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10 John Lennon Solo Classics to Celebrate His 80th Birthday

Hear our selection of the music legend’s best songs after the Beatles

Narendra Kusnur Oct 09, 2020

John Lennon. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

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In Danny Boyle’s film Yesterday, released last year, John Lennon is brought back to life. In a fictitious sequence, Scottish actor Robert Carlyle plays the former Beatle, who is shown as an old man living with his wife, out of the public spotlight.

While that is a cinematic moment, the truth is that for his fans, Lennon never went away. Whether they are his songs with the Beatles or his solo material released in the 1970s, the tunes still flood vinyl players and digital platforms. The legend would have turned 80 today, and to mark the occasion we choose 10 songs he released after the Beatles broke up.

A bulk of songs Lennon wrote during this phase were about peace and equality, but there were some very personal ones too. His wife Yoko Ono worked with him through many of these. We take 10 tracks which are representative of his solo career.

1. “Imagine” – Imagine (1971)

According to US-based Broadcast Music Inc (BMI), “Imagine” is one of the 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century. While its tune and content need no elaboration, the concept is said to have been inspired by poems from Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit. One poem, “Cloud Peace,” had the lines, “Imagine the clouds dripping, dig a hole in your garden to put them in.” Much later, in 2017, Ono was given co-writing credit.

2. “Give Peace A Chance” – Single (1969)

Though originally credited to Lennon and Paul McCartney, later releases attributed it to Lennon alone. This was written by him when he was still with the Beatles but released as a single with the Plastic Ono Band featuring him and Ono. It became an anthem of the American anti-war and counterculture movements of the 1970s. 

3. “Jealous Guy” – Imagine (1971)

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Also from the Imagine album, this song was actually conceptualized in India when Lennon attended a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. At the same event, McCartney was inspired to write “Mother Nature’s Son,” which was used in the Beatles White Album. Though “Jealous Guy” was covered by many, Roxy Music’s version released after Lennon’s death became a huge success.

4. “Working Class Hero” – John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band (1970)

This was from John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s first album after the Beatles split. The song is a statement about the disparity between social classes, and as such found a wide audience. The refrain, “A working-class hero is something to be” became an anthem, and Lennon himself described it as a revolutionary song. The recording features only Lennon on voice and acoustic guitar.

5. “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” – Single (1970)

Lennon used the eastern concept of karma to say that what goes around, comes around. It was aimed as a retort to his critics, and though initially released as a single, was later put out on the 1975 compilation Shaved Fish, along with “Give Peace A Chance.” The song features George Harrison on guitar and Billy Preston on Hammond organ.

6. “Watching The Wheels” – Double Fantasy (1980)

This is one of Lennon’s autobiographical songs, written in recollection of his “househusband” years when he stayed away from music to bring up his son Sean. “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,” he sings to an arrangement very similar to the Beatles style. The song made a revival in 2000 when it was used in the Wonder Boys soundtrack.

7. “Mind Games” – Mind Games (1973)

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This song was originally meant to be named “Make Love, Not War,” which was a common slogan those days. On reading a book called Mind Games: The Guie To Inner Space, by Robert Masters and Jean Houston, he decided to give it a twist. The lyrics talk about love, unity and being positive. “Love is the answer and you knew that for sure, love is a flower, you got to let it, you gotta let it grow,” he sings.

8. “How Do You Sleep?” – Imagine (1971)

The song made news because it was inferred to be a verbal attack on McCartney, through lines like “The only thing you done was yesterday, and since you’re gone you’re just another day.” The song has a bluesy feel and features Harrison on slide guitar. The story goes that Lennon was responding to comments made by McCartney on his album Ram.

9. “Nobody Loves You” – Walls & Bridges (1974)

A song that talks about loneliness and depression, Lennon wrote it when he was having differences with and had separated from Yoko. The full title “Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)” was a take on the Bessie Smith song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” Lennon ends cynically, “Everybody loves you when you’re six foot in the ground.”

10. “Mother” – John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Probably Lennon’s most personal solo song, written for his father Alf, who abandoned him, and mother Julia, who was killed in a road accident when he was 17. “Mamma don’t go, daddy come home,” sings Lennon repeatedly in an emotional outburst, increasing its intensity each time towards the climax. This number is considered trademark Lennon, in terms of vocal impact.

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