John Lennon was a musician and artist, known for co-founding the Beatles and for his later solo work. He was killed by a fan on December 8, 1980.
John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool, England, on October 9, 1940, to Alfred and Julia Lennon. His parents separated when he was young, and Lennon went to live with his aunt, Mimi Smith. His father, a merchant seaman, saw little of his son. Lennon’s mother visited regularly and taught him to play the banjo and piano. She was struck by a car and killed when Lennon was only 17.
Young Lennon enjoyed playing pranks and found ways to get in trouble. He did not do well in school, but one teacher encouraged him to pursue his artistic talent, and he attended the Liverpool Art Institute from 1957 to 1960.
When Lennon was 16, he formed a skiffle band called the Quarry Men, the precursor to the Beatles. A year later, in 1957, Lennon met Paul McCartney at a church event and invited him to join the group. Lennon played guitar, McCartney played bass, and both sang. The two bonded over having lost their mothers at a young age.
In 1958, McCartney brought guitarist George Harrison into the group. Other early members, who left before Beatlemania took hold, included Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.
They made their first recording, a cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day,” in 1958 and changed their name to the Beatles, inspired by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. They frequently performed in Hamburg, Germany, and at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where Brian Epstein, a record store manager, saw their potential. Acting as their manager, he approached many record labels before Parlophone, a subsidiary of EMI, signed the group. Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr, joined in 1962, replacing Pete Best on drums. With famed producer George Martin, they recorded and released their first single, “Love Me Do,” in 1962, followed by “Please Please Me,” and they made many appearances on BBC radio programs. A British journalist invented the term Beatlemania to describe their popularity.
Lennon married Cynthia Powell in August of 1962, and they had one son, Julian, named after his mother. She kept a low profile during Beatlemania, to preserve Lennon’s heartthrob status, and the two divorced in 1968.
The Beatles’ popularity continued to grow in England, and soon they were invited to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the U.S. Their appearance on February 9, 1964, sparked a British Invasion of bands, including the Rolling Stones and the Kinks.
The Beatles released two films at the height of Beatlemania, 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night” and 1965’s “Help!” John Lennon was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the same year, along with the other three Beatles. Their 1965 album “Rubber Soul” introduced sophisticated tracks, expanding beyond their early pop love songs.
In 1966, their luck took a turn when the band was accused of snubbing the Filipino presidential family and Lennon’s comment about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” was taken out of context. They played their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California, in 1966.
During their final years together, the Beatles recorded several studio albums, with songs that were too complex to play live. Some critics consider “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” released in 1967, to be the greatest album of all time.
Over the years, Lennon and McCartney wrote approximately 180 songs. Lennon’s tendency toward edgy rock complemented McCartney’s romantic pop. Some of their compositions were “halvey-halvey,” as Lennon once put it, but others were primarily written by either Lennon or McCartney, with the other perhaps contributing some lyrics or a bridge. All songs were credited to Lennon-McCartney, as per their agreement.
The Beatles’ film “Magical Mystery Tour” was released in 1967, but it failed to please either critics or fans. In 1968, the Fab Four released their final film, “Yellow Submarine,” which remains a cult classic.
The Beatles spent two months in India in 1968, studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During this visit, the four wrote most of the songs for their double album, “The Beatles,” also known as the “White Album.” The result was less collaborative than their previous albums, with each member contributing tracks.
In 1969, Lennon married Yoko Ono, a Japanese avant-garde artist. They held two Bed-Ins for Peace, protesting against the Vietnam War, and they released a single, “Give Peace a Chance.”
Lennon left the Beatles in September 1969, but the split remained a secret until McCartney left the group in 1970. Some fans blamed Ono for the split. “Let It Be” was the last studio album released by the Beatles, even though it had been recorded before “Abbey Road.”
Lennon’s first solo album was “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” released in 1970, but his most successful solo work was “Imagine,” released in 1971. Lennon wrote “How Do You Sleep?” as a response to lyrics in some of McCartney’s solo releases.
Lennon and Ono moved to New York in the U.S in 1971. They were frequently threatened with deportation by the Nixon administration, ostensibly because of a 1968 marijuana conviction in England, but actually due to Lennon’s antiwar stance. After Richard Nixon resigned, Lennon was granted permanent U.S. residency status.
Lennon and Ono separated in 1973, and he moved to Los Angeles for a “lost weekend” that lasted more than a year. He briefly reconnected with McCartney, and the bootleg record “A Toot and A Snore in ‘74” showcases their only known post-Beatles performance together. Lennon released several albums during this time, including “Mind Games,” “Walls and Bridges,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” He also collaborated with Elton John and David Bowie.
Lennon and Ono reconciled in 1974, and their son, Sean, was born in 1975, on Lennon’s 35th birthday. Soon after, Lennon retired from the music business to focus on fatherhood.
Lennon returned to the spotlight in 1980 with the release of his album “Double Fantasy,” which included the single “(Just Like) Starting Over.” This new phase in his career was cut short on December 8, 1980, when Mark David Chapman, a deranged fan, shot Lennon in front of his apartment building, the Dakota, in New York. He died on that same day at New York’s Roosevelt Hospital.
John Lennon’s legacy lives on, as a member of the Beatles, as a solo artist, and as an activist. His single “Imagine” was ranked No. 3 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “All-Time Best Songs” list. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In New York’s Central Park, across from the Dakota, where John Lennon was shot, his widow Yoko Ono created a memorial. Strawberry Fields, named for one of his favorite songs, features an Imagine mosaic, donated by the city of Naples. The area is a designated Quiet Zone, endorsed as a Garden of Peace by 121 countries.
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Lennon, Cynthia. John. Three Rivers Press, 2006 — https://www.amazon.com/dp/0307338568/.
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BODY OF WORK
Beatles. The Beatles (The Original Studio Recordings) Stereo Box Set. EMI, 2009 — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002BSHWUU/.
Lennon, John. Double Fantasy. Capitol, 2015 — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W2XBH9G/.
Lennon, John. The Signature Box. Capitol, 2010 — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003TVMIDO/.
“John Lennon,” IMDB — https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006168/.
“John Lennon,” Wikipedia — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lennon.
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