by Tracy Duffy
(Tracy Duffy is more than a keen observer of music, she plays guitar herself. She is a close friend and schoolmate of mine from the Ohio State School for the Blind.)
John Lennon is my number one Beatle because he is the one who put the group together from the very start and because he is so diverse and appealing in so many ways.
He was always the one who drew attention, made people laugh, made people happy and likely made some sad. Let’s have a look at his music.
From the beginning there were basic pop songs that appealed to many such as “Please Please Me” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” John and Paul McCartney put voices together as well as instruments and did a great job of pleasing the masses. They were also a great team for writing songs together.
As time went on John began to stretch his wings, one might say, and he took the lead on songs that were a touch more obscure and perhaps appealed to a slightly different audience. Such songs included “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and “Nowhere Man.” These were more introspective, not so upbeat and “feel good” but they spoke to those who were feeling things and didn’t always know what to do with that fact.
John was then able to take songs such as “In My Life” and “Girl” (always a favorite of mine) and pull the two audiences together, or at least more toward one another.
These were songs that were not quite so over the top and fun, but they were catchy and they spoke of things people could relate to. You could look at them as being serious or as somewhat frivolous.
As time went on the Beatles all began to grow and change. This was inevitable when you consider their ages and what was going on in the world politically and musically. These changes led to music such as “Strawberry Fields Forever” which had a very psychedelic sound and feel. It was a fun song that also evoked thoughts of drugs and radical behavior.
The Beatles had come a long way from “I Want To Hold Your Hand!”
To be sure they did not want to have people thinking they were getting too extreme. So in order to continue to appeal to a diverse audience they had songs such as “All You Need Is Love.” That one presented a truth. It was “feel good” yet still radical in its own way.
By the late 1960s, things were changing all around. Music, politics and yes the Beatles too were all facing major shifts. John was really reaching more toward the radical and less toward the commercial.
Those changes were becoming quite apparent and he took the lead in songs such as “Revolution,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and perhaps a bit less aggressive, “Across The Universe.”
By the time they began to work on what would be the White Album, each of the Beatles was beginning to go his own way and have his own interests in different types of music. John again showed his diversity by including songs such as “Julia” which is about his mother, and the rather odd but fun song “Cry Baby Cry.”
That pretty much takes us through the history of the Beatles, but John did go on of course to a solo career and then his life was cut short in 1980 when he was just forty years old.
One of the songs on the album Double Fantasy, which he was working on at the time of his death, captures the depth of John Lennon and says a lot about the person he had become. If you are not familiar with it please listen to “Beautiful Boy, Darling Boy.” It is written to and about his son Sean who was still quite young in 1980.
John Lennon is still missed by a great many people and we can only imagine what great things might have come if he had continued to live on.