John Lennon biography

John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool on 9 October 1940. A founder member of The Beatles, and their singer, songwriter and guitarist, he was murdered in New York City on 8 December 1980.

The early years

John Lennon, circa 1948

Lennon grew up with his aunt Mimi and uncle George in a house called Mendips, at 251 Menlove Avenue, Liverpool. He kept in close contact with his mother Julia Lennon until her death in 1958, but had little contact with his father Alf.

Julia Lennon taught her son to play the banjo, and they shared a love of Elvis Presley's music. The first song he learned to play was Fats Domino's Ain't That A Shame.

In 1957 she bought John his first guitar, a Gallotone Champion acoustic "guaranteed not to split". Julia ensured it was delivered to her house rather than Mimi's, as her sister was disapproving of music. She told her nephew, "The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it".

Lennon's first school was Dovedale Primary School, and upon passing his 11 Plus attended Quarry Bank Grammar School (1952-1957). He formed The Quarrymen in March 1957, and in July the same year met Paul McCartney at the garden fete at St Peter's Church in Woolton, Liverpool.

The pair quickly bonded, and began rehearsing and writing songs together at McCartney's home at 20 Forthlin Road. Lennon's first completed song was Hello Little Girl, later a hit for the Fourmost. McCartney also introduced Lennon to George Harrison, and convinced him to let the young guitarist join the group, eventually named The Beatles after a series of other names were rejected.

We all looked up to John. He was older and he was very much the leader - he was the quickest wit and the smartest and all that kind of thing.
Paul McCartney

Lennon failed all his GCE O level exams, but with the help of his head teacher was accepted into the Liverpool College of Art. There he met Cynthia Powell, who became his first wife. They married after she became pregnant with their son Julian, who was born on 8 April 1963.

With The Beatles

John Lennon, 1963An unruly pupil, Lennon dropped out of college before his final year. By this time, however, The Beatles were working hard to establish a name for themselves. Initially managed by Allan Williams from May 1960, they were booked later that year to play at the Indra club in Hamburg. The trip wasn't a success: McCartney and drummer Pete Best were accused of arson after a fire started in the cinema where they were staying, and George Harrison was deported for working while under the age of 18. Lennon returned to Liverpool after his work permit was revoked.

The Beatles returned to Hamburg after Harrison turned 18, and from April 1961 began another residency. While there they recorded My Bonnie with singer Tony Sheridan.

In 1962 they returned to Hamburg to play at the Star Club, and in May were signed to EMI subsidiary label Parlophone. Their first single, Love Me Do, was released on 5 October.

By the following year The Beatles had become a worldwide phenomenon, under the auspices of manager Brian Epstein. Their success looked unstoppable, though in March 1966 Lennon was interviewed by journalist Maureen Cleave, who quoted him as saying:

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I do not know what will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity. We're more popular than Jesus now. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.

The quote led to protests in the southern and midwest US states, which included public bonfires of Beatles records and memorabilia. Lennon issued an apology of sorts at a Chicago press conference in August 1966, saying:

I was not saying whatever they're saying I was saying. I'm sorry I said it really. I never meant it to be a lousy anti-religious thing. I apologise if that will make you happy. I still do not know quite what I've done. I've tried to tell you what I did do, but if you want me to apologise, if that will make you happy, then OK, I'm sorry.

By this time The Beatles had long tired of the demands of Beatlemania and the frenetic pace of touring. Lennon later wrote:

I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that The Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus.

24 responses on “John Lennon biography

    1. Johan cavalli

      The greatness of John Lennon as i see it:

      –The increasing tension. For example I Should Have Known Better. Before Lennon, all pop music structure was AABA, where the tension decreased in the middle part B. But with Lennon the tension from the verse continued in the middle part. Besides that, in this song it is not only a key change in the transition to the middle part, it is even a little key change in it. The increasing tension was what first characterized The Beatles. The first single where the verse lacked this increasing tension was Can´t Buy Me Love. (But the chorus is OK). I didn´t know then it was a McCartney composition. – Other ways of increase the tension by Lennon is to pack together several little songs. Happiness Is A Warm Gun consists of three or four songs, and Bring On The Lucie consists of three songs. –All You Need Is Love has another way: First talking, then repeating half singing, then singing, and finally the climax in chorus.
      –The melody does not changes, but the background. For example in Strawberry Fields Forever and in Julia the singing melody uses the same notes, but instead the accompaniment changes! Listen to Puccini. He got tired of his sang melodies in Boheme and in Tosca he composed a lot where the sang melodies are often on the same notes, but the background changes instead. The effect can be stronger.
      –Octave Leap. For example, in the middle part of Please Please Me, Lennon makes an octave run in “…it´s so hard to reason with YOU…”, the climax of the song. George Martin didn´t understand the quality in that. In his orchestration of it in Off The Beatle Track, Martin excludes the octave, the most important bit of the song!
      –Verse and resolve. Typical for Lennon is a melody followed by a resolve, for example in No Reply “…I saw the light!”…and in Girl “girl! girl!…”. Lennon said that “a good song must have climax and resolve”.
      –Only one chord. In Tomorrow Never Knows there is only one chord, or bass note, an innovation in pop music. In the Middle Ages it was common with that bordun note, an unchanged bass note. When Lennon played the song the first time for George Martin, Martin didn´t like it.
      –Whole-tone scale. Most scales have both whole step and half steps between the notes in an octave. In the verse in Norwegian Wood, there is most whole steps, and that´s like the impressionists, for example Debussy. It sounds very clean.
      –Church Modes. A Hard Day´s Night is written in the mixolydian mode, an ancient vocal scale, preserved in British, Irish and American folk song. –If you play the beginning of Please Please Me slowly, you can hear the similarities with the Westminster bells ringing. When Lennon was a little boy, he loved visiting the divine services. Afterwards he used to improvise anthem music. Westminster bells could unconsciously have inspired him to the beginning of Please Please Me. There is also anthem music in the beginning of All You Need Is Love: “love love love…”.
      –The lamentation second. A little half step up in the scale. And that´s to indicate a pain. In All You Need Is Love Lennon sings the refrain twice unchanged and then suddenly the third time, rises a little, a very expressive and important step up. That step up started in the baroque epoch, and was called The lamentation second. When Lennon played it the first time to George Martin, Martin didn´t like it. He leaned towards McCartney and muttered: “It´s certainly repetitive”.
      –From darkness to light. Happiness Is a Warm Gun starts with a little melancholy, and ends with enthusiasm.—In the middle part of I Am The Walrus the darkness switches over to light: “sitting in an English garden…”. And the transition from the chaos and darkness in Revolution 9 to the light in Good Night. That is very typical in Wagner´s music. I think that temperamentally the two were similar. And I think Wagner would have loved the arrangement in Glass Onion.
      –Suggestive and hypnotic music. With small intervals between the notes in combination with some dissonance chord, Lennon can create a suggestive and hypnotic feeling in for example Across The Universe. It is more like Wagner than pop music.
      –Few notes. With few, but effective notes, Lennon can create more feeling than McCartney with all his notes, for example in If I Fell and Love.
      –A melody sang three times, in succession, with just a little change every time. When you hear it you can get frustrated or desperate not getting out from the melody. That we have in the middle part in I Call Your Name and in the middle part in And Your Bird Can Sing. And at the same time the melodies are stick together with a countermelody at the guitar. Rather hypnotic

  1. April

    All I can say is that it still breaks my heart to know John is no longer here. I was 17 when he was senselessly murdered. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. John is the best musician ever, sadly we only got a small sample of his work. He is so greatly missed by so many. We will always have you in our hearts and mind through your creativity. I so glad you were with us as long as you were.

  2. Ken Gledhill

    You forgot to mention the family home before he moved in with his aunt Mimi. He originally lived at 9 Newcastle Road, Wavertree when he was a little boy.

  3. barbara jackson

    May the Lord Jesus, bless and keep your family and friends. I feel your pain. I suppose John had finished his course here on earth, so let’s look forward to seeing him there.

  4. Beatles lover

    I read some where that the night that John got shot Yoko said to the doctors or the news reporters that she didn’t want to announce his death on the tv right away because she said Sean was in front of it.

  5. sammy douglas

    He was controversial yet spiritual. Many never understood him. People misunderstood his words. He would use power of communication to read people. This is partly what resulted to his shooting. He knew folks hated him anyway.

  6. Dagmar

    He was an amazing singer. I saw John ,Paul, George and Ringo 1966 in Essen/ Germany. I will never forget the concert, when i was sixteen!!!

  7. Quarry-Man

    John was a true genius. However his most blatant act of stupidity was when he took up with Yoko. I still blame her for being one of the primary reasons for him wanting to leave the Beatles. It’s still a head scratcher to me why he was attracted to her. She had no real talent, she sang like a cat getting it’s tail pulled, her looks were a 2 on a scale of 1-10, and she was dumb as a stump. I will always believe that she somehow brainwashed him.

  8. Wendy Davison

    I have been a Beatles fan all my life. There music was what helped me when I was growing up. John Lennon will always be a hero to me and I’ll be forever grateful for all of them in my life!

  9. Tim

    Well, Ono was from a wealthy family and as for her being all those great things you have mentioned….you are probably righ…Japan has the worst bands ever becoming famous just because Japanese tend to like crappy music.

  10. manteau

    Whatever or whoever Yoko might be, we should respect her simply because John respected her, and she probably saved him from dying of an OD in 69/70. However, her role in the murder is equivocal, and she couldn’t save him from Ronald Reagan’s minions. I agree with Paul, the assassin’s name should be forgotten, he was just a tool.

  11. CynthiaC

    This site is intended to celebrate the Beatles’ legacy, which really centers around intimate and universal love. What ironic heartbreak that the comment section is soiled by haters and goons.

  12. vince

    John Lennon was probably the most brilliant and prolific music composer of the 20th century. With that brilliance comes a certain inability to relate much as Edison, Tesla and Einstein had difficulty relating. They all shared the commonality of being misunderstood. The man was genius and should there be any doubt look at what he has written and its social impact. He and the rest of the Beatles changed the face of music forever.

    1. SouthofReality

      I like John Lennon, but the most brilliant and prolific composer of the 20th century is probably George Gershwin (discounting classical music) and I would rank Cole Porter, Bob Dylan, and several others above John Lennon.

  13. manteau

    Dear Warptek, John had been an fervent supporter of Jimi Carter back in 1976., He had been an undesirable alien in the US of A from 1972 to 1975, when he eventually was granted his green card. He had won…too easily against a disgraced Nixon. In the meantime, John had nothing to fear from Carter’s team. But in November 1980, two things happened almost at the same time : The election of Ronald Reagan and John’s own return to the forefront of the pop*rock scene. You know what happened.
    Now, if you say politics are a forbidden subject here, we should never talk about John at all! I hate politics, but I’m convinced ( Like Sean ) that John Lennon’s assassination was a political one.

    1. SouthofReality

      In November of 1980, two things happened almost at the same time: John’s return to the forefront of the pop*rock scene and the “Who Shot JR” episode of Dallas. You know what happened …

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