John Lennon, The Beatles' founder and driving force was losing interest in the late '60s. When George Harrison took up Eastern religion Lennon was right there too but the whole experience with a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a bust. Not happily married or engaged in family life (he and first wife Cynthia had a son, Julian), John seemed trudging through (with an affair here, there and everywhere). Lennon was on the prowl looking for something that would invigorate his life - knock the moss off and get him excited again. Invited to a gallery exhibition he met conceptual artist Yoko Ono and she literally changed his life. Soon Lennon divorced Cynthia, and was living with Yoko whom he eventually married. From there, the couple had a series of mad adventures. First was the conceptual noise album "Two Virgins" ('68). The most notable thing about that project was the nude front cover photo of John and Yoko. Numerous retailers sold the album in a brown paper bag. The couple married in Gibraltar, Spain (3/20/69). To protest the Vietnam War, they launched their first "bed in for peace" in Amsterdam. At another "bed-in" in Montreal they recorded "Give Peace A Chance." It was a lovely honeymoon. Much of it was chronicled in "The Ballad of John and Yoko," which despite being released as a Beatles' single had only John and Paul McCartney playing all the instruments. And just to round things out, John and Yoko were busted in London (at Ringo's flat) for marijuana possession ('69). Though the matter was quickly settled it loomed large in the coming years.
Paul McCartney was exerting more and more influence and control over The Beatles (John's group - or so he thought) and Lennon just didn't feel he had the strength to challenge. He probably felt weak because he was heavily dependent on drugs, including heroin. A couple years later, Lennon's bitterness toward McCartney erupted in the interview book Lennon Remembers and the caustic song "How Do You Sleep At Night" (a full blown attack on Paul's songwriting, sensibilities and personality). In fairness, Lennon was often disengaged, at best, leaving Paul to carry the weight. The once vaunted Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership had devolved to John serving as Paul's "editor." "That works don't change it" ("the movement is on your shoulder" line on "Hey Jude"), "that doesn't let's try this" (John's piano addition to "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da"). Then there were "The White Album" and "Let It Be" sessions with Yoko omnipresent, despite the disdain and objections of the other three Beatles. As The Beatles disintegrated Yoko became involved in a nasty custody suit with her first husband. Legal proceedings necessitated the couple move to New York (Yoko had previously resided in the U.S.). Since Lennon was born in Liverpool and Yoko in Tokyo, they came to the U.S. on visitor's visas that were, at the time, relatively easy to acquire. However, the case dragged on requiring they stay past their visas' expiration which launched an extended dispute with the U.S. immigration department who was trying to expel the couple fearing they were dangerous radicals and using the earlier marijuana bust has the proof. As if to make the government's case, or at the very least add weight to it, the couple fell in with NY political radicals. After much wrangling, Lennon won his green card, as did Yoko, and they were allowed to stay in the U.S. Happy ending? Not just yet.
The stresses and strains of their ordeal, along with their failure to have a child (Yoko had suffered miscarriages), caused the couple to split. Yoko stayed in NY. John embarked on what is often euphemistically referred to as "Lennon's Lost Weekend" ('74). This was basically a collection of drinking and carousing sessions, often with pal Harry Nielsen, that culminated with the pair getting kicked out of an L.A. club but not before Lennon was photographed wearing a tampon on his head. Elton John, who had covered The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" (a Lennon song) played piano and provided backing vocals on Lennon's "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" ('74). Elton made Lennon promise that if the song went to #1, he would perform the song in concert with Elton. As a solo artist Lennon hadn't had a #1 so he probably didn't think much about it before agreeing. Wouldn't you know, "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" went to #1 and Lennon did appear at Elton's Madison Square Garden show performing three songs, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" and "I Saw Her Standing There"). It was his last public performance. Yoko was backstage and soon reconciliation was underway. Back with Yoko and a changed man Lennon learned he was about to become a father again. Lennon's first son, Julian, was born just as Beatlemania was getting underway. There was never any time or inclination for father-son bonding. Lennon determined that with Sean, things would be different. Following the release of the "Rock n' Roll" album ('75), Lennon retired and became ostensibly a househusband.
Reportedly, it was hearing the '79 release of the B-52's debut album that convinced Lennon the time was right to return. "Double Fantasy" was recorded in NY with half the album Lennon songs and the other half Yoko creations. Surprisingly, Yoko, who'd been known for ear splitting screams (Plastic Ono Band) actually showed herself as an accomplished songwriter/vocalist. Almost immediately, work began on follow-up album "Milk and Honey." There was even talk of a possible tour once there was enough new material. By all accounts this period appeared to be one of the happiest in Lennon's life.
While returning from a recording session on the night on December 8th, 1980 Lennon was shot to death by a lunatic outside his NY home (the Dakota Apartments). News of Lennon's death, at age 40, resulted in massive outpourings of grief worldwide. A section of NY's Central Park, near the Dakota, was set aside as a memorial - Strawberry Fields.
1968 Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins (w/ Yoko Ono)
1969 Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions (w/ Yoko Ono)
1969 Wedding Album (w/ Yoko Ono)
1969 Live Peace In Toronto (w/ Yoko Ono & the Plastic Ono Band)
1970 John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
1972 Some Time In New York City (with Yoko Ono)
1973 Mind Games
1974 Walls And Bridges
1975 Rock 'n' Roll
1980 Double Fantasy (w/ Yoko Ono)
1984 Milk And Honey (w/ Yoko Ono) (posthumous)
1986 Menlove Ave. (posthumous)
John Lennon was the first Beatle to appear as a solo (more or less) when he launched the Plastic Ono Band. He was the last ex-Beatle to have a #1 record in the U.S. Lennon once commented that he didn't much care for recording albums. Too much work in too little time. He would much rather cut singles when the spirit moved him. This approach certainly worked on his best song "Instant Karma" (written in the morning and recorded later that day). There are numerous Lennon collections. "Shaved Fish" presents Lennon at his most acerbic. "Imagine: John Lennon" delves into his Beatles material ("Help!" and "Strawberry Fields") as well as his solo songs to present a gentler view. "Lennon Legend" is the most balanced.
"Live Peace In Toronto" is a rousing Plastic Ono Band set with Eric Clapton on lead guitar. "Cold Turkey," "Yer Blues" and several early Rock 'n' Roll tunes are the highlights. This album also has Yoko's banshee wailing.
As far as his studio work is concerned Lennon hit a peak early with "Plastic Ono Band" ("Well, Well, Well" and "I Found Out") and "Imagine." The latter has the peace anthem title track and the hostile, at least to McCartney, "How Do You Sleep." It's interesting that a song preaching global peace is on the same album with a vitriol personal attack. Lennon's final two albums "Double Fantasy" and "Milk and Honey" show a calmer, more pop oriented performer. But even so, there's still depth and insight to his lyrics. Yoko's tracks are first rate.