John Lennon was slow to begin revealing himself through music. Once he decided to get real, however, the floodgates opened.
His songs, both with the Beatles and as a solo artist, could be as frank and revealing, as angry and emotional and as sharply self-critical as any in the history of rock.
Not every verse plumbed the depths of his soul. There were notable detours into psychedelia, soundscapes, old-time rock ‘n’ roll and agitprop. Sometimes, Lennon just liked playing around with words. And he’d occasionally punch back. But more often, as you’ll see in the below list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs, he reserved the most biting insights and questions for himself.
In retrospect, his less-grounded, Lewis Carroll-inspired songs feel like needed moments of escape from this determined introspection. Even truth tellers, Lennon seemed to be admitting, need moments of escapism.
Taken together, they form one of music’s most striking catalogs, as he balanced dream-like reverie with brutal honesty. Below is a comprehensive look back the Top 80 John Lennon Songs.
80. “Bless You,” Walls and Bridges (1974)
This always sounded like a needed exhale on a sonically overstuffed album. Lennon, then in the midst of his raucous lost-weekend phase away from Yoko Ono, probably needed one in real life, too. Giving himself a moment of introspection, Lennon returns to his estranged wife – though, at this point, only in dreams.
79. “Yes It Is,” Past Masters (1965)
Lennon’s anguished cries on this Beatles track give away more than the ballad itself ever could. There’s a dizzying darkness to be found, while George Harrison happily explores a new volume-pedal guitar effect that he’ll put to even better use on “I Need You.”
78. “I Don’t Want to Face It,” Milk and Honey (1984)
The track begins with the smeared sound of a tape machine engaging, perhaps the most powerful reminder that Milk and Honey includes the incomplete, posthumous recordings of a murdered genius. Sadness melts away, though, as Lennon works in antithesis, throws away a bit of ageless wisdom and acts a little silly. The result is a half-chiseled monument to creative rebirth.
77. “Love Me Do,” Please Please Me (1962)
He’d eventually push back against it, but Lennon always had a knack for straightforward, catchy singles. One of the first complete songs he ever wrote with Paul McCartney makes the point as succinctly as any ever would: The Beatles hit the U.S. chart with a tune boasting just 17 different words.
76. “I’m a Loser,” Beatles for Sale (1964)
This is the wellspring for every confessional moment John Lennon ever had. Parts of it still feel embryonic, like he’s reaching for a Smokey Robinson moment, but there’s no denying this breakthrough – for Lennon, and for the looming singer-songwriter movement.
75. Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out),” Walls and Bridges, (1974)
Exiled on the other side of the country from Yoko Ono, Lennon finally opened himself to the fear of isolation he once angrily confronted on Plastic Ono Band. But there’s none of the closed-fist bravado that marked Lennon’s recordings of five years before. Instead, he submits to the emotions sparked by endings.
74. “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” Double Fantasy (1980)
There’s no getting away from the awful headlines that followed – no separating this, even decades later, from Lennon’s fate. He’ll always be 40. So, when Lennon whispers “Good night, Sean, see you in the morning,” it’s like a cold hand closing around any fan’s heart.
72. “Good Morning, Good Morning,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
In moments of boredom, Lennon was sparked by found objects – and those moments arrived in a rush once the Beatles came off the road. A poster, a headline or (in this case) a TV commercial sparked some of his most dizzying flights of fancy. Writing the words first, however, led to a shaky meter that perhaps only the easygoing Ringo Starr could so ably manage.
72. “Glass Onion,” The Beatles (1968)
This fun song referenced, among others, the Beatles’ earlier single “Lady Madonna” (“ … trying to make ends meet, yeah”), which in turn referenced “I Am the Walrus” (“see how they run”), which in turn referenced “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” (“see how they fly like …”). Feeling his oats, Lennon also tips his hat to “Strawberry Fields,” “The Fool on the Hill” and “Fixing a Hole.”
71. “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” Walls and Bridges (1974)
At this point, Lennon’s flinty solo career hadn’t yet produced a No. 1 single. He broke the spell with a song titled after another cribbed phrase from TV – this time after channel surfing into a late-night evangelist. Lennon’s friend Elton John was so confident the song would hit that he made a now-famous bet that led Lennon to his last-ever concert performance.
