May 15 – Fab Three Remembered John

Tragedy can put things in perspective. Not exactly a consolation, but a fact and an explanation for a great song that came out this day in 1981. George Harrison gave us his first single off the Somewhere in England album, “All Those Years Ago” , not only a tribute to John Lennon, but the closest thing we’d get to a Beatles reunion.

Harrison had remained friends with Ringo Starr, and was in 1980, both working, slowly, on his own album, and helping Ringo put together his Stop & Smell the Roses album. Harrison added some guitar work to the record and wrote a song for it, “Wrack My Brain.” He also wrote a version of “All Those Years Ago”, and they did the preliminaries, with Ringo doing the drumming of course. However, Starr didn’t really love the song, and turned it down.

Meanwhile, through rather good fortune that seemed anything but to Harrison originally, Warner Bros. – who distributed his own Dark Horse Records – refused to put out the version of Somewhere in England he turned in late in ’80. They noticed that George had only had one minor hit (the under-rated “Blow Away”) in years and thought the album he finished was rather bland and totally lacking commercial appeal. They even rejected the cover photo.

Harrison was upset, but grudgingly agreed to go back, rework a track or two and add a couple of new songs. Then, of course, John Lennon was murdered. Harrison remembered the old song he’d written for Ringo, and quickly rewrote the lyrics as a love song to John, with lyrics like “we’re living in a bad dream” and “you point to the truth when you say ‘All You Need Is Love’.” He kept the recording of Ringo doing the drums – session superstar Herbie Flowers did the bass by the way – and then, in an act of generosity, called up Paul McCartney. McCartney, along with his Wings bandmates (at that point just his wife Linda and Denny Laine) came by and recorded backing vocals, making it the first time the three had been together on a record since they finished Let It Be some 11 years earlier. Harrison finished it off with a touching video, a slideshow of pictures highlighting John.

It was a good song, and a timely one, and it helped put George back on the musical map, briefly at least. In his UK, it only got to #13 surprisingly, but elsewhere it was very well-received. In Canada it got to #3, in Ireland, #4; it also made the top 10 in Australia and several European lands. In the all-important U.S. market, it was a chart-topper on Adult Contemporary stations (an indication of the aging of the Beatles fans perhaps) and got to #2 on the singles chart, only kept from the top by Kim Carnes mega-selling “Bette Davis Eyes.”

It didn’t help the album out that much though; Somewhere in England peaked in the teens (#11-19) almost worldwide and quickly disappeared, it became George’s first post-Beatles album to not get a gold record (or better) in the U.S. Harrison would be almost invisible in the music world until his big comeback in 1987, Cloud Nine, which had another look back at the Beatles, “When We Were Fab.”

February 13 – Beatles Made Two Spots Tourist Destinations With One Record

Pop music took a quantum leap forward on this day in 1967 with The Beatles introducing us to their developing artistry that would soon flourish on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band. The teaser was two of their best-loved songs released on one 7” single: “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Officially it was a “double A-side record” although most charts considered “Penny Lane” the real “single.” The single was the band’s answer to pressure to keep putting out radio hits while in the (by their standards) lengthy stretch between the Revolver and Sgt. Pepper… albums.

The record displayed the increasingly separated writing styles of the lead duo – McCartney’s more straight-forward pop sensibilities on “Penny Lane” compared to Lennon’s more experimental, polarizing sounds, as heard on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” However, both were revolutionary for the time in content and delivery. Both songs ushered in the real-psychedelic period for the band, which in turn was largely responsible for the public “turning on” to that whole sound so characteristic of the late-’60s. And they recorded promotional clips for both songs… music videos in more modern parlance. The videos were premiered just before the record came out, in the U.S. on Ed Sullivan and at home on Top of the Pops.

As “out there” as the songs seemed, they were based on memories of the pair’s childhood and youth in Liverpool (albeit as seen through a rearview mirror made of LSD). Penny Lane was a real street in Liverpool. McCartney remembered “it was really a place that John and I knew…I’d get a bus to his house and I’d have to change at Penny Lane (an important bus staging place in the city)…so we often hung out at that terminus.” Many of the people mentioned in the song are based on characters Paul knew when young. Likewise, Strawberry Fields was a park just outside of Liverpool where young John attended a number of garden parties.

Although Tim Sheridan of Mojo suggests “Strawberry Fields Forever” is “perhaps the greatest work of the psychedelic era” and Rolling Stone have “Penny Lane” on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all-time, not everyone was as enthused when the single came out, particularly in their homeland. The NME wrote befuddedly “the most unusual and way-out single The Beatles have yet produced. Quite honestly, I don’t know what to make of it.” The Daily Mail was blunter in their panning of it: “What’s happening to the Beatles? They have become contemplative, secretive, exclusive and excluded.” Over here, reaction was a bit better, especially from Time magazine, which said “they have bridged the heretofore gap between rock and classical…to achieve the most compellingly original sounds heard in pop music.” Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was said to wearily complain “they did it already- what I wanted to do with Smile” when he heard “Strawberry Fields Forever” the first time.

Most of their fans, of course, loved it. The single hit #1 in Canada and in the U.S. “Penny Lane” became their 14th chart-topper, with “Strawberry Fields Forever” getting to #8. In the UK, it hit #2…not bad, but the first one of theirs since “Please Please Me’ not to get to #1. Those who didn’t get the 7” record were able to buy both songs late the same year as they were tacked onto the Magical Mystery Tour album.

Lennon said “Strawberry Fields Forever” was his best work within the Beatles, and he demanded they cut several versions of it to put together the best possible single. A discarded version was put on their Atnhology 2 compilation in the ’90s. Fittingly, a memorial for Lennon in New York’s Central Park is named “Strawberry Field.”

February 6 – Would John Have Been Jealous Of Bryan’s Take On Song?

Just like the general public, the music world was understandably shocked and saddened by the murder of John Lennon in 1980. Roxy Music led the way in reacting in song, with their version of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” released this day in 1981. Among the significant tribute songs that followed were Lennon’s ex-bandmate George Harrison’s “All Those Years Ago”, which came out May ’81 and Elton John’s “Empty Garden” which he put out the following year.

Jealous Guy” was a Lennon song he wrote and first did a demo of in 1968. It was considered for use on The Beatles “White Album”, while it was known as “Child of Nature,” we can see a snippet of John singing that in the Get Back movie. Lennon wrote it while in India, being taught by a maharashi and was trying to come to grips with his personal nature and less-attractive personality traits. The Fab Four didn’t use it, so Lennon recorded it after their breakup, for the Imagine album – by now retitled. Among the musicians on it were two of the members of Badfinger, pianist Nicky Hopkins and even Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues.

Roxy Music were on tour in Europe at the time Lennon was killed. “We were due to play a show in Germany,” Bryan Ferry remembers. “We thought we should do something special, because we were all fans of his. His version is beautiful.” the band began adding it to their live shows, and then quickly recorded it in the studio. “It was a proper tribute record,” Ferry says.

The public approved. At least the European ones. The single became a top 10 hit in France, Ireland, Switzerland and other places and at home in the UK it became their long-awaited first #1 song. They’d had two singles stall at #2 there before. Oddly, it did far better than Elton or Harrison’s tributes in Britain, but barely got noticed here in North America where the other two were big hits. Roxy Music also released a live version of “Jealous Guy” on their 1983 live album, The High Road.

January 27 – Lennon’s Last Goodbye

Like a ghost coming out of the radio. A friendly, benevolent “Spirit of Christmas Present” type one perhaps, but a ghost nonetheless. A little spooky. That was likely many peoples reaction to hearing brand new John Lennon over three years after he was murdered. His final album, Milk & Honey came out in North America on this day in 1984, a few days after its UK release. Depending on your definitions, it was the eleventh studio album he’d worked on outside the Beatles, when you include the Plastic Ono Band and collaborations (such as this) with his wife, Yoko Ono.

Rewind about five years and Lennon was back in a happy place with Yoko, and getting interested in getting back to music after a five year or so absence. We know of the famous Double Fantasy album which came out mere days before he was killed. But he and Yoko had planned on putting out two albums close together, of which Double Fantasy was the first. They’d already begun to work on the second part, or as Rolling Stone call it “a companion piece” by that time. Grief and respectfulness delayed the arrival, but Yoko decided John would want to have his last works heard, and she wanted to give some parting impressions of her departed loved one, so Milk & Honey resulted. Apparently four tracks – two by Lennnon (“I’m Stepping Out” and “I Don’t Want To Face It”) and two by Ono – were outtakes from the Double Fantasy recording sessions – and most of the remaining tracks were demos for the planned follow-up. Yoko recorded one or two entirely after John’s death, including the poignant “You’re the One.” The even more poignant and ironic “Grow Old With Me” was just from a home tape John had apparently made.

The result was a bit uneven to say the least. Many of the tracks had John on guitar and some keyboards and a host of fine studio musicians from the Double Fantasy sessions, like drummer Andy Newmark are here as well. And although (according to Rolling Stone) producer Jack Douglas was back but un-credited, the album has a somewhat unfinished feel. Perhaps signifying the unfinished nature of John’s life when it was taken away from him. Allmusic didn’t mind its roughshod approach. “The ad libs and studio chatter that might not have made the final cut give us more of a glimpse of Lennon’s delightfully quirky personality,” they decided.

