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John Lennon was shot down on a New York City sidewalk 33 years ago today, December 8, 1980, and the world lost one of the great musical artists we’ll ever know. In tribute, here are some of his best moments as a solo artist:
Lennon’s first major hit as a solo artist was “Instant Karma!”, released in February 1970, three months prior to The Beatles’ final album, “Let it Be.” Produced by Phil Spector and featuring George Harrison on guitar, “Instant Karma!” was recorded very quickly and rush-released into stores. It hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.
“The Dream is Over,” Lennon sings sadly in “God,” a wistful and beautiful song that seems to be the moment of stark clarity for many that The Beatles were, indeed, over. “I don’t believe in Beatles,” he proclaims, with an exclamation point. “God” is a song worthy of its culture significance. It was released in December, 1970 on Lennon’s widely acclaimed first solo album “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” considered by many to be the finest of his solo albums.
“Imagine” is Lennon’s most iconic solo single. It was recorded as the title track to his 2nd solo album, and released in September, 1971. “Imagine” was inspired by the poetry of his wife Yoko Ono, and is now considered one of the all-time great songs in rock history. It is instantly recognizable and used as an anthem for peace the world over. It reached #3 on the U.S. singles charts.
Also from the “Imagine” album, “Jealous Guy” was originally demoed as “Child of Nature” during the sessions for the Beatles’ “White Album.” Lennon saved the melody but completely changed the lyric, and created one of his most famous ballads.
By the time of the “Mind Games” album in 1973, Lennon had become increasingly involved in politics and his music had come to reflect that. His albums following “Imagine” were both relatively mediocre and fared poorly on the charts and with critics — “Sometime in New York City” and “Mind Game.” But the title track to the latter did reach #18 on in the US. Over the 40 years since its release, it has come to be regarded as a Lennon classic.
“Whatever Gets You Through The Night”
On November 16, 1974, John Lennon finally did what all 3 of his former bandmates had alredy done – hit #1 as a solo artist on the U.S. singles charts (George Harrison managed the feat first, in December 1970 with “My Sweet Lord. Paul McCartney hit #1 in September 1971 with “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” and Ringo Starr in September, 1973 with “Photograph.” The song that finally did it for Lennon was the frantic pop-rocker “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” with prominent harmony vocals by Elton John who was a gigantic star at the time. It was included on Lennon’s 1974 album “Walls and Bridges.”
Also from the “Walls and Bridges” album is the beautiful “#9 Dream,” featuring a lovely orchestral arrangement and a vocal by Lennon that was heavily manipulated to achieve a remarkable dream-like quality. It hit, ironically enough, #9 in the U.S. The lyrics during the repeated chorus, “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé”, have no meaning and were invented by Lennon.
“(Just Like) Starting Over”
Lennon had retired to a life of domesticity after the birth of his son Sean Ono Lennon, but in 1980 he returned with a collaborative album with Yoko Ono called “Double Fantasy.” His return was hailed as a great success, but the joy would be shortlived. Mere weeks after its release, Lennon would be murdered. He wouldn’t live to see “(Just Like) Starting Over” hit #1 on December 27, 1980.
Also from “Double Fantasy,” Lennon’s devotional love song to his wife would hit #2 in early 1981. He whispers during the intro “For the other half of the sky…”
“Watching the Wheels”
A third single from “Double Fantasy,” the contemplative “Watching the Wheels,” was released in March 1981, and reached #7 in the U.S.
“Nobody Told Me”
Recorded during the sessions for “Double Fantasy,” “Nobody Told Me” was originally intended to be Lennon’s offering to Ringo Starr for his next album, but Lennon died before Ringo had a chance to record it and it was never used. In 1984 Yoko Ono compiled unreleased recordings from the “Double Fantasy” period and released a collaborative sequal of sorts, “Milk and Honey.” “Nobody Told Me” was chosen as a the first single, and a video comprised of archival footage received heavy airplay on MTV. The song peaked at #5 in the U.S., Lennon’s final solo single to reach the Top 40 in America.