When John Lennon was murdered in December 1980 I confess to feeling little emotion, despite having been obsessing over The Beatles’ music for the previous six months. My Fabs devotion had only just begun, limited to the Red & Blue albums, just dipping my toes into what was to become a bottomless voyage of musical enlightenment. By the time The John Lennon Collection was released at the end of ’82, my journey had progressed rapidly with The Beatles becoming nothing less than an obsession.
Just prior to his death, Lennon released (Just Like) Starting Over, his first UK single for five years and alongside the re-released Woman, Imagine and Happy Xmas (War Is Over) his music dominated the radio and the singles chart for months. At the time these songs did little for me. Two years on and Lennon was about to become my hero. Those singles were familiar to me and I had grown to love them, but the sheer genius contained in this Collection had an intense and overwhelming effect on my psyche and my soul. They hit me deep.
I listened to the album in its entirety on repeat, skipping nothing. I wanted to devour it all. But there were four songs in particular that just blew me away, previously unheard that matched, if not outshone the brilliance of Abbey Road or Revolver. #9 Dream was the first, a gorgeously dreamy, string-laden beauty. There are artists whose voice is immediately off-putting, and then there are those, like Lennon, whose tone and timbre seem to reach into your subconscious. I’ve often wondered how music affects some people’s emotions more than others, and have always felt grateful for what I’ve perceived as a heightened personal response. It was around this time that music, and Lennon’s in particular, was reaching and affecting parts of me previously undiscovered. #9 Dream hit the spot perfectly.
Playing these songs back as reference is proving my point. Within seconds of the start of Mind Games my skin tingles and a feeling like no other rushes through me. So the brain releases dopamine, but why more for some than others? Whatever. I’ll love the consequences of this ethereal, orchestrated epic. I was too young to fully delve into the lyric’s story and full meaning, that was to come, but I remember: “Love is the answer and you know that for sure / love is a flower / you got to let it, you gotta let it grow” and I know how this affected me. I was very conscious of becoming more aware of my inner self.
The meaning behind the sublime Beautiful Boy was far more obvious, and amongst the intimate lyrics for his son, Sean, was a line that quickly struck a chord: “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” At 16 years old I could already relate to this and was a further intimation that I need to make the most of my life, and further encouragement to combat my shyness. Watching The Wheels is just gut-wrenchingly gorgeous, a heartfelt response and comeback to those who questioned his post-Beatles lifestyle, at times relatively reclusive though rarely out of the public’s conscious. Perfectly simplistic musically, but more than anything it was Lennon’s tone that got me, his intent and character straining through the lyrics.
John Lennon, despite his failings as a husband in particular, has been my hero ever since listening to this album. He had his faults like everyone else, but his humour, his humanity, his message of peace and love, and most of all his sheer genius as a songwriter and performer was, as a teenager surrounded by New Romantics and fake musical fluff, a very wise choice.