Allmusic would be of an undecided opinion of it, giving it 3-stars, noting it was “rougher and less polished” than most of his material, and figuring the single “Nobody Told Me” was “maybe the best thing to come out of John’s 1980 sessions.” Rolling Stone thought that song had a nice similarity to “Eight Days A Week” but “lyrics that barely make sense” and for the most part, Yoko’s contributions were superfluous while “four of the six new Lennon compositions recycle basic rock riffs to accompany simple, repetitive, even cliched lyrics.”

While “Nobody told Me” was a hit – top 10 in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK (the only one of those where he’d have another top 10, albeit an old one, when “Imagine” recharted in 1999) – the album wasn’t met with the enthusiasm one might expect new stuff from the “Beatles” canon to warrant. It got to #3 in the UK, but only #11 in the U.S. and dropped off the charts quickly.

Strangely, it wasn’t even the last we’d hear from John. About a decade later the old Beatles song “Free As a Bird” he sang was finally mastered and finished off and released as a new single after the remaining Beatles and Jeff Lynne had worked on it.

December 27 – If Only John Had The Chance To Live Up To The Song Title

An example of irony at its worst 41 years back. John Lennon hit #1 on the U.S. singles chart this day in 1980 with “Starting Over”...less than three weeks after he was murdered.

The song was the lead single from Double Fantasy, his triumphant return to the music world (along with his wife Yoko Ono) after a five year absence during which he tried to get his life back in order and concentrate on his marriage and young son Sean. He picked the song as the first single, apparently not because he was convinced it was the best song on the record, but because it seemed appropriately relevant to his life. He had rather started his personal life over and was about to do the same with his professional one.

Now while it is sadly true that death boosts an entertainer’s career and legacy, “Starting Over” seemed likely to be a big hit anyway. Billboard, for one singled out the single, calling it an “uptempo, fresh-sounding rocker (with an) irresistible melody.” It was one of the happier-sounding songs Lennon had done in some time, with great vocals he said he’d deliberately made to sound a little like Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley. Released at the end of October, it had already made it to #6 in the U.S. in the final chart before Lennon died.

It became Lennon’s second chart-topper in his adopted homeland; back in his birthplace (that is to say the UK), it had made it to #1 the previous week. That was his first solo British #1 song, remarkably; its follow-up, “Woman” also made it to the top there early in ’81, with his classic “Imagine” in between for four weeks. That song had been a hit when it was first released, but only made it to the top of the pops in Britain after it was re-released as a single posthumously.

Starting Over” also made it to #1 in Canada, Australia and Ireland and in the U.S. led off ’81 remaining on top, eventually spending five weeks at #1 and as recently as 2013 being ranked by Billboard as the 62nd biggest-seller of all-time. One can only wonder how far his career might have risen in the 1980s had he really had that chance at “Starting Over.”

A curious bit of trivia about the song. On my recordings, it’s actually listed as “(Just Like) Starting Over”. Lennon had only entitled it “Starting Over”, but the record company added the “Just Like” to most copies to avoid confusion with a Dolly Parton song, “Starting Over Again”, which was on the country charts at the time. It was the second time in months a song from Britain was sub-titled or renamed to avoid confusion here with a Dolly Parton song. Around the same time, Sheena Easton’s song “9 to 5” was renamed “Morning Train” for North America to avoid confusion with Dolly’s movie theme. Given that both songs went to the top of the charts, perhaps other artists should have looked over Dolly’s catalog for song titles!

December 7 – Elton Had Hit With A Little Help From His Friend

If you’re going to record a cover version of a Beatles song (as almost every artist seems to) who better to help you with it than a real Beatle? It certainly worked for Elton John who hit the U.S. Top 40 on this day in 1974 with his version of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.

As one can clearly hear, none other than John Lennon sang backing vocals on it and provided some guitar work as well. The B-side to the single also got a helping hand from Lennon: “One Day At a Time” was a Lennon song off Mind Games. The pair were friends and Elton had helped out on Lennon’s big hit “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” and thus Lennon returned the favor by helping out on this one, which was initially just a 7″ single. (Elton had actually told Lennon he’d score a #1 song with “Whatever…” and Lennon bet him that if he did in fact, he’d appear on one of Elton’s songs.)  It since has been included on newer issues of Elton’s Captain Fantastic… record, as well as in a John Lennon box set. The song went on to become his fifth straight #1 hit in Canada (and seventh overall) and when it hit #1 in the U.S.it became the first Beatles cover tune to top charts. With an asterisk.

