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John Lennon lived a life many could only “Imagine” (full pun intended). A musician, singer, writer and peace activist, Lennon changed the face of modern music as we know it through his groundbreaking work with The Beatles and his solo career.
Born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England, to Julia and Alfred Lennon, John was primarily raised by his aunt Mimi after his parents split in 1945. Lennon’s musical talents and ambitions were nurtured by his mother during her regular visits to see John as she played Elvis Presley records, taught him how to play the banjo and bought him his first guitar when he was 16. Sadly when John was 17, Julia died in a car accident. Her death and memory would later serve as an influence for his music, specifically the inspiration for the Beatles 1968 song, “Julia.”
As a teenager, Lennon formed the skiffle group, the Quarrymen, in 1956. The band quickly gained a following in their native Liverpool and would attract the attention of Paul McCartney, with McCartney later joining the group at Lennon’s invitation, beginning one of the greatest songwriter partnerships the world has ever known. After a few shows, McCartney would later invite his friend, George Harrison, to join the group as lead guitarist. The group would see a name change by 1960 after a stint performing in Hamburg, Germany, and by 1962 would see the addition of drummer Ringo Starr to the lineup. The Beatles quickly took Europe by storm after the release of their first album, and by 1964 they conquered America following their appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” creating a media frenzy the world had never seen. The rest, as they say, is history.
Lennon could be quite controversial at times. The Beatles would see their sales in America decrease and their records burned in protest after US newspapers misinterpreted Lennon’s quote about the Beatles being “More popular than Jesus,” seeing the quote as Lennon claiming himself to be better than Christ. The negative press coverage and the dissatisfaction of touring influenced the Beatles’ decision never to tour again, deciding instead to focus their efforts on producing their studio albums until their split in 1970.
As a songwriter, Lennon produced many hits for the Beatles in his partnership with McCartney, with songs such as “Help!” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” topping the charts worldwide while pushing boundaries for music. As a solo artist, Lennon showcased his talents for writing music grounded in his work as a peace activist and showcasing his hopes for the future with “Imagine” becoming his signature tune that still resonates with much of the world today. As an activist, Lennon made his anti-war stance known by his two-week bed-in for peace with his wife, Yoko Ono. His criticism of the Vietnam War would result in Richard Nixon’s attempts to deport the musician for three years until Nixon resigned from office in 1974.
After releasing five solo albums between 1970 to 1975, Lennon began a five-year hiatus from music following the birth of his son, Sean. He would return to music in 1980 with the release of what would be his final album during his lifetime, “Double Fantasy.”
Lennon’s life was cut short on December 8, 1980, when he was shot and killed outside his Manhattan apartment. Despite the tragic end to his life, Lennon’s presence is still felt in music today, and his work has been cited as an inspiration for many musicians, including Oasis and Lady Gaga. His legacy continues to live on, and his songs continue to be as timely as ever.
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