Born on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, England, John Winston Ono Lennon became a sharp-tongued but pop-savvy songwriter, visual artist and absurdist poet as a platform for social and political change, to promote world peace and to question generally accepted mores. He has been exhumed in print more than any other popular musical figure.
He rose to fame in the 1960s with bandmates Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - the Beatles, whose far-ranging interests in music, art and fashion helped shape the tastes of a generation. As a member of the world's most successful group ever, he changed lives for the better. Lennon married Yoko Ono in 1969 and embarked on a solo career. Together with his wife, he attempted to transform the world through non-musical means.
Lennon taught the world the idea of world peace and in his own lyrics, "Give Peace A Chance" - a song that has grown in stature since its release in 1969. Lennon's solo career began a year earlier with Unfinished Music No. 1 - Two Virgins. The sleeve depicted him and Ono standing naked, and the cover became better known than the disjointed sound effects contained within. Months later, Lennon continued with Unfinished Music No. 2 - Life With The Lions.
Following "Give Peace A Chance," "Cold Turkey" arrived via the Plastic Ono Band, consisting of Lennon, Ono, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and drummer Alan White. This raw rock song about heroin withdrawal was a hit, although it failed to make the Top 10. In February 1970, "Instant Karma" became his biggest hit thus far in the UK and the United States.
The release of John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band in January 1971 was a shock to the system for most Beatles' fans. This stark "primal scream" album was recorded following treatment with Dr. Arthur Janov. It is as brilliant as it is disturbing. Lennon poured out much of his bitterness from his childhood and adolescence, neat and undiluted. The screaming "Mother" finds Lennon grieving for her loss and begging for his father. Lennon's Dylanesque "Working Class Hero" was another stand-out track. The work was a cathartic exorcism for Lennon, most revealing on "God," in which he voiced the heretical, "I don't believe in Beatles. I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that's reality." More than any other work in the Lennon canon, this was a farewell to the past. The album was hailed as brilliant and is often regarded as his finest complete work.
His most creative year was 1971 which saw Lennon release the powerful single, "Power To The People." After a move to New York, the follow-up Imagine album (which was recorded in the United Kingdom) was released in October - the album immediately went to number one internationally. The title track remains as one of his greatest songs. Musically, "Imagine" is extraordinarily simple, but the combination of that simplicity and the timeless lyrics make it one of the finest songs of the century.
The 1971 Christmas single "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)" became a song destined for immortality and annual reissue with its simple message: "War is over if you want it." The following year Sometime In New York City was issued. The double set contained a number of political songs and was written during the peak of Lennon's involvement with hippie-radical, Jerry Rubin. Lennon addressed numerous problems with scathing lyrics over deceptively melodic songs, such as the lilting and seemingly innocent "Luck Of The Irish." But the album's strongest track - "Woman Is The Nigger Of The World" - was pure Lennon. Once again, he was ahead of the game - making a bold plea for women's rights influenced by Yoko's feminist awareness.
In 1973, Lennon embarked on his struggle against deportation and the fight for his green card. He also released Mind Games. Shortly afterwards, Lennon left for his 'lost weekend' and spent many months in Los Angeles during which he produced Harry Nilsson's "Pussycats."
At the end of a tough 1974 year, Lennon released Walls And Bridges, which contained a surprise U.S. number one - "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" - a powerful rocker with Lennon sounding in complete control. In November of 1974, he made his final stage appearance when he joined Elton John at Madison Square Garden. That same night, Lennon was reunited with Ono and, in his words, "the separation failed."
Rock 'N' Roll - a tight, energetic celebration of many of his favorite songs, including "Slippin' And Slidin", "Peggy Sue" and "Stand By Me" - was released the following year. The critics loved it and the album reached number six on both sides of the Atlantic. Following the birth of their son Sean, Lennon became a house husband, while Ono looked after their considerable business interests.
Five years later in 1980, a new album (Double Fantasy) was released going straight to number one virtually worldwide. The following month, with fans still jubilant at Lennon's return, his life was taken by a gunman outside his apartment building in Manhattan.
Almost from the moment that Lennon's heart stopped in the Roosevelt Hospital, on December 8, 1980, the whole world reacted in unprecedented mourning, with scenes usually reserved for royalty and world leaders. His records experienced similar sales and chart positions to that of the Beatles' heyday.
Lennon is remembered as having a brilliant sense of humor and a deeply romantic heart. He could be cruel and unbelievably kind; he could love you one minute and destroy you with his tongue a few minutes later. His legacy is etched in his composition "Imagine" - voted one of the songs of the millennium, and still has as much power and meaning today.