Early Life | The Beatles | Solo Career | After The Beatles
Lennon had begun recording some of his own material while the band was still together. He and Yoko Ono recorded three experimental albums, Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions, and Wedding Album, while the band was still in session. This was another reason for the breakup of the band; McCartney resented the fact that Lennon had been bringing Yoko to each recording session because he saw it as a distraction.
His first pop album, Live Peace In Toronto 1969, was recorded in 1969 with The Plastic Ono Band. He recorded three singles at this time: “Give Peace a Chance,” “Cold Turkey” (which was written about his recovering from a heroin addiction), and “Instant Karma!” After the Beatles broke up, Lennon and Ono released The John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The album contained two controversial songs: “Working Class Hero,” which was banned from the airwaves for expletive language, and “God,” which listed everything that John no longer believed in, including Buddha, Jesus, Hitler, The Walrus (an allusion to his song “I Am the Walrus” on the Beatles album Magical Mystery Tour), and God. The song ended with the line “The dream is over,” a reference to his statement that the Beatles as a band were dead.
Lennon’s next album, Imagine, reached #1 and became his most popular work as a solo artist. The title song “Imagine” is an anthem for peace and against religion with lines like “Imagine there’s no heaven” and “nothing to kill or die for/and no religion too.” The album also produced the single “How Do You Sleep?” that featured George Harrison on slide guitar and was written as an attack on Paul McCartney’s selfishness. In 1972, he released the heavily political album Some Time in New York City and the single “Woman is the Nigger of the World.” The song was not played on TV or radio (though Lennon did play it live on The Dick Cavett Show) as it drew parallels between the exploitation of women and racism against blacks. He got the name for the song from a phrase that Yoko Ono had said to him in 1967.
Lennon released Mind Games in 1973 and though it was credited to “The Plastic U.F. Ono Band,” it was his first solo album that Yoko did not play a part in recording. During this time John and Yoko were temporarily separated (see below) and the songs from this album and its follow up, Walls and Bridges, seem to have an apologetic tone. Walls and Bridges produced the number one hit “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” a duet with Elton John. John also performed at a surprise concert with Elton John at Madison Square Garden. This concert was significant for a number of reasons: Lennon met Yoko backstage and the two got back together, it marked Lennon’s last public rock concert, and the duo performed Lennon’s Beatle songs “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” which marked the first time he had publicly performed a Beatles song since the breakup of the band. In 1975, Lennon released his final album, Rock ‘n’ Roll, an album of covers of other songs. He achieved a hit with this and after the birth of his and Ono’s son Sean on his 35 th birthday, Lennon retired from music.In 1980, Lennon began writing new material for another album after contemplating returning to music. He and Yoko recorded Double Fantasy, a concept album that focused on their love for each other. Lennon also promoted this album while doing interviews. When Harrison ’s autobiography, I Me Mine, was released, he took offense to not being mentioned as a more prolific role in George’s life. During this time, Lennon equated his relationship to the Beatles as that between old high-school buddies. The relationship between he and McCartney seemed to have been patched; Lennon said that the two had watched Saturday Night Live together when Lorne Michaels suggested the band reunite on the show. He said that they considered doing it as a joke, but were “too tired.”