Today is December 8th, 2022, and for those who aren’t aware, it’s also the anniversary of John Lennon’s – my favorite Beatle – death. Polarizing as he was, John Lennon remains an iconic hero amongst the masses. The music he created with his flagship band, The Beatles, is steeped in folklore and legend. But if we dig deeper, Lennon’s solo career was equally as meaningful, even if it wasn’t as commercially successful and didn’t garner the same attention on FM radio.
When it comes to John Lennon, there’s a whole lot I’d like to say, but often, I have trouble finding the words. As I’ve grown older, many of his songs have engrained themselves in my psyche. Moreover, the closer I get to 40 – the same age Lennon was when he was murdered – his latter-day lyrics speak to me more and more.
And so, when we think of John Lennon, there’s a whole lot that I’d like to say, but ultimately, I’m not sure that anyone can do him justice, let alone retrospectively. But looking back on that fateful evening some 42 years ago when Lennon was gunned down in front of the Dakota Building, I can say that my resentment toward his killer hasn’t waned, and like many others, it probably never will.
On December 8th, 1980, the world was robbed of a troubadour, a freedom fighter, a champion for peace, and most importantly, a human being who deserved better than to die alone in the back of a police car. So, what can we do? Well, I can tell you what I’m doing; I’m looking back on the legacy of John Lennon the only way I know how. And so, what follows are John Lennon’s five most poignant solo tracks.
# 5 – Watching the Wheels (1980)
One of the most well-known cuts off John Lennon’s final album Double Fantasy, “Watching the Wheels” is also one of the ex-Beatle’s most reflective. Indeed, it seemed that at 40, Lennon was prepared for the next phase of life and seemed to harbor hope that the best was yet to come. “When I say that I’m okay, well, they look at me kinda strange. Surely, you’re not happy now; you no longer play the game,” a self-assured Lennon sings with a clear eye toward the future. Sadly, he didn’t have the chance to live out what appeared to be his most full-filling chapter yet.
# 4 – Give Peace a Chance (1969)
It’s no secret that John Lennon was a freedom fighter. True to form, the ever-fiery rocker laid the infamous “Give Peace a Chance” to tape in 1969. An enduring anthem for the disenfranchised and those pre-disposed to bouts of protest, “Give Peace a Chance” served as a slogan for unity during a tumultuous era. Meaningful to this day, perhaps now more than ever, “Give Peace a Chance,” and its voraciously chanted message, “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” can easily be used to stifle the perpetual ignorance seen in the modern age.
# 3 – Instant Karma (1970)
“Instant Karma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head. You better get yourself together; pretty soon you’re gonna be dead,” Lennon stridently declares at the onset of 1970’s “Instant Karma.” One of the most incredible things about Lennon was that, in many ways, he was an everyman. Never afraid to make mistakes – and he made many of them – “Instant Karma” is a commentary on the fact that the consequences of our actions are often immediate rather than later. Owing much of its vibe to Lennon’s laconic nature, in many ways, “Instant Karma” is most reflective of Lennon’s personality.
# 2 – Working Class Hero (1970)
John Lennon had two approaches to getting his message across: the first being whimsical and the second being strident as all hell. In the case of “Working Class Hero,” he chose the latter, and boy, is it a doozy. “And you think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see,” Lennon says as he saliently rages over a steady acoustic riff. In many ways, “Working Class Hero” is the flipside to a coin that also features “Give Peace a Chance;” the message is indeed the same, but the delivery is altogether different and incredibly powerful.
# 1 – Imagine (1971)
We’d like to think that Lennon intended “Imagine” to be his most famous song considering it contains his most poignant message, and that’s saying something. You’ve heard it before, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one,” but it never seems to get old, does it? Filled with lush textures and serene imagery, which myopic types boil down to “communism,” in truth, “Imagine” idyllic vision is a blissful cry for the world to unite as one rather than remain divided. Sadly, some 52 years after its release, and 42 years after Lennon’s death, we still haven’t figured it out.
John Lennon’s 5 Most Poignant Solo Tracks article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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