John Winston Ono Lennon, MBE (October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980) was an English musician and singer-songwriter who rose to worldwide fame as one of the founding members of The Beatles, one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. Along with fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, he formed one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the 20th century.
Born and raised in Liverpool, Lennon became involved as a teenager in the skiffle craze. His first band, The Quarrymen, evolved into The Beatles in 1960. As the group disintegrated towards the end of the decade, Lennon embarked on a solo career that produced several critically acclaimed albums and iconic songs. Lennon disengaged himself from the music business in 1975 to devote time to his family, but re-emerged in 1980 with a new album, but was murdered three weeks after its release.
Following The Beatles' break-up in 1970, Lennon released his debut solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band that same year and was received with high praise. The album featured the songs “Mother,” in which Lennon confronted his feelings of childhood rejection, and the Dylanesque “Working Class Hero,” a bitter attack against the bourgeois social system which, due to the lyric “you're still fucking peasants,” fell foul of broadcasters.
Lennon's next album, 1971’s “Imagine” went to #1 worldwide and became an enduring seller, with the title track reaching #3 in the U.S. (but unreleased in the U.K. until 1975). The album was certified 2x platinum in 1991. George Harrison guested on a few of “Imagine's” tracks, including “How Do You Sleep?” The title track “Imagine” became Lennon's signature song and was written as a plea for world peace. “Jealous Guy” has also had enduring popularity and was originally composed as “Child of Nature” during the songwriting sessions in India in 1968 that led to The Beatles' double-album “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”). Lennon also indulged his love of rock and roll with “Crippled Inside” and “It's So Hard.”
Recorded as a collaboration with Yoko Ono and with backing from the New York band Elephant's Memory, “Some Time in New York City” was released in 1972. “Woman Is the Nigger of the World,” released as a U.S. single from the album the same year, saw many radio stations refuse to broadcast the song because of the controversial title. Other poltically motivated songs on the album include “John Sinclair” and “Attica State.”
Released in 1973, “Mind Games” marked the beginning of Lennon's eighteen-month separation from Yoko Ono. “Mind Games” was warmly received by the public and Lennon's critics, with the album reaching #13 in the U.K. and #9 in the U.S., where it went gold. “Walls and Bridges,” released in October 1974, yielded his only solo #1 single in his lifetime, “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” featuring Elton John on backing vocals and piano. A second single from the album, “#9 Dream,” followed before the end of the year.
Lennon co-wrote “Fame,” David Bowie's first U.S. #1, and provided guitar and backing vocals for the January 1975 recording. That same month, Elton John topped the charts with his cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” featuring Lennon on guitar and back-up vocals.
Lennon and Ono were reunited shortly afterwards. In 1975 Lennon released “Rock 'n' Roll,” an album of cover songs, in February. “Stand By Me,” taken from the album and a U.S. and U.K. hit, became his last single for five years.
With the birth of his second son Sean on October 9, 1975, Lennon took on the role of househusband, beginning what would be a five-year hiatus from the music industry during which he gave all his attention to his family. He emerged from retirement in October 1980 with the single “(Just Like) Starting Over,” followed the next month by the album “Double Fantasy,” which contained songs written during a journey to Bermuda on a 43-foot sailing boat the previous June. Three weeks after the album's release, Lennon was murdered. On the U.K. album charts, the album had peaked at #14 then slipped to #46 while in the U.S., the album had slowly risen to #11. Upon Lennon's death, the album jumped to #1 in the U.S. chart, where it stayed for eight weeks and in the U.K., it jumped to #2, where it remained for seven weeks before finally spending two weeks at #1. It won the 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
As performer, writer or co-writer Lennon has had 27 #1 singles on the U.S. Hot 100 chart. His album sales in the U.S. stand at 14 million units. The BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music went to Lennon in 1982. He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) with the other Beatles in 1965. He was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.