John Lennon: Musician, Activist, Stamp Collector

United States - John Lennon, issued September 7, 2018
United States – John Lennon, issued September 7, 2018 (1 of 4)

English singer, songwriter, peace activist, and co-founder of the Beatles — the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music — John Winston Lennon was born on October 9, 1940,  in Liverpool, where he became involved in the skiffle craze as a teenager. He and fellow Beatles member Paul McCartney formed a much-celebrated songwriting partnership. Along with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the group would ascend to worldwide fame during the 1960s.

Lennon began to record as a solo artist before the band’s break-up in April 1970; two of those songs were “Give Peace a Chance” and “Instant Karma!” Lennon subsequently produced albums that included John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and songs such as “Working Class Hero”, “Imagine” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. After he married Yoko Ono in 1969, he added “Ono” as one of his middle names. Lennon disengaged himself from the music business in 1975 to raise his infant son Sean, but re-emerged with Ono in 1980 with the album Double Fantasy. He was shot and killed in the archway of his Manhattan apartment building on December 8, 1980, three weeks after the album was released.

Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, writing, drawings, on film and in interviews. Controversial through his political and peace activism, he moved from London to Manhattan in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a lengthy attempt by the Nixon administration to deport him. Some of his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement and the larger counterculture.

By 2012, Lennon’s solo album sales in the United States had exceeded 14 million units. He had 25 number-one singles on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart as a writer, co-writer, or performer. In 2002, Lennon was voted eighth in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons and in 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him the fifth-greatest singer of all time. In 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Lennon was twice posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: first in 1988 as a member of the Beatles and again in 1994 as a solo artist. John Lennon also collected stamps as a young schoolboy in Liverpool.

John Lennon in New York City, circa 1972.
John Lennon in New York City, circa 1972.

Lennon was born on October 9, 1940, at Liverpool Maternity Hospital, to Julia (née Stanley) (1914–1958) and Alfred Lennon (1912–1976). Alfred was a merchant seaman of Irish descent who was away at the time of his son’s birth. His parents named him John Winston Lennon after his paternal grandfather, John “Jack” Lennon, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. His father was often away from home but sent regular paychecks to 9 Newcastle Road, Liverpool, where Lennon lived with his mother; the checks stopped when he went absent without leave in February 1944. When he eventually came home six months later, he offered to look after the family, but Julia, by then pregnant with another man’s child, rejected the idea. After her sister Mimi complained to Liverpool’s Social Services twice, Julia gave her custody of Lennon.

In July 1946, Lennon’s father visited her and took his son to Blackpool, secretly intending to emigrate to New Zealand with him. Julia followed them — with her partner at the time, ‘Bobby’ Dykins — and after a heated argument his father forced the five-year-old to choose between them. Lennon twice chose his father, but as his mother walked away, he began to cry and followed her, although this has been disputed. According to author Mark Lewisohn, Lennon’s parents agreed that Julia should take him and give him a home as Alf left again. A witness who was there that day, Billy Hall, has said the dramatic scene often portrayed with a young John Lennon having to make a decision between his parents never happened. It would be 20 years before he had contact with his father again.

251 Menlove Avenue in Liverpool, England, named Mendips (after the Mendip Hills), is the childhood home of John Lennon, singer and songwriter with The Beatles. The Grade II listed building is preserved by the National Trust. Photo taken on May 23, 2006.
251 Menlove Avenue in Liverpool, England, named Mendips (after the Mendip Hills), is the childhood home of John Lennon, singer and songwriter with The Beatles. The Grade II listed building is preserved by the National Trust. Photo taken on May 23, 2006.

Throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Lennon lived at Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton with Mimi and her husband George Toogood Smith, who had no children of their own. His aunt purchased volumes of short stories for him, and his uncle, a dairyman at his family’s farm, bought him a mouth organ and engaged him in solving crossword puzzles. Julia visited Mendips on a regular basis, and when John was 11 years old he often visited her at 1 Blomfield Road, Liverpool, where she played him Elvis Presley records, taught him the banjo, and showed him how to play “Ain’t That a Shame” by Fats Domino. In September 1980, Lennon commented about his family and his rebellious nature:

Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic poet/musician. But I cannot be what I am not … I was the one who all the other boys’ parents—including Paul’s father—would say, ‘Keep away from him’… The parents instinctively recognized I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend’s home … Partly out of envy that I didn’t have this so-called home … but I did… There were five women that were my family. Five strong, intelligent, beautiful women, five sisters. One happened to be my mother. [She] just couldn’t deal with life. She was the youngest and she had a husband who ran away to sea and the war was on and she couldn’t cope with me, and I ended up living with her elder sister. Now those women were fantastic … And that was my first feminist education … I would infiltrate the other boys’ minds. I could say, “Parents are not gods because I don’t live with mine and, therefore, I know.”

