John Lennon was the heart and soul of The Beatles! He was the one who wanted to be Elvis. 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. They both loved American rock n roll. John covered Chuck Berry. Paul covered Little Richard. A bond formed, and they wrote songs together. George Harrison joined them on lead guitar. He 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 razor-like. Paul was politically correct, the cute one who wanted to please. George was the spiritual one. Ringo was the comedian who got along with everybody. In the beginning, The Beatles looked alike and dressed alike. It was hard to tell them apart. They were regulars at a Liverpool club called the Cavern. It was there that they met Brian Epstein, who became their manager. He took them to London and to George Martin, who 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 wild! The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show as Elvis had done. It was pandemonium! The Beatles were chased by fans and the press everywhere they went. Records were released on 5 labels. The albums were solid. Every song was good. The group 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 dialog was inaudible. It was The Beatles' sound! It was their look! It was their hair! The Beatles annihilated everyone 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 in black and 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 America. The Vietnam War and race riots were out of control. When The Beatles were threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, the tours ended, and they retired to the studio. Lennon's songs remained the best on the albums, although they became morbid in a way that is hard to understand. The idea of death pervaded song after song, even the image of being murdered 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, Abbey Road & Let It Be.
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 a Rolling Stone interview following the breakup, Lennon was incoherent. He rejected The Beatles, never to embrace them again. He said he did not want to be thought of as a Beatle, but as John Lennon whose life was changed by American rock n 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 (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 Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Lennon, who had turned 40 on October 9, once remarked that he did not want to work in a factory because he would be dead at 40. There is irony, too, in the hoax about McCartney being dead. The hoax was never explained. Nor has anyone taken responsibility for the "clues" that appeared on the album jackets and in the music. John Lennon admitted that 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 "The Ballad of John & Yoko." He was the edge! He broke down the English language and reworked it, using nonsense lyrics like those in "I Am The Walrus." Lennon's songs are superior to McCartney's even though McCartney fans claim otherwise. "In My Life" is better than "Yesterday." Someone called Lennon a diarist and McCartney a dramatist. This is true. Ego was at the center of Lennon's work even during the peace movement. He acted as if he invented peace. McCartney sketched characters like Eleanor Rigby.
Lennon bringing Yoko into the studio 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 winding down, they left a niche for the band that would take rock n 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. Mark Hertsgaard gained access to The Beatles archives at Abbey Road Studios and listened to 50 hours of Beatle tapes. He devotes his first chapter to "A Day In The Life" from Sergeant Pepper and regards this song as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. A great thing about Hertsgaard's book is that it provides insight into the meaning of certain songs. For example, the 4000 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. Beatle music had become serious!
Hertsgaard recognizes "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" as rock n roll classics. They were the 2 cuts that broke The Beatles into the American market. What stands out for me is how their early songs used 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" used AABA-extended.
Chapter 7 deals with A Hard Days Night, and Hertsgaard stresses the importance of this movie. He is fascinated with John Lennon and writes about the mysterious opening chord of the title track. He praises Paul McCartney for "And I Love Her."
Rubber Soul was the first album to be more than a collection of singles. It was marked by a growing social consciousness and an expanded definition of love. As The Beatles mastered the studio, George Martin with his classical training was having an influence. The fifth Beatle composed the classical run for "In My Life."
"Norwegian Wood" is interesting. McCartney explained "I lit the fire" as the suitor setting fire to the girl's apartment. It could just as easily have meant he lit a fire in the fireplace.
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 witnessed was at Abbey Road on the River in Louisville when a guy dressed as Colonel Sanders sang "Tomorrow Never Knows" through a foghorn while playing a banjo.
Paul's "Paperback Writer" was from the Revolver era. Characteristically, he sang about what other people did, while John sang about himself or tried to proselytize.
By 1967, Beatle music was immersed in politics and religion. The Beatles were at the front of the "peace and love" movement, and their fans followed. They criticized the Vietnam War. John wrote "Revolution" and bragged that the group was more popular than Jesus, a boast rather than an indictment of hypocrisy.
Hertsgaard explains that Strawberry Field was an orphanage in Liverpool and that Penny Lane was a bus roundabout. "Strawberry Fields Forever" ended with an enigmatic comment by Lennon. Was it "I am very bored," "cranberry sauce" or "I buried Paul?"
The Beatles presented themselves as fictional characters for the Sergeant Pepper album. They were tired of being Beatles. They wore colorful costumes, and lyrics were printed on the back of the album jacket. Rock n roll had become art! Images pervaded the lyrics.
George Martin opposed the White Album being double. He felt there was too much inferior material. Ringo said they could have broken it down into the White Album and the Whiter Album. It was Ringo, who screamed, "I've got blisters on my fingers," at the close of "Helter Skelter." "Julia" was Lennon's tribute to his mother.
George Harrison was composing good songs toward the end. "Here Comes The Sun" is a favorite.
Lennon wrote "One After 909" when he was 15, using the AABA-extended form. It is my favorite on Let It Be.
Abbey Road was released in September, 1969, and I lay in bed with my girl friend listening to it while home on Christmas leave from the army. I was headed for Germany when The Beatles announced their split in April, 1970.