70. “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
A great example of Lennon’s psyched-out gobbledygook era, with lines about keeping “all your money in a big brown bag – inside a zoo.” This grew out of an early demo called “One of the Beautiful People,” probably inspired by Lennon’s trip to a 1967 “happening” headlined by Pink Floyd that was dubbed the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream.
69. “How Do You Sleep?,” Imagine (1971)
Half of the Beatles took part in this savage assault on McCartney, as Lennon made biting references to “Yesterday,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and McCartney’s solo hit “Another Day.” So, is “How Do You Sleep?” a low point in their very public post-split bickering? Or one of Harrison’s coolest-ever turns on the slide? Answer: yes
68. “Across the Universe,” Let It Be (1970)
Lennon always considered this a lost classic, but “Across the Universe” never found its place during his lifetime. An overly adorned take was given away for a 1969 charity project, then the song was slowed down and generally Spectorized for 1970’s Let It Be. Another take, with Harrison on sitar, made its way to 1995’s Anthology 2. The version on Let It Be … Naked, released almost 25 years after his death, might be the closest to Lennon’s original vision.
67. “God,” Plastic Ono Band (1970)
In the album’s most important statement, Lennon blithely pushed aside fallen idols – from Bob Dylan to religion to his old band – flatly declaring that “the dream is over.” He was moving on: After naming and then discarding all of those earlier talismans, Lennon concluded with a quiet affirmation of his love for Ono.
66. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” The Beatles (1968)
Seams show on this combination of song fragments, as a section where Mother Superior jumps the gun crashes into the concluding segment with … another gun? By this point, however, Lennon had become something of a master at cobbling table scraps into new menu options. It still somehow worked.
65. “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam,” Abbey Road (1969)
64. “Isolation,” Plastic Ono Band (1970)
“Isolation” is the flipside of “God” (see No. 67 on our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs), as Lennon admits deep insecurity surrounding his new post-Beatles existence. At one point, everyone but Starr drops out, and his insistent cadence feels like it’s mimicking Lennon’s terrified arrhythmia.
63. “Revolution 1,” The Beatles (1968)
He had the makings of a great song (see No. 14 on our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs), but not yet the required gumption. Instead, this wishy-washy version simply slouches along while a curiously half-hearted Lennon says he can be counted both “out” and “in.”
61. “I’m Only Sleeping,” Revolver (1966)
It’s no wonder Lennon was able to so perfectly capture this dreamy, soporific feeling. He’d already been called “probably the laziest person in England” by a local journalist. That said, an inspired Lennon also ran Harrison’s solo backward, to great effect.
62. “Out the Blue,” Mind Games (1973)
Lennon provided a peek into the mounting panic that surrounded his fracturing relationship with Ono on this often-overlooked ballad: “I was born just to get to you. Anyway I survived, long enough to make you my wife.” He completed things with soaring strings that sounded like a sadder, more honest version of Phil Spector’s cloying arrangement for “The Long and Winding Road.”
60. “I’m Losing You,” Double Fantasy (1980)
There’s a crunchy, kinetic sizzle here, with Lennon looking back at his own alcohol-induced mid-’70s dumbassery. Along the way, we get a deeper sense of how his muse returned, as Lennon began trying to find balance between the vibrant, angry yang to his bread-making house-husband yin.
59. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
The words were mostly swiped from a Victorian-era circus poster Lennon bought while visiting some local shops during the video shoot for “Strawberry Fields Forever” (see No. 2 on our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs). The magic here is in the fairground production that surrounds those lyrics. Lennon knew what he wanted (“I want to smell the sawdust when I hear that song”), but not how to get it. Thankfully, producer George Martin did.
58. “Love,” Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Lennon deftly paints a mirror-image portrait of two lovers responding to one another, in one of his simplest, most touching lyrics. Interestingly, Phil Spector – not Lennon – plays the similarly elliptical piano part. “Love” actually started out as a guitar-based demo.
57. “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” Plastic Ono Band (1969)
Lennon had become enamored with a verite process of conceiving, recording and releasing songs as quickly as possible (see No. 10 on our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs), even if that meant leaving behind unavailable regular collaborators. That’s how McCartney ended up on drums for this stripped-down and rather raw duo session. The others, particularly Harrison, are sorely missed.
56. “Nobody Told Me,” Milk and Honey (1984)
Nostalgia had everything to do with this song’s posthumous Top 20 finish, and not just because fans missed the late Lennon. The song’s familiar, call-and-response (“There’s always something happening, but nothing going on … everybody’s smoking but no one’s getting high”) drew a straight line back to the wordplay whimsy of Lennon’s late-Beatles period.
55. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” Shaved Fish (1971)
A song that grew out of a quixotic billboard campaign for peace during the Vietnam war leveraged universal themes to become a modern holiday standard. Oddly enough, it failed to chart upon release.
54. “Girl,” Rubber Soul (1965)
Lennon allows himself to experience both the pleasure and the pain of love, sighing with a barely contained sense of sexual anticipation. But there’s also an embedding wink: He later revealed that the insistent “tit-tit-tit-tit” backing vocals were about just what you think they are.
53. “I’m So Tired,” The Beatles (1968)
Lennon’s innate lethargy wasn’t helped by his subsequent foray into heroin. In keeping, this song’s verses downshift the somnolent vibe of “I’m Only Sleeping” (see No. 61 on our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs) almost to the point of stalling out. Thankfully, Lennon rouses himself for an electrifying chorus.
52. “Dig a Pony,” Let It Be (1970)
More word salad, Lennon’s only major new contribution to Let It Be touched on a pre-Beatles band name (“I pick a moondog”) and his friendship with Mick Jagger (“I roll a stoney”). As with so many others, however, this track begins and ends (at least as performed on the Savile Row rooftop) with Ono. For some reason, Spector later excised the opening lines, as Lennon cries “all I want is you!”
51. “All You Need Is Love,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Asked to come up with something for the BBC’s historic first worldwide broadcast, Lennon procrastinated until a scant 11 days remained. All that was left to do was fall back on his penchant for sloganeering. The Beatles gussied it up with effects, including snippets of the French national anthem and their early hit “She Loves You,” but the title sentiment is really the only thing carrying this along.
50. “Yer Blues,” The Beatles (1968)
Recorded in a small annex next to Abbey Road’s Studio 2, “Yer Blues” feels like an untamed first take on the feelings, and the sound, he’d perfect on his official solo debut Plastic Ono Band. Lennon obviously could sense it, playing this song live twice (once for the Rolling Stones’ long-shelved Rock and Roll Circus and then later with Eric Clapton in Toronto) before the Beatles even broke up.
49. “Oh My Love,” Imagine (1971)
Lennon takes a moment between excoriating empty-suited politicians and ex-bandmates to lay bare his tender feelings for Yoko Ono. “Oh My Love” was the only song on Imagine where she initially earned a co-songwriting credit, though Ono’s name was later added to the title track, too.
48. “Give Peace a Chance,” Shaved Fish (1969)
Lennon subsequently made an ill-advised detour into more stringent lefty politics, brushing aside the brilliance of more suggestive songs like this one. (“It wasn’t like ‘You have to have peace!’” he told David Scheff. “Just give it a chance.”) He was joined by a cast of dozens on the second-to-last day of his bed-in for peace in Montreal.
47. “Watching the Wheels,” Double Fantasy (1980)
Lennon was clearly still attempting to come to terms with things as they were – with middle age, with a settled life, with love and work and parenthood. How long could it have been before he was ready to push back, and hard? Unfortunately, we never got to hear his next great rock record.
46. “Mind Games,” Mind Games (1973)
What if “I Am the Walrus” had an anti-war thread running through it? You might just get the title track from Mind Games, as Lennon tosses off Lewis Carroll-ish references to “druid dudes” and “mind guerillas” while railing against the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. That careful balance of fantasy and message likely helped it into the U.S. Top 20.
45. “One After 909,” Let It Be (1970)
The long-gestating Get Back project found the Beatles returning to one of the best of their early songs. “One After 909” was a funny train-themed song that brilliantly mixes offbeat rhymes and rhythms. Even 10 years later, it could still hold up against the best songs on their last-released album.
44. “This Boy,” Past Masters (1963)
Lennon was trying for a harmony piece, in the style of Motown. The lyrics are nothing special. But he brings a twilight complexity to it all with a vocal that plumbs then-new depths. Nobody in mainstream pop was singing like this, and Lennon was just getting started.
43. “How,” Imagine (1971)
A song that thematically wouldn’t have felt out of place on Plastic Ono Band, “How” revealed a similar depth of self doubt and fear, but presented things – like much of the Imagine project – in a sleeker, more approachable way. That doesn’t mean it was boring: Lennon’s jolting syncopations smartly echo his own insecurities.
