I much prefer to write about birthdays of my favorite artists than days when they passed away, especially when the circumstances were as tragic as in the case of John Lennon. Exactly 40 years ago, on December 8, 1980, Lennon was shot to death by a disturbed individual in the archway of The Dakota, his residence in New York City, after he returned with Yoko Ono from a recording session.
I’m not going to recount the details, which have been told many times. Instead, I’d like to focus on what remains: John’s great music. Following is a collection of some of his songs from his solo career. I took this from a previous post.
Cold Turkey (Single 1969)
Cold Turkey was Lennon’s second solo single released in October 1969. Written by him and credited to the Plastic Ono Band, the tune was recorded right in the wake of their appearance at the Toronto Rock & Roll Festival, where it had been performed in public for the first time. In fact, the song had been so new that Lennon hadn’t memorized the lyrics yet, so Ono held up the words on a cheat sheet! Unlike Live Peace Toronto 1969, Ringo Starr played the drums on the studio recording. In addition, Ono’s wailing sounds were absent – frankly, something I don’t miss in particular.
Instant Karma! (Single 1970)
Instant Karma! was the third Lennon tune that appeared as a non-album single credited to the Plastic Ono Band. Peaking at no. 3 and no. 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Single Charts, respectively, it became the first solo single by a former Beatles member to sell one million copies in America. In addition to Lennon, Ono, Voorman and White, it featured George Harrison (guitar, piano, backing vocals), Billy Preston (Hammond organ, backing vocals) and Mal Evans (chimes, handclaps, backing vocals).
Mother (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 1970)
Mother is the opener of Lennon’s first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which came out in December 1970. The painful cry to his parents, who abandoned him as a child, is one of the most powerful tunes he wrote. The relative sparse instrumentation of just piano, drums and bass, combined with Lennon’s screaming voice, still gives me goose bumps every time I listen to the song.
Jealous Guy (Imagine 1971)
Jealous Guy first appeared on Lennon’s second studio album Imagine released in September 1971 in the U.S. While that record is best known for its beautiful and timeless title track, which became the top-selling single of his solo career, to me Jealous Guy is an equal. Interestingly, it didn’t come out as a single until November 1985, four and a half years after Roxy Music had scored a no. 1 hit with their great cover.
New York City (Some Time In New York City 1972)
To me, Lennon was one of the greatest rock & roll singers. I just love this original tune from Some Time In New York City, his third solo album from June 1972, credited to John & Yoko, Plastic Ono Band and American rock band Elephant’s Memory, best known for backing Lennon and Ono in the early ’70s. The autobiographic track is both an anthem to the city, which had become Lennon’s and Ono’s home in September 1971, and a middle finger to the Nixon Administration. Concerned about their political activism, President Nixon was looking for ways to kick Lennon and Ono out of the country. Instead, he turned out to be a crook and was forced to resign. Maybe another Lennon would come in handy these days!
Mind Games (Mind Games 1973)
Mind Games is the title track and lead single of Lennon’s fourth solo album from October 1973. According to Wikipedia, he started work on the song in 1969, which originally was titled Make Love, Not War. Lennon finished the tune after he had read the 1972 book Mind Games: The Guide To Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston. The track was recorded around the time Lennon separated from Ono and with her encouragement had an 18-month relationship with May Pang. Let’s just leave it at that!
Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (Walls And Bridges 1974)
Included on Lennon’s fifth solo album Wall And Bridges from September 1974, Whatever Gets You Thru The Night also was the record’s first single. It became his first no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, a chart success that was only achieved one more time with (Just Like) Starting Over from the Double Fantasy album in the wake of his death.
Bring It On Home To Me/Send Me Some Lovin’ (Rock ‘N’ Roll 1975)
As previously noted, I’ve always thought Lennon was great at singing rock & roll. He also loved the genre, and this record is an homage. The medley of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me and Send Me Some Lovin’, co-written by John Marascalso and Leo Price for Little Richard, is one of my favorites on the album. Rock ‘N’ Roll was Lennon’s last studio release prior to his five-year family hiatus, following his reunification with Ono and the birth of their son Sean.
Watching The Wheels (Double Fantasy 1980)
Watching The Wheels is from Double Fantasy, which came out in November 1980 – the first studio album after Lennon had reemerged from secluded family life. Credited to him and Ono, it is sadly the last release that appeared during his life time. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1981, following Lennon’s death in New York City on December 8, 1980. While the song couldn’t match the chart success of the album’s first two singles (Just Like) Starting Over and Woman, I like it just as much.
Borrowed Time (Milk And Honey 1984)
I’ve always dug the cool groove Borrowed Time Lennon’s last studio album Milk And Honey that appeared postmortem in January 1984. According to Wikipedia, the song was inspired by a frightening sailing trip through rough seas from Newport, R.I. to Bermuda in 1980. After pretty much everybody else on board had become incapacitated due to sea sickness, Lennon who wasn’t impacted ended up taking the yacht’s wheel for many hours by himself. It’s crazy if you think about it – the man survived what clearly were much lower odds than being shot to death by some nutcase!
Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube
5 thoughts on “Shine On, John Lennon”
Great songs…Every 8th of December I remember what I was doing and where I was when it happened.
He didn’t have the output of Paul or even George but he had some classics…and he should have had much more.
It’s good you got those early non album singles – totally some of his best stuff.
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I bought the 45 single for “Cold Turkey” when it came out. I normally preferred pop and R&B, but I think I wanted to be cool or something by buying that very edgy single for that time. The B-side was a Yoko Ono song “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For a Hand in the Snow)”, quite possibly the worst song I’ve ever heard in my long life.
Wow. So focused on the post-election I completely forgot about this. Good call. Good tunes. That said I’ve never been crazy about the tune he did with Elton. I’d replace that with “Working Class Hero” his most Dylan-esque tune. On a lighter note, that same day is the Festival of Lights in Lyon, France. Started way back when as a reaction to the plague something we can all relate to these days.
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The current unreal situation in this country definitely is distracting. I almost forgot about the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s murder as well and, frankly, put this post together at the last minute. Isn’t it friggin’ crazy, 40 years?
As for the songs, I like both, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” and “Working Class Hero.” I wanted to touch each of Lennon’s solo records and at least include some of his non-album singles while . When it came to his first solo album, it was a tough choice, and “Working Class Hero” was among the contenders. I ended up picking “Mother.” That song is just so intense.