Just find your way to Lennon’s iconic rolling stone interview for all the proof you need.
16. He wrote and recorded ‘Instant Karma’ in 24 hours
There’s not a lot more we can say on ‘Instant Karma’, the one-day wonder that Lennon produces without a moment’s notice, that we haven’t already said. So we’ll let Lennon pick up the story.
“I wrote it in the morning on the piano,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1971. “I went to the office and sang it many times. So I said, ‘Hell, let’s do it,’ and we booked the studio, and Phil [Spector] came in, and said, ‘How do you want it?’ I said, ‘You know, 1950s.’ He said, ‘Right,’ and boom, I did it in about three goes or something like that. I went in and he played it back and there it was. The only argument was that I said a bit more bass, that’s all, and off we went.”
It goes down as one of John Lennon’s greatest songs of all time and also speaks rather highly of his pursuit of artistic purity. For Lennon, out of the reach of Paul McCartney, he was able to work boldly and brightly with some degree of spontaneity.
15. Lennon returned his MBE to the Queen
John Lennon’s advocacy for world peace is ubiquitous with his legacy as his iconic music with The Beatles and then Yoko Ono. It would be a part of his life that would see the legend return his MBE to the Queen in 1969.
The Beatle had been given the historic award, known formally as ‘The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’, for his contributions to the arts with his music. Presented in 1965 to Lennon alongside the rest of The Beatles, the award represented the swell of pride that had nationally spread following the band’s worldwide success.
While The Beatles had taken a long time to find a place of the British establishment, the award would prove a mark of the country’s appreciation. On November 25th, 1969, Lennon would offer up the chance for that opinion to be scrutinised as he stood up for his belief in peace and his disappointment in Britain’s foreign policy. He wrote a letter with his return of the award.
The letter read:
I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts.
With love. John Lennon of Bag”
14. He painted his Rolls Royce Phantom V in psychedelic colours
One of the most famous car manufacturers in the world, Rolls Royce, is the foreword of luxury. Its distinguished and effortless class make it the go-to car for royalty and dignitaries alike. The Phantom V was possibly the pinnacle of this gliding gilded brand, with only 517 made the car remained an elusive and utterly exclusive vehicle. Until The Beatles’ John Lennon subverted its very core.
The Phantom was a car reserved for royalty. The British Royal family owned two of them, for the Queen and Queen Mother, but both were put to the metaphorical sword when John Lennon bought himself a Phantom in 1964.
The car had some incredible modifications during its time, including black leather upholstery, cocktail cabinet with fine-wood trim, writing table, reading lamps, a seven-piece his-and-hers luggage set, and a Perdido portable television. It’s guessed that Lennon paid £11,000 for it—roughly £190,000 in today’s money—which is quite a bit considering Lennon didn’t even learn to drive until 1965 at the age of 24.
But in 1965 black was no longer in fashion and so Lennon reportedly made a seven-page list of expensive changes. Some incredible adaptations would have left Xzibit on Pimp My Ride blushing. The changes included a backseat that could change into a double bed, a Philips Auto-Mignon AG2101 “floating” record player that stopped needless needle jumping, a radio telephone, and a cassette tape deck. Speakers were even mounted in the front wheel wells so that Lennon and whoever he was travelling with could talk outside via a microphone.
The Beatle commissioned a private paint job from coach makers J. P. Fallon Ltd. to be decorated like a Romany gypsy wagon—but more sixties. Artist Steve Weaver painted the red, orange, green and blue swirls, gorgeous floral side panels and even a Libra on the roof. It was a clear message that Lennon was not going to be one of the establishment’s playthings, he was his own man. He even also went on to buy a second all-white Phantom V to match his burgeoning ‘white period’.
13. ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’
There aren’t many truly great Christmas songs out there. Usually, they were constructed with one simple thing in mind: money. The lucrative appeal of a big PRS cheque every festive period is enough to draw some seriously credible musicians into making sub-standard cheesy pop.
Not so, for Lennon. John Lennon’s iconic festive number ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over), may have arrived as part of the peace campaign but it’s a solid composition and, like all great Christmas songs, has stood the test of time.
12. He was an optimist
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”John Lennon
11. The Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences
Showing their support for the US civil rights movement, the iconic Liverpool four-piece refused to perform to a segregated concert at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. As the pressure of The Beatles’ act of defiance threatened to boil over, officials at the concert eventually allowed the segregated audience to merge together.
Upon entering the stage, John Lennon said: “We never play to segregated audiences and we aren’t going to start now.” The singer added: “I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”
“Their first controversial political stance didn’t have to do with Vietnam, it had to do with segregation in the South,” director Ron Howard explained. “They found out that one of their concerts in Jacksonville, Florida, was meant to be segregated and they refused to play it that way. They even had in their contract they would not play to segregated audiences. It was a ludicrous idea to them,” he added.
“But it was clear to them and that’s the position they took, and lo and behold, they de-segregated that concert,” he continued. “Often, the world was influencing what the Beatles were going through and the Beatles were influencing the way the world looked at things.”
10. Those sunglasses
OK, and his spectacles too. John Lennon may well have the most famous glasses ever. The round rims of Lennon’s sunnies have always grabbed the attentions of fashionistas. It has also seen the singer’s glasses often go up for auction.
When they do, they usually arrive with giant price tags too, the latest sale saw them fetch over £100,000 when they were sold at a recent auction.
