5 Essential John Lennon Albums

John Lennon Albums

Photo: Eric Koch / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Our 5 Essential John Lennon albums list presents 5 John Lennon albums that we believe are a must have for any rock music fan’s collection. Of course, we would argue that all music fans should own the entire John Lennon album collection. However, these essential albums articles lists look to serve as a starting point for collectors and younger fans first learning about an artist or as a fun read for long time fans looking to compare their favorites with ours.

John Lennon’s first solo album was released in 1968 with Yoko Ono entitled Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. It was an album that many have argued was appropriately titled because it consisted mostly of experimental music and was nothing like the brilliant music that he had released as a member of The Beatles. The album’s cover also featured a photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono posing nude which was far more controversial than the experimental music on the record. That first album was followed up with two more experimental albums entitled Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions in 1969 and Wedding Album also in 1969. The end of 1969 also saw the release of John Lennon’s first solo live album entitled Live Peace in Toronto 1969. The album also featured John Lennon’s first single release entitled “Give Peace A Chance.” The song was written by both John Lennon and Paul McCartney as The Beatles were still together in 1969.

In 1970, music fans saw the release of what is viewed as the first true solo John Lennon album entitled John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band . It stands as an album many view as John Lennon’s best solo record. One year later in 1971, he released his Imagine album which featured his iconic song of peace and hope entitled “Imagine.” The Imagine record would become John Lennon’s first number one solo album. In 1972, John Lennon released the album Some Time in New York City. It was another record produced by Phil Spector as well and Lennon and Ono. It was a two record set that was part live album, part studio album. The album’s 3rd  side was recorded live with George Harrison while the LP’s 4th side was a live show recorded with Frank Zappa and the Mothers  of Invention.

1973 saw the release of John Lennon’s Mind Games album. A year later in 1974, John Lennon released the album Walls & Bridges which became his second number one solo album in the United States.  In 1975, John Lennon released an album of cover songs called Rock ‘n’ Roll. The album was filled with classic rock songs from the 1950s and early 1960s that serves as an inspiration for John Lennon as a musician, songwriter and simply a fan. While this great album did not make our 5 Essential John Lennon albums list because it was a covers album, we highly recommend it to everyone as it is such a treasure to own and listen too. It also stands as one of the best cover albums of all time.

After the release of Rock and Roll. John Lennon disappeared from the music scene to live his life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan privately with Yoko Ono while raising their son Sean. However, in 1980 John Lennon returned to the music scene with a new album entitled Double Fantasy. Tragically, as we all know, John Lennon was murdered right in front of his apartment building The Dakota shorty after the new album had been released.

After four years had passed since John Lennon’s murder, Yoko One released what would become known as the final John Lennon and Yoko Ono studio album entitled Milk and Honey. In 1986, Capitol Records released a John Lennon live album entitled Live in New York City. The songs on the album were taken from John Lennon’s two night concert performance in 1972 at Madison Square Garden. John Lennon did not tour as a solo artist. So there is really no other live material to release that has not already been released. The man only really celebrated five years from 1970 to 1975 as a solo artist after the breakup of The Beatles. In the end there is not a lot of material that John Lennon recorded in his post Beatles days, simply because he never got the chance too as his life was cut so tragically short. Of course there have been plenty of compilations released over the years of greatest hits, remixes, demos and all sorts.

Our 5 Essential John Lennon Albums picks have been listed in the chronological order that they came out. We listed them that way to define the importance of owning, or at least listening to all five of these brilliant rock and roll pieces from one of the most important voices not only in classic rock history, but in world history as well.

# 5 – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

John Lennon Albums

Released: December 11, 1970

John Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album was released in 1970. The album has been hailed by critics and fans as one of  John Lennon’s best. It is a deeply organic record almost tribal in a way as John Lennon lets out some very intense screaming on the album. The record is also represented by half The Beatles as Ringo Starr played drums on the record along with his ex-Beatle mate John. The record’s bass parts were played  by Klaus Voormann who is one of the most interesting characters in rock and roll history. The great pianist and singer Billy Preston played piano on one track as well as the album’s producer Phil Spector also contributing his piano skills on another.

The album’s standout tracks were of course the song “Mother, Working Class Hero,” and “God.” Of course there are all the other fantastic songs on the album but those are our favorites. The John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band  album broke the Top 10 albums charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. It went all the way to number one in the Netherlands. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band   became John Lennon’s first solo album to be certified a Gold Record.

# 4 –  Imagine

John Lennon Albums

Released: September 9, 1971

Continuing with our 5 Essential John Lennon Albums list we turn to an album that presented to the world one of the most important songs ever released. If there ever was a song that called for world peace penned by an author who was one of the world’s most famous musicians of all time, it was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” John Lennon and his record company realized what a powerful song they were about to release and wisely titled the album after it. John Lennon’s Imagine album was released in 1971. The album went straight to number one on the album charts in the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, The Netherlands, Australia and a host of other countries. It would eventually become a multi platinum selling album.