Stanley Parkes (Lennon's older cousin), age 15 and John, age 8 posing in front of Lennon's childhood home. About a year later, Parkes gave John his green Mercury album which he used to collect stamps over the next several years. Photo courtesy of Time/LIFE.
Stanley Parkes (Lennon’s older cousin), age 15 and John, age 8 posing in front of Lennon’s childhood home. About a year later, Parkes gave John his green Mercury album which he used to collect stamps over the next several years. Photo courtesy of Time/LIFE.
Front cover of John Lennon's Mercury stamp album
Front cover of John Lennon’s Mercury stamp album

He regularly visited his cousin, Stanley Parkes, who lived in Fleetwood and took him on trips to local cinemas. During the school holidays, Parkes often visited Lennon with Leila Harvey, another cousin, and the threesome often travelled to Blackpool two or three times a week to watch shows. They would visit the Blackpool Tower Circus and see artists such as Dickie Valentine, Arthur Askey, Max Bygraves and Joe Loss, with Parkes recalling that Lennon particularly liked George Formby. After Parkes’s family moved to Scotland, the three cousins often spent their school holidays together there. Parkes recalled, “John, cousin Leila and I were very close. From Edinburgh we would drive up to the family croft at Durness, which was from about the time John was nine years old until he was about 16.” He was 14 years old when his uncle George died of a liver hemorrhage on June 5, 1955, at age 52.

Lennon was raised as an Anglican and attended Dovedale Primary School. After passing his eleven-plus exam, he attended Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool from September 1952 to 1957, and was described by Harvey at the time as a “happy-go-lucky, good-humored, easy going, lively lad”. He often drew comical cartoons that appeared in his own self-made school magazine called The Daily Howl, but despite his artistic talent, his school reports were damning: “Certainly on the road to failure … hopeless … rather a clown in class … wasting other pupils’ time.”

In 1956, Julia bought John his first guitar. The instrument was an inexpensive Gallotone Champion acoustic for which she lent her son five pounds and ten shillings on the condition that the guitar be delivered to her own house and not Mimi’s, knowing well that her sister was not supportive of her son’s musical aspirations. Mimi was skeptical of his claim that he would be famous one day, and she hoped that he would grow bored with music, often telling him, “The guitar’s all very well, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it”.

The Quarrymen performing in Rosebery Street, Liverpool on 22 June 1957. (Left to right: Hanton, Griffiths, Lennon, Garry, Shotton, and Davis). Paul McCartney can be seen in attendance (bottom right).
The Quarrymen performing in Rosebery Street, Liverpool on June 22, 1957. Left to right: Hanton, Griffiths, Lennon, Garry, Shotton, and Davis. Paul McCartney can be seen in attendance (bottom rig

At age 15, Lennon formed the skiffle group, the Quarrymen. Named after Quarry Bank High School, the group was established by Lennon in September 1956. By the summer of 1957, the Quarrymen played a “spirited set of songs” made up of half skiffle and half rock and roll. Lennon first met Paul McCartney at the Quarrymen’s second performance, which was held in Woolton on July 6 at the St. Peter’s Church garden fête. Lennon then asked McCartney to join the band.

McCartney made his debut with the band on Friday, October 18, 1957, at a Conservative Club social held at the New Clubmoor Hall in the Norris Green section of Liverpool. Lennon and McCartney wore cream-colored sports jackets, which were paid for by the whole group — Walley collected half a crown per week from each member until they were paid for — and the others wore white shirts with tassels and black bootlace ties. To the irritation of the other group members, McCartney endlessly practiced the lead guitar intro to “Raunchy” (by saxophonist Bill Justis) and a solo from “Guitar Boogie Shuffle”, for days before the engagement, but on the night after being specially introduced by Lennon as a new member of the group McCartney missed his cue on “Raunchy”, played all the wrong notes, and stepped back in embarrassment between Hanton and Garry. Everyone expected Lennon to say something sarcastic, but the sight of the always overconfident McCartney looking so crestfallen made Lennon laugh out loud so much that he “almost pissed himself”.

The Quarrymen continued to play sparse gigs throughout the autumn of 1957, mostly for local promoter Charlie McBain. During this period, the group almost entirely excised skiffle from their repertoire, focusing on covers of songs by rock and roll singers such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, and Larry Williams, and the Quarrymen’s sound increasingly relied on harmony singing between Lennon and McCartney.

