Released: 11 December 1970
On his debut solo album John Lennon closed the book on many aspects of his past. Much of the record was devoted to his troubled relationship with his parents, but The Beatles – in many ways his surrogate family throughout the 1960s – still loomed large in his life and career. On the song God he finally broke the spell, telling the world that the dream was over with his stark revelation: “I don’t believe in Beatles”.
John Lennon always had ambivalent feelings towards religion. His 1966 claim that “We’re more popular than Jesus” had caused eruptions of anti-Beatles sentiment across the world, and the chorus of 1969’s The Ballad Of John And Yoko led to further disquiet over its use of the word ‘crucify’.
I was just talking about Christianity in that – a thing like you have to be tortured to attain heaven. I’m only saying that I was talking about ‘pain will lead to pleasure’ in Girl and that was sort of the Catholic Christian concept – be tortured and then it’ll be all right, which seems to be a bit true but not in their concept of it. But I didn’t believe in that, that you have to be tortured to attain anything, it just so happens that you were.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
God, the penultimate song on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, was composed in Los Angeles while Lennon was undergoing Primal Scream therapy.
He rented a house in Bel Air, which is a very ritzy area here, and we talked about things. He said: ‘What about God?’ and I would go on and on about [how] people who have deep pain generally tend to believe in God with a fervency. And he said: ‘Oh, you mean God is a concept by which we measure our pain.’ Just bang. I would go all around it and he was there, just like that. And that was John. John could take very profound philosophical concepts and make it simple.
Classic Albums: Plastic Ono Band
Lennon recorded several demos of God in the house on Nimes Road, Bel Air, where he stayed during his course of therapy. One of the recordings was included on 2004’s Acoustic album. Playing a distorted acoustic guitar, Lennon began with a semi-spoken introduction in the style of a gospel preacher.
I had a mission from above. And I’m here to tell you that this message concerns our love. The angels must have sent me to deliver this to you. Now hear me now, brothers and sisters.
Some of the words were different in the demos: Zimmerman was known as Dylan, and the phrase “Yoko and me” was absent. The “dream is over” section was also missing; instead Lennon sang the verse and litany once again.
Like a lot of the words, they just came out of me mouth. It started off like that. God was stuck together from three songs almost. I had the idea, ‘God is the concept by which we measure our pain’. So when you have a [phrase] like that, you just sit down and sing the first tune that comes into your head. And the tune is the simple [sings] ‘God is the concept – bomp-bomp-bomp-bomp’ ’cause I like that kind of music. And then I just rolled into it. [Sings] ‘I don’t believe in magic’ – and it was just going on in me head. And I Ching and the Bible, the first three or four just came out, whatever came out.
I don’t know when I realised I was putting down all these things I didn’t believe in. I could have gone on, it was like a Christmas card list – where do I end? Churchill, and who have I missed out? It got like that and I thought I had to stop… I was going to leave a gap and say, just fill in your own, for whoever you don’t believe in. It just got out of hand. But Beatles was the final thing because it’s like I no longer believe in myth, and Beatles is another myth. I don’t believe in it. The dream’s over. I’m not just talking about The Beatles is over, I’m talking about the generation thing. The dream’s over, and I have personally got to get down to so-called reality.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner