John Lennon's 10 Best Solo Songs
I have been a Beatles fan since my mom got their album Meet the Beatles back in 1964 when I was four years old. When I became a teenager, I started to buy Beatles albums and CDs. I liked the Beatles as they did their solo careers too, I just never bought any of their solo songs until recently. Now I feel like I have entered a time capsule, and the music I am listening to is just as exciting and fresh as they day it was created.
I started recently getting songs by George Harrison, then Paul McCartney, and now I am just starting to really appreciate John Lennon's singing style, humor, and music. Listening to John Lennon there are some songs that stand out from others he has recorded. Here are 10 songs recorded in the solo years that show John at his best.
1. Beautiful Boy
This song was written John Lennon for his son Sean. It was on the album Double Fantasy and was never released as a single. It is a love letter to his son and it is more poignant because John was killed shortly before the album was released. In the song, John seems to be speaking directly to Sean. He tells him not to be afraid, your Daddy is here. He also cannot wait to see him grow up. John didn’t get to spend much time with his first son Julian because he was in the middle of the Beatles rise to sudden fame. When his son, Sean, was born, after Yoko having a few miscarriages, he became a stay-at-home Dad and spent a lot of time with him.
On the website The Beatles Bible John stated,
"The joy is still there when I see Sean. He didn't come out of my belly but, by God, I made his bones, because I've attended to every meal, and to how he sleeps, and to the fact that he swims like a fish. That's because I took him to the 'Y'. I took him to the ocean. I'm so proud of those things. He is my biggest pride, you see."
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Paul McCartney chose this song as one of his choices on the BBC show Desert Island Discs in 1982. He thought it was a beautiful song and said he found it very moving.
2. Watching the Wheels
This is another Lennon composition from the album Double Fantasy. It is a song that tries to explain his absence from the music industry after his son Sean was born. The song starts with a great piano riff and the lyrics say,
"People say I am crazy
for doing what I am doing."
John enjoyed just spending time at home without all the craziness of fame and fortune. The song is more of a piano song and it has almost a circus sound to it. It reminds me of the song "For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" from the Beatles days.
It was in his apartment that John could watch all the people running around, and he was content with Yoko and his son for the first five years of Sean’s life. The song hits home with the listener too, because all of us would like to just get out of the rat race and watch the wheels go round instead of being constantly stressed by work.
John had grown tired of the grind of the music industry as he explained on the website Beatlesbible.com, "I hadn't stopped from '62 till '73 - on demand, on schedule, continuously. And walking away was hard. What it seemed like to me was, this must be what guys go through at 65 when suddenly they're not supposed to exist any more and they are sent out of the office. I thought, Well, oughtn't I? Shouldn't I? Shouldn't I be, like, going to the office or something? Because I don't exist if my name isn't in the papers or if I don't have a record out or in the charts, or whatever - if I'm not seen at the right clubs. It must be like the guys at 65 when somebody comes up and goes, 'Your life is over. Time for golf.'"
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, by David Sheff
The song sounds laid back and easy. The piano is prominent and it helps guide the song. You can picture John, happy to be home, and not having to be somewhere. Home to take care of his son and just take a breath.
After five years John admitted that things were getting a bit routine. The joy of how he had raised his son for that time still gave him joy and pride. This song told the fans just what he had been up to in his absence.
3. Jealous Guy
This song came from the album Imagine, released in 1971. The song reveals John's insecure side. He doesn’t want to hurt the person he loves, but sometimes his insecurity overcame him and caused him to behave badly. It was thought that the song was about Yoko and how John was very possessive of her. Another theory was that it was about Paul McCartney. Paul has said that John told him that he wrote the song about him. He was jealous that Paul was getting all the publicity and attention from the media. It was also said the song was about Cynthia (his first wife). It is said that John changed his stories when he was in different moods. It makes sense that it is probably about everyone in his life that he had hurt at one time or another. John sings the song with great emotion, and the listener feels his sincerity when he says, "I am sorry."
4. Oh Yoko
"Oh Yoko" is also off of the Imagine album. Lennon started to write the song in India in 1968. The website Beatlesbible.com stated that EMI wanted to release "Oh Yoko" as a single, but Lennon refused. In the United States only the title track was taken from the Imagine album, and in the United Kingdom no singles were issued.
"It's a very popular track, but I was sort of shy and embarrassed and it didn't sort of represent my image of myself as the tough, hard-biting rock 'n' roller with the acid tongue," Lennon said. "Everybody wanted it to be a single - I mean, the record company, the public - everybody. But I just stopped it from being a single 'cause of that. Which probably kept it in number two. It never made number one. The Imagine album was number one, but the single wasn't."
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, by David Sheff
The song is a cute love song for his second wife Yoko. He finds himself thinking of her and calling her name in the most mundane things that happen during the day, like shaving or bathing. It is also the last time he plays a harmonica in a song. John had always loved Bob Dylan and this song has that Dylan sound in places. Yoko may not be popular with most Beatle fans, but she was a source of inspiration for John, and he wrote some good songs with her in mind.