Some will argue it is still the only Beatles cover to hit #1 in the U.S., while some might argue it was the second. The debate is due to a 1964 hit by Peter & Gordon, “A World Without Love.” It was written by Paul McCartney, but rejected by the Beatles, so it has a Beatles connection but wasn’t really a Beatles tune. Later, in 1981, there was “Stars on 45” which utilized samples of a number of Beatles hits but wasn’t released under the name The Beatles. And when one considers the popularity of the Fab Four in the ’60s, and how Elton seemed to take the torch and run with it in the first half of the ’70s, that seems somehow appropriate.

December 1 – John & His Honey’s Honey-coated Holiday Hummable

Well it’s December and we all know what that means – full steam ahead to Christmas! Mind you, around here one local pop radio station has been playing nothing but Christmas music for over three weeks. Argue amongst yourselves whether that is excessive or overly excessive! Anyway, with all the interest in the Beatles of late thanks to the Get Back documentary, what better time than to look at the first solo “Beatles” holiday record – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon with Yoko Ono. The song, by now a seasonal staple, came out 50 years back on this day in 1971.

By that time of course, John and Yoko were married and had already been outspoken peace advocates, staging “bed-ins for peace”, meeting with politicians to state their case and putting up billboards in a dozen world cities saying pretty much what turned out to be the song title. The signs read “”War is over, if you want it! Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.” So a song seemed the obvious next step, especially after John had had good success with “Imagine.” He said the theme was the same on both : “as long as people imagine that somebody’s doing it to them, and that they have no control, then they have no control.” Or, as Songfacts sum it up “if enough people want something to happen, it will.” In the case of Lennon and Ono, the thing they wanted most back then was to see the Vietnam War end. But yelling from a soapbox wasn’t very effective, as many had found out by then. Lennon noted “now I understand what you have to do : put your political message across with a little honey.”

In this case, the “little honey” was mixing in the political message with a Christmas sentiment, and having 30 children – the Harlem Community Choir add their voices. Lennon recorded it in New York City in October of that year, with Phil Spector producing and a number of studio musicians playing behind him. They included guitarist Hugh McCracken, who’d already worked with Paul McCartney since the Beatles had broken up, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Jim Keltner on drums and “sleigh bells.” Lennon’s friend Klaus Voorman was supposed to play bass, but got stuck in Germany after missing a flight, so an unknown guitarist (Spector brought in four) picked up the four-string for it.

Happy Xmas (War is Over)” initially came out in North America as a green vinyl 7” single, with a Yoko song, “Listen! The Snow is Falling” on the b-side and an interesting “label” with a series of photos morphing their two faces together. Alas, since “business” is half of “music business”, Brits had to wait a year to buy it. Legal disputes with Northern Songs over there kept it from being released until late-’72 in the UK. The song wasn’t a huge success right away, getting to #42 in the U.S. However, it’s popularity has increased through the years, particularly after Lennon was killed in 1980. Over the years it has gotten as high as #2 in the UK and while not making the U.S. top 40, it has gotten to #3 on Billboard‘s Holiday Music chart and was voted among the top 10 Christmas songs ever by British viewers of ITV. The single is platinum in the UK, and gold in many places including Japan…making it marginally more of a hit than the other notable ex-Beatle Christmas song, Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

And if you aren’t quite sure just what is said at the song’s end, don’t feel bad. Most written lyrics, including ones on some Lennon compilation albums have John and Yoko whispering “Happy Christmas Yoko” and “Happy Christmas John.” But apparently the couple said otherwise, saying it was “Happy Christmas Kyoko,” and “Happy Christmas Julian,” greetings to their two kids from outside their marriage.

September 22 – David Knew Way To John’s Heart

A big part of getting ahead in business is knowing your customers and key employees better than the competition. David Geffen is a smart businessman, and he demonstrated it again on this day in 1980 by signing John Lennon who was ready to come out of a brief retirement.

Geffen of course was a major mover and shaker in the music world in the ’70s, starting Asylum Records (originally primarily just to put out a Jackson Browne album) and building it into one of the biggest labels in the States, courtesy of his crew of Bob Dylan, and southern California stars like Browne, Linda Ronstadt ,and most importantly, The Eagles. But as the decade wore on, he’d sold Asylum, gotten into film production, battled illnesses, and had a passionate relationship with Cher … odd, given that he’s frequently stated he’s gay. One thing he’d not done in that stretch was be prominent in music. However, by the