We obviously all know John Lennon. John Lennon the Beatle. John Lennon the brilliant song-writer. John Lennon the hilarious smartass. John Lennon the peace-advocator. John Lennon, the mastermind behind ‘Imagine’. All true and deserved attributes. But what about John Lennon the incredible vocalist? As far as I’m concerned, he was gifted with one of the most recognizable, unique, soulful and passionate voices in the history of music. He could scream, he could roar, he could make you feel his pain or he could send you in a dream-like psychedelic state. And here’s 10 songs that prove it:
10) Cold Turkey
Forget all those lame anti-drug commercials you’ve seen over the years. If there is something that should convince you that heroin addiction is not a funny experience, it’s ‘Cold Turkey’ – Lennon’s second single as a solo artist. A bitter, repetitive riff, a set of straightforward, descriptive lyrics and a series of fearsome moans – all come together in creating this hellish of an atmosphere that never fails to give me goosebumps.
It’s very easy to overlook ‘Imagine’ from a vocal point of view. Sure, it’s that super-universal message and the simple, but gorgeous piano melody that will always represent the main attraction. But John’s tone here, so natural, friendly and not one bit over-the-top is also partly repsonsible for the song’s magic. Many performers tend to oversing it when doing a cover, but there’s no point in doing that – the message won’t get any more powerful than it already is in the original version. I mean, how can it?
8) Eight Days A Week
Though many early John songs would work just as well, it’s ‘Eight Days a Week’ that comes firstly to my mind when trying to exemplify the spirit of the whole Beatlemania craze. The joyfulness and excitement in Lennon’s vocals take this already catchy song to a whole new level – it becomes so infectious that, in retrospect, I can somehow understand those girls shouting and going all crazy over The Beatles.
7) Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)
Much like in the case of ‘Imagine’, this vocal performance is not so impressive on its own, as it is in the context of the song. Lennon delivers this emotional ode dedicated to his son in such a warm, natural manner, that it almost sounds as if he’s right there near him, rather than in the studio. ‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ is also representative for John’s last studio album (Double Fantasy) as a whole, since it portrays the picture of a man finally happy and at peace with himself.
6) Yes It Is
Now this is a song that owes it all to John’s delivery. What may seem like a fair request from one lover directed to the other (“Please don’t wear red tonight…for red is the color that my baby wore…”), becomes a soaring statement of pride once in the hands (or vocal chords?) of Mr. Lennon. This 1965 B-side is fairly obscure these days (if there is such a thing as an obscure Beatles song), but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
5) A Day In The Life
This kind of relaxed, perhaps slightly stoned, but mystical-at-the-same-time Lennon vocal style originates from about 1966, I believe. While also perfectly mastered on ‘Rain’ and ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, it’s still “A Day In The Life’ that fascinates the most. John’s lead becomes a psychedelic instrument in itself, just as important to the song’s hallucinating atmosphere as the sparse instrumentation during the verses, the ambiguous lyrics or those orchestral crescendos.
4) Twist and Shout
Movie director John Hughes succeeded brilliantly in capturing the spirit of ‘Twist and Shout’ when he placed it into the movie ‘Feris Bueller’s Day Off’ as the song which the whole town dances to. This cover tune that was released on the first Beatles album is the epitome of energy and fun, and John’s hoarse vocals may just be the best thing about it. If those “well shake it, shake it, shake it, baby now!” sung at the top of his lungs won’t make you want to get up and dance, then nothing ever will.
3) I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Recorded and released while in the midst of two obsessions (Yoko and heroin), ‘I Want You’ takes the spiritual/sexual need for one’s love to the absolute extreme, transforming it into a ferocious manic obsession. You definitely won’t need a lyric sheet to understand this 15-words song’s message, but perhaps that’s what makes it so powerful: the idea fixes itself into your brain so well and so deep that it’ll haunt you for days. Favourite moment? John’s unexpected scream right after the guitar solo.
Simply called ‘Mother’, this 1970 song deals with John’s still-unhealed psychical scars that were the result of a rough childhood. His voice, especially in the song’s coda (the repeated “Mama don’t go/Daddy come home” line) is so powerful and intense that it reaches the depths of the listener’s soul, making him feel and resonate with Lennon’s pain, whether he has or not been through the same experiences as him. Much like the whole ‘Plastic Ono Band’ album, the song is perfect example of pure emotional release.
1) Happiness Is A Warm Gun
What do all these short musical fragments that compose ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ have in common? Hint: it’s this article’s main subject matter. Yep, you guessed right. They all feature absolutely stunning vocal performances, all by the same one guy. Simply put, the 1968 song shows Lennon’s voice at its most versatile. From quiet and unassuming (“She’s not a girl who misses much…”), to cocky and confident (“I need a fix ’cause I’m going down…”), to passionately hysterical (“When I hold you in my arms…”) and finally ecstatic (“Happiness…is a warm yes it is…GUUUN!”) – it’s all there, in this 2:45-minutes White Album song. The “Lennon vocal encyclopedia” in all its might.