Synopsis of Pop Music
"You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one..."
When the Beatles broke up, John Lennon was free to do whatever he wanted… and that’s exactly what he did. He released albums of avant-garde experiments, dabbled in revolutionary politics, underwent primal-scream therapy, and even hosted The Mike Douglas Show. In between all of these activities, he found the time to record a series of hit singles and albums that kept the rest of the world on their toes. From the beginning to the premature end of his career, no one knew what Lennon would do next.
John Lennon’s musical career began in his school years when he formed a band called the Quarrymen. When fellow students Paul McCartney and George Harrison joined, the group mutated into the better-known Beatles. They began churning out hits in early 60’s like “I Want To Hold On Your Hand,” the majority of which were co-written by Lennon and McCartney. As the years wore on, Lennon became adventurous with his wordplay and musical experimentation. The result was a string of psychedelic classics like “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “I Am The Walrus” and “Polythene Pam.”
Lennon had already begun his solo career by the time the Beatles disbanded. His first two solo albums, Two Virgins and Life With The Lions, were avant-garde pieces that experimented with tape loops, improvisations and sound effects. Through his wife, Yoko Ono, he became interested in experimental art and alternative politics. He decided to use his celebrity status as a springboard for performance art that drew attention to social and political concerns.
One of Lennon’s most notable experiments was his 'bed-in,' during which he and Yoko stayed in bed for eight days to draw attention to the idea of world peace. In between interviews with bemused reporters, Lennon recorded a song called “Give Peace A Chance.” This simple but clever sing-along was released under the moniker ‘Plastic Ono Band’ and became a Top-15 hit. It also became an anthem for world peace and still holds this status today. The Plastic Ono Band also released “Cold Turkey,” a scorching rocker that musically depicted the pain of going through withdrawal from drugs.
In 1970, Lennon released the song “Instant Karma.” This thunderous, echoey rocker became a Top-10 hit. Lennon underwent primal scream therapy with his bride, Yoko Ono, and the experience inspired one of the great albums of the 70’s, Plastic Ono Band. On this album, Lennon let all his inner demons loose and spoke with naked honesty about everything that troubled him over a effectively sparse instrumental background. From confessing childhood fears in “Mother” to debunking the mythlike quality of the Beatles in “God,” Lennon set a new standard for honesty in rock and roll music.
The next year, Lennon recorded Imagine. It was a massive worldwide hit and its title track soon became another classic anthem of world peace. This album also contained one of Lennon’s most romantic songs, the plaintive “Jealous Guy.” Lennon moved to New York City that year, and he and Yoko became interested in radical politics. They hobnobbed with legendary radical figures like Jerry Rubin and John Sinclair, and these activities were reflected in songs like the hit “Power To The People.”
Lennon released Some Time In New York City, a half-live/half-studio double album, in 1972. It was filled entirely with political-themed songs like “Luck Of The Irish” and “John Sinclair.” He also did extensive concert work for charity to benefit both radical and non-radical concerns. In 1973, he returned to non-political pop with Mind Games. The majestic, ornate title track was a psychedelic meditation on love and became a Top-20 hit.
Lennon continued in a straight-ahead rock vein on his 1974 album Walls And Bridges. It boasted a #1 single in the frantic, funky rocker “Whatever Gets You Through The Night,” a song that featured backup vocals from Elton John. The psychedelic ballad "No. 9 Dream" also did well and fittingly peaked at #9. Lennon returned to his roots in 1975 for Rock And Roll, an album of Lennon’s favorite 50’s and 60’s rock classics. It included a Top-20 single in Lennon’s impassioned version of “Stand By Me.” Lennon also co-wrote and played guitar on David Bowie’s 1975 #1 hit, “Fame”.
After Rock And Roll, Lennon went into seclusion. He took five years off to raise his newborn son, Sean, and to travel the world. In 1980, he returned to the studio and recorded the Double Fantasy album with Yoko. The album was beginning its climb to the top of the charts when Lennon was assassinated by a deranged fan on December 8, 1980. Double Fantasy became a posthumous triumph for Lennon and spawned several hit singles. The stately, harmony-driven ballad “Woman” went to #2, the mid-tempo “Watching the Wheels” went to #10, and the 50’s-style celebration of romance “(Just Like) Starting Over” became a #1 hit.
Since 1980, Lennon has remained in the public mind thanks to a series of posthumous releases. Milk and Honey, an outtakes compilation, was released in 1984 and scored a hit single with the jaunty rocker “Nobody Told Me.” Live In New York City consisted of live recordings from a 1972 concert, and Menlove Avenue focused on studio outtakes from 1974. More recently, a 4-CD collection of unreleased home and studio recording called Anthology was released to great critical acclaim.
Lennon’s music and influence continue to be fondly remembered. In 1990, “Imagine” was played simultaneously in 130 different countries to commemorate what would have been Lennon’s 50th brithday. Musicians as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mary-Chapin Carpenter have recorded Lennon’s songs. His sons Julian and Sean have also gone on to successful recording careers and both sound more than a bit like their father. All in all, Lennon’s gift for music and his ability to make a statement have left a mark on the world that will never be erased.
"But we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun..."
Artist Release History11/11/68 - Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
05/26/69 - Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions
10/20/69 - The Wedding Album
12/12/69 - The Plastic Ono Band – Live Peace In Toronto 1969
12/11/70 - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
09/09/71 - Imagine
06/12/72 - Sometime In New York City
11/02/73 - Mind Games
09/26/74 - Walls And Bridges
02/17/75 - Rock ‘N’ Roll
10/24/75 - Shaved Fish
11/15/80 - Double Fantasy
11/08/82 - The John Lennon Collection
01/19/84 - Milk And Honey
01/24/86 - Live In New York City
10/27/86 - Menlove Avenue
10/04/88 - Imagine: John Lennon Soundtrack
10/30/90 - Lennon (4 CD box set)
02/24/98 - Lennon Legend
11/03/98 - John Lennon Anthology Box Set
11/03/98 - Wonsaponatime
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsPlastic Ono Band (Capitol)
Lennon Legend (Capitol)