42. “Sexy Sadie,” The Beatles (1968)
Lennon jabbed a poison pen into the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi after finding the founder of transcendental meditation less than inspiring while on a band pilgrimage to his Indian ashram. Lennon later changed the title to something with the same number of syllables as “maharishi” but left the rest of his vitriolic barbs in place.
41. “There’s a Place,” Please Please Me (1963)
The first thing recorded for Please Please Me, “There’s a Place” is the best early Beatles song never played on the radio. There’s a thrilling middle eight and an explosive ending, all in service of a nifty prototype Brian Wilson-like theme: “There’s a place I can go, it’s in my mind.”
40. “I Should Have Known Better,” A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
It says a lot that this song – with its infectious hook, bawling harp and remarkably openhearted lyric – is one of the lesser of Lennon’s songs from the Beatles’ first movie project. He was on an incredible creative run, writing or co-writing 10 of the 13 tracks for A Hard Day’s Night.
39. “Cry Baby Cry,” The Beatles (1968)
Inspired in part by the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” “Cry Baby Cry” succeeds in walking the delicate line between lyrical fancifulness and melodic poignancy. Lennon must have been pleased with the results. He roughed up this sing-songy feel, while keeping a touch of 1800s-style grandiosity, on “Clean Up Time” from 1980’s Double Fantasy.
38. “Hey Bulldog,” Yellow Submarine (1969)
A bellwether song. Lennon and McCartney collaborated in the studio to complete “Hey Bulldog” while film crews recorded it all for the very first time. After this, they’d issue a band-titled album that was anything but, then make the disastrous decision to make the recording of their first 1969 album into a film.
37. “Woman,” Double Fantasy (1980)
The inspiration was Ono, but the theme he was trying for was far more universal – something more … Beatlesque. Lennon’s session mates knew just what to do: Guitarist Earl Slick later said he immediately connected “Woman” with McCartney’s gorgeous “Here, There and Everywhere.”
36. “Jealous Guy,” Imagine (1971)
One of the most covered of Lennon’s solo tracks, “Jealous Guy” has been reinterpreted more than 100 times — most notably by Roxy Music, who had a huge U.K. hit with it just after Lennon’s murder. And yet this song still completely belongs to its author, who sings with an unmatched fragility over an atmospheric music bed.
35. “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” Help! (1965)
Decades after his death, Lennon remains an enigma: A peace-loving street fighter, a house-husband activist, as inscrutable as he is compulsively listenable. “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” shows Lennon was that way nearly from the start, as he hands out a bit of romantic advice – with just a whisper of threatened violence.
34. “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Past Masters (1963)
The Beatles had two consecutive singles flop in the U.S. before a writing session at McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher’s house produced this breakout smash. Bob Dylan famously thought they were singing “I get high.” When it turned out they weren’t, Dylan promptly passed them a joint.
33. “She Said, She Said,” Revolver (1966)
The final song recorded for Revolver. Actor Peter Fonda provided the opening line, while telling an anecdote at an acid-fueled party. Lennon gave everything in spectacular propulsion, playing the kind of spindly guitar that defined college rock two decades later. Harrison also made an uncredited contribution, as “She Said, She Said” skillfully shifted between 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures.
32. “If I Fell,” A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Everything about this song is brilliantly coiled, from its title to its melody to Lennon’s almost diffident approach with the lyric. It stuck with him, too. Lennon later noted that “If I Fell” has the same chord sequence as the subsequent autobiographical song “In My Life” (see No. 15 in our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs).
31. “(Just Like) Starting Over,” Double Fantasy (1980)
Lennon hadn’t sounded this openhearted since the early days with the Beatles, neither musically (there’s a welcome nod to the doo-wop of his youth) nor lyrically (as he looks unabashedly forward). That sense of renewal, when taken in context, can begin to feel like a huge letdown. Don’t let it. This is joy, sheer joy.
30. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” Abbey Road (1969)
Lennon continued to whittle away at his work, hoping to find a clearer connection between everything he was feeling and the listener’s heart. His lyric here was so simple as to seem laughable, until you heard it sung. Each iteration carried more and more weight, even as the musical landscape continued to shift. By the time everything was abruptly cut short, he’d constructed a tornadic gust of emotion.
29. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Many were convinced that the title referenced LSD, rather than having emerged from a child’s artwork, as Lennon consistently claimed. He was also said to have been influenced by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Either way, when the Beatles moved from surrealistic 6/8 verses into that shuddering 4/4 chorus, it sure sounded like an acid trip.
28. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” Help! (1965)
Ironically, Lennon began to more clearly distinguish himself within his own group in part by trying out a Dylan persona. It didn’t last long, but then again it didn’t need to. Filled here with crushing self doubt, Lennon was already something else entirely.
27. “And Your Bird Can Sing,” Revolver (1966)
The always-competitive Lennon seemed to be directing this at the Rolling Stones, with a title referencing their muse, Marianne Faithfull. Whatever his intent, it remains a thrilling orchestra of guitar fury. Joe Walsh reportedly struggled for hours one day trying to mimic “And Your Bird Can Sing,” before his brother-in-law Ringo Starr revealed that it wasn’t merely one guitarist, but McCartney and Harrison playing in unison.
26. “Day Tripper,” Past Masters (1965)
Appropriately titled, this neat double entendre was written to order, as Lennon turned the traditional meaning of day trippers on its ear in a song that pokes fun at part-time hippies. They finished this quick B-side to “We Can Work It Out” within three takes on an October afternoon.
25. “She Loves You,” Past Masters (1963)
Decades and a million radio spins later, it’s easy to become numb to this song’s power and drama. Charging in with the chorus, rather than the verse, remains a stroke of genius.
24. “Imagine,” Imagine (1971)
Lennon himself actually nailed it: This song is “anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic – but because it is sugarcoated, it is accepted.”
23. “No Reply,” Beatles for Sale (1964)
The follow-up to A Hard Day’s Night perhaps inevitably suffered from creative exhaustion. Beatlemania was taking its toll, something obvious with one look at the glum Beatles for Sale album cover. The project got off to a fast start, however, with Lennon’s first complete narrative – and a very early draft of the tormented howl that would define him.
22. “Nowhere Man,” Rubber Soul (1965)
Lennon had been hinting at an inward turn for some time. He completed it here, revealing the unhappy existence he was living behind a Happily Married Beatle facade.
21. “Julia,” The Beatles (1968)
Lennon utilizes his striking gift for turning phrases, but this time in the most personal of ways. Where he seemed to disappear inside his best-known psychedelic triumphs, “Julia” is, at its core, a naked plea for connection with a lost mother – but not the last (see No. 18 in our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs).
20. “A Hard Day’s Night,” A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Another song that was written on demand, the title track from the Beatles’ first movie project is shot through with a few more shadows than earlier hits like “Please Please Me.” Yet Harrison’s opening chord is the audio encapsulation of Beatlemania.
19. “Help!,” Help! (1965)
If Lennon had never written this song, Jackson Browne would have been busing tables at a California greasy spoon in the ’70s.
18. “Mother,” Plastic Ono Band 1970
Lennon switched from guitar to piano as he worked out this tortured wail for his missing parents, with Starr providing a smartly economical and fill-free rhythm that only added to the lyric’s stabbing emotion. Lennon recorded the shredding finale in single-line takes to save his voice. His pain is simply excruciating.
17. “You Can’t Do That,” A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Proof that there was danger – very real danger – in Lennon’s music the whole time.
16. “Ticket to Ride,” Help! (1965)
That regret-soaked ending makes it clear that this isn’t just about some girl. (See No. 18 on our list of Top 80 John Lennon Songs.)
15. “In My Life,” Rubber Soul (1965)
If this sounds like Lennon’s best answer to McCartney’s ballad dominancy, that might be because McCartney chipped in on the middle eight. Still, “In My Life” remains Lennon’s first major work. He crafted deeply personal lyrics, and created a sweetly elegiac melody that ranks among his very best.
14. “Revolution,” Past Masters (1968)
The single version of “Revolution,” unlike the anodyne take on Side 4 of the White Album, arrives like a sharp jab. Up to this point, the Beatles had never sounded tougher.
13. “Gimme Some Truth,” Imagine (1971)
Originally demoed during the sessions that produced 1970’s Let It Be, “Gimme Some Truth” melds Lennon’s love of wordplay with a knack for the excoriating take down. As he rails against the hypocrisy and villainy of the day, Harrison can be found brutally sawing on his guitar.
12. “I Am the Walrus,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Lennon apparently heard that teachers at his old school were holding classes that focused on Beatles lyrics and had an impish idea. “I Am the Walrus” subsequently arrived with a slew of invented words like “crabalocker” and “texpert,” very much in keeping with Lennon’s side-project books In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. “Let the fuckers work that one out,” Lennon supposedly quipped.
