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. They were taken with American rock n' roll. John covered Chuck Berry. Paul did Little Richard. A bond formed, and they wrote songs together. George Harrison joined them on lead guitar. Harrison 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 introverted and spiritual. 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 at concerts! 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. 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 dialog was inaudible. It was The Beatles' sound! It was their look. It was the 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 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, 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, White Album, Abbey Road and 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 his Rolling Stone interview following the breakup, Lennon was 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 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 (Ironically, 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 remarked 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. The hoax was never explained. Nor did anyone claim responsibility for the "clues" that popped up on the album covers 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 "Revolution" and "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" 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. This 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 such as 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 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 in London, listening to 50 hours of Beatle tapes in 6 days. He devotes his first chapter to "A Day In The Life" from Sergeant Pepper. He regards this 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 certain Beatle 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. Indeed, Beatle music had become quite serious!
Hertsgaard recognizes "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" as rock n' roll classics. They were the two cuts that broke The Beatles into the American market. What stands out for me is how early Beatle 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 the AABA format.
Chapter 7 deals with A Hard Days Night, and Hertsgaard stresses the importance of this movie. He is fascinated with John Lennon and writes lavishly about the mysterious opening chord of the title song. 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, producer George Martin and his classical training were having an influence. The "5th Beatle" composed the classical run for "In My Life."
"Norwegian Wood" was interesting. McCartney explained "I lit the fire" as the suitor setting fire to the girl's apartment. It could as easily have meant he lit a joint or 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, while 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 band fronted by a singer dressed as Colonel Sanders sang "Tomorrow Never Knows" through a foghorn while playing a banjo.
McCartney's "Paperback Writer" was from the Revolver era. Characteristically, Paul sang about what other people were doing while John sang about himself or tried to proselytize.
By 1967, Beatle music was immersed in politics and religion. They were at the front of the "peace and love" movement, and their fans followed. The Beatles spoke against the Vietnam War. Lennon wrote "Revolution" and claimed 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 "cranberry sauce," "I am very bored" or "I buried Paul?" Psychedelia alienated many fans from the Beatlemania era.
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! Visual images pervaded the lyrics.
Hertsgaard calls "Hey Bulldog" a "great, growling rocker." It was a track I could not get enough of.
George Martin opposed the White Album being double. He felt there was too much inferior material. Ringo later 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 end of "Helter Skelter."
"Sexy Sadie" was a code name for the Maharishi, the guru who conned the group. "Julia" was Lennon's tribute to his mother.
George Harrison was composing the best songs toward the end. "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun" are favorites.
Lennon wrote "One After 909" when he was 15. It uses the AABA-extended format. It is rockabilly and my favorite piece on Let It Be. I saw a group perform it at Legends Corner in Nashville.
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 Fort Knox. I was headed for Germany in April, 1970, when The Beatles announced their split.
Death of John Lennon
Jim Colyer Papers
THE BEATLES: JOHN LENNON'S PREMONITION OF DEATH