John Lennon grew to popularity while performing as a member of the Beatles. Not only was he known for his voice, but also for his songwriting abilities. He is credited with some of the band’s greatest hits in the 1960s, such as “Come Together,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Help!” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” However, he is also well-known for his later solo career.
After departing the Beatles midway through 1969, Lennon began his solo career with the release of his album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band in 1970. This album contained some of his early solo hits such as “Power to the People,” “Mother,” and “Working Class Hero.” Many of these songs, especially “Mother,” are said to have been influenced by the primal scream therapy that John Lennon had undergone with lover Yoko Ono prior to the record’s release. His songs were releasing many of his true feelings and emotions that he had not felt able to express while working with the Beatles.
Lennon continued to write about his feelings and his overall world view in his following album, Imagine, in 1971. The title track from the album is widely regarded as one of the greatest songs that Lennon has ever written. This album also contained the somewhat controversial “How Do You Sleep,” a song that drew from Lennon’s lingering resentments toward the Beatles. More specifically, the song was aimed at former writing partner Paul McCartney, who had pursued a solo career around the same time as John Lennon.
Although Lennon and the Beatles had experimented with various songs in their records (most notably the White Album), he maintained a much more minimalist sound when pursuing his solo career. The basic tenets were all there, such as drums, guitar, and pass. Lennon also made extensive use of his piano skills, especially on songs such as “Imagine,” which is as well-known for its music as for its inspiring and influential lyrics.
Lennon was a multi-instrumentalist, so it comes as little surprise that his piano playing was far from the only highlight of his solo career. He knew what he was doing when it came to guitar as well, and he was able to craft intricate melodies while keeping them subtler than those of major guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. George Harrison was known a little better for his guitar skills when the two were in the Beatles, but solo songs such as “How Do You Sleep” allowed Lennon to show off his own skills. His guitar melodies had an element of funk to them, something that he brought to the forefront even more when he and David Bowie wrote the song “Fame” together.
John Lennon was known for his music, his freedom of expression, and his strong political viewpoints. There are many musicians whose deaths were untimely, spurring their fans to wonder about the directions they might have taken with their music had they been given a chance to create more. After his shooting by Mark David Chapman in December of 1980, John Lennon became one of those musicians. His music continues to inspire, with “Imagine” in particular believed by many to be one of the most inspirational songs of all time.
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