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Music

The solo single that "embarrassed" John Lennon

Most would agree that while John Lennon’s solo output impressive, neither he nor his former bandmates were able to live up to the output of The Beatles. That being said, there are a number of songs that come pretty close, including one that Lennon surprisingly felt was too “embarrassing” to be featured on his 1971 album Imagine.

In All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Lennon is asked about his classic track ‘Oh Yoko!’, which was released in 1971. Though the track is today one of Lennon’s most popular solo recordings – thanks, in part, to its inclusion in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore – John hated the idea of it being released as a single. “It’s a very popular track,” he explained, “But I was sort of shy and embarrassed and it didn’t sort of represent my image of myself as the tough, hard-biting rock’ n’ roller with the acid tongue.”

It says a lot about Lennon’s state of mind that he was so concerned about his public image during this time. “Everybody wanted it to be a single — I mean, the record company, the public — everybody,” he added. “But I just stopped it from being a single ’cause of that.” Lennon would later admit that his paranoia negatively impacted the success of Imagine. “[That decision] probably kept it in No. 2,” he said. “It never made No. 1. The Imagine album was No. 1, but the single wasn’t.”

Because ‘Oh Yoko!’ was never released as a single, it failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. The track didn’t chart in the UK either. The Imagine album, meanwhile, held the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 200 for one week, staying in the charts for 101 weeks altogether.

These days, ‘Oh Yoko!’ is one of Lennon’s most beloved solo efforts. The single’s latent success may well be thanks to the very thing Lennon had been scared of revealing: that he’d ditched the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for something more wholesome. “It’s a message to Yoko,” he once revealed about the song’s lyrics. “Because I couldn’t say it in real life. Maybe, I don’t know. I mean not real life! Records are real life, but it expresses in song.”

In the track, Lennon does not attempt to fulfil his role as the witty, sardonic social commentator. Instead, he strips away the complexity to leave us with something simple and heartfelt: a declaration of love and desire encapsulated in one simple refrain, “Oh Yoko.”