John Lennon was always his own harshest critic, and even though he was hailed as the messiah of pop music, that’s a thought of school that the singer never followed. With all the public self-criticism over the years, it was Lennon’s discontent over his own singing voice that was the most significant cause of frustration for the Beatle.
Let’s be honest, with Lennon’s celestial talent considered; he arrived on this earth with one purpose: to improve the lives of others through the power of music. He made the world a significantly better place with his gift, but the existence of an internationally recognised artist was one that Lennon detested, and he was quick to let his feelings known. Most notably, Lennon’s own issues with his signing voice faced the most self-criticism.
Intriguingly, this wasn’t just a throwaway comment; and instead, it was brought to light by multiple people who worked closely with the bespectacled Beatle. Although Lennon spoke at length following the group’s demise, often opening up about his lack of appreciation for many of his own songs, writing them off as “lousy” or “garbage”. However, he never personally spoke about his hatred for his singing voice, which suggests a deeply instilled loathing he held that he was too sensitive to mention in public.
“He was constantly imploring us to make him sound different,” engineer Geoff Emerick remembered from his time working with Lennon. “‘Can you squeeze that up there?’ he would say. Or, ‘Can you make it sound nasally?’ Despite the fact that [John] was one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singers of all time, he hated the sound of his own voice,” he added.
Fascinatingly, this isn’t a one-off account, and The Beatles‘ trusted producer, George Martin, backed up Emerick’s version of events. He even went as far as saying that Lennon “had an inborn dislike of his own voice which I could never understand, as it was one of the best voices I’ve heard”.
He recalled that Lennon would incessantly plead with him to alter his voice because of his insecurities. “He was always saying to me, ‘Do something with my voice! You know, put something on it. Smother it with tomato ketchup or something. Make it different,'” he said. “As long as it wasn’t his natural voice coming through, he was reasonably happy. But he’d always want his voices to get special treatment,” Martin added.
This tale got back to John’s son, Sean Ono, who interviewed Paul McCartney to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday in 2020, and he wanted to understand exactly why he felt so self-effacing about his singing. “Yeah, exactly. Well, the confidence was the shield,” Macca explained. “I’d learned that early on was that if you have difficulties in your life, it can kind of go two ways. You can just lie down and give up or you can put a shield up and you can guard yourself from the world in that way.
“So from the minute I met John I knew that was what was going on, that he had this wit that would guard him from that,” he explained.
From the outside looking in, Lennon appeared as the most confident person in any room that he stepped foot in. Still, the truth remains that he was just an ordinary soul with an extraordinary talent who regularly felt he suffered from imposters syndrome.