33 years ago today, John Lennon was shot dead outside his New York home.
When he died he was younger than I am now.
By the time I’d decided at the ripe old age of 32 that teaching might be the vocation for providing for my family, John Lennon had already lived a colourful life in Hamburg, formed the Beatles, split the Beatles, was one of the most recognisable faces on the planet and half-way through a solo career. Not bad going when you stop to think about it.
On the day he died, I came home from school to find my mum cleaning out the kitchen cupboards and crying. I shuffled about awkwardly, trying to be invisible while looking for the chocolate biscuits that weren’t in their usual place. Imagine seemed to soundtrack that whole era, Lennon’s unofficial national anthem for the world playing on every radio station across the globe.
Here’s the first take of Imagine, that other gun-wielding maniac Phil Spector at the controls and recorded at John’s house in Ascot. See when the honey-thick warm strings come in at the start with the piano……..s’beautiful, man!
And here’s a live version from 1971. Just John and his acoustic guitar in front of a politely reserved audience. Imagine wouldn’t be the song it was until Lennon’s death. Who knew?
Here’s the demo of Real Love. Lennon gives birth to Elliott Smith whilst sketching out a minor keyed spidery piano part that would never see the light of day during his lifetime.
And here’s the Jeff Lynne-produced shiny, polished-up Threetles version, released to promote the mid 90s Anthology series. Packed full of George’s slide guitar and some warm Beatles harmonies, it is (to paraphrase Alan Partridge) the band ELO could’ve been.
A few years ago, we visited New York. Just across the road from the Dakota Building in Central Park we came across Strawberry Fields. Once we’d managed to squeeze ourselves in between the hordes of quietly determined Japanese tourists hell-bent on not letting us through (Give Peace A Chance, my arse), much like that December day in my kitchen in 1980, we looked in slightly self-conscious silence at the wee tiled memorial.
I could post a picture of it, but it looks exactly the same as any one you choose to Google, although my picture has a random scattering of Autumn Central Park leaves on top of the black and white tiles, rather than the candles of eternity that were somewhat ironically missing that day.
Tis the season to be jolly ‘n all that. Here’s the rough version of Happy Xmas (War Is Over). Written and recorded in the space of a day, as was Lennon’s wont at the time, the record company failed to act quickly enough, and it missed out on being that year’s Christmas single. As with Imagine, it’s only since his death that Happy Xmas became truly popular.
Lennon autographs a copy of his Double Fantasy LP for the man who would return to kill him six hours later.