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John Lennon was the heart and soul of The Beatles. He was the one who wanted to be Elvis Presley. When it was over, he said the only good thing about The Beatles was being bigger than Elvis. John Lennon met Paul McCartney in their hometown of Liverpool, England, in 1957. They had something in common. Both were mesmerized by American rock & roll. John covered Chuck Berry. Paul sang Little Richard. A bond formed, and they wrote songs together. George Harrison soon joined them on lead guitar. George was a student of Carl Perkins and rockabilly. Ringo Starr came last on the drums. The Beatles' personalities were such that they fit together to make a whole. John was the brooding intellectual, always questioning himself and others. His wit was razorlike. Paul was politically correct, the cute one who wanted to please. George was spiritual and introverted. Ringo was a comedian who got along with everybody. In the beginning, The Beatles dressed alike and looked alike. It was hard to tell them apart. They were regulars at a club in Liverpool called The Cavern. The Cavern was where they were approached by Brian Epstein, who became their manager. He took them to London and to George Martin. Martin became their producer. If there was a fifth Beatle, it was Martin. The Beatles released Love Me Do in October, 1962. Beatlemania ensued. Songs like From Me To You, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, I Saw Her Standing There & She Loves You drove girls berserk at concerts. The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show as Elvis had done. It was pandemonium. Audiences went wild. The Beatles were chased by fans and the press everywhere they went. Records were released on five labels. Their albums were solid. Every song was good. The Beatles made a movie called A Hard Day's Night, which portrayed something of what Beatlemania was. Teenage girls screamed in theaters to the point that the dialogue was inaudible. It was The Beatles' sound. It was their look. It was their long hair. The Beatles annihilated everyone in music except Elvis, and even he reeled!
After 1964, things cooled. The one constant was the music. The Beatles continued to make good records. They recorded Ticket To Ride, which John Lennon called the first heavy metal song. There was a second movie: Help! It was silly with its James Bond parody, and being in color took away. A Hard Day's Night was black & white. The Beatles introduced the concept album with Rubber Soul, making rock music an art form. Revolver was released the following year. These were tough times in the United States. The Vietnam War and race riots were out of control. When The Beatles were threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, the tours ended. They retired to the studio. Lennon's songs remained the best on Beatle albums, although they became morbid in a way that is hard to explain. The idea of death pervaded song after song, even the image of being killed by a gun.
No Reply - I nearly died
In My Life - Some are dead and some are living
Run For Your Life - I'd rather see you dead
Girl - Will she still believe it when he's dead
We Can Work It Out - Life is very short
Rain - They might as well be dead
Tomorrow Never Knows - Ignorance and hate mourn the dead, It is not dying
She Said She Said - I know what it's like to be dead
Lennon's morbidness continued through Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, the White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road.
Good Morning Good Morning - Nothing to do to save his life
A Day In The Life - He blew his mind out in a car
I Am The Walrus - Dripping from a dead dog's eye, See how they run like pigs from a gun, Bloody Tuesday
Yer Blues - Wanna die, If I ain't dead already, Feel so suicidal
Happiness Is A Warm Gun - Bang bang shoot shoot, My finger on your trigger, Mother Superior jumped the gun
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill - What did you kill, Bullet-headed, If to kill was not a sin, If looks could kill, His elephant and gun
Glass Onion - See how the other half live
Revolution #9 - Turn me on, dead man
The Ballad of John & Yoko - They're gonna crucify me; Oh boy, when you're dead
Come Together - Shoot me
In the Rolling Stone interview after the breakup, Lennon was distracted, incoherent. He rejected the Beatles, never to embrace them again. When he did Double Fantasy, he said he did not want to be thought of as a Beatle but as John Lennon whose life was changed by American rock & roll. His preoccupation with death extended into his solo work.
Instant Karma - Pretty soon you're gonna be dead
Cold Turkey - I wish I was dead, Can't see no future
My Mummy's Dead - Title
Working Class Hero - Smile as you kill
Imagine - Nothing to kill or die for
How Do You Sleep? - When they said you was dead
I Don't Want To Be A Soldier - I don't wanna die
John Sinclair - Shooting gooks in Vietnam
Angela - They shot down your man
The Luck of the Irish - Wish you were dead, Death and the glory
We're All Water - If we check their coffins
Sunday Bloody Sunday - When they shot the people, When they nailed the coffin lids
Born In Prison - Die in prison
Attica State - The prisoners did not kill (Strangely enough, Lennon's killer was given a life sentence in Attica Prison.)
Woman Is The Nigger Of The World - We kill her will
Intuition - It seemed like suicide
Scared - I just wanna stay alive, Gonna be the death of me, The straws slip away
Old Dirt Road - Breezing thru the deadwood
Whatever Gets You Through The Night - A gun to blow your mind.
It was as if Lennon had a premonition of his death. He was shot and killed in New York City by a deranged fan named Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Lennon had turned 40 on October 9. He once made the remark that he did not want to work in a factory because he would be dead by 40. There is irony, too, in the hoax about McCartney being dead. This hoax was never explained. No one has claimed responsibility for the clues which popped up on album covers as well as in the music. John Lennon admitted he wanted out of The Beatles as early as 1966 but was afraid to leave the group. Instead, he used his disenchantment to craft classic tunes like Revolution and The Ballad of John & Yoko. He was the edge. He dissolved the English language and reformed it using nonsense lyrics like those in I Am The Walrus and Come Together. Lennon's songs are superior to McCartney's even if McCartney fans claim otherwise. In My Life is better than Yesterday. Someone called Lennon a diarist and McCartney a dramatist. It is true. Ego was at the center of Lennon's work. Even during the peace movement, he acted as if he had invented peace. McCartney created characters like Eleanor Rigby.
