As chosen by Roger Daltrey, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Alex Turner and more…
15 HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER)
John & Yoko/the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir single (November 1972). Highest chart position: 2
“Happy Xmas (War is Over)” inverts the usual pop bromide of the Christmas single, posing the question: “And what have you done?”..
Yoko Ono: There’s a funny story about “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. We were writing it in a New York hotel over breakfast, and we’d just completed it. Then a call came from George [Harrison], who wanted him to perform in the Bangladesh concert and John said no. I think George wanted John to perform on his own, not with me, but John could not say that to me. He didn’t want to hurt me. He said: “At drop of a hat, you want to sing.” I said: “I’d like to sing.” John got so angry he didn’t know what to do. He can’t tell me about it. I said: “How dare you say no to a charity concert,” not knowing the situation. By the time he and I made up, we’d forgotten about the song. And then it was getting very near to Christmas – “Oh, that song, we have to put it out because it’s so important.” Allen Klein [manager] said: “It’s too late.” John was adamant and, of course, it did make it. When we made the song, John was saying, “This is going to replace ‘White Christmas’.” But it just disappeared. Now it’s different. So I was thinking: John, do you see what’s happening? You were right. This one really says it. I think that people of our generation like this more [than other Christmas perennials] – it’s something to hang on to.
14 A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
The Beatles single (July 1964). Highest UK chart position: 1
2 minutes 32 seconds of pure, adrenalised pop, introduced by the most famous opening chord in pop history…
Roger McGuinn, The Byrds: When we got The Byrds together, we wanted to be a Mersey-type band. When we went to see the Hard Day’s Night movie, it was a life-changing event. We took notes on what they were wearing and tried to emulate them as closely as we could. Once we’d met The Beatles, I realised we’d superimposed certain things on to them. We thought they were coming more from the bohemian side, but they were still very hip. We had a lot in common. We all did LSD, pot and amphetamines. I thought Lennon was an incredible songwriter. On “A Hard Day’s Night”, the arpeggio fade was really interesting, as well as that big opening chord. That song is a great indicator of what they were up to at that stage. Back then, hanging out with other bands was like being in a secret brotherhood. I remember George sending a tape of “If I Needed Someone” to tell me he got the idea from “The Bells Of Rhymney”. I think Lennon got the idea for wearing the granny glasses from me. I saw him in London and he said “What’s with the shades?” I was wearing those little rectangular ones. I got the idea from John Sebastian. I saw him in the Village one night wearing them. He told me to try them on: “Look up at the street lights and move your head around. It’s really groovy, man!”
13 POWER TO THE PEOPLE
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band single (March 1971). Highest UK chart position: 7
Ebullient sequel to “Revolution” sparked by an interview with Red Mole magazine in 1971. The rousing chorus was specifically designed to be sung for street demonstrations…
John Sinclair, ex-manager MC5: The first I knew of John was when he came down to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to play a concert to get me out of prison [the Free John Now Rally on December 10, 1971]. That was some first impression. Then my wife and I went to New York to say thank you. We sat around, smoked joints and shot the shit. He was a sweet guy, regular and down to earth. He was an intellectual. He wrote strange and twisted books and made movies. And John was a great composer. What more could you ask for? He saved my life. I loved the guy. I admired his solo work. He had that jacket from The Beatles, which on the one hand made him fabulously wealthy but at the same time shrunk his mental world. I loved “Power To The People”. This was something he believed in, and there was this whole concept of making records that expressed how he felt and he could get that over to millions of people. The impressive thing was that he was a rich guy trying to reach out to the other side and be one of the people. He was trying to figure out a way to be honest with himself. And that’s what an artist does.