Pop star, composer, songwriter, and recording artist John Winston Lennon was born on 9 October 1940, in Liverpool, Merseyside, NW England, UK, during a German air raid in World War II.
When he was four years old, Lennon's parents separated and he ended up living with his Aunt Mimi. John's father was a merchant seaman. He was not present at his son's birth and did not see a lot of his son when he was small. Lennon's mother, Julia, remarried, but visited John and Mimi regularly. She taught John how to play the banjo and the piano and purchased his first guitar. He was devastated when Julia was fatally struck by a car driven by an off-duty police officer in July 1958. Her death was one of the most traumatic events in his life.
As a child, Lennon was a prankster and he enjoyed getting in trouble. As a boy and young adult, Lennon enjoyed drawing grotesque figures and cripples. Lennon's school master thought that he could go to an art school for college, since he did not get good grades in school, but had artistic talent.
At sixteen, Elvis Presley's explosion onto the rock music scene inspired Lennon to create the skiffle band called the 'Quarry Men', named after his school. Lennon met Paul McCartney at a church fete on 6 July 1957. John soon invited Paul to join the group and they eventually formed the most successful songwriting partnership in musical history.
McCartney introduced George Harrison to Lennon the following year and he and art college buddy Stuart Sutcliffe also joined Lennon's band. Always in need of a drummer, the group finally settled on Pete Best in 1960.
The first recording they made was Buddy Holly's 'That'll be the Day' in mid-1958. In fact, it was Holly's group, the Crickets, that inspired the band to change its name. Lennon would later joke that he had a vision when he was 12 years old - a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them "from this day on you are Beatles with an 'A.'"
The Beatles were discovered by Brian Epstein in 1961 at the Cavern Club, where they were performing on a regular basis. As their new manager, Epstein secured a record contract with EMI. With a new drummer, Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey), and George Martin as producer, the group released their first single, 'Love Me Do', in October 1962. It peaked on the British charts at number 17.
Lennon wrote the group's follow-up single, 'Please Please Me', inspired primarily by Roy Orbison but also fed by Lennon's infatuation with the pun in Bing Crosby's famous "Please, lend your little ears to my please." The song topped the charts in Britain. The Beatles went on to become the most popular band in Britain with the release of mega-hits like 'She Loves You' and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'.
In 1964, The Beatles became the first band to break out big in the United States, beginning with their appearance on TV's 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on 9 February 1964. Beatlemania launched a "British Invasion" of rock bands into the U.S., which included The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. After 'Sullivan,' The Beatles returned to Britain to film their first movie, 'A Hard Day's Night', and prepare for their first world tour.
The Beatles followed up with their second movie 'Help!' in 1965. In June, the Queen of England had announced that the Beatles would be awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). In August, they performed to 55,600 fans at New York's Shea Stadium, setting a record for largest concert audience. When they returned to England, they recorded the breakthrough album 'Rubber Soul', which extended beyond love songs and pop formulas.
The magic of Beatlemania had started to lose its appeal by 1966. The group's lives were put in danger when they were accused of snubbing the presidential family in the Philippines. Then, Lennon's remark that "we're more popular than Jesus now" incited denunciations and Beatles record bonfires in the U.S. bible belt. The Beatles gave up touring after a 29 August 1966 concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
After an extended break, the band returned to the studio to expand their experimentals with drug-influenced exotic instrumentation/lyrics and tape abstractions. The first sample was the single 'Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever', followed up by 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', still considered by many to be the greatest rock album ever.
The Beatles then suffered a huge blow when Epstein died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills on 27 August 1967. Shaken by Epstein's death, the Beatles retrenched under McCartney's leadership in the fall and filmed 'Magical Mystery Tour'. While the film was panned by critics, the soundtrack album contained Lennon's 'I Am The Walrus', their most cryptic work yet.
After the Magical Mystery Tour film failed, the Beatles retreated into Transcendental Meditation and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which took them to India for two months in early 1968. Their next effort, Apple Corps Ltd. was plagued by mismanagement. In July, the group faced its last hysterical crowds at the premiere of their film 'Yellow Submarine'. In November, their double-album 'The Beatles' (frequently called the 'White Album') showed their divergent directions.
Lennon had married Cynthia Powell in August 1962 and they had a son together who they called Julian, named after John's mother. Cynthia had to keep a very low profile during Beatlemania. They divorced in 1968 and he re-married Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, whom he had met at the Indica Gallery in November 1966. John and Yoko's artist partnership began to cause further tensions within the group. Together they invented a form of peace protest by staying in bed while being filmed and interviewed, and the single recorded under the name of The Plastic Ono Band, 'Give Peace a Chance' (1969), became the national anthem for pacifists.
Lennon left The Beatles in September 1969, just after the group completed recording 'Abbey Road'. The news of the breakup was kept secret until McCartney announced his departure in April 1970, a month before the band released 'Let It Be', recorded just before Abbey Road.
After the Beatles broke up, Lennon released 'Plastic Ono Band', with a raw, minimalist sound that followed "primal-scream" therapy. In 1971, he followed up with 'Imagine', the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed of all John Lennon's post-Beatles efforts. The title track was later listed as the third all-time best song by Rolling Stone magazine.
Peace and love, however, was not always on Lennon's agenda. Imagine also included the track 'How Do You Sleep?', a nasty response to veiled messages at Lennon in some of McCartney's solo recordings. Later, the former songwriting duo buried the hatchet, but never formally worked together again.
Lennon and Ono moved to the U.S. in September 1971, but were constantly threatened with deportation by the Nixon administration. Lennon was told he was being kicked out of the country because of his 1968 marijuana conviction in Britain. But Lennon believed the true reason was his activism against the unpopular Vietnam War. Documents later proved him correct. Two years after Nixon resigned, Lennon was granted permanent U.S. residency in 1976.
In 1972, Lennon performed at Madison Square Garden to benefit mentally handicapped children and continued to promote peace while battling to stay in the U.S. That immigration battle took a toll on the Lennon's marriage and in the fall of 1973, they separated. He went to Los Angeles, where he partied and took a mistress, May Pang. He still managed to release hit albums, such as 'Mind Games', 'Walls and Bridges' and 'Rock and Roll' and collaborate with David Bowie and Elton John.
In the end, Lennon realised he really loved Yoko and could not live without her. They reconciled and she gave birth to their only child, Sean, on Lennon's 35th birthday. Lennon decided to leave the music business to raise his son and become a house husband. In 1980, Lennon returned to the music world with the album 'Double Fantasy', featuring the hit single '(Just Like) Starting Over'. Unfortunately, just a few weeks after its release, Lennon was shot by a deranged fan in front of his apartment complex in New York. Lennon died of the age of 40 at the Roosevelt Hospital on 8 December 1980, after receiving multiple gun shots in the back.
His death affected millions of people, record sales soared, and he continues to be admired by new generations of fans.
A loose semi-spoof of the globe-trotting James Bond pictures, Help! has always been considered a somewhat disorganised comedown from its predecessor; but it presents "the famous Beatles" even more clearly as the English cousins of the Marx Brothers.
Brand new 2010 digital remaster of the classic John Lennon album. Considered together, Imagine and its startling predecessor, Plastic Ono Band, paint a vivid picture of the state of John Lennon immediately post-Beatles.
Working Class Hero - The Definitive Lennon
Some of Lennon's greatest hits on one CD.
John Lennon: The Life: The Definitive Biography by Philip Norman
'As beautiful and unsettling as any late Beatles record': Daily Express. 'Conscientiously researched! his command of his material is faultless': George Melly, Observer