The first Beatles solo single was released about a year before the official break-up of the band.
Above is my single of “Give Peace A Chance”. It was recorded live in June of 1969 at a “Bed In” during John & Yoko’s honeymoon in Montreal, Canada. A month later, it was released under the name Plastic Ono Band, rather than John Lennon. It was credited as a Lennon-McCartney song, even though Paul wasn’t involved. McCartney had also included Lennon’s name on songs he’d written by himself, because that had been their policy with all their songs.
The verses of “Give Peace A Chance” are nothing special, but man did John Lennon nail the chorus! It’s such an important idea that’s laid out in a single sentence with a great easy to remember melody. That chorus helped focus the opposition to the Vietnam war. In turn, those large demonstrations helped end the war. Even President Richard Nixon admitted that looking out on the demonstrations helped change his position on the war.
John Lennon’s second solo single also came in 1969, “Cold Turkey”. The song was released under the Plastic Ono Band name, but this time the writing was credited only to Lennon.
The Beatles were still officially together when John Lennon released the first single under his own name (although he added Ono as a middle name).
“Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” was written, recorded, and released in the U.K. within 10 days. It includes one other Beatle, George Harrison, on guitar. I remember being surprised as we heard the song for the first time on our clock radio one morning. It was the first we knew John had an official solo single. We liked it instantly, and it went on to become one of his most popular hits at #3 and certified gold. “Give Peace A Chance” had peaked at #14, and “Cold Turkey” at #30.
John Lennon’s first solo album after the breakup of The Beatles, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, was released in December of 1970. Critics love it, and it’s listed at #23 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time (2012). The album was recorded after John & Yoko underwent months of Primal Therapy. The resulting emotion is exhibited in the music. Anger and frustration are apparent in “Mother” and “God”, two cuts which received FM airplay. I gravitated to the more Beatles-like “Look At Me” and “Love”. (A great version of “Love” with just John on acoustic guitar was included with his John Lennon Anthology box set.) The album reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard chart, no singles made the Top 40 chart.
John Lennon added another political anthem in April of 1971. “Power To The People” reached #11 on the singles chart.
His best solo album and song came in September of 1971…Imagine.
Lennon asked people to imagine peace…“nothing to kill or die for”…no countries, no religion. Extreme nationalism and warping of religious beliefs are two of the leading causes of war throughout history. It’s a visionary song with hope that the world…”will live as one”. It will probably never happen, but just imagine.
The Imagine album was #1 in the U.S. and many other countries, and the “Imagine” single went to #3. Other favorite cuts on the album are “Oh My Love”, “Crippled Inside”, “Jealous Guy” and “How Do You Sleep?”. That last one was a nasty jab at Paul McCartney. John felt Paul had made fun of him on McCartney’s Ram album with the song “Too Many People”. It may be finding something that isn’t there, but I got the feeling the song “Jealous Guy” might have been John admitting another reason he slammed Paul so hard with “How Do You Sleep?”. Later, on his Wildlife album, Paul reached out to John with “Dear Friend”. Anyway, the two of them eventually made up.
Update: In October of 2018, a new “ultimate” box set of Imagine was released. It takes a deep dive into the album, with demos and “raw” studio versions without overdubs.
The next two albums by John Lennon, Some Time In New York City and Mind Games from 1972 and 1973, were critical and commercial disappointments.
Lennon rebounded in 1974 with Walls And Bridges. The album went to #1, and so did the single “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”. The album was made during an 18-month separation from Yoko Ono, or as Lennon called it…”my lost weekend”. Despite it’s popularity, the album received mixed reviews. It contained “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out” and the hit “#9 Dream” which peaked at (what else?) #9 on Billboard’s singles chart.
1975 brought a collection of rock & roll oldies as covered by John Lennon.
The best part of the album was the cover. It’s a shot of Lennon taken during The Beatles’ time in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1960’s. The 3 blurs walking past were identified as George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Paul McCartney. John Lennon had one of the best rock & roll voices ever, as heard on “Twist And Shout”, “Rock And Roll Music”, and other covers The Beatles recorded with George Martin. Unfortunately, John Lennon and Phil Spector produced this album with John’s voice being altered. It sounds thin and distant. What should have been great, is underwhelming at best. To hear how it should have sounded, two cuts “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and the medley of “Rip It Up/Ready Teddy” were on the John Lennon Anthology box set with Lennon’s voice sounding full and normal…way better!
Which brings us to Yoko Ono.
About 30-years after The Beatles broke up, good friends (Al & Mary Kay Koontz) gave me the above magnet as a joke. It’s funny, but no, I’m not still mad at Yoko. In fact, she has made some good choices. One of which was to release some of John’s recordings without having his voice so processed. These include the John Lennon Anthology box set, and the “Stripped Down” version of Double Fantasy.
John Lennon didn’t record from 1975 until his Double Fantasy album in 1980. Instead, he decided to become a “house husband” to help raise the newly born Sean Lennon.
Double Fantasy has some excellent songs by John Lennon… “(Just Like) Starting Over”, “Woman”, “I’m Losing You”, “Watching The Wheels”, and “Beautiful Boy”. John Lennon was excited about finally recording again, and he certainly delivered. John turned 40 on October 9th, 1980, the album was released on November 17th, and John Lennon, an advocate for peace, was gunned down on the streets of New York City on December 8th. Fans were stunned, and the thought of the tragedy still affects us.
John’s death impacted sales and radio airplay of his music. The album went to #1, and there were three Top 10 singles.
Extra songs had been recorded at the time of Double Fantasy, and they were released as part of the Milk And Honey album in 1984. Songs included… “I’m Stepping Out”, “Nobody Told Me”, “Borrowed Time”, and a demo of “Grow Old With Me”.
John Lennon turned 30 in 1970 after The Beatles broke up, and with the time he took off for his son Sean, John really only had about 6 years as a solo recording artist. It was the world’s loss.
(This is the first of 4 articles on The Beatles as solo artists…in the classic order…John, Paul, George, & Ringo.)