5. Stand By Me
"Stand by Me" wasn't written by John Lennon, but by Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller and released by Ben E. King in 1961. John recorded this song for his album Rock N’ Roll in 1975. This song reached number 20 in the US and number 30 in the UK. This song shows just how much feeling John could put into a song. He really makes you believe that if he has the person he has beside him, he will be all right, even if the world may be ending. This is the last song released by John for five years as he took a break to help raise his son Sean.
6. Happy Xmas (War is Over)
This song was released in 1971. It was a song written with the Vietnam war in mind. On Wikipedia John is quoted as saying, "Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey." He conceived "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" as a means of elaborating upon the themes of social unity and peaceful change enacted through personal accountability and empowerment that served as the basis of the earlier billboard campaign, trying to convey optimism while avoiding the sentimentality that he felt often characterized music of the holiday season.
The song didn’t do much on its first release because it was released later in the season and it wasn’t promoted. John would be happy to know that the song has become increasingly more popular because it has been recorded by so many different singers.
It is interesting to know that John was the first Beatle to release a Christmas song. George was next in 1974 with the song “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”, Paul McCartney had the song “Wonderful Christmas Time” in 1979, and Ringo Starr had the Christmas album I Wanna Be Santa Claus in 1999.
This song has grown on me. I felt the same way about Paul’s song “Wonderful Christmas Time,” now I really enjoy both songs and they are now in the Christmas music rotation each year at my house.
7. I’m Steppin Out
This is a song that may not be as well-known as some of the other songs on this list, but it ranks up there as one of my favorites. It was on the album Milk and Honey, which was released in 1984, after John's death. The song has a happy-go-lucky John deciding to leave his worries and all his household duties behind to step outside and feel free. He wrote the song in 1980 while he was in Bermuda. It was after he had gone to a nightclub the night before. He was enjoying his freedom out of the house. This song is full of joy and exuberance. This is the carefree and happy John that fans had seen in those early Beatle days. This is a song that will have the listener tapping his feet and feeling as happy as John did when he performed the song.
8. (Just Like) Starting Over
"(Just Like" Starting Over" came from the album Double Fantasy. It was Lennon’s biggest hit and it stayed number one for five weeks in America. This song was John Lennon going back to his early love for rock and roll music. John starts the song by saying, "This is for Gene, Eddie, Elvis, and Buddy." I always liked how you could hear John talking in songs and it always sounded like he was having a blast recording. "Starting Over" was one of the last songs recorded for the album. John wasn’t sure he wanted it on the album, but the producer and the session musicians convinced him to do it. It is a song of hope for the future, but the song is also sad because we all know that John and Yoko didn’t have that chance to start over.
9. Nobody Told Me
"Nobody Told Me" is from the Milk and Honey album, released in 1984. This song was supposed to be a song for Ringo Starr, but remained unreleased until the album came out. The website beatlesbible.com stated that Lennon begun the song in 1976, when he wrote and recorded what was then known as "Everybody's Talkin', Nobody's Talkin'." Performed on a piano with a drum machine backing, the song had most of the final lyrics and chords of "Nobody Told Me" in place, although some fine-tuning was needed before it was complete. John used a drum machine and acoustic guitar for this recording. It is a stripped-down version, but the song rocks. Everyone can relate that there are days we go through that are strange indeed. Great lyrics and a great rock beat make this song fun and memorable.
This iconic song was from Imagine. John stated that , “[Imagine] is anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic... but because it is sugar-coated, it is accepted.”
John admitted at one time that Yoko helped him with the song, In a quote found on the website beatlesbible.com John said, "The song was originally inspired by Yoko's book Grapefruit. In it are a lot of pieces saying, Imagine this, imagine that. Yoko actually helped a lot with the lyrics, but I wasn't man enough to let her have credit for it. I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to sort of take her contribution without acknowledging it. I was still full of wanting my own space after being in a room with the guys all the time, having to share everything."
According to Songfacts.com, Lennon wrote this on a brown Steinway upright piano. In 2000, George Michael paid over $2 million for that piano and then returned it to the Beatles museum in Liverpool. John's piano has since been "on tour" to various world locations promoting peace.
The song has wonderful melody and the piano riff winds through the song making it hard not to hum along. Now more than ever we relate to the lines “Imagine all the people living life in peace..” John may have sugar coated the song, but it did its job and more people have heard this song, and maybe one day we may all decide to live in peace.
These songs reveal the personality and talent that Lennon had. I like that in the songs that John sings you can hear him talk at the beginning or throughout the song. "Look out" was one of his favorite lines, it showed how much he enjoyed playing and singing not only his songs, but songs by other people as well. Through John Lennon’s songs we can keep the memory of him alive and well now and forever. Thank you, John, for all your music