John Lennon would have turned 70 Saturday. Standing apart from much of the “normal” tribute stuff, I want to post a video that is one of the most intimate of Lennon from YouTube. John sings as he runs his distorted electric guitar through a small amp, for Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line, and Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby” and “Peggy Sue”. Sure, Yoko is sitting with him, but it’s all good; it’s a bit of footage that is more relaxed than professional, like much of their home movie material. But his playing is rock and roll beautiful – snarly, rough and reverential.
I was 14 when Lennon was shot. It was before I understood the power and uniqueness of the Beatles, and of Lennon’s wit and solo music output. I know now. I wonder what voice he would have carried forward, not just in music, but with human rights and the causes of those who need a voice. Maybe he was perceived as a radical, but he stood up for beliefs that were also important for many who needed him to speak, because they couldn’t be heard.
For me, that makes it more tragic than on that December night, when Howard Cosell announced to the world on Monday Night Football that John Lennon was dead.
John Lennon – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”
Of all of the songs in the 20 tune countdown, does this song polarize listeners more than any other? A bit political, though you could argue (successfully, I would add) that its more humanistic than just about ugly politics. Or maybe the time has passed for Lennon to still have enemies, even in his music. The subversive Lennon does tweak with the use of “Xmas” in the title, but that’s pretty tame by standards now, right?
The whole thing feels brilliant to me, and they used Phil Spector – the iconic Christmas record man himself – as producer. He partially atones for his “Let It Be” knob turning/jerking with a great sound on this one; in this age of “brand awareness” and staying true to an idea and self, Lennon and Yoko Ono certainly nailed it here, in idea and execution.
WIKIPEDIA: It was recorded at Record Plant Studios in New York City in late October 1971, with the help of producer Phil Spector. It features soaring, heavily echoed vocals, and a sing-along chorus. The children singing in the background were from the Harlem Community Choir and are credited on the song’s single.The record starts with a barely-audible whisper of Christmas greetings to their children: Yoko whispers “Happy Christmas, Kyoko”, then John whispers “Happy Christmas, Julian“.