My 12 Favorite John Lennon Songs

It doesn’t seem possible that 72 years ago, one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century was born. It was on a night the Nazi’s bombed Merseyside, and his Aunt risked the danger to run across town to be with her sister at the Green Street Hospital. (Her steely fearlessness would influence John in so many ways.)

There is something almost prophetic in the fact that his turbulent, angst-filled life began on such a night; things were never going to be normal for John Lennon.

And that life, although tragically short, begat a lifetime of music that continues to inspire and influence people the world over with its message of love, hope and the belief in human unity.

John, always ebulliently self-effacing, would be quick to slag off a comment like that, and for good reason. Our culture martyrs and projects and idealizes public figures often to the point of breaking them in half–only to turn right around and punish them for their imperfections. True to form, in penitence for our actions we deify them when they’re no longer with us. This was certainly the case with John. But even though he’s been gone for over 30 years now, at least we have his musical legacy to hold on to and to hand down. A legacy that began 72 years ago today.

And so here, in no particular order, are 12 of my favorite John Lennon compositions. 12 because 10 is simply impossible, and it’s a Sophie’s Choice to really leave out *anything* from a list like this. But the operative word here is “favorite”, so don’t lash into me for neglecting certain obvious masterpieces (Just because Norwegian Wood and Imagine aren’t here doesn’t mean I don’t adore them!) These are the songs you’ll find at the top of my iTunes most-played list.

Jealous Guy
(1971, Imagine)
Why: It’s an honest, soul-bearing plea for forgiveness. All of us have been guilty of being ‘jealous guys’ in one way or another.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
(1965, Help)
Why: An early example of Lennon’s desire to dig deeper than the packaged “Beatles” image. Highly Dylanesque, definitively Lennon.

In My Life
(1965, Rubber Soul)
Why: Quite possibly the most perfect song ever written; at the very least, one of the saddest.

Please Please Me
(1962, Please Please Me)
Why: It’s a fun, early rocker with Lennon squarely as the leader of his band. It’s also wonderfully subversive: the call to “please please me” is innocent under the Fab Four image, but … we all know what he’s really talking about.

Rain
(1966, B-Side to Paperback Writer)
Why: Probably the Beatles’ best B-Side, it a trippy, looping experiment of a song, and opens the possibilities for Lennon’s challenging Tomorrow Never Knows.

Don’t Let Me Down
(1969, B-Side to Get Back)
Why: Because it’s sexy.

Ticket to Ride
Why:  Come on, like this song really needs a reason.
(1965, Help)

Out of the Blue
(1973, Mind Games)
Why: The redemptive power of love is hauntingly, and of course, beautifully, captured.

Strawberry Fields Forever
(1967, Magical Mystery Tour)
Why: Because even after hundreds of listens, it still startles me with its dark, mystic winsomeness. Any Lennon’s lyrics are at their trippy best.

Dear Prudence
(1968, The White Album)
Why: Quite possibly my favorite song of all time, I have very warm memories of lying on my bed, rewinding this song on my cassette player over. And over. And over. I love every blessed second of it.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
(1969, Abbey Road)
Why: I know it’s repetitive, and not Lennon’s best on the Abbey Road album, (that crown rests with “Come Together”) but I’m sorry, this song is s-e-x-y.

Beautiful Boy
(1980, Double Fantasy)
Why: It’s the perfect bedtime lullaby, and a beautiful love letter from father to son. (In this case, Sean Lennon, who also shares his papa’s birthday today!)

Why the Beatles' 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque showcased a screening of The Beatles first concert in America: the Washington D.C. Coliseum, 1964 to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On Febraury 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans ... but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy ... oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' That's Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one "Sweetpea." She's the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights...)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say 'Eat your heart out, girls. I'm the shit.'

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here's Ringo's!

Why the Beatles’ 1964 Washington D.C. Concert Kicks Ass

Last week, on  a rainy Friday evening, The American Cinematheque showcased a screening of The Beatles first concert in America: the Washington D.C. Coliseum, 1964 to a sold out audience. The energy of that performance, which has only intensified with age, left every last one of us riveted.

Which is the reason for this blog post. Apologies just might be in order: I’m an unabashed Fangirl.

1.) No Pyrotechnics. No HD Mega Screens. No sound monitors of ANY kind.

Today, the production of a concert is just as memorable as the music itself– and, often, moreso. Laser light shows. Pyrotechnics. Fireworks. All the bells and whistles that can keep the audience keen. On Febraury 11 1964,however, what the audience got was a concert as performed by your local high school band. Only … they kinda happen to be the best rock band on the planet.

You can easily count the number of amps they’re using because… they’re all on the stage. In a stockpile. One, two, three, four … five amplifiers. The boys were using Vox AC-30 amps that night, just as they had used back in Britain for about a year or so. Their sound was sharp, hard and clear– perfect for the clang of an early 60s guitar. But… still… 30 watts! It wasn’t until 1965 that Vox would design a special 100 watt amp specifically for the Beatles, and so they relied on 30 watt amplifiers to feed a crowd of three thousand hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Without sound monitors. Today, it would take four of Vox’s AC-30 amps to equate to one Vox Valvetornic amp. I’d love to see some of our over produced contemporary bands try something like that!

The Beatles in Concert. Photo by Rowland Sherman

2.) U.F.O.s.

Today, a high-profile band is guarded by 400 pound security gorillas armed with oozies. In 1964? It was every man for himself. The Beatles were shoved onto a plywood 20 x 20 stage guarded by a few white-collar pencil pushers as a hysterical teenage audience pelted them with… jelly beans. The gesture was meant to be affectionate as it was a well known piece of Beatle-lore amongst teenage fans that the Beatles loved jelly babies. But in England, jelly babies are a soft little candy. Their American cousins, jelly beans? Quite another story. Recounts George Harrison:

That night, we were absolutely pelted by the fuckin’ things. They don’t have soft jelly babies there; they have hard jelly beans. To make matters worse, we were on a circular stage, so they hit us from all sides. Imagine waves of rock-hard little bullets raining down on your from the sky. It’s a bit dangerous, you know, ’cause if a jelly bean, travelling about 50 miles an hour through the air, hits you in the eye, you’re finished! … Every now and again, one would hit a string on my guitar and plonk off a bad note as I was trying to play.

3.) Rock and Roll

In the years before albums like Sgt. Pepper, Revolver or Rubber Soul pushed the boundaries of contemporary music, The Beatles were just a straight up Rock and Roll band.  They idolized black American R&B, emulated its raw intensity and the result was magic. This rendition of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally had been a stage staple since the early 60s, when The Beatles were nothing more than cellar regulars at The Cavern Club.

It has rarely been played with more purity and energy than this two minute bit in D.C.:

4.) RINGO

Ringo tends to get a hell of a lot of flack. People dismiss him as just a third wheel, a yes-man, or the luckiest substitute drummer in the history of music. Truth is: Ringo rocks. He was a major name in Liverpool WAY before The Beatles were even a blip on the radar and did the Lads a favor by playing with them over in Hamburg.

And if you insist on demeaning his skill as a musician, I highly suggest first taking in this particular number from the Washington D.C. concert.

Not only does he showcase his worth as a major percussionist… he is the man of the match!

5.) THE FANS

For the few of you out there who may not know… there is an art to being a Beatlefan. The head bump, the seat bounce, the finger scrunch– all are the result of much study and practice. Then again … it’s actually just the spontaneous, knee-jerk reaction of exposure to what was the most head-pounding rock and roll of its time.

The Beatlefan is unmistakable. And the 1963 Washington D.C. concert is especially noteworthy since the Beatlefans are at their unruly best. Beatlemania in the US was a new disease… and the symptoms manifested itself in some particularly entertaining cases…

best date night ever!!

Conniption Girl. This gingham gal probably has a good 10 years on her fellow fans ... but age poses no barrier on conniption fits.

This guy ... oh this guy. Lost a spring in his neck somewhere in the middle of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.' That's Ok, luv. We all did.

I call this one "Sweetpea." She's the everygirl Beatlegirl. LOVE her.

The Pirate Bay. These supremely cool front row chicks, smuggled in a tape recorder and microphone. (Ohhh those years before intellectual property rights...)

This girl? Love her. Squealing, screaming and then staring straight into the camera as if to say 'Eat your heart out, girls. I'm the shit.'

And at every Beatles concert there is always THE number one fan. Ladies and Gentleman, here's Ringo's!

John Lennon: 30 Years Ago

John Lennon 1940 -1980

It simply doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true: today marks the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s tragic death.

It’s a particularly difficult subject for me to discuss because, in so many ways, his music occupies a very special, very deep, and very personal place in my life.  John, always ebulliently self-effacing, would smirk and slag off a comment like that, and for good reason. We martyr and project and idealize public figures often to the point of irreparably fragmenting them–only to turn right around and punish them for it.

And few people have had more projected upon them than The Beatles.

Having been thrust onto an unprecedented public platform at the mere age of 23, John knew this better than most people, and fought its inevitability his whole life. Determined, always, to never be what the public felt he ought–or even what his band mates felt he ought. He fought, tooth and nail, for the human right of individuality… a gift that John’s life, if anything, teaches us to never take for granted.

For his cost him many things–friends, family, fans… and in some ways, it was his unapologetic fight to be true to his beliefs, and thereby true to himself, that cost him is life. For it was the delusional rage of a fan,  unable to cope with the fact that John was a deeply flawed mortal, that silenced him forever thirty years ago.

It had been a happy year for John. He met his 40th birthday in October with a renewed vigor, coupled by the fact that it was a date shared by his son, Sean, now 4. There had been a new album. A good one. After years of seclusion, confusion and personal turmoil, John had emerged triumphant, hand in hand with Yoko.

It could have been a truly bright decade of renewed possibilities, John equipped with a solid sense of self and a renewed confidence that he’d struggled for years to find.

But it was all taken away from him, that cold December night 30 years ago.

The world mourned then, and we reflect now, on one of the 20th century’s most influential artists, John Lennon, with a series of photos celebrating the last year of a life that, although gone, has never stopped inspiring.

John & Yoko - August 1980

Leaving the Dakota Building, August 1980

Good Times for the Couple - September 1980

Eternally Hip.

On his birthday, October 9 1980

 

The Pictorial has also produced a special photo montage tribute to John and the Beatles. Hope you enjoy:

69 Years Ago Today …

John Lennon, 1965.  © Corbis

John Lennon, 1965. © Corbis

Today John lennon would have turned 69 years old, had he not been so brutally taken away back in 1980. It doesn’t seem possible that he’s been gone nearly 30 years, anymore than it seems possible that, had he lived, the Beatles’ founding member would be flirting with 70.  I put it down to the timelessness of the music and the message—the music only gets younger the more years fly by (if you’ve heard the remasters you’ll know what I mean) and the message only becomes more relevant (if you’ve read the news today oh boy, you’ll definitely know what I mean).

The LA Times former rock music critic, Rob Hilbrun, has a book coming out next week called Corn Flakes with John Lennon (and Other Tales From a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life). Fittingly, today the Times published an excerpt from the book online providing an intriguing glimpse at the man that Hilbrun came to know as his friend, John Lennon:

“As soon as I started working at the Los Angeles Times, people warned me not to get too close to artists because it could make it difficult to review their work and you can never really tell if the “friendship” is genuine. Even so, I felt there was much value in getting to know some of the most important artists beyond what you can glean in the hour or so you have to interview them. The relationship with Lennon — and it never approached anything like a daily or even weekly tie — came about naturally. I liked him and enjoyed his company.

John at the Peppermint Lounge, 1964, with Ringo and wife Cynthia.

John at the Peppermint Lounge, 1964, with Ringo and wife Cynthia. © Corbis

John came to town in late 1973 to record an oldies album with Phil Spector and to promote his new solo album, “Mind Games,” which he had produced himself. I interviewed him at the Bel-Air home of record producer Lou Adler, a chief force behind the Monterey Pop festival. May Pang, who introduced herself as John’s personal assistant, answered the door and took me to the patio where John was waiting. He was wearing jeans and a sweater vest over his shirt and he walked toward me enthusiastically. “Well, hello at last,” he said with a warm smile.

“Phil tells me you’re a big Elvis fan,” he said.

We ended up spending so much time talking about Elvis and other favorites from the 1950s that I was afraid we weren’t going to get to the Beatles and his solo career. I was particularly interested in his thoughts on his “Plastic Ono Band” album (from 1970); the songs struck me as being so personal.

“I always took the songs personally, whether it was ‘In My Life’ or ‘Help,’ ” he said. “To me, I always wrote about myself. Very few of the completely Lennon songs weren’t in the first person. I’m a first-person journalist. I find it hard, though I occasionally do it, to write about, you know, ‘Freddie went up the mountain and Freddie came back.’ And even that is really about you.”

John said he actually preferred “Plastic Ono Band” to its follow-up, “Imagine,” even though the latter sold more copies and got generally better reviews. “I was a bit surprised by the reaction to ‘Mother,’ ” he said, referring to “Plastic Ono Band” by his own title for it. “I thought, ‘Can’t they see how nice it is?’ ” So, John said, he went back into the studio and wrote new songs about many of the same themes, only this time he put on some strings and other production touches that made the message more accessible. That’s why, he said, he privately called the “Imagine” album “Mother With Chocolate.”

John and his Epiphone casino, 1965

John and his Epiphone casino, 1965

The interview didn’t run in The Times until the album “Mind Games” was actually in the stores several weeks later. In the meantime, Phil invited me to one of the sessions for the oldies project. They had been going on for some weeks and the word was that they were pretty raucous, even drunken affairs. On the night I stopped by the studio, the liquor flowed freely. John, a gob of cake in his hand, chased Phil around the control booth while those around them danced to John’s just-recorded version of an early Elvis recording, “Just Because.”

But John wasn’t all playfulness. He had sharp words for one of the studio employees and insulted a record company guest. This wild John was a lot different from the charming guy I had met at Adler’s house, and I hoped the rude, drunken behavior was an aberration. But I kept hearing reports, including one about Phil firing a pistol one night and others about a tipsy John out on the town with his buddies and how he sometimes drank as much as a bottle of vodka a day. The first time I saw him this way away from the studio was at the Troubadour, where I was reviewing the opening of R&B singer Ann Peebles, who had a hit single, “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”

I didn’t know John was in the club until he was in the middle of a big commotion. He was so drunk that he had wrapped a Kotex sanitary napkin around his head. When one of the waitresses tried to quiet him, he shouted, “Don’t you know who I am?” Her answer was repeated the next day in all the record company offices and later in lots of magazine articles: “To me, you’re just some ass — with a Kotex on his head.” A bouncer escorted John and his party out onto Santa Monica Boulevard.

Eventually, John returned to New York with May and spent weeks trying unsuccessfully to get Phil to give him the sessions’ master tapes so he could finish the album himself. By then, I was beginning to hear reports about a strain between John and Yoko Ono and the suggestion that his relationship with May was more than simply professional. John was in a terrific mood when he returned from New York a few months later. He was only supposed to be in town for a few days, but the trip was extended and May phoned one day to say that John would like me to join him for dinner. When I got to the hotel, I figured he’d have a limo waiting downstairs. But John, wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt, suggested that I drive, and we were soon off to a nearby Chinese restaurant, where we spent a couple of hours talking about Elvis, naturally.

Back at the hotel, Around 11:30, John turned on Johnny Carson’s TV show and ordered corn flakes and cream from room service. He turned the sound down on the TV and stirred the corn flakes and cream with his spoon in an almost ritualistic fashion before taking a bite.

In the studio during Sgt. Pepper, 1967

In the studio during Sgt. Pepper, 1967

I didn’t think much of it until the same thing happened the next time we returned to the hotel after dinner. This time I asked what was up with the corn flakes.

He smiled.

As a child in Liverpool during World War II, he explained, you could never get cream, so it was a special treat. He took another bite and gave an exaggerated sigh to underscore just how sweet it tasted.

The mention of Liverpool made John nostalgic. I already knew a little about John’s early days, but it was fascinating hearing him tell the story. John was born in 1940 — a year after me — and he was raised by his Aunt Mimi after his parents broke up when he was about 5. His mother, Julia, started seeing another man who had children of his own and didn’t want another one around. John loved Mimi dearly, but he also longed for his mother, who lived only a few miles away.

During his teens, just around the time he had formed the Quarrymen skiffle group, he said he had begun seeing more of his mother and had gotten the feeling she was trying to make up for all the years of her absence from his life. She was especially excited about the band, and John treasured their time together. But his mother was hit and killed by a motorist while walking to a bus stop. His mother had been taken from him twice. He was 17.

John in 1964-- a prisoner of his own fame.

John in 1964-- a prisoner of his own fame.

John had thought that rock ‘n’ roll fame would make everything right in his life, but even after his success he continued to search for someone or something to make his world seem complete. That was the theme of the “Plastic Ono Band” album. The very first song, “Mother,” started with him screaming, “Mother, you had me, but I never had you / I wanted you, but you didn’t want me.” It continued, “Father, you left me, but I never left you / I needed you, but you didn’t need me.”

He found that missing foundation in Yoko, which is why she became more important to him than even the Beatles. In “God,” a later song on the record, he again screams, “I don’t believe in Elvis. I don’t believe in Zimmerman [ Bob Dylan]. I don’t believe in Beatles. I just believe in me. Yoko and me. That’s reality.”

As he spoke, I could understand why John felt so adrift. Until that night, I had assumed he had separated from Yoko and was involved in a new relationship with May, but he said that Yoko had pretty much demanded a break in their relationship. He was clearly still in love with her. Without her, he had no shield against the pressures of the rock ‘n’ roll world and his own depression.
::

John & Yoko

John & Yoko

In the fall of 1980, John and Yoko were finishing up their new album, “Double Fantasy,” and I headed to New York for John’s first newspaper interview in five years. This was when John raced into Yoko’s office at the Dakota with a copy of Donna Summer’s “The Wanderer.”

He had returned to New York after the “lost weekend” period and spent the next five years rebuilding his life with Yoko and helping to raise their son, Sean. On this day, he looked nice and trim in jeans, a jean jacket and a white T-shirt. He was maybe 25 pounds slimmer than the last time I’d seen him. “It’s Mother’s macrobiotic diet,” he said later about his weight, employing his nickname for Yoko. “She makes sure I stay on it.”

By the time we headed to the recording studio, it was nearly dark. As the limo pulled up to the studio’s dimly lit entrance, I could see the outlines of a couple dozen fans in the shadows. They raced toward the car as soon as the driver opened John’s door. Flashbulbs went off with blinding speed. Without a bodyguard, John was helpless, and I later asked if he didn’t worry about his safety. “They don’t mean any harm,” he replied. “Besides, what can you do? You can’t spend all your life hiding from people. You’ve got to get out and live some, don’t you?”

….

Beatles Downloads–Pulled from the Internet

It was, of course, too good to be true.

Yesterday we were thrilled with the exciting news that Norwegian broadcaster NRK had legally released Beatles songs for download. Today our shoulders are shrugged and all we can say is, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

NRK  has had to pull its archive of 212 legal MP3s from their site. From BoingBoing, the reason is as follows:

Our new agreement with rights holder TONO gives us rights to publish radio and TV shows we aired a long time ago. But the agreement NRK has with rights holders IFPI and FONO only allows us to publish shows that has been aired the last four weeks. And since “Our daily Beatles” was aired in 2007, we have to pull it from the podcast .”

FOILED yet again!

John Lennon Animated Video “I Met the Walrus”

OK, now this is clever. Cheers to Current and BoingBoing for this one.

Earlier this year, director Josh Raskin was nominated for an Oscar for his animated short film “I Met the Walrus.” Yesterday being the anniversary of John Lennon’s cruel assassination, it is only right to highlight it here on the Pictorial.

This five minute animated video is a beautiful, wildly inventive visual ride set to the soundtrack of an interview with Lennon conducted by a 14 year old beatlefan, Jerry Levitan, in 1969–right smack in the middle of the Beatles breakup as well as John’s bed-in protests. The digital illustrations, as well as pen and ink sketches, are so perfectly suited to match Lennon’s legendary wit that you would think think it to be a Plastic Ono Band original. Many thanks to Raskin and, of course, an eternal thank-you to Lennon himself.