When Lennon brought Yoko into the studio, it drove a wedge between him and McCartney. Yoko had no talent. Nor did McCartney's wife, Linda, who accompanied her husband on stage with Wings. It was up to ABBA from Sweden, a country known for sexual equality, to produce a group in which men and women could co-exist. As The Beatles were breaking down, they left a niche for the band that would take rock & roll to its next level. Elvis Presley may have never heard of ABBA, but The Beatles evolved into them.
A DAY IN THE LIFE: THE MUSIC AND ARTISTRY OF THE BEATLES by MARK HERTSGAARD
This is an excellent book about The Beatles' music, the best I have read. Mark Hertsgaard gained access to The Beatles archives at Abbey Road Studios in London. He listened to 50 hours of Beatle tapes in six days. He devotes his whole first chapter to "A Day In The Life" from the Sergeant Pepper album. He regards the song as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. A great thing about Hertsgaard's book is that he provides insight into the meaning of Beatle songs which somehow escaped us at the time. For instance, the 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, were potholes in the streets, something John Lennon picked from a newspaper article. Hertsgaard notes that the orchestra crescendo at the song's end simulates a nuclear blast and subsequent mushroom cloud. Indeed, Beatle music had become quite serious!
Hertsgaard recognizes "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" as rock n' roll classics. Certainly they were the two cuts which broke The Beatles into the American market. What stands out for me is how so many early Beatle songs use the AABA-extended structure. Elvis had used it with "One Night" and "Stuck On You." These songs went back and repeated the bridge. "You Can't Do That" and "I Feel Fine" are built around the AABA format.
Chapter 7 deals with A Hard Days Night. Hertsgaard stresses the importance of the movie. He is fascinated most with John Lennon and writes lavishing about the mysterious opening chord of the title song. He praises Paul McCartney for "And I Love Her."
Rubber Soul was the first Beatle album to be more than a collection of singles. It was marked by a growing social consciousness and an expanded definition of love. The Beatles were mastering the studio. Producer George Martin with his classical training was having an influence. This "5th Beatle" composed the classical run for "In My Life."
"Norwegian Wood" proved interesting. McCartney explained "I lit the fire" as the jilted suitor setting fire to the girl's apartment. It could as easily mean he lit a fire in the fireplace or lit up a joint.
Revolver saw increased experimentation as McCartney's opening cough at the beginning of "Taxman" concluded with Lennon's LSD inspired "Tomorrow Never Knows." Mr. Wilson was the British prime minister. Mr. Heath was the leader of the opposition. The weirdest rendition of a Beatles song I ever saw was at Abbey Road on the River in Louisville when a band fronted by a singer dressed as Colonel Sanders sang "Tomorrow never Knows" through a foghorn while playing a banjo.
McCartney's "Paperback Writer" came from the Revolver era. Characteristically, Paul sang about what other people did as John sang about himself or tried to proselytize.
By 1967, Beatle music was immersed in politics and spirituality. They were at the front of the peace and love movement, and the fans followed. The Beatles spoke out against the Vietnam War. John Lennon wrote "Revolution" and said that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, a boast rather than an indictment of hypocrisy.
Hertsgaard recounts that Strawberry Field was an orphanage and that Penny Lane was a bus roundabout in Liverpool. The psychedelia alienated many fans from the Beatlemania days. "Strawberry Fields Forever" ended with an enigmatic comment by Lennon. Is it "cranberry sauce," "I am very bored" or "I buried Paul?"
The Beatles presented themselves as fictional characters for the Sergeant Pepper album. They had gotten tired of being Beatles. They wore colorful costumes, and the lyrics were printed on the back of the album jacket. Rock n' roll had become art! Visual images pervaded the lyrics.
Hertsgaard calls the obscure "Hey Bulldog" "a great, growling rocker," and indeed it was a track I could not get enough of.
George Martin opposed the White Album being a double. He felt there was too much inferior material. Ringo Starr later said they could have broken it down into the White Album and the Whiter Album. It was Ringo, not George, who screamed, "I've got blisters on my fingers," at the end of "Helter Skelter."
"Sexy Sadie" was a code name for the Maharishi, the guru who conned The Beatles. "Julia" was Lennon's tribute to his deceased mother.
George Harrison was composing good songs at the end of The Beatles' reign. "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun" are favorites.
"One After 909" from Let It Be was written when Lennon was 15. It utilizes the AABA-extended structure he was fond of. It is rockabilly and my favorite piece on the record. I saw a group perform it at Legends Corner in Nashville.
Abbey Road was released in September, 1969. I lay in bed with my girl friend listening to it while home on Christmas leave from basic training at Fort Knox. I was on my way to Germany when The Beatles announced their split in April, 1970.
The Beatles official
The Internet Beatles Album
Tribute to Lennon
Abbey Road on the River
John Lennon official
I Want To Hold Your Hand
She Loves You
From Me To You
You Can't Do That
She's A Woman in Italy