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Every October 9th I get a pang in my heart because it is John Lennon’s birthday and he is no longer around to celebrate it. Not to get too weepy or wax too nostalgic, but I do miss the man. That is to say I miss the witty, sarcastic, experimental, bold and brash John Lennon – in other words the John Lennon before Yoko Ono.
I won’t go into an “I hate Yoko” rant because I don’t hate Yoko. I think in her early days she was an interesting conceptual artist and I even like a few of her songs but, to my mind, she sucked the life-force out of John and he, in turn, gave her a spotlight that unleashed her inner commercial aspirations. She turned the man who wrote “Revolution,” “She Said, She Said” and “Rain” into the soft-bellied singer of the saccharine “Imagine” (sorry, I think the song is utter crap) and the sappy “Woman.” Not to say John didn’t pen soft ballads before Yoko, but the ones he did, like “This Boy,” “Yes It Is,” and “Girl” had grit, swagger and integrity. They never lapsed into bathos as did his later ball-less ballads (“Julia” excepted). I know John loved Yoko, and I assume she loved him (and not just because he was a Beatle, although the first Beatle she admits she was attracted to was McCartney) but I think they were bad for each other, artistically-speaking. He went almost perpetually soft (it is notable that the only real rock ‘n’ roll album he made in the 1970’s (Rock ‘n’ Roll) was after his split with Yoko) while she went from from being an avante-garde conceptual artist to one with more commercial aspirations, often with mixed results. It is also notable that, after they reunited, it was Yoko that again de-balled Lennon. For whatever reason, she dissuaded him from making Double Fantasy a much heavier record than the fur ball that it became. (He had originally used Cheap Trick as the backing band on many tracks, and if you have heard any of the outtakes where they back John you can hear what a much better LP it would have been.) Have a listen: CHEAP TRICK AND LENNON.
Lennon is now known now mostly for “Imagine” and being a “peacenik” and his early persona is almost entirely forgotten, covered in layers of goo in much the same way Elvis is now remembered mainly for being a fat fuck who only played Vegas. I say, on this birthday year, that we go back and remember the John Lennon we first met in 1963-4. I suggest everyone watch A Hard Day’s Night. If you haven’t seen it in a while (or maybe never seen it) it’s a revelation. It’s quite obvious that it was John Lennon, and not Paul McCartney, who was the focus of the movie.
All of the major songs (“If I Fell”, “I Should Have Known Better”, “When I Get Home” and the title track, among others) are all Lennon. In fact, McCartney is regulated to just a few tunes (although spotlights) like “And I Love Her” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Viewed dispassionately, not as a contest between two major talents, A Hard Day’s Night is so Lennon-esque you almost ache for McCartney, hoping he’ll do something to escape Lennon’s shadow – but he really doesn’t, aside from the the “And I Love Her ” set piece – otherwise he is totally in John’s grasp, from one-liners to close-ups ( ever notice John sniffing that Coke bottle? Brilliant). Lennon totally steals the show. Oh. Paulie would make-up for it later (Let It Be was basically all about him) but in 1964 it was John Winston Ono Lennon who ruled the Beatles. And forever will.
Happy Birthday John.
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