I’ve been putting off this list for some time because it’s just daunting: how do you pick your favorites among a legend like John Lennon? Well, I’m going to give it a shot because I love his music, his voice, his message and if others have yet to be exposed to his solo work; then I hope I can encourage them to listen to these songs. In other words, even the #10 song on this list is worth listening to because he’s that good. Let’s get started, then, shall we…
#10 – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
I actually quite like the use of the children’s choir to sing behind John’s voice; they mesh well. “War is over if you want it,” John sings, which goes along well with his peace message of course.
#9 – Give Peace a Chance
I absolutely love the arrangement here with the folksy/hippie vibe; it was the anthem of the anti-war movement at the time, as has been noted elsewhere. Not only does it force me want to tap my foot and sing along, but I want to go hug someone and dance around a bon fire. Where’s my tie-dye shirt?
#8 – Watching the Wheels
This is a song that clearly deals with John’s musical fame. “Surely you’re not happy now; you no longer play the game.” To me, this is John with a subdued beat and vocals, telling people plainly, he doesn’t miss the fame or the musical career; he’s trying something different in trying to raise his children. “I just had to let it go,” he belts out repeatedly. Yes, he did and he seems okay with that.
#7 – Stand by Me
His voice in this song sounds raspier than usual and I dig it. I think it lends an edge to his cry for someone to stand by him.
#6 – Working Class Hero
Something I appreciate in a great song is a well-used expletive. John does so expertly here with his line, “They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool; till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules.” It’s such a powerful line in a powerful song decrying the soul-crushing nature of modern existence and living. There are no thrills or fanciness added to this; Lennon’s just offering his straight shooting about the bullshit of it all.
#5 – Mother
Despite this song placing fifth on the list, I very easily could put it at #1 on any given day. I admire a song that seems so outwardly simplistic, but packs a potent punch. Certainly, I get choked up just listening to this song, as he at first seems to want to learn to say goodbye to his mother/father, but then, by the end, he realizes maybe he didn’t want to after all. Yeah, they didn’t want him, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting them. The way his voice reaches to say, “Daddy come home,” towards the end is heart-wrenching. It’s scratchy, raw and real.
#4 – Instant Karma
This song is an interesting one because it has John’s notable scratchy, raspy voice when he’s singing the lyrics about the oddities of karma, being a good or bad person and whatnot, but then he takes a break from it to belt out the noticeably less aggressive, introspective lyrics for the chorus of how “we all shine on.” And for the most part, unlike all the other songs on this list thus far, I find I can listen to it more often because of the likability of the chorus.
#3 – Imagine
If you had asked me years ago to make this list, unquestionably this song would have been ranked #1. However, I’ve since listened to more of his songs and I just can’t do it. That’s not to downplay how great this song is to me, the impact of the lyrics, the wonderfully used piano and John’s tender, almost pleading vocals. It’s truly a classic song and deserves all the praise it can get. Imagine; it’s simple really, that’s a beautiful thing to do, to imagine a better world. Maybe, if we can, we can actually realize it.
#2 – Jealous Guy
My number two favorite song of his is as such simply because of how raw, honest and untethered John is in his words and vocals, but in a subtle and more nuanced way than the scratchy, raspy voice heard in previous songs. He’s being forthright with his emotions and his attitude. He’s just a damn jealous guy at times.
#1 – Mind Games
First and foremost what I like in music is quite an obvious point, but worth saying anyways; I enjoy that which is auditorily pleasing to me. Therefore, this song makes #1 in part for that reason because I find above every other Lennon song, this one has the most playback. That said, even beyond that, his vocals are brilliant as usual and the lyrics give forth his palpable message of love and peace. There’s of course a bit of a deeper interpretation one can go with in that perception is altered through the lens of our minds. And as John says, “Love is the answer.” So, to me, that signifies that love, despite any perception, is simply on a higher plane of thinking. The mind games we play by not engaging in “love” in the “now” is what’s distracting or blocking us from that higher plane. That or it could all be about the mind games couples play. Who knows, that’s what fun about song interpretation is.