From Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan: John Lennon’s 8 favourite musicians
John Lennon is arguably one of the most famous and influential musicians of all time. His work both with and without The Beatles has seen his iconography reach unbelievable heights, continually inspiring new generations of artists. However, like any musician, Lennon started out just the same as anybody else: a music fan with the hopes and dreams of doing it themselves. It means that John Lennon certainly had his favourite set of artists from his time before and after the Fab Four.
From across a series of different interviews, we’ve managed to compile a list of John Lennon’s eight favourite musicians and, to add a little bit of extra sugar on top, we’ve got an introductory playlist too. The playlist, as the list below, offers up a brief insight into the tastes and musical chops of one of the most imposing figures of modern music. John Lennon is now an icon but icons like to throw on some headphones and get lost in music just like the rest of us.
Above all else, John Lennon was a music fan. Though time and fame would soon see him elevate the art form into a possibly globally unifying force with songs like ‘War Is Over’ and ‘Imagine’, underneath it all, Lennon just loved to rock out. He was never afraid to cut loose and let the wild fan side of himself out. Whether it was for his own group or the work of others, Lennon never kept quiet about what he liked.
Here, in a list which we’re sure could be extended three-fold, we get a taste of Lennon the music fan and, consequently, Lennon the man too. Through these eight artists we can see those who influenced his career and those whose careers he influenced, making for one of the most powerful playlists we’ve heared in a long time. Only the highest class makes it onto this one.
Below, we’ve got eight of John Lennon’s favourite musicians and his connection to them.
John Lennon’s favourite musicians:
There’s no doubting that the primary influence the esteemed guitar maestro Eric Clapton had on The Beatles was through George Harrison but, in Clapton, Lennon felt he had found a kindred spirit. So much so, that when Harrison temporarily left the band, Lennon thought the best replacement was Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton.
Harrison, while on his break from the group, had been spending the majority of his time with Clapton and, eventually, he rejoined the group but that didn’t stop Lennon from coveting the guitar genius. Instead, he attempted to grab Clapton for a ’round-the-world’ tour with the Plastic Ono Band. He did, in fact, join the band one some occasions to perform alongside Lennon.
There aren’t many groups from the sixties who weren’t, in some way, influenced by Clapton and it would appear that Lennon considered him one of the greats of the scene.
“If you had to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” once said John Lennon and it’s hard to disagree with him. Without a doubt the forefather of modern rock ‘n’ roll, Berry’s ability to not only perform but write some of the most vibrant music the group had ever heard at the time.
In fact, for much of The Beatles early songwriting career, he and Paul McCartney would trade their lyrics and songs and they’d both be undoubtedly influenced by one man, Chuck Berry. “To us, he was a magician making music that was exotic, yet normal, at the same time,” Paul McCartney wrote on his website following Berry’s death. “We learnt so many things from him which led us into a dream world of rock and roll music.”
Later, as Lennon welcomed Berry to perform alongside him, he said of Berry, “He was writing good lyrics and intelligent lyrics in the 1950s when people were singing ‘Oh baby I love you so, it was people like him that influenced our generation to try and make sense out of the songs rather than just sing ‘do wah diddy.’”
Cliff Richard and the Shadows may have shaped the band’s early sound and vision but Bob Dylan arguably had the biggest influence on The Beatles. His style of songwriting was a keen influence on all of the British groups at the time but his message of opening up oneself to your audience through personally reflective pop songs landed most heavily on John Lennon.
One track that Lennon later admitted to David Sheff in 1980 came from ”me in my Dylan period” was ‘I’m A Loser’ from Beatles For Sale to which he added, “part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” Lennon wasn’t the only Beatle under Bob’s influence but he certainly was the one who became most infatuated with him from afar.
Of course, eventually, the two would become close friends, then frenemies, then contemporaries but there was never any doubt that Lennon considered Bob Dylan to be one of the greats of the music world.
This may be one of the more curious selections on our list but to discount Elton John as one of Lennon’s favoured artists would be to ignore their potent collaboration. As well as Elton covering Lennon’s ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, the Rocketman also had a hand in Lennon’s only living U.S. number one in ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’.
