The Beatles: “In My Life” (1965)
available on the White Album
The Beatles: “Across the Universe” (1968)
available on Let It Be
John Lennon: “Love” (1970)
available on Plastic Ono Band
John Lennon: “Mirror, Mirror (On the Wall)” (1978-80?)
John Lennon: “Grow Old With Me” (1978-80?)
John Lennon: “Real Love” (1978-80?)
unreleased demo (later take with different lyrics than the released version)
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When I was a kid, the Beatles were the first band that I really grew to love. Once I was a little older and able to differentiate the various members from each other, because of his politics, direct honesty, and restless searching, John Lennon quickly became by favorite Beatle. For a while in high school, and during my undergrad, I would even wear my hair long with a part down the middle, and wear circular sunglasses in an attempt to imitate his classic appearance.
Today, had he lived, John Lennon would have been 70. As a sort of tribute, I’m offering up seven songs.
“In My Life” is one of my favorite songs of the earlier Beatles and, for what it’s worth, also one my dad’s favorite songs.
In “Julia,” the breathless way that Lennon’s voice comes in with no pause after singing “Julia,” the first line – “Half of what say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you…” – and my more recent discovery that Julia was his mother’s name have made this one of my favorite Lennon recordings for years.
Many complain about Phil Spector’s production on Let it Be, but I can’t say that I’ve ever thought it did anything do diminish the hopeful serenity of “Across the Universe.”
In contrast with my early familiarity with the Beatles, I discovered of John Lennon’s solo career rather late. Of all, his solo albums I probably enjoy the raw and brutally intense Plastic Ono Band the most. On that album, the simple formula that lies in the contradictory heart of the song “Love” is probably my favorite moment.
And finally, probably my favorite John Lennon recordings are the demos he recorded in his Dakota apartment and elsewhere before recording Double Fantasy. In these songs, there is a stark frankness and – for somebody who had always been searching – the rare beginnings of an understanding of one’s own failings, hopes, dreams, doubts, and love. When hearing these I often lament that he died so young and, arguably, at the pinnacle of his songwriting powers.