John Lennon’s Imagine album is filled with classic John Lennon songs. There’s the Johnny Winter style song “It’s So Hard,”  the angry fun ride of  “Gimme So Truth,” with some great George Harrison slide guitar licks and the great swinging bluesy rocker “Crippled Inside” One of the most interesting is “Jealous Guy.” The origins of the song came from a song called “Child of Nature,” that John Lennon had written for the Beatles White album but had only recorded a demo version of the song and never released it. Later on, Lennon wrote new lyrics for the song and released it as “Jealous Guy,” on the Imagine album. The song was released as a single fourteen years after the album came out. When it was released in 1985, many fans not as familiar with Lennon’s earlier catalog had thought it was from Double Fantasy. It was odd that a single would be released from an album fourteen years later. However, only a few years after Lennon’s murder, there was a yearning to continue to release Lennon’s music and continue to celebrate his life. The song has been covered by many artists over the years. Roxy Music had a huge hit with the song in the 1980s.

The album featured a great cast of musicians including the brilliant Nicky Hopkins on piano who had previously played on Beatles albums, Rolling Stones records and so many more. Of course, another former Beatle was welcome aboard on the album in the name of George Harrison. Three sensational drummers recorded on the album including Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon and the legendary Alan White of the band Yes. Rock and roll blues and soul artist King Curtis also made a guest appearance. Bass was handled by the extraordinary Klaus Voormann.

The album’s cover cover shot of John Lennon was shot by Yoko Ono. Over the years m this beautiful shot has become more haunting yet still retains that peaceful and somewhat tranquil feeling of hope and…. perhaps hopelessness. Boy, could we use someone like John Lennon during these days of unrest in 2020 and 2021

# 3 – Mind Games

Released: October 29, 1973

John Lennon’s Mind Games is an interesting album because of the reception it received from critics. Artists like John Lennon whose work changed the world have always seemed to be held at such a high standard by some that if they don’t release an album of groundbreaking songs, their work is often criticized as being a disappointment. Well, maybe sometimes a musician just wants to release a record of music that he or she is feeling at the time. Maybe sometimes an artist does not have a clear direction, or just wants to celebrate all those who inspired them. Does it always have to be a ground breaking or earth shattering effort? Of course not.

Mind Games is an album of songs of various styles written and performed by a brilliant artist that in the end turned out to be an amazing record. So many just criticized it. This was not an album that was going to change the world, it was simply an album of great songs written by John Lennon. In many ways this one set up the Rock ‘n’ Roll album of covers. The difference is John Lennon wrote all the songs on Mind Games as opposed to the covers he did on Rock ‘n’ Roll . Of course there was another album in between those two records, but still, one can sense that Lennon was looking in many directions on this one and feeling a bit nostalgic about a life that no one except his former Beatles mates could have ever imagined. There are so many different feelings going on in Mind Games, and for that reason, we have always found this one quite compelling

# 2 –Walls and Bridges

Released: October 4, 1974

John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges was released almost a year after Mind Games had been released the preceding October in 1973. 1974 was a big transition year for music in the 1970s. Soft rock was starting to fade a bit and the early signs of disco appeared with the Hues Cooperation’s “Don’t Rock The Boat.” Outside the world of those two genres and on the opposite side of heavy rock was a great yeas for pop music with Elton John dominating the music charts. John Lennon’s Walls And Bridges stepped right into that magical pop year and added some great songs to the mix. This s perhaps our favorite John Lennon solo album.

Walls And Bridges contained John Lennon’s only number one hit of his solo career with the song “Whatever Gets You Through The Night.” This was a fantastic single that also featured Elton John.  However, it was the album’s second single that stands as one of the most interesting and captivating songs of John Lennon’s solo career. The song “#9 Dream was the second top 10 single released from the album as it peaked amusingly at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also featured backing vocals from May Pang who was John Lennon’s girlfriend at the time during his 18 month breakup with Yoko Ono. A relationship that was both setup and encouraged by Yoko Ono.

The Walls And Bridges album also featured a great song and recording written and performed by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson entitled “Old Dirt Road.” Other standout tracks on the record included the intense acoustic guitar piece “Steel and Glass” the pop guitar masterpiece “Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox),” that they should have released as a single and the album’s grand opening very Beatlesque track “Going Down On Love.”

# 1 – Double Fantasy

Released: November 17, 1980

We close out our 5 Essential John Lennon albums list with Lennon’s final studio album he released while he was still alive. Some view John Lennon’s 1980 album Double Fantasy as a comeback album, others a return album. In the end, it was an album that the album’s lead single probably said it the best. It was John Lennon’s musical career starting all over again, coming back into the spotlight , returning with new songs and well …….who knows what was next. We will never know because less than a month after the album was released John Lennon lost his life to a despicable human being who brought such immeasurable sadness to millions.

Putting away the pain and sadness of the time period around the release of the record, we are left with an album of brilliant songs. There was a spirt on the album that we had not heard since the Imagine album. The lead single with its 1950s throwback groove was filled with such hope and energy. It was a spectacular single that showcased so many of Lennon’s musical inspirations on one song. The album’s great track “Watching The Wheels,” was a song about Lennon putting his life into perspective. A song that is painful to listen too and both joyous at the same time. The man was talking about looking back on his life, yet he was only forty years old.

This was of course a John Lennon Yoko Ono album. The songs that appeared on the album were split between John Lennon songs and Yoko Ono songs.  Yoko’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” was an interesting choice to place as the album’s second track. Other standout tracks on the album written by Lennon were of course the great song “Woman,” and the heartwarming  “Beautiful Boy.” dedicated to his son Sean.

John Lennon had returned to the music scene with such a wonderful album. I will never forget how happy we all were that John Lennon was back. And then he was gone………..

5 Essential John Lennon albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2020

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