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20 August 2014updated 07 Sep 2021 3:59pm

Battle of the Beatles: John Lennon

Fabbest of the four

By Terry Jones

I never really liked John. I thought he was too acerbic and critical. He always seemed to be the nasty one in the group – argumentative and awkward.

And then I caught myself listening to “Imagine”, time after time.

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

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Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too . . .

And I saw the light! The words speak for themselves: so pure and straightforward – so daring in their simplicity.

I was becoming fixated by the song. I started playing it on the piano, picking it out note by note. That week, on Monday 8 December, John Lennon was assassinated.

I’d first become aware of the Beatles when I was at Oxford – they were playing somewhere or other and I remember mocking the pun in the name. When I first heard them I was entranced, though still snooty about pop music. I bought Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when it came out in 1967, the first Beatles LP to be recorded in stereo, I believe. I was won over.

When Lennon was killed, I really didn’t know how I felt about it. With “Imagine”, I had begun to see him in a different light – no longer as the argumentative one but as a sublime lyricist. I don’t know how I had overlooked that before. I was an easygoing type and didn’t like troublesome people. But when he died, in such a senseless way, I guess it drew me closer to John.

I looked at his other lyrics. I particularly liked his masterpiece “Grow Old With Me”, freely adapted from Robert Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”. I’d always thought the wonderful lines – “Two branches of one tree/Face the setting sun/When the day is done” – were from the original poem, but they aren’t. Lennon wasn’t frightened of saying “God bless our love” and for a thoroughgoing atheist he can be forgiven.

I began to love him for being a peace activist – moving to Manhattan in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam war resulted in a lengthy attempt by the Nixon administration to have him deported.

“Give Peace a Chance” was written during Lennon’s “bed-in” honeymoon at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal. A reporter asked him what he was trying to achieve by staying in bed and he returned: “Just give peace a chance.”

He recorded the song on 1 June 1969 at the same hotel. It was originally credited to Lennon-McCartney: he later said he regretted having been “guilty enough to give McCartney credit as co-writer on my first independent single instead of giving it to Yoko, who had actually written it with me”. I know the feeling.

I loved “Woman”, from the Double Fantasy album released in November 1980.

Woman, I can hardly express

My mixed emotion at my

thoughtlessness

And after all I’m for ever in your debt . . .

His marriage to Yoko Ono marked his transition from acerbic critic to warm and thoughtful man. Good for you, John. I love you now and for ever. 

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