On July 15, 1958, (when Lennon was 17 years old) his mother was struck and killed by a car while she was walking home after visiting the Smiths’ house. Lennon failed his O-level examinations and was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art after his aunt and headmaster intervened. Once at the college, he started wearing Teddy Boy clothes and was threatened with expulsion for his behavior. He was “thrown out of the college before his final year”.

The famous photo of the Quarrymen playing at St. Peter's Church garden fête on July 6, 1957,, where Lennon and McCartney first met. From left to right: Griffiths, Hanton, Davis, Lennon, Shotton, Garry
The Quarrymen playing at St. Peter’s Church garden fête on July 6, 1957,, where Lennon and McCartney first met. From left to right: Griffiths, Hanton, Davis, Lennon, Shotton, Garry

McCartney said that Aunt Mimi “was very aware that John’s friends were lower class”, and would often patronize him when he arrived to visit Lennon. According to Paul’s brother Mike, McCartney’s father was also disapproving, declaring that Lennon would get his son “into trouble”, although he later allowed the fledgling band to rehearse in the McCartneys’ front room at 20 Forthlin Road. An extremely important influence for them at the time was Buddy Holly and his group the Crickets. During this time, 18-year-old Lennon wrote his first song, “Hello Little Girl”, a UK top 10 hit for The Fourmost nearly five years later. McCartney also wrote his first song, “I Lost My Little Girl”, and both were impressed with each other’s efforts. The two began writing together, and their writing partnership would become very successful throughout the 1960s.

McCartney recommended his friend George Harrison to be the lead guitarist. Lennon thought that Harrison, then 14 years old, was too young. McCartney engineered an audition on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus, where Harrison played “Raunchy” for Lennon and was asked to join. Stuart Sutcliffe, Lennon’s friend from art school, later joined as bassist.

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe became The Beatles in early 1960. In August that year, the Beatles engaged for a 48-night residency in Hamburg, Germany and were desperately in need of a drummer. They asked Pete Best to join them. Lennon was now 19, and his aunt, horrified when he told her about the trip, pleaded with him to continue his art studies instead. After the first Hamburg residency, the band accepted another in April 1961, and a third in April 1962. As with the other band members, Lennon was introduced to Preludin while in Hamburg, and regularly took the drug as a stimulant during their long, overnight performances.

Television appearance by John Lennon (right) with The Beatles at Treslong, Hillegom, Netherlands on June 5, 1964. Jimmy Nichol is on drums, substituting for Ringo Starr at this performance.
Television appearance by John Lennon (right) with The Beatles at Treslong, Hillegom, Netherlands on June 5, 1964. Jimmy Nichol is on drums, substituting for Ringo Starr at this performance.

Brian Epstein managed the Beatles from 1962 until his untimely death in 1967. He had no prior experience managing artists, but he had a strong influence on the group’s dress code and attitude on stage. Lennon initially resisted his attempts to encourage the band to present a professional appearance, but eventually complied, saying, “I’ll wear a bloody balloon if somebody’s going to pay me”. McCartney took over on bass after Sutcliffe decided to stay in Hamburg, and Pete Best was replaced with drummer Ringo Starr; this completed the four-piece line-up that would remain until the group’s break-up in 1970.

The band’s first single, “Love Me Do”, was released in October 1962 and reached No. 17 on the British charts. They recorded their debut album, Please Please Me, in under 10 hours on 11 February 1963, a day when Lennon was suffering the effects of a cold, which is evident in the vocal on the last song to be recorded that day, “Twist and Shout”. The Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership yielded eight of its fourteen tracks. With a few exceptions, one being the album title itself, Lennon had yet to bring his love of wordplay to bear on his song lyrics, saying: “We were just writing songs … pop songs with no more thought of them than that—to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant”. In a 1987 interview, McCartney said that the other Beatles idolized John: “He was like our own little Elvis … We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader; he was the quickest wit and the smartest.”

The Beatles achieved mainstream success in the UK early in 1963. Lennon was on tour when his first son, Julian, was born in April. During their Royal Variety Show performance, which was attended by the Queen Mother and other British royalty, Lennon poked fun at the audience: “For our next song, I’d like to ask for your help. For the people in the cheaper seats, clap your hands … and the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry.”

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York on February 7, 1964. Universal Press International photo. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c11094.
The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York on February 7, 1964. Universal Press International photo. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c11094.

