Top 10 Best John Lennon Vocal Performances

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

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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.

9) Imagine

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

2) Mother

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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

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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.

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Categories: Tops

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51 replies

  1. I agree with all these choices, but for me “Cold Turkey” is the one that really showcases the best of Lennon’s vocal talent. That song is a naked showcase of pain and suffering. Lennon as you stated, was many things, but all the songs above are proof he was a talent vocalist.

    By the way, I want to thank you for showing me something Beatle-related I’d never seen before! It’s rare these days that it happens, but I had never seen that image used for the “Ticket to Ride” single. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that you mentioned it, ‘Cold Turkey’ is indeed amazing and I sort of feel sorry for placing it last. But then again, I love all the 10 performances very much as well as many others of his. This was not an easy top to make.

      That is actually the artwork for the Sweedish version of the single, if I recall correctly. 😀

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  2. Great list – and excellent point about his vocal talents being overlooked. Happiness shows the whole range, a worthy #1! The Twist & Shout vocal is a great example of a studio recording that is almost like a live recording – it was such a fantastic/exhausted vocal take I don’t know if it could ever be replicated!

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  3. Good list. My two favorite John Lennon vocal performances are “Yes It Is”, the pacing of that song is so unique and “Twist and Shout”, one of the most fun, pure rock and roll songs ever.

    I, also, had never seen that image for “Ticket to Ride.” Thanks for including a rare Beatles image in your post.

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  4. Excellent post. I always enjoyed John’s covers of the old R&B classics too. Also, check out his recording of “Gimme Some Truth”. His utter disgust comes through loud and clear.

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    • Thanks for commenting. Are you referring to his Beatles-days R&B covers or the 1975 ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ album? If the former, I completely agree. Things like ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ are absolutely incredible vocally. Also good point about ‘Gimme Some Truth’, that’s a good one.

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      • Originally I was thinking of the Beatles tracks on the Live at the BBC discs. Take a listen to their cover of “Soldier of Love”. It’s the gem on the entire two disc set. Christgau called it their greatest cover.

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  5. Very good list although personally, I would have added “Watching the Wheels” from his last album.

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  6. There isn’t a song of John Lennon’s that I don’t like.. They’re all so good whether now or at a later discovery when we come to understand better!

    Great article!

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  7. Nice piece on a very neglected aspect of the great man’s art. I’d have tried to crowbar in ‘God’, ‘Well Well Well’ and ‘Watching The Wheels’ too…

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  8. Great post! There’s so much life in his early vocal performances, especially when he really stretches his upper register, it’s almost not human. Twist & Shout is the well known example, obviously. But Anna, Baby it’s You, Tell Me Why, Mr. Moonlight, etc… all send shivers down my spine. I mean……..how does he scream like that?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. i was listening to “Beatles for sale’ this morning. “Rock and Roll music” came on. John was a great rock singer and her gets the hoarse voice break when her really rocks a lyric-just right.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Don’t Let Me Down is an incredible vocal performance… there is a YouTube video that isolates his vocal performance and it’s incredible to hear (although McCartney’s voice on that song is amazing as well).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for following Elm Drive Images.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I like God and Across the Universe.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Such a talent & legend! Merci for following 24/7 in France, author of “Solitary Desire-One Woman’s Journey to France” – video http://youtu.be/xG_YTa5sDac

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great choices. I return again and again to “I’ve Got a Feeling,” in which the alternating lead by McCartney and Lennon brings out the vocal strength in both, and then they superimpose in the polyphonic chorus, each with his own melody — I can’t think of another Beatles song with quite this kind of vocal arrangement.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thanks for dropping by my blog. I’m so glad to see “Yes It Is” in your list. It’s possibly my favorite Beatles song. As someone else mentioned, the slow pacing is very unique. And it’s one of only 3 Beatles recordings that used 3-part harmony between J, P, and G (the other 2 were “This Boy” and “Because”). Thanks again, and you have GREAT taste in music!

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  16. Thanks for visiting my blog site, as you will have gathered I have a rather eclectic taste in music. With regards to Lennon, I have to part company with you here as I consider him the most over rated musician in the rock genre. He wrote a few good songs (but not half as many as Mc) and his premature death has given rise to a “mythology” about him.
    But keep up the good work and no doubt there will be other artists that we disagree about, but that is the beauty of being a music aficionardo!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love Imagine, Twist and Shout, I Want You (She’s So Heavy), and Happiness is a Warm Gun. Have you ever seen the movie Across the Universe? I love it! I also actually prefer some of the song versions in the movie to the original (I know, that’s a horrible thing to say!). My favorite Beatles song is actually Come Together!

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  18. Imagine is on my favorite mix Christmas tape. A great song.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thanks for the follow. I’m on your page looking for the sign up button. Anybody who loves music is a solid follow for me. Being new to my site, Throwback Thursday is my fav day. I post three videos, sometimes my choice, I take request, always fun to see what everyone likes.
    🙂
    M

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  20. A perfect playlist! Glad you remembered Mother 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you for the follow. I have always loved music and it’s nice to know the background about some of the groups.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Yes, I believe that you hit your mark when you posted “Yes It Is.” That is the B-side to one of my fave Beatle tunes and I was completely unaware of the song. Also I can’t find it anywhere online as it was pressed on vinyl. Going to search all over your site for ideas. Thank!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you so much for your visit and the like. God’s blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I love the sound of Lennon the rocker-his searing vocal on tracks like Slow Down.
    My favourite Beatles track is Hey Bulldog, a great Lennon song. His delivery, the driving piano, the ad libs between him and McCartney when things were still fun. I also like the contrast between both their voices on We Can Work It Out. As you may tell- I am a huge Lennon fan!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thanks for visiting and following Colltales. Wonderful blog you have here too. And this post did it for me. I like all of them, of course (what? too soon? lol), plus Oh My Love and How. Specially on the latter, there’s a lightness, a delicate touch on his voice rarely encountered on a male vocalist. His very personal nasal tone too, a kind of ‘fuzziness’ of his delivery is something that adds warmth and color. People mention the contrast between their voices, but it’s also remarkable how they blend well too. To him, thanks for the memories, and to you, thanks for the experience. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I liked Across the Universe. Happiness is a Warm Gun and I Want You/She’s so Heavy, made excellent political points..that’s why I enjoyed the film so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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