“We’re more popular than Jesus right now”, John Lennon said in 1966 at the height of The Beatles success. His irreverent remark caused a storm of controversy in the USA, where the Fab Four reigned supreme in the pop charts.
Lennon’s verbal wit and Paul McCartney‘s gift for melody added up to one of the most successful songwriting teams of the 20th century, producing classics such as She Loves You, Yesterday, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Hey Jude.
Born into an unstable home near Liverpool, England, and brought up by his Aunt Mimi, Lennon channelled adolescent frustrations into music, forming The Quarrymen – the band that evolved into The Beatles.
After The Beatles split up in 1969, Lennon collaborated with his Japanese-born second wife, Yoko Ono, on various ventures including The Plastic Ono Band (pictured below).
He also created some powerful albums, including Imagine (1971). The title track became the most popular song of Lennon’s solo career – and it was meant to be. Lennon himself called the Imagine album “uncompromisingly commercial”. It was an assessment that was borne out as the album went to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.
The song itself was recorded in July 1971 at the studio Lennon had built in his mansion, Tittenhurst, outside Ascot, with Lennon, Yoko Ono and Phil Spector producing. Lennon played the piano, with accompaniment from Klaus Voorman on bass and Alan White on drums. The strings were added later to sugar-coat the production.
After Imagine, John and Yoko settled down in New York permanently.
In March 1974, Lennon was ejected from the Troubador Club in Los Angeles where he had been constantly interrupting a show by the Smothers Brothers with comments that included swearing and a recurrent “I’m John Lennon”.
There were also allegations that Lennon had assaulted both the duo’s manager and (with a sanitary towel attached to his forehead) one of the waitresses. Once outside the building, Lennon initiated a scuffle with a waiting photographer. John, who had been experiencing marital difficulties, had been drinking heavily.
A self-styled ‘working class hero’ and anti-Vietnam war protester, Lennon symbolised the aspirations and dreams of a generation.
Shot dead outside his New York home at the Dakota apartments off Central Park West on Monday 8 December 1980, John Lennon was mourned by millions.
His killer, Mark David Chapman, had recently flown in from Hawaii, where he bought the revolver with which he shot Lennon five times at point-blank range.
He had been stalking Lennon for several days and was photographed earlier in the day while getting the star’s autograph. John Lennon was 40 years old.
While mourners held candle-lit vigils outside the Dakota Building for nights on end, Double Fantasy shot to #1 in both Britain and the US.
On December 14, 100,000 people gathered in New York’s Central Park to pay homage. As the PA system boomed out Give Peace A Chance Yoko Ono requested that mourners across the world hold a vigil of ten minutes silence for peace.
The following June, Chapman ignored his lawyer’s advice and pleaded guilty to murder. He was given 20 years to life.