After a year of Beatlemania in the UK, the group’s historic February 1964 United States debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show marked their breakthrough to international stardom. A two-year period of constant touring, filmmaking, and songwriting followed, during which Lennon wrote two books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. The Beatles received recognition from the British Establishment when they were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1965 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Lennon grew concerned that fans who attended Beatles concerts were unable to hear the music above the screaming of fans, and that the band’s musicianship was beginning to suffer as a result. Lennon’s “Help!” expressed his own feelings in 1965: “I meant it … It was me singing ‘help'”. He had put on weight (he would later refer to this as his “Fat Elvis” period), and felt he was subconsciously seeking change. In March that year he was unknowingly introduced to LSD when a dentist, hosting a dinner party attended by Lennon, Harrison and their wives, spiked the guests’ coffee with the drug. When they wanted to leave, their host revealed what they had taken, and strongly advised them not to leave the house because of the likely effects. Later, in a lift at a nightclub, they all believed it was on fire: “We were all screaming … hot and hysterical.”

In March 1966, during an interview with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon remarked, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now — I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.” The comment went virtually unnoticed in England but caused great offence in the U.S. when quoted by a magazine there five months later. The furor that followed, which included the burning of Beatles records, Ku Klux Klan activity and threats against Lennon, contributed to the band’s decision to stop touring.

Publicity photo of the Beatles with producer George Martin in the studio at Abbey Road. Only John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney are pictured.
Publicity photo of the Beatles with producer George Martin in the studio at Abbey Road, circa 1966. Only John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney are pictured.

After the Beatles’ final concert on August 29, 1966, Lennon was deprived of the routine of live performances; he felt lost and considered leaving the band. Since his involuntary introduction to LSD, he had increased his use of the drug and was almost constantly under its influence for much of 1967. According to biographer Ian MacDonald, Lennon’s continuous experimentation with LSD during the year brought him “close to erasing his identity” The year 1967 saw the release of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, hailed by Time magazine for its “astonishing inventiveness”, and the group’s landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which revealed lyrics by Lennon that contrasted strongly with the simple love songs of the ‘Lennon–McCartney’ early years.

After the Beatles were introduced to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the group attended an August weekend of personal instruction at his Transcendental Meditation seminar in Bangor, Wales. During the seminar, they were informed of Epstein’s death. “I knew we were in trouble then”, Lennon said later. “I didn’t have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared”. Led primarily by Harrison and Lennon’s interest in Eastern religion, the Beatles later travelled to Maharishi’s ashram in India for further guidance. While there, they composed most of the songs for The Beatles and Abbey Road albums.

The anti-war, black comedy How I Won the War, featuring Lennon’s only appearance in a non–Beatles full-length film, was shown in cinemas in October 1967. McCartney organized the group’s first post-Epstein project, the self-written, produced and directed television film Magical Mystery Tour, which was released in December that year. While the film itself proved to be their first critical flop, its soundtrack release, featuring Lennon’s acclaimed, Lewis Carroll-inspired “I Am the Walrus”, was a success.

Press photo of The Beatles during Magical Mystery Tour.
Press photo of The Beatles filming a sequence for “I Am the Walrus” during Magical Mystery Tour, 1967.
Apple Corps building at 3 Savile Row, London, site of the Let It Be rooftop concert. Photo taken on April 1, 2007.
Apple Corps building at 3 Savile Row, London, site of the Let It Be rooftop concert. Photo taken on April 1, 2007.

With Epstein gone, the band members became increasingly involved in business activities, and in February 1968 they formed Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation composed of Apple Records and several other subsidiary companies. Lennon described the venture as an attempt to achieve “artistic freedom within a business structure”, but his increased drug experimentation and growing preoccupation with Yoko Ono, combined with the Beatles’ inability to agree on how the company should be run, left Apple in need of professional management. Lennon asked Lord Beeching to take on the role, but he declined, advising Lennon to go back to making records. Lennon was approached by Allen Klein, who had managed The Rolling Stones and other bands during the British Invasion. In early 1969, Klein was appointed as Apple’s chief executive by Lennon, Harrison and Starr, but McCartney never signed the management contract.

At the end of 1968, Lennon was featured in the film The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in the role of a Dirty Mac band member. The film was not released until 1996. The supergroup, composed of Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell, also backed a vocal performance by Ono in the film.

John Lennon in the recording studio, 1968.
John Lennon in the recording studio, 1968.
Yoko Ono and John Lennon at Gibraltar on their wedding day, March 20, 1969.
Yoko Ono and John Lennon at Gibraltar on their wedding day, March 20, 1969.

Lennon and Ono were married on March 20, 1969, and soon released a series of 14 lithographs called “Bag One” depicting scenes from their honeymoon, eight of which were deemed indecent and most of which were banned and confiscated. Lennon’s creative focus continued to move beyond The Beatles and between 1968 and 1969 he and Ono recorded three albums of experimental music together: Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins (known more for its cover than for its music), Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions and Wedding Album. In 1969, they formed the Plastic Ono Band, releasing Live Peace in Toronto 1969. Between 1969 and 1970, Lennon released the singles “Give Peace a Chance”, which was widely adopted as an anti-Vietnam-War anthem in 1969, “Cold Turkey”, which documented his withdrawal symptoms after he became addicted to heroin, and “Instant Karma!”

