John Lennon was the founder, co-songwriter, co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of The Beatles, the most popular band in the history of music. His songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney is the most successful of all time. Lennon’s songs often involved painfully honest truths about himself as well as radical cries for peace in the world.
A witty rebel
Lennon was famous for his rebellious nature and acerbic wit. When he said, in March 1966, in playful provocation, that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, furious Americans burnt the group’s records in their thousands.
John Lennon was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940. By the age of five, he was separated from both parents and living with his aunt, Mimi. He had a troubled, violent childhood. Aged seventeen, he lost his beloved mother in a traffic accident. These events would influence his songwriting.
In 1956 Lennon formed a band called The Quarrymen, which became The Beatles in 1962. The other members were Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In just one year, The Beatles conquered Britain with a series of upbeat, catchy tunes. In 1964, Beatlemania reached the US, and then the rest of the world!
Many of Lennon’s songs for The Beatles featured sad, mysterious, offbeat lyrics about alienation, most notably Strawberry Fields Forever, Norwegian Wood, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and I Am The Walrus. His All You Needis Love became an anti-war anthem. By the time The Beatles split up on December 31, 1970, they had sold over two billion singles and around 800 million albums.
Lennon then began his solo career. He also embarked on years of activism, mainly campaigning for world peace. He spent these years in New York with the Japanese multimedia artist Yoko Ono, whom he had married in 1969. A vocal critic of the Vietnam War, several of Lennon’s songs became anti-war anthems and US President Richard Nixon spent three years trying to deport him. Lennon’s hymn of hope Imagine became one of the most popular songs of the second half of the 20th century.
In September 1973, Lennon separated from Yoko Ono and began drinking heavily. Reunited in 1975, with Lennon now a committed feminist, he and Ono had a son, Sean. Lennon spent the next five years as a househusband. He returned to music in 1980 with the LP Double Fantasy. Three weeks after its release, on December 8, 1980, Lennon was shot dead by a deranged fan outside his New York apartment. His death sent shock waves across the world.
I’ve never claimed to have the answers to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can … But I still believe in peace, love and understanding.
A Generation’s SoundtracK
The songs of The Beatles, and of Lennon as a solo artist, provided the soundtrack for a generation. As one critic put it, the band “revolutionized the sound, style and attitude of popular music.” They also helped lead the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Lennon himself was an icon, a model for young people and, for many, a hero.