11. “Don’t Let Me Down,” Past Masters (1969)
Perhaps the most head-scratchingly odd choice Phil Spector made when editing Let It Be was featuring two throwaway Lennon-sung snippets (“Dig It” and “Maggie Mae”) rather than “Don’t Let Me Down,” the stirring non-album B-side to “Get Back.” As we heard on 2003’s Let It Be … Naked, it would have rebalanced the whole album.
10. “Instant Karma,” Shaved Fish (1970)
This appropriately named tune, Lennon’s third solo single, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios the same day it was written. “Instant Karma” didn’t, as hoped, hit the shelves at record stores within 24 hours of completion — but it did arrive just 10 days later.
9. “Come Together,” Abbey Road (1969)
Thankfully, this became a No. U.S. 1 single for the Beatles, rather than a theme song for the doomed California gubernatorial run by Timothy Leary against Ronald Reagan. They hatched a plan for Lennon to write something after Leary took part in the hotel-room recording sessions for “Give Peace a Chance,” but then Lennon decided to keep what became the opening song on Abbey Road.
8. “I Found Out,” Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Starr’s rugged cadence tends to get lost amid Lennon’s torrential rebuke of past icons. But those kill shots aimed at politicians, drugs, religion (“from Jesus to Paul“), parents, society – you name it – could have missed if not for Starr.
7. “Rain,” Past Masters (1966)
By this point, the Beatles were using the studio as another instrument. For instance, they played the rhythm track for this at a blistering speed, then manipulated the tape to slow everything down, giving “Rain” an appropriately gray-skied menace. Lennon later threaded part of his vocals backward into the tape machine. Meanwhile, Starr put in another thunderous performance.
6. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” Rubber Soul (1965)
Lennon’s narrative gifts were rapidly developing, to the point where he felt bold enough to use an ongoing affair being held behind wife Cynthia’s back as fodder for a Beatles song. Perhaps in a fit of guilt, he had the main character apparently burn down the unattainable mistress’ house.
5. “#9 Dream,” Walls and Bridges (1974)
Lennon never sounded more like his creative apex with the Beatles in 1967 than he did here. But that certainly wasn’t the intention. In fact, the original demo – simply titled “So Long” – was based on a contemporary string arrangement he’d written for Harry Nilsson’s cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” from Nilsson’s 1974 LP Pussy Cats. But the narcoleptic mysticism of “#9 Dream” – Lennon said “ah bowakawa pousse, pousse” actually came to him in a dream – would have fit right in on Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour.
4. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Revolver (1966)
An entire song based on a single chord? Close-microphoning a slack-skinned tom to create that earth-shattering sound? Running six separate loops in tandem? Sending Lennon’s voice through a revolving Leslie speaker? Incredible. Yet, somehow, this isn’t even the Beatles’ most innovative recording.
3. “Dear Prudence,” The Beatles (1968)
Often somehow overlooked, “Dear Prudence” unfolds with episodic drama – right down to the argument over whether McCartney or the temporarily missing Starr played drums on the outro. What we do know: Lennon employed a distinctive fingerpicking style he learned from Donovan during the Beatles’ trip to India. It’s also heard on “Julia” and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”
2. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
They slowed down Lennon’s voice, ran the drums and cymbals backward and experimented with the then-new Mellotron and an Indian swarmandal instrument, while doing take after take after take. A wonder of mad science, the nostalgic “Strawberry Fields Forever” was then stitched together using two completely different takes with completely different lineups in completely different speeds and pitches. In the end, George Martin reportedly spent an unprecedented 55 hours at Abbey Road in order to complete this one song.
1. “A Day in the Life,” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Sgt. Pepper’s groundbreaking finale isn’t just the best John Lennon song, it’s one of the most important creative statements in rock history. At its base, Lennon was just stringing together bits and pieces of current-event minutia. But they kept building until “A Day in the Life” became monumental. McCartney contributed a middle-eight peek behind the curtain of a busy existence, Starr smartly answered Lennon’s lines and approximately 40 orchestral musicians were recorded four times on two synced-up tape machines to create a surging thunderclap of strings. Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Apple assistant Mal Evans then simultaneously hit an E-major piano chord to bring it all to an astounding end. Keep listening as “A Day in the Life” fades. You’ll eventually hear the air-conditioning unit at Abbey Road.