In protest at Britain’s involvement in “the Nigeria-Biafra thing”, (the Nigerian Civil War), its support of America in the Vietnam war and (perhaps jokingly) against “Cold Turkey” slipping down the charts, Lennon returned his MBE medal to the Queen, though this had no effect on his MBE status, which could not be renounced.

Lennon left the Beatles in September 1969, and agreed not to inform the media while the group renegotiated their recording contract, but he was outraged that McCartney publicized his own departure on releasing his debut solo album in April 1970. Lennon’s reaction was, “Jesus Christ! He gets all the credit for it!” He later wrote, “I started the band. I disbanded it. It’s as simple as that.” In later interviews with Rolling Stone magazine, he revealed his bitterness towards McCartney, saying, “I was a fool not to do what Paul did, which was use it to sell a record.” Lennon also spoke of the hostility he perceived the other members had towards Ono, and of how he, Harrison, and Starr “got fed up with being sidemen for Paul … After Brian Epstein died we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us when we went round in circles?

In 1970, Lennon and Ono went through primal therapy with Arthur Janov in Los Angeles, California. Designed to release emotional pain from early childhood, the therapy entailed two half-days a week with Janov for four months; he had wanted to treat the couple for longer, but they felt no need to continue and returned to London. Lennon’s debut solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970), was received with praise by many music critics, but its highly personal lyrics and stark sound limited its commercial performance. Critic Greil Marcus remarked, “John’s singing in the last verse of ‘God’ may be the finest in all of rock.” The album featured the song “Mother”, in which Lennon confronted his feelings of childhood rejection, and the Dylanesque “Working Class Hero”, a bitter attack against the bourgeois social system which, due to the lyric “you’re still fucking peasants”, fell foul of broadcasters. The same year, Tariq Ali expressed his revolutionary political views when he interviewed Lennon. This inspired the singer to write “Power to the People”. Lennon also became involved with Ali during a protest against the prosecution of Oz magazine for alleged obscenity. Lennon denounced the proceedings as “disgusting fascism”, and he and Ono (as Elastic Oz Band) released the single “God Save Us/Do the Oz” and joined marches in support of the magazine.

John Lennon during the recording of
John Lennon during the recording of “Imagine”, circa 1971.

Eager for a major commercial success, Lennon adopted a more accessible sound for his next album, Imagine (1971). Rolling Stone reported that “it contains a substantial portion of good music” but warned of the possibility that “his posturings will soon seem not merely dull but irrelevant”. The album’s title track later became an anthem for anti-war movements, while the song “How Do You Sleep?” was a musical attack on McCartney in response to lyrics on Ram that Lennon felt, and McCartney later confirmed, were directed at him and Ono. Lennon softened his stance in the mid-1970s, however, and said he had written “How Do You Sleep?” about himself. He said in 1980: “I used my resentment against Paul … to create a song … not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta […] I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and the Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write ‘How Do You Sleep’. I don’t really go ’round with those thoughts in my head all the time.”

Lennon and Ono moved to New York in August 1971 and released “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” in December. During the new year, the Nixon administration took what it called a “strategic counter-measure” against Lennon’s anti-war and anti-Nixon propaganda. The administration embarked on what would be a four-year attempt to deport him. After George McGovern lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon in 1972, Lennon and Ono attended a post-election wake held in the New York home of activist Jerry Rubin. Lennon was embroiled in a continuing legal battle with the immigration authorities, and he was denied permanent residency in the U.S. The issue would not be resolved until 1976. Lennon was depressed and got intoxicated; he left Ono embarrassed after he had sex with a female guest. Her song “Death of Samantha” was inspired by the incident.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in New York City. Photo taken by Bob Gruen, circa 1972.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono in New York City. Photo taken by Bob Gruen, circa 1972.

Some Time in New York City was recorded as a collaboration with Ono and was released in 1972 with backing from the New York band Elephant’s Memory. A double LP, it contained songs about women’s rights, race relations, Britain’s role in Northern Ireland and Lennon’s difficulties in obtaining a green card. The album was a commercial failure and was maligned by critics, who found its political sloganeering heavy-handed and relentless. The NME’s review took the form of an open letter in which Tony Tyler derided Lennon as a “pathetic, ageing revolutionary”. In the U.S., “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” was released as a single from the album and was televised on May 11, on The Dick Cavett Show. Many radio stations refused to broadcast the song because of the word “nigger”. Lennon and Ono gave two benefit concerts with Elephant’s Memory and guests in New York in aid of patients at the Willowbrook State School mental facility. Staged at Madison Square Garden on August 30, 1972, they were his last full-length concert appearances.