9. He said Paul McCartney wrote “granny” songs
As we know, John Lennon was never afraid to level some insults at both his band, The Beatles and his friends within the band. Shortly after he left the group, Lennon was asked to reflect on the group’s output and he savagely referred to a collection of Macca’s songs as “granny music”.
These songs included tracks like ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and ‘Honey Pie’ which, to the rocker Lennon smacked of “the fruity songs” McCartney’s father would have played. It was a stark juxtaposition between the two songwriting giants.
One of the most iconic songs of all time has plenty of detractors but the lasting power of John Lennon’s ultimate anthem for peace is undeniable. There’s not a person in the world who doesn’t, for a moment at least, stop when they hear the words of Lennon and Yoko Ono on ‘Imagine’.
The 1971 song was Lennon setting himself a goal he knew that he would never achieve but simply couldn’t walk away from. It was the former Beatle putting his money where his mouth was and from it, the world has gained one song that manages to unite them all.
Whether you’re a Beatles fan or not, Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ has always provided a place of solace for those looking for peace.
7. He asked Stanley Kubrick to direct The Beatles
The iconic figure of the bespectacled Beatle has been so relentlessly pawed over that it feels unimaginable that any stone has been left unturned—yet somehow it still happens.
The latest in the series of ‘I can’t believe I didn’t know this about John Lennon’ was not only his penchant for 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s director Stanley Kubrick but his request for the filmmaker to make an adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel The Lord of The Rings featuring Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Yes, in what could have been one of the most surreal sets of circumstances, Lennon was very keen in enlisting the services of Kubrick for a quest across Middle Earth featuring the Fab Four. The singer reportedly made contact with the director to enquire about his availability. Sadly, it was never allowed to pass.
6. At Beatles shows he would always act a fool
While there was certainly a darker side to John Lennon, the singer also had a serious light-hearted side. As part of the early days of The Beatles, it was the Fab Four’s charisma that had seen them top the charts and find room on the bustling world of television and film.
Lennon often found time to be silly in The Beatles live performances too, often using gobbledegook phrases and wild exuberant gestures to elicit screams of fans. It’s a neat trick and one that certainly made Harrison, McCartney and Starr laugh.
5. He was murdered in broad daylight
One of the saddest iconic moments of John Lennon’s life is his death. The singer was shot outside of the Dakota Building in New York in broad daylight by the crazed obsessive Mark Chapman. The attack was carefully planned and executed with Chapman becoming a perennial figure outside the Dakota building before the shooting.
Chapman has been denied parole ever since he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1980. His latest hearing saw Chapman apologise to Yoko Ono: “I assassinated him, to use your word earlier, because he was very, very, very famous and that’s the only reason and I was very, very, very, very much seeking self-glory, very selfish.” He wasn’t done there and directly appealed to Ono, “I want to add that and emphasise that greatly. It was an extremely selfish act. I’m sorry for the pain that I caused to her [Ono]. I think about it all of the time.”
4. ‘Working Class Hero’
Arguably the finest moment of Lennon’s solo career came in the middle of his best solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and the brilliant yet painful track ‘Working Class Hero’.
As one might imagine it’s a deeply personal song for the working-class lad from Liverpool, who took aim at the British class system in this poignant number. “I think it’s for the people like me who are working class—whatever, upper or lower—who are supposed to be processed into the middle classes, through the machinery,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970.
“It’s my experience, and I hope it’s just a warning to people. I’m saying it’s a revolutionary song; not the song itself but that it’s a song for the revolution.”
3. Teaming up with Eric Clapton and Keith Richards to cover ‘Yer Blues’
If you were to pick three of the most prominent artists during the boom of music that emanated from London in the sixties then chances are your list would include at least one of The Beatles’ John Lennon, The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and the guitar genius Eric Clapton. In 1968, they all got together for a special show.
Alongside Jimi Hendrix’s Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, the triumvirate of rock mentioned above came together to form one unfathomably star-studded supergroup and take to the stage for just one performance, singing the Lennon-penned Beatles song ‘Yer Blues’. It all came to pass at The Rolling Stones’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus’ and you can watch it below.
2. He wrote two books
As well as being a formidable songwriter, Lennon was also an accomplished author. The singer released two books in his lifetime. The first In His Own Writer arrived in 1964 with A Spaniard in the Works arriving a year late rin ‘65. Both provided a keen insight into the man’s mercurial mind.
Not because they offered any clear detailing of Lennon’s thinking but because they were comprised of nonsensical stories that flirted with sensational surrealism. It was something that had always intrigued Lennon and now he had an outlet for it.
“There was never any real thought of writing a book,” he later said. “It was something that snowballed. If I hadn’t been a Beatle I wouldn’t have thought of having the stuff published; I would have been crawling around broke and just writing it and throwing it away. I might have been a Beat poet!”
1. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
Featuring on the band’s 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour, Lennon drew on his life in Liverpool to add a certain sentimentality to this otherwise trippy number, “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs in a nice semi-detached place with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around… not the poor slummy kind of image that was projected in all the Beatles stories.”
For Lennon the time spent around those houses and fields, losing marbles and having fun was all the symbolism he ever really cared for: “We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that’s where I got the name. But I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.”
While ‘Penny Lane’ is a similar song in tone and sentiment, Lennon takes this track into a brand new realm and rather than reminiscing about his home as an unattainable place, Lennon pictures it as his own personal heaven, his safe place.