We know: With so many great choices, how could we possibly narrow it down to 10? Well, it wasn’t easy, and there were many favorites we weren’t able to include. (Weigh in with your personal choices in the Comments section at the bottom of page 2!) But here are 10 reasons why we’ll never forget John Lennon—his music or his message of peace and love.
Lennon said that this song, written for the Beatles’ second film, expressed his own cry for help at the height of Beatlemania. "The Beatles thing had just gone beyond comprehension," he told Playboy. "I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help. . . . Most people think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song."
IN MY LIFE (1965)
Lennon regarded this melodic song from Rubber Soul, inspired by thinking about old Liverpool landmarks, as one of his first major pieces of work. He told Rolling Stone that he wrote the lyrics first, then the music. He also acknowledged that Paul McCartney helped him with the song’s middle eight bars.
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER (1967)
This song was released as a single with "Penny Lane" on the flip side. Both Penny Lane and Strawberry Field were places Lennon knew as a child in Liverpool. "I used to go to garden parties" at the latter, he told Playboy. "We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. . . . I used it as an image."
LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS (1967)
Contrary to popular belief, Lennon told Rolling Stone, he was not referencing LSD in the title of this trippy song, written for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. (The title came from a picture his son Julian had drawn of a school friend.) Lennon did acknowledge, however, that he’d dropped acid about a thousand times.
A slower version of this song appears on the Beatles’ White Album, and a more propulsive take was released as a single. Lennon told Playboy he wanted the slow version to be the single but that he was overruled by George and Paul. "The lyrics stand today," he told the magazine in 1980. "It’s still my feeling about politics. I want to see the plan. This is what I used to say to Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Count me out if it is for violence."
COME TOGETHER (1969)
This song, the first track on Abbey Road, was inspired by Timothy Leary’s short-lived campaign for governor of California. Leary’s slogan was "Come together, join the party," and his name is mentioned in the lyrics.
INSTANT KARMA! (1970)
This solo single, produced by Phil Spector, who’d worked on the Beatles’ Let It Be album, was recorded the day it was written and released (on the Apple label) shortly thereafter. "Phil came in, and said, ‘How do you want it?’ I said, ‘You know, 1950s.’ He said, ‘right,’ and boom, I did it in about three goes or something like that," Lennon told Rolling Stone.
This stripped-down song was included on Lennon’s first solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Phil Spector played piano on the track. Lennon told Rolling Stone he wrote it "in a spirit of love for Yoko. . . . It’s a beautiful melody, and I’m not even known for writing melody."
HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER) (1971)
Written to protest the Vietnam war, this song became a Christmas standard and has been covered by dozens of musicians. It grew out of a campaign by Lennon and Ono in late 1969 to rent billboards in cities around the world with the slogan, "War Is Over! (If You Want It)."
The opening track on the album of the same name, "Imagine" is perhaps the quintessential John Lennon song, lauded for its lovely melody and deceptively simple lyrics that posit a world without boundaries or strife. It has been recognized as one of the most-performed songs of the 20th century. Lennon himself ranked it as one of his greatest songwriting achievements.