While Lennon was recording Mind Games in 1973, he and Ono decided to separate. The ensuing 18-month period apart, which he later called his “lost weekend”, was spent in Los Angeles and New York City in the company of May Pang. Mind Games, credited to the “Plastic U.F.Ono Band”, was released in November 1973. Lennon also contributed “I’m the Greatest” to Starr’s album Ringo (1973), released the same month. An alternate take, from the same 1973 Ringo sessions, with Lennon providing a guide vocal, appears on John Lennon Anthology.

In early 1974, Lennon was drinking heavily and his alcohol-fueled antics with Harry Nilsson made headlines. In March, two widely publicized incidents occurred at The Troubadour club. In the first incident, Lennon stuck an unused menstrual pad on his forehead and scuffled with a waitress. The second incident occurred two weeks later, when Lennon and Nilsson were ejected from the same club after heckling the Smothers Brothers. Lennon decided to produce Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats, and Pang rented a Los Angeles beach house for all the musicians. After a month of further debauchery, the recording sessions were in chaos, and Lennon returned to New York with Pang to finish work on the album. In April, Lennon had produced the Mick Jagger song “Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)” which was, for contractual reasons, to remain unreleased for more than 30 years. Pang supplied the recording for its eventual inclusion on The Very Best of Mick Jagger (2007).

John Lennon and Mick Jagger at the Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, 1974, during the American Film Institute's Salute to James Cagney
John Lennon and Mick Jagger at the Century Plaza Hotel, Los Angeles, 1974, during the American Film Institute’s Salute to James Cagney

Lennon had settled back in New York when he recorded the album Walls and Bridges. Released in October 1974, it included “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”, which featured Elton John on backing vocals and piano, and became Lennon’s only single as a solo artist to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart during his lifetime. A second single from the album, “#9 Dream”, followed before the end of the year. Starr’s Goodnight Vienna (1974) again saw assistance from Lennon, who wrote the title track and played piano. On November 28, Lennon made a surprise guest appearance at Elton John’s Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden, in fulfilment of his promise to join the singer in a live show if “Whatever Gets You thru the Night”, a song whose commercial potential Lennon had doubted, reached number one. Lennon performed the song along with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There”, which he introduced as “a song by an old estranged fiancé of mine called Paul”.

Lennon co-wrote “Fame”, David Bowie’s first U.S. number one, and provided guitar and backing vocals for the January 1975 recording. In the same month, Elton John topped the charts with his cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, featuring Lennon on guitar and back-up vocals; Lennon is credited on the single under the moniker of “Dr. Winston O’Boogie”. He and Ono were reunited shortly afterwards. Lennon released Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975), an album of cover songs, in February. “Stand by Me”, taken from the album and a US and UK hit, became his last single for five years. He made what would be his final stage appearance in the ATV special A Salute to Lew Grade, recorded on April 18 and televised in June. Playing acoustic guitar and backed by an eight-piece band, Lennon performed two songs from Rock ‘n’ Roll (“Stand by Me”, which was not broadcast, and “Slippin’ and Slidin'”) followed by “Imagine”. The band, known as Etc., wore masks behind their heads, a dig by Lennon, who thought Grade was two-faced.

Sean was Lennon’s only child with Ono. Sean was born on October 9 1975 (Lennon’s thirty-fifth birthday), and John took on the role of househusband. Lennon began what would be a five-year hiatus from the music industry, during which time he gave all his attention to his family. Within the month, he fulfilled his contractual obligation to EMI/Capitol for one more album by releasing Shaved Fish, a compilation album of previously recorded tracks. He devoted himself to Sean, rising at 6 am daily to plan and prepare his meals and to spend time with him. He wrote “Cookin’ (In the Kitchen of Love)” for Starr’s Ringo’s Rotogravure (1976), performing on the track in June in what would be his last recording session until 1980. He formally announced his break from music in Tokyo in 1977, saying, “we have basically decided, without any great decision, to be with our baby as much as we can until we feel we can take time off to indulge ourselves in creating things outside of the family.” During his career break he created several series of drawings, and drafted a book containing a mix of autobiographical material and what he termed “mad stuff”, all of which would be published posthumously.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono photographed by Jack Mitchell in 1980, the year John Lennon was murdered.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono photographed by Jack Mitchell in 1980, the year John Lennon was murdered.

