Remembering John Lennon: 22 Songs, 33 Years On

“I’m not afraid of dying…I think it’s just getting out of one car and getting into another.”

John Lennon delivered the above statement in a May 8, 1969 interview with David Wigg on the BBC Radio-One program “Scene and Heard.” On December 8, 1980—eleven years and seven months later, to the day—an armed and psychologically disturbed fan brought Lennon’s life to a sad, sudden end.

Lennon was a polarizing figure in life, and he remains so in death. He has been called a brute and a hypocrite by his detractors, a saint and a visionary by his proponents. That this quality remains intrinsic to his legacy 33 years onward is hardly surprising: He was a provocateur from a young age (if his grammar school report cards are to be believed), and it’s hard to believe he’d want his legacy any other way.

Love him or hate him, he left us early, and he left us music. For that contribution alone, we owe this victim of senseless violence our wishes for the smoothest of transitions out of one car and into another.

In commemoration of Lennon’s passing, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some songs that illuminate his character, while also showcasing his musical talents. In the interest of space, and in light of Mr. Lennon’s prolific work, this will be a conservative list—by no means comprehensive! Enjoy.

1) “Twist and Shout” – Please Please Me (1963)

Just listening to this song makes me thirsty—some of the hoarsest, raspiest, most rock and roll vocals you could ask for in an artist.

2) “If I Fell” –  A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

From the opposite side of the spectrum.

3) “Any Time At All” –  A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

4) “Help!” – Help! (1965)

A semi-autobiographical track written during a tumultuous period in Lennon’s life.

5) “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” – Help! (1965)

6) “Tomorrow Never Knows” – Revolver (1966)

One of John’s early forays into experimental sound.

7) “Strawberry Fields” – Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

A nice complement to McCartney’s nostalgic “Penny Lane,” this track takes its title from a Salvation Army children’s home around the corner from Lennon’s childhood home in Woolton (just outside Liverpool). [Hey! I’ve been there!]

8) “All You Need is Love” – Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

9) “Julia” – The Beatles (1968)

Written by John in honor of his mother, Julia, to whom he was very close. Julia was struck and killed by a car being driven by a drunk off-duty police officer when John was just 17.

10) “Good Night” – The Beatles (1968)

A strange choice, seeing as Ringo is on vocals, but it showcases a tender side of John that didn’t always reach the public eye. John wrote this lullaby for his son Julian, aged five at the time of the album’s release.

11) “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” – Abbey Road (1969)

BETTER AUDIO QUALITY: HERE (it won’t skip to 17:22 when I embed it).

12) “Across the Universe” – Let It Be (1970)

13) “Instant Karma” – Single (1970)

14) “Love” – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

15) “Imagine” – Imagine (1971)

Obvious, but a critical part of Lennon lore.

16) “Jealous Guy” – Imagine (1971)

Simple, painful, and honest.

17) “Mind Games” – Mind Games (1973)

18) “#9 Dream” – Walls and Bridges (1974)

19) “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” – Walls and Bridges (1974)

Lennon separated from Yoko Ono for the span of 18 months over 1973-1974—an era often referred to as his “Lost Weekend.” “Nobody Loves You…” captures this period of disillusionment and suffering.

20) “Stand By Me” – Rock’n’Roll (1975)

Thirty-five years old and a long way from Liverpool, Lennon pays homage to some of his earliest musical influences.

21) “Watching the Wheels” – Double Fantasy (1980)

22) (Just Like) Starting Over – Double Fantasy (1980)

^ My favorite! Lennon’s career was populated with periods of bitterness and hurt, but the release of his final album Double Fantasy ensured that it would end on a sweet note. The songs are tender, content, and noticeably less vitriolic than albums in the prior years.

Lennon’s name and legacy have thrived in the decades since his death, both through his enduring contributions to art and through the continued efforts of the world at large—rock stars, politicians, radio DJs, journalists, and fans—to keep his name, music, and message alive. Let’s keep it that way.