As chosen by Roger Daltrey, Ray Davies, Brian Wilson, Alex Turner and more…

9 COLD TURKEY
Plastic Ono Band single (October 1969). Highest UK chart position: 14
“Thirty-six hours/rolling in pain”- Lennon’s fierce hymn to kicking heroin is a chilling musical counterpart to the Primal Scream Therapy he and Yoko undertook with psychologist Arthur Janov…

Bob Gruen, photographer: When we first met, in ’72, he was making Some Time In New York City. They were all new songs, kinda powerful things like “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World”. He was very cool, grounded and very warm to his friends. A few months later, in the summer, he started rehearsing for the One To One concert at Madison Square Garden [August 1972]. By this time, we were getting to know each other. But when you heard that voice come through, it put a chill up your spine. Suddenly it wasn’t my New York buddy any more, it was a Beatle. Oh my God, it’s that John Lennon! But we’d been so comfortable and natural together, that suddenly hearing The Beatles’ songs made you see him in a different way. “Cold Turkey” was extremely powerful and, like many of his songs, very personal. And his contemporaries understood the feeling in the lyrics and what “Cold Turkey” is all about. It expresses that brilliantly. When they did it live at Madison Square Garden, it’s my favourite version. It was absolutely chilling to see him start screaming and mimicking the suffering you go through when you go through drug withdrawal. You just want and want and want and there’s no way to satisfy that. Everything hurts and you’d promise anybody anything to take yourself out of this hell.

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8 REVOLUTION
B-side to The Beatles single, “Hey Jude” (August 1968). Highest UK chart position: 1
Inspired, perhaps, by the student riots in Paris during May 1968, this loud, fuzz-heavy track featured Stones’ collaborator Nicky Hopkins on keyboards. A more subdued version appeared on The Beatles album…

Tommy Smothers, co-host of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: I first met John in 1968. I was invited to the launch for The White Album. Then they picked our show to premier “Hey Jude”. Later, I played on “Give Peace A Chance”. The funniest thing about recording it was that we were sitting playing and John stops, turns to me and says: “Hey Tom, I don’t like what you’re playing. Just do exactly what I’m doing. That’s the sound I want.” I think I was doing D or G and putting a passing chord in here and there. Harry Nilsson was a buddy of mine and he’d started hanging out with John. Because of the television show, I had to be straight, but Harry and John were doing nose-blow and cognac. Around 1970, my brother Dick and I were making the show in LA and Harry and John came and ripped into us, throwing stuff and yelling things. They thought they were helping me! The next day, they sent me flowers. John never did things halfway. I loved “Revolution”. Musically, it was cool, but I loved the wordplay: “solution… evolution… contribution… constitution”. But if John was around today and could see what’s happening, he might have wished he’d changed those lines: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?” It was appropriate at the time because a lot of Americans got out there and protested. “Revolution” summed up that era.

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7 GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
Plastic Ono Band single (June 1969). Highest UK chart position: 2
Recorded during the Montreal Bed-In, the climactic shout-out to “Timmy Leary, Tommy Cooper, Allen Ginsberg, Hare Krishna” added a typically dry touch of humour to this call for world peace.

Julian Cope: As someone who loathes the Beatles, but realises that it’s me who’s out of step, I love Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band period, when he was reinventing himself as an American counter-cultural icon. Liverpool shares a lot with Detroit, and around this time Lennon was at his most Detroit-informed. Look at his song titles – “Come Together” was borrowed from the MC5, as was “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. He wanted to do the Bed-In in Detroit but they wouldn’t let him so he had to do it on the other side of the Windsor Bridge, in Toronto. He’s often mocked around this period – all that Che Guevara posturing – but I think the only way you can get anywhere, politically, is by making ludicrous demands that are impossible to achieve. When he sings “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World”, “Give Peace A Chance” or “Power To The People” an entire generation was having to think – even if only momentarily – of a new world paradigm, be it feminism, revolutionary socialism, or peace. On top of that, he’s taking a woman – not just any woman, but a Jap, the enemy! – and declaring her his muse. She’s not even a cute Japanese woman, she’s older, a nutcase, a performance artist. That, to me, gives him more kudos in Heaven or Hell or Valhalla or wherever he’s gone than anything else he did.

  1. 1. Introduction
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  • RDF

    Yoko comments on John wanting to “dabble in different things” in the Beatles, but the Beatles were so successful “he felt he couldn’t.” Does Yoko ever miss an opportunity to slam the Beatles? John was a pretty smart guy; he was well aware of the radical differentness of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” etc., etc. Beatle fans are aware of it too. Yoko isn’t.

  • jan french

    i love this song, he’s such a storyteller

  • Bora Boris

    a very hard to read, distractive listcle

  • Tom Haber

    HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN is not only one of John’s best, it is one of The Beatles best.