Just A Twist of Lennon, Please.

December 8th, 1980.  A dark day for not just music fans, but the world in general.

John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his New York apartment.

That’s enough about that….

Let’s talk about his life AFTER The Beatles.

Yes, he was a Beatle. But he did have a short-lived solo career.

With his retiring for 5 years to “househusbandry”, and then that senseless and untimely murder while he was making a comeback, gave us too little of what this brilliant artist could have given us.

But even then John Lennon is often viewed as the most meaningful of the solo Fab Four, whether true or not. What IS true is that he was certainly the most unpredictable.

From the primal scream of early single “Cold Turkey” to the doomed optimism of Double Fantasy, it was as if everything he did was given more layers and psychological important than merely being a wise world musician or a member of a band on the run.

Here is a list of some of his greatest post Beatle songs.

-“Whatever Gets You Through The Night” from ‘Walls and Bridges’ 1974

It seems hard to believe that this was John Lennon’s only #1 solo single… in his lifetime. While fellow band mates Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr all racked up such hits early on, it was working with Elton John (who was recording a version of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) that brought out the artist’s considered commerciality. He made a bet with Elton that it would not go number one.

He lost.

He had to make an appearance which would be  his last public concert with Reg at Madison Square Garden as payment.

-“Working Class Hero” from ‘Plastic Ono Band’ 1970

Lennon always had an issue with his fame. He felt burdened by the expectations of his fans and the critical eye of the media.

This is a bitter, but justified condemnation of the class system.

“Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, And you think you’re so clever and classless and free, But you’re still f’ing peasants as far as I can see”

The lyrics don’t just bite.  They leave teeth marks.

-“Imagine”  from ‘Imagine’  1971

His anthem.  Now of course overplayed to the point of being the “amazing grace” of the new generation. But leave no doubt, it’s a masterpiece.

It’s funny to see how the message of the song has been distorted through the years.  He might be quite upset with some of its usage.

People get upset or just ignore the “Imagine there’s no heaven” line.

That’s where the “distortion” comes from.  Contrary to popular belief, Lennon DID believe in an afterlife, he just believed if we lived and behaved for today instead of what might be waiting we would find much more of a heaven while we were here.

-“Jealous Guy” from ‘Imagine 1971

Though the melody dated back to his days as a Beatle (composed during the infamous trip to India, specifically), the lyrics came together during the Imagine sessions.  One of the most unique love songs ever written, the unusually paranoid perspective (he sings of “shivering inside” and losing “control” throughout) offers an unwavering emotionally honest song.  Instead of a solo, Lennon whistles.  Brilliant.

-“God” from ‘Plastic Ono Band’ 1970

Anyone needing the postscript to the Beatles era need look no further than this stunning gospel tinged track. As with most of the album Plastic Ono Band, the starkness adds to the song’s power, a stinging denouncement to everything the previous decade stood for.

“God is a concept in which we measure our pain”.

Lennon was looking inward instead of skyward, with the only real heaven a clarity of self, not some pearly gated community.

It also contains possibly one of his greatest vocal performances.

-“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) from Double Fantasy 1980

The song was written for Lennon’s son Sean, his only child with Yoko Ono.

Lennon admitted to not being a great father to his first son, Julian.  So this time around, he stayed home to raise his son for the first five years of his life.

Some of his greatest lines are in this song, “Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans” and if the line “I can hardly wait, to see you come of age” doesn’t make you sob then you have no tear ducts.

Because obviously the events that happened soon after made that impossible.

-“Woman” from ‘Double Fantasy 1980

Yes, it’s a bit of pure pop bliss.  But it’s a confessional, as a way for Lennon to explain his ongoing fascination with Yoko and the lingering power of the female.

Thematically he had gone down this road before, but not as beautifully produced and presented.

-“#9 Dream” from ‘Walls and Bridges’ 1974

Supposedly it really did come to him in a dream, and only John Lennon could get away with a song like this. With a nonsense chorus and an unusual time signature and structure, it shouldn’t work. But Lennon finds a way to make it come together, resulting in one of his best, more beautiful songs.

‘Ahhh, Bowakawa pousse pousse” indeed…

-“Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” Single 1970

It was written and recorded in one day.  The famously impatient Lennon wanted it RELEASED that day too, but that took a little more time.

Encompassing everything Lennon stood for—peace, love, understanding, involvement… and just a sneaky bit of vitriol—this masterpiece of pop songwriting is so wonderfully all over the place that you’re never sure if it’s a pointed finger or a communal call to arms. While the song tries to link all mankind together in a sort of shout-along group hug, the verses vent at the undecided, and the uninspired. In something like “Imagine”, Lennon used a more wistful, calming tone to get his point across. From the slap backbeat of the drums to the pounding piano, this sonic sledgehammer is pointed… and powerful.

Those are some of his best post Beatle songs.  If you notice, I picked nine.  John’s “number”.

Have any others that you feel should be on the list?

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3 responses

  1. mark lanter

    well stated J my scholarly friend! you covered my picks except I’d include “Mother”…raw and stripped down rhythm section…I believe piano, bass, drums, one vocal…great melody, powerful lyric

    “Dream #9” I concur…my favorite of the lot….for me recaptured “Beatle magic” and classic orchestral accompaniment to boot

    the best contemporary Christmas song ever is “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” !!!

    December 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm

  2. JOHN MANN

    “Watching the Wheels” was a powerful statement about the industry and his misunderstanding friends. “Jealous Guy” which you mentioned, is probably my personal favorite (or at least the one that hits me where I live). And “Borrowed Time” has to be one of the most ironic of his songs.

    December 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm

  3. Tres

    I’ll be blasted, but I never was a fan of Imagine. Nor Whatever gets you through the night — sounds like an Elton John Song from the post-Capt. Fantastic era (which was the beginning of the end for Elton as far as Im concerned). Every other one on the list needs to be there. But how about Fame, co-written with David Bowie? I also like the early, rejected version of I’m Losing You with Bun E. Carlos and Rick Nielson.

    December 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm

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