Lennon emerged from his five-year interruption in music recording in October 1980, when he released the single “(Just Like) Starting Over”. The following month saw the release of Double Fantasy, which contained songs written during a June 1980 journey to Bermuda on a 43-foot sailing boat. The music reflected Lennon’s fulfilment in his new-found stable family life. Sufficient additional material was recorded for a planned follow-up album Milk and Honey, which was released posthumously, in 1984. Double Fantasy was jointly released by Lennon and Ono very shortly before his death; the album was not well received and drew comments such as Melody Maker’s “indulgent sterility … a godawful yawn”.

After an evening at the Record Plant on December 8, 1980, Lennon and Ono returned to their Manhattan apartment in a limousine at around 10:50 p.m. (EST). They exited the vehicle and walked through the archway of The Dakota, when lone gunman Mark David Chapman shot Lennon four times in the back at close range. Lennon was rushed in a police cruiser to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:00 p.m. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman.

Ono issued a statement the next day, saying “There is no funeral for John”, ending it with the words, “John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him.” His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Ono scattered his ashes in New York’s Central Park, where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. Chapman avoided going to trial when he ignored his attorney’s advice and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20-years-to-life. In August 2018, he was denied parole for the 10th time.

Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York City, with The Dakota behind. Photo taken on December 27, 2013.
Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York City, with The Dakota behind. Photo taken on December 27, 2013.

The Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership is regarded as one of the most influential and successful of the 20th century. As performer, writer or co-writer, Lennon had 25 number one singles in the U.S. Hot 100 chart. His album sales in the United States stand at 14 million units. Double Fantasy was his best-selling solo album, at three million shipments in the U.S. Released shortly before his death, it won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The following year, the BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music was given to Lennon.

Music historians Schinder and Schwartz wrote of the transformation in popular music styles that took place between the 1950s and the 1960s. They said that the Beatles’ influence cannot be overstated: having “revolutionized the sound, style, and attitude of popular music and opened rock and roll’s doors to a tidal wave of British rock acts”, the group then “spent the rest of the 1960s expanding rock’s stylistic frontiers”. Liam Gallagher and his group Oasis were among the many who acknowledged the band’s influence; he identified Lennon as a hero. In 1999, he named his first child Lennon Gallagher in tribute. On National Poetry Day in 1999, the BBC conducted a poll to identify the UK’s favorite song lyric and announced “Imagine” as the winner.

In 1997, Yoko Ono and the BMI Foundation established an annual music competition program for songwriters of contemporary musical genres to honor John Lennon’s memory and his large creative legacy. Over $350,000 have been given through BMI Foundation’s John Lennon Scholarships to talented young musicians in the United States.

Photo of John Lennon as a member of The Beatles
Photo of John Lennon as a member of The Beatles

Participants in a 2002 BBC poll voted him eighth of “100 Greatest Britons”. Between 2003 and 2008, Rolling Stone recognized Lennon in several reviews of artists and music, ranking him fifth of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and 38th of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, and his albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, 22nd and 76th respectively of “Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Lennon was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

In a 2006 Guardian article, Jon Wiener wrote: “For young people in 1972, it was thrilling to see Lennon’s courage in standing up to [U.S. President] Nixon. That willingness to take risks with his career, and his life, is one reason why people still admire him today.” For music historians Urish and Bielen, Lennon’s most significant effort was “the self-portraits … in his songs [which] spoke to, for, and about, the human condition.”

In 2013, Downtown Music Publishing signed a publishing administration agreement for the U.S. with Lenono Music and Ono Music, home to the song catalogues of John Lennon and Yoko Ono respectively. Under the terms of the agreement, Downtown represents Lennon’s solo works, including “Imagine”, “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)”, “Power to the People”, “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)”, “Jealous Guy”, “(Just Like) Starting Over” and others.

Lennon continues to be mourned throughout the world and has been the subject of numerous memorials and tributes. In 2002, the airport in Lennon’s home town was renamed the Liverpool John Lennon Airport. On what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday in 2010, the John Lennon Peace Monument was unveiled in Chavasse Park, Liverpool, by Cynthia and Julian Lennon. The sculpture, entitled Peace & Harmony, exhibits peace symbols and carries the inscription “Peace on Earth for the Conservation of Life · In Honour of John Lennon 1940–1980”. In December 2013, the International Astronomical Union named one of the craters on Mercury after Lennon.

“John Lennon: The Lost Album” exhibition as displayed at the National Postal Museum, Washington DC, circa 2005-2006.
Front flyleaf of John Lennon's stamp album where he wrote his name and address and kept wrote the total number of stamps contained within.
Front flyleaf of John Lennon’s stamp album where he wrote his name and address and kept wrote the total number of stamps contained within.

