We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at one conversation involving John Lennon that would go on to become as iconic as his glasses he donned or hit the songs he penned.
In one of the most notorious interviews of all time, Lennon sat back and let rip at the Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, slagged off his closest collaborator Paul McCartney and, amidst all the chaos and caustic wit, the singer also picked his favourite Beatles album of all time. It makes for quite possibly one of the most iconic conversations in pop culture history.
We’re looking back to what we enjoy remembering about the late, great John Lennon the most, his brilliant music and his ferocious tongue. If there’s one album you should start with when listening to Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, then surely it should be the singer’s favourite album? We think so.
Lennon’s talents, which were not restricted to The Beatles, would be extended in life beyond the band as he flourished having with a more than a brilliant solo career before his life was cut tragically short. His songwriting skill and ability to tell a narrative story through music is undeniable. Together, he and Yoko Ono certainly showed the rest of the band how to produce records that captivated their audience. That said, it’s probably fair to say that he – and the rest of the band – completed some of his best work together as a unit within the Fab Four—but what would John Winston Lennon say was their best work?
In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, a conversation in which he lashed out at Mick Jagger for copying the Beatles revolutionary sound as well as making remarks about the Fab Four in the press, the ‘Imagine’ singer also shared his views on The Beatles and his favourite album of their catalogue.
In fact, during the interview, Lennon made repeated cutting comments about his former bandmates and, it has to be remembered, took aim at his songwriting partner Paul McCartney with an unrelenting sense of animosity and disdain that only comes from hurt feelings and separation. However, he wasn’t going to let Jagger have his own free hit at The Beatles.
He concluded by saying: “I was always very respectful about Mick and the Stones, but he said a lot of sort of tarty things about the Beatles, which I am hurt by, because you know, I can knock the Beatles, but don’t let Mick Jagger knock them.”
It’s a fitting assessment of a band that started out as a little gang of friends, as Lennon himself put it, “We were four guys… I met Paul, and said, ‘You want to join me band?’ Then George joined and then Ringo joined.” As simple as that. But you cannot argue that by the end of The Beatles Lennon and McCartney were not exactly bosom buddies.
In fact, that deterioration of the relationship could be what influenced Lennon’s decision making when asked about 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 an album.
The record saw The Beatles return to rock ‘n’ roll in Lennon’s eyes, saying at the time: “What we’re trying to do is rock ‘n roll, ‘with less of your philosorock,’ is what we’re saying to ourselves. 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.”
The album was also heavily influenced by the Fab Four’s time in India practising Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “Most of this session has been written on guitar ‘cuz we were in India and only had our guitars there,” recalled Lennon. “They have a different feel about them. I missed the piano a bit because you just write differently. My piano playing is even worse than me guitar. I hardly know what the chords are, so it’s good to have a slightly limited palette, heh heh.”
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.”
For Paul McCartney though, the album represents a tough time for the group, with Ringo leaving during it’s recording it can often be seen as the beginning of the end, “The White Album was the tension album. We were all in the midst of the psychedelic thing, or just coming out of it. In any case, it was weird. Never before had we recorded with beds in the studio and people visiting for hours on end, business meetings and all that. There was a lot of friction. It was the weirdest experience because we were about to break up— that was tense in itself.”
So, The White Album or Sgt. Pepper — John Lennon or Paul McCartney? Luckily, you can have them both.