Strawberry Fields Forever

Remembering John Lennon


Conor Toland, Contributor

Last month, John Lennon, the legendary English singer/songwriter, would have celebrated his 77th birthday. He rose to fame as a member of The Beatles and political activist.

He was born in a small house to his mother, Julia Lennon, as planes flew over Liverpool during an air raid on October 9, 1940. His father was gone most of the time as a businessman, not even present at his birth. John lived with his mother for his first four years. His aunt felt that John needed a more disciplined household and complained to social services until he was placed in her custody. He lived with her throughout most of his childhood, visiting his mother frequently. From his mother, John learned how to play the piano and banjo.

In 1957, he started a band with a few friends known as the Quarrymen, influenced by skiffle and rock music of the time. It was during this time that he met Paul McCartney. Paul joined the Quarrymen, and they became close friends and songwriting partners. Paul would later introduce John to his friend, George Harrison.

Shortly after meeting Paul, tragedy struck. John’s mother was fatally hit by a car in July of 1958. Being as close with her as he was, it was a truly traumatic experience. Following his experience with his mother, John became closer with Paul and George and they created a new band with another one of their friends, Stuart Sutcliffe: the Beatals.

The band played in many different locations, honing their performances over the next two years. Sutcliffe eventually dropped out to pursue his art career, causing the band to return to their native Liverpool from Germany, where they had been performing frequently.  They changed their name numerous times, eventually settling on “The Beatles.” The Beatles had a revolving door of drummers before they decided on Pete Best, who they soon enough replaced with another local drummer, Ringo Starr in 1962.

They recorded a few singles, an album and soon enough, The Beatles became a huge hit in the UK. It wasn’t until they landed a record deal in the US that hysteria surrounding the band, known as “Beatlemania,”  began. Upon the American releases of their material in 1964, they became a massive hit in the states. Screaming at their concerts was so loud that it was almost difficult to hear the music. Lennon controversially claimed the band was now “more popular than Jesus”, sparking major controversy. Some even went as far as burning some of the albums. Still, the band was unstoppable. Many other British acts followed the Beatles’ example in what was known as the “British Invasion,” which is seen within the Rolling Stones and The Who.

In the limelight, they were heads of the counterculture in the 60s, often challenging authority and social norms. The band members experimented with marijuana and LSD. They pushed musical boundaries with reverse tape loops and psychedelic lyrics. They tried novel sounds for pop music, using sitars and heavy distortion. No other icons better represented the growing generation gap.

After the band decided they were done with the stress of touring, they switched focus toward advancing studio recording techniques and limits. Without the pressure of making material for tours and shows, they were free to take the sound in any direction they desired. During this time Lennon wrote his most revolutionary material, including the nonsensical “I Am The Walrus”, “Revolution”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Lennon also shares writing credits with McCartney on eleven out of the twelve songs on what is often called the most influential album in pop music, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which included “She’s Leaving Home”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!” and “A Day In The Life”.

The band released thirteen albums and had twenty-one number one hits, more than any single artist in history. John wrote thirty-one percent of all songs and fourteen percent of their number one hits. Working with Paul in the iconic Lennon-McCartney duo, he helped to write another twenty-six percent of their songs and an additional thirty-three percent of their number one hits.

Lennon was often challenging authority throughout his life. After the band split in 1970, he became an adamant political activist. He and his wife, Yoko Ono, became leaders of many protests, like the bed-in (which took place in 1969) against the Vietnam War. In his successful solo career, he wrote many hits like “Imagine” and “War is Over (If You Want it)”, both of which pushed forward messages of peace. Lennon would later state “[Imagine] is anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic… but because it is sugar-coated, it is accepted”.

On a cold December morning, December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot standing in the balcony of his apartment. He was only 40 years old.

The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper turned 50 this year. It has been lauded by critics and music fans alike since its release, having been the first popular concept album and the prime example of pushing studio limits. A remastered and remixed version was released May 26. The album showed at number 3 on the US Billboard charts shortly after, showing the lasting relevance and popularity of John Lennon and The Beatles. You can listen to Sgt. Pepper now on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming platforms.