On September 7, 2018, in conjunction with the release of the John Lennon Music Icons stamps, Lennon’s boyhood stamp album — including 565 stamps on more than 150 pages — went on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The album had previously been displayed at the museum from October 5, 2005, until April 10, 2006 in an exhibition titled “John Lennon: The Lost Album”. The current exhibition is called “John Lennon: The Green Album” and runs through February 3, 2019.

W. Wilson Hulme, the museum’s curator who acquired Lennon’s album for the museum in 2005, said at the time, “There are people who think stamp collecting isn’t cool, and maybe this will cause them to think twice about that. It just doesn’t get any cooler than John Lennon.” During the intervening years, the museum has shown the album in Stockholm and New York City.

[url=https://flic.kr/p/PFVkAL][img]https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1916/31300518308_3f261237f7_o.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/PFVkAL]Lennon_album_pp04-05[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/am-jochim/]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
Pages 4 and 5 of John Lennon’s stamp album showing first page of stamps from Great Britain
[url=https://flic.kr/p/2bPSiGZ][img]https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1912/45173950701_7162cd3946_o.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/2bPSiGZ]Lennon_album_pp56-57[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/am-jochim/]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
Pages 56 and 57 of John Lennon’s stamp album, showing stamps from Argentina and Austria

Lennon’s older cousin, Stanley Parkes, inspired the future Beatle’s interest in stamp collecting and gave him the album. Lennon rubbed out Parkes’s name and address on the album’s flyleaf, replacing it with his own signature and the address at Mendips, the home he shared with his aunt Mary (“Mimi”) Smith and her husband George. Already a budding artist, Lennon sketched beards and mustaches in blue ink of the likenesses of Queen Victoria and King George VI on the album’s title page. Lennon continued to collect and trade stamps for several years after receiving this album. According to Parkes, Lennon began collecting at about age 9 and actively collected stamps for several years. There is evidence throughout the album that Lennon added and removed stamps. Lennon’s handwritten notes on the flyleaf indicate the album may have contained as many as 800 stamps at some point. Currently, the album contains 565 stamps. The entire album can be viewed online on the National Postal Museum’s website.

On September 7, 2018, the United States Postal Service honored John Lennon by releasinga set of four stamps in the Music Icons series, utilizing the same design in different colors depicting singer and songwriter. The a dedication ceremony was held at the Namburg Bandshell in New York City’s Central Park, officiated by U.S. Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan and including special guests Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon. “Beloved around the world, Lennon was successful both as a founding member of the Beatles and as a solo artist. Lennon’s music continues to speak for truth, peace, and tolerance,” the Postal Service said in a press release on July 11.

Full pane of 2018 John Lennon stamps from USPS publicity image
Full pane of 2018 John Lennon stamps from USPS publicity image
[url=https://flic.kr/p/2aJ3YVf][img]https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1979/44451777984_d805aa1902_o.jpg[/img][/url][url=https://flic.kr/p/2aJ3YVf]John Lennon FDOI postmarks[/url] by [url=https://www.flickr.com/photos/am-jochim/]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
First day of issue postmarks for the John Lennon stamps issued by the United States on September 7, 2018.

The stamp features a photograph of John Lennon taken by rock-and-roll photographer Bob Gruen in August 1974 during the photo session for Lennon‘s 1974 album Walls and Bridges. The original black-and-white photograph has been treated in gradations of color. The stamps were offset printed by the Banknote Corporation of America in Browns Summit, North Carolina, using the Alprinta 74 press in a total quantity of 40,000,000 stamps. The print run was made using the colors Cool Gray 7, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black on phosphor, block tagged, paper with pressure sensitive adhesive. The plate consisted of 96 stamps per revolution. They have an overall size measuring 1.225 x 1.225 inches (31.115 x 31.115 mm) while each individual pane measures 7 x 7 inches (177.8 x 177.8 mm).

The self-adhesive stamp pane was designed to resemble a vintage 45 rpm record sleeve. One side of the pane includes 16 non-denominated (50-cent) Forever stamps and brief text about Lennon’s legacy as well as the image of a sliver of a record seeming to peek out the top of the sleeve. A black-and-white photograph of Lennon seated at his white piano appears on the reverse, along with Lennon‘s signature and the Music Icons series logo. Taken by photographer Peter Fordham, the original photograph was used to promote Lennon‘s landmark 1971 solo album, Imagine, released on September 9, 1971. Art director Antonio Alcalá worked on the stamp pane with designer Neal Ashby.

I ordered the four single stamps (rather than the full pane, which I think I need to do now!); they arrived in Thailand last Friday — October 5 — just in time to scan for this article…

Flag of the United States, 1959-date
Flag of the United States, 1959-date
Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelan
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