John Lennon later recalled about how the song was born, stating: “I was fiddling about one night and Elton John walked in with Tony King of Apple — you know, we’re all good friends — and the next minute Elton said, ‘Say, can I put a bit of piano on that?’ I said, ‘Sure, love it!’ He zapped in. I was amazed at his ability: I knew him, but I’d never seen him play.
“A fine musician, great piano player. I was really pleasantly surprised at the way he could get in on such a loose track and add to it and keep up with the rhythm changes — obviously, ’cause it doesn’t keep the same rhythm… And then he sang with me. We had a great time.” The song’s rise to number one would eventually lead to Lennon’s final on-stage performance after he lost a bet to Elton. Below, you can watch that very performance.
Another star-studded singer Lennon wanted to work with was David Bowie. Though Bowie rose up in the swinging circles that Lennon was frequenting during the late-sixties, it wasn’t until ‘Fame’ that the duo really connected. Lennon was quoted as saying Bowie’s music wasn’t rock and roll (or rather, rock ‘n’ roll with lipstick on) and while that was received with an audible gasp from Bowie’s fans, the truth of the matter is Lennon wildly respect the Starman.
The bespectacled Beatle wouldn’t work with just anyone but agreed to work with Bowie on his song ‘Fame’. The track was the duo’s middle finger to fame after Lennon tried to guide Bowie away from the pitfalls of middle management. Once in 1999, Bowie was speaking to Berklee College when he said: “It’s impossible for me to talk about popular music without mentioning probably my greatest mentor, John Lennon. I guess he defined for me, at any rate, how one could twist and turn the fabric of pop and imbue it with elements from other art forms, often producing something extremely beautiful, very powerful and imbued with strangeness.”
The two would share an intrinsic relationship that would give both men grounding in another.
Another staunch collaborator of John Lennon’s was the mercurial menace of Harry Nilsson. The singer often accompanied Lennon on nights out during his infamous ‘Lost Weekend’ period but gained such friendship and notoriety with a selection of simply golden pop songs, of which Lennon was a huge fan.
There were more than enough occasions for Lennon to have cut Nilsson loose from his inner circle if drinking and drugs were all that he required from the big man. But the truth is, as well as making a mean Brandy Alexander, Nilsson was, at least for a time, one of the most highly regarded performers around.
However, by the time his tenth record Pussy Cats was due out, he needed some extra clout and so roped in his old pal Lennon. The duo delivered a masterful pop record that ranks among one of Nilsson’s finest. Listen to their cover of Bob Dylan below.
The Everly Brothers
If there’s one band who can attest for being an integral part of The Beatles’ early vocal sound then it has to be The Everly Brothers. The group’s shudderingly beautiful vocals made the singing sensations one of music’s hottest properties in the early sixties and directly influenced John Lennon too, who often cited the group as primary influences.
It was a style that was undoubtedly borrowed or at least leaned upon when The Beatles began writing chart-topping pop songs like ‘Love Me Do’, and ‘Please, Please Me’. The band even pay tribute to the group on Let It Be during the song ‘Two of Us’, on which Macca tips his hat by saying “Take it, Phil.” You won’t see many people point to The Everly Brothers as an influential band too much these days but for the Fab Four, they were everything.
“Before Elvis, there was nothing,” John Lennon once famously said of The King. To miss Presley off our list would be a horrendous mistake. The singer’s impact on British culture as a whole can hardly be understated so when a group of teenage boys who were about to call themselves The Quarrymen heard this new rock ‘n’ roll sound you can imagine the fire it sparked within them.
Later the band would meet The King and after he released a series of uninspiring tracks the group tended to lose interest in him as an artist, despite in 1968 still being influenced by him, if you believe Ringo’s tongue-in-cheek remark about ‘Lady Madonna’: “It sounds like Elvis, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t sound like Elvis… it IS Elvis. Even those bits where he goes very high.”
In the same year, Lennon revealed, when talking about The White Album, that Elvis had always been an icon for him: “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.”
If some of these artists are just names to you, then we’ve got you covered.
Find an introductory playlist featuring the best songs of all the above right here: