Imagine John Lennon at 80 - 10 of his greatest songs, but which is your favourite?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 03 October 2020
John Lennon would have been 80 on October 9, a milestone he never lived to see.
Tragically, he was killed just two months after his 40th birthday in 1980. But his music lives on, exciting and inspiring new generations.
Our readers and staff have been looking back at his career and choosing their favourite songs - a difficult task. Here are just 10 of the very best.
If you are asked to name a John Lennon song, this is probably the one that most people would choose.
Living up to its title, it has captured countless imaginations with its dream of a better world.
So it was no surprise that it was the Lennon song chosen to feature in the closing ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, with remastered footage of Lennon singing shown on the big screen.
Cheyanne Lowther writes: “It makes me cry every time. Wish the world was a little bit more like the lyrics.”
Paul Thomas writes: “Imagine is my favourite John song. That’s quite easy for me as a huge Beatles fan (mostly George but John is right up there).
“Imagine is a one-off. It was part of John’s agenda at that time, a move toward a world based on an earthly community, anti-war, peace, help, kindness and love, and shouldn’t we all believe in that? Look what we are going through now... it still resonates.
“Just read John’s words and think about where we are today. It moved you then, it moves you now. Is there anything more sublime than ‘a brotherhood of man’?”
Paul adds: “Imagine was recorded in the Ascot Sund Studio (ASS) built in 1970 where he lived at the 72-acre Tittenhurst Park, on The London Road, Ascot, Berks. I still live on the other side of the Great Park, four miles away. He and Yoko bought Tittenhurst for £145,000 from Peter Cadbury, son of the chocolate king, Sir Egbert Cadbury in 1969 and the last Beatles pictures were taken there.
“It was bought from John in 1973 by Ringo Starr. who sold it in 1989. The studio famous for the words, ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’ being recorded there is now a private mosque.”
Watching the Wheels (1980, released as a single in 1981)
Matt Kelly, Archant’s chief content officer, writes: “This single was released after Lennon’s murder and is about the five-year period he spent out of the music business, being a family man, being himself, being John.
“Besides being a beautiful track, it always makes me feel grateful he had that time.
“He once said if you want to breathe out, first you need to breathe in. Those five years, from ’75 to ’80, were him drawing breath after a lifetime of ceaseless fame and pressure.
“Double Fantasy, the album from which this track is taken, was the first indication of what the future held. The cover of the single release shows a happy John and Yoko stepping out of the Dakota Buildings at the exact same spot he was shot dead.
“The lyrics, too, seem full of portent: ‘I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry-go-round. I just had to let it go.’
“What a shame we never got to see him as an old man, I think it would have suited him.”
BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Stephen Foster also chose this song, saying: “My favourite has to be Watching The Wheels from Double Fantasy. Lennon at his songwriting best. Always brings a tear to my eye.” Stephen made a pilgrimage to New York City a few years back in tribute to Lennon.
MORE: Lennon in Lavenham - John and Yoko create a happening in 1969
(Just Like) Starting Over (1980)
Another song from Double Fantasy is the favourite of Paul Geater. He writes: “I’ve always felt (Just like) Starting Over from 1980 was a seriously underrated single. Released just before the assassination, it went to number eight in the singles chart and had just started dropping when he was killed. That immediately pushed it up to number one in the charts shortly before Christmas.
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“It’s a jaunty, happy song full of optimism that was - of course - followed by utter tragedy a few weeks after its release. The singles that were released posthumously from the Double Fantasy album seemed to get more critical approval, but for me this last release in his lifetime is an unrecognised classic.”
Jealous Guy (1971)
Arts editor Andrew Clarke writes: “Although many people think Jealous Guy was written by Bryan Ferry and is an original Roxy Music song, the truth is that the regretful, apologetic ballad is a wonderfully simple creation by John Lennon.
“It’s a gentle song which apologises to a lover for mistakes and unspoken moments of jealousy. Many people presume it was written about Yoko Ono or perhaps a retrospective apology to first wife, the long-suffering Cynthia who had to endure the wildness and the loneliness of Beatlemania while bringing up their son Julian, almost as a single parent.
“The sparse piano ballad, complete with whistled solo, can be found on Lennon’s classic 1971 album Imagine, but its origins date much further back to early 1968 when Lennon penned a version called Child of Nature while on retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Looking at the lyrics for that version, it could be regarded as a wistful love-letter/apology to his former band mate Stuart Sutcliffe who died four years earlier in Hamburg of a brain haemorrhage.
“Whoever it was written for, it remains a gorgeous, heartfelt acknowledgement of his shortcomings and imperfection but also an undying declaration of love. Bryan Ferry’s cover with Roxy Music was suitably respectful and equally genuine.
MORE: Author Craig Brown talks about his latest book on The Beatles
Come Together (1969)
This Beatles classic is another favourite of Andrew Clarke’s. He writes: “As far as John’s Beatles output goes, you are undoubtedly spoilt for choice. After considering the usual suspects (Strawberry Fields Forever, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite and Tomorrow Never Knows) I opted for the opening track on Abbey Road, Come Together.
“A wonderful, rolling, chanting, bluesy, swampy rock song, it promises a new direction for The Beatles in the 1970s, taking a step away from the sound of the loveable mop tops and the strangeness of their psychedelic experiments. As we know this promise was to be cut short when the band imploded a few months later but for a while it sounded as if The Beatles were going to be as revolutionary in the Seventies as they had been in the Swinging Sixties.”
Happy Xmas (War is Over) (1971, released in the UK in 1972)
One of the all-time classic Christmas songs, and also a great peace anthem, this is a favourite of Judy Rimmer. She says: “I’ll admit I’m no fan of most Christmas songs played endlessly in shops. But Happy Xmas is different, and has a directness that sets it apart from more sugary Christmas songs.
“It has something of the same feel as Imagine - a poignant vision of the world as it could be. The intro is also very moving, when John and Yoko whisper greetings to their children from previous marriages: “Happy Christmas, Kyoko. Happy Christmas, Julian.”
Stand By Me (1975)
This is another of Judy Rimmer’s favourites. She writes: “I slightly hesitate to choose Stand By Me because it is a cover, but Lennon makes the Ben E King classic his own in this track from his album Rock n Roll. He really shows his great rock’n’roll voice here, as he had done earlier on so many Beatles tracks, including another amazing cover, Twist and Shout. (The legend is that he recorded that one when suffering from flu, making his voice all the rawer.)
“He also brings the same power to many of his self-penned songs, such as Gimme Some Truth - a wonderfully vitriolic rant which amazingly is on his album Imagine.”
Free as a Bird (originally recorded in 1977, released in 1995)
Charles Bliss writes: “Not my all-time favourite, but there’s something about ‘Free As A Bird’ that haunts me. The song was released in 1995 to accompany the Beatles Anthology, as the surviving members added tracks to a home demo Lennon recorded in 1977. The result is proof that the magic still exists whenever the Fab Four come together, even 15 years after Lennon’s assassination. The angelic falsetto of Lennon’s vocal coming to us from the beyond is so moving I can hardly bear to listen to it.”
No 9 Dream (1974)
This haunting track from the album Walls and Bridges is said to have come to Lennon in a dream, just as the lyrics suggest.
It was released as a single - and appropriately reached number nine in the US chart.
Jon Dunn from Cromer said via Twitter: “No. 9 Dream is my favourite - simply because it’s a classic, a masterpiece.”
Cold Turkey (1969)
While most people would probably choose Lennon’s lyrical ballads as their favourites, others prefer him harder-edged and louder. Cold Turkey is one of his most spine-chilling tracks in this vein.
Twitter user Édouard said: “My favourite is probably ‘Cold Turkey’, for the raw, bleeding edge. Perhaps ‘Mother’, for the same primally screaming reason.”
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