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!)

A Life in Photographs: Linda McCartney

Hubby Paul. Cover shot from Taschen's Linda McCartney: A Life in Photographs

Oh Taschen. Yummy, delectable, I-want-to-devour-you-whole Tahhhh-Shen. So beautiful. So sumptuous. SO expensive. And yet, somehow, worth every blessed cent. Your anthologies agonize me with want. I covet your sweetly binded spines and secretly despise those who have your volumes proudly displayed on their hand-crafted cabinetry. I’m a hater, what can I say?

I own one Taschen volume, their recent Los Angeles: Portrait of a City, and countless other titles clutter my wish list. (The Stanley Kubrick Archives, anyone?) But their newest release has been automatically scratched from any such “wish” list and sent straight to the top of “must have” indulgences.

My tongue hit the floor when I came across the latest Taschen catalog advertising Linda McCartney: A Life in Photographs … a decadently illustrated 300+ page volume chronicling ’60s Rock photographress supreme and the  Mother of all Rock moms? I am SO on this one.

Linda McCartney‘s life may very well be overshadowed by the incalculably large shadow of her legendary husband (she married a Beatle for goshsakes– and not just any Beatle, but one half of the greatest songwriting team of the 20th Century. And you can quote me).

But Linda was hardly a mere footnote in rock history.

She was a chronicler of it.

They met and fell in love like a good old fashioned romance novel. Down to earth, no-frills artsy girl happens upon society’s most eligible, rich, handsome bachelor, and the two fall madly in love, throwing convention to the wind. (The same, interestingly enough, is quite true of the couple’s acutely avant garde counterpart, John and Yoko; although to quite a different reaction … something that is another post altogether…)

Linda was never really just “Mrs. Paul McCartney.” Although she was an inextricable part of Paul’s life and work, straight up to her tragic death at age 56 from breast cancer, she was not only a wife and mother, but an artist.

A formidable one, in her own right, which this new Taschen anthology documents both exquisitely and authoritatively.

Sir Paul McCartney and his fashion-guru daughter Stella, along with siblings Mary, James and (half-sister) Heather,  have collaborated to present this highly personal tribute to a striking artistic talent, devoted mother, and truly gracious lady.

The publisher’s description sums it up perfectly:

From her early rock ’n’ roll portraits, through the final years of the Beatles, via touring with Wings to raising four children with Paul, Linda captured her whole world on film. Her shots range from spontaneous family pictures to studio sessions with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, as well as artists Willem de Kooning and Gilbert and George. Always unassuming and fresh, her work displays a warmth and feeling for the precise moment that captures the essence of any subject. Whether photographing her children, celebrities, animals, or a fleeting moment of everyday life, she did so without pretension or artifice.

These photos are only a few from the selection of shots that will thrill any fan of 60s rock culture… or indeed, any true fan of photography itself.

Working Mum

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Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holdling Company

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Jimi Hendrix,1967

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John. 1968. This shot speaks volumes.

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The Rolling Stones-- taken on Linda's fortuitous shoot which secured her future as a rockumentarian goddess.

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Evocative shot of Steppenwolf-- the first band signed under The Beatles' fledgling late '60s' label, Apple Records.

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It's a bird ... it's a plane ... no, it's ... erm ... Paul in hotpants.

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A cluttered desk at the McCartney farm in Scotland-- 1970s.

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The McCartneys, Paul, Stella, James (and Linda behind the lens, of course) at home in Scotland.

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Candid shot of The Beatles from the April, 1967 Sgt. Pepper's press-op. Paul got Linda's number not long after.

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All in all, Taschen’s tribute is endearing, heartfelt, and probably their most sentimental volume to date.

I leave you all with my personal favorite Paul and Linda moment. Paul’s campy but oh-so fun music video featuring Michael Jackson, Say, Say, Say (1983), with Linda very much a part of Paul’s company, pitching in the best she can … bless her darling heart.

We love and miss you, Linda!

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:

A Tribute to John Lennon

 

Eternally cool. Lennon in the set of HELP, 1965. (©BFI Archives. All rights reserved.)

 

John Lennon, one of the most important, influential artists of the 20th Century, would have been 70 years old this October 9th.

His work influenced just about every aspect of my life and he continues to inspire well into the 21st century.  So it goes without saying that I’m thrilled about American Cinematheque’s weekend long John Lennon retrospective at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

The tribute kicked off last night with the premiere of Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy, the pre-Beatles dramatization of Lennon’s Liverpool youth. The celebration will continue through Sunday with a host of screenings including the mad, mod classic Help!, The Maysles’ venerated doc The Beatles in America, as well as Imagine, The US v.s. John Lennon and VH1’s Two of Us.

For full details, schedule and tickets visit the Cinematheque’s website.

Otherwise… Instant Karma’s gonna get you!

 

©BFI Archives. All rights reserved.

 

Brian Duffy and the Swinging '60s

London’s Chris Beetles Gallery is one of my favorite art galleries and their exhibitions are always something truly spectacular. From October 12 through November 7, they are presenting a special presentation of Brian Duffy prints—Duffy being the Swinging Sixties photographer iconic fashion shoots and portraits of pop culture icons came to embody the energy and vitality of this explosively creative era.

Duffy (in)famously set fire to all of his original negatives back in 1979, but not all were destroyed and the Chris Beetles gallery is displaying the surviving images: the result of what they describe as “two years of painstaking archiving.” If you, like me, can’t make the trip across the pond to pay a visit, here’s a look at these dynamic prints, featuring everyone from John Lennon to California’s future Governator:

Jean Shrimpton

Jean Shrimpton, early 1960s

Michael Caine, 1964

Michael Caine, 1964

John Lennon, 1965

John Lennon, 1965

Sammy Davis Jr. & May Britt, 1960

Sammy Davis Jr. & May Britt, 1960

Sidney Poitier, 1965

Sidney Poitier, 1965

"Queen" Magazine, 1965

"Queen" Magazine, 1965

Vogue Magazine, 1964

Vogue Magazine, 1964

Vogue Magazine, 1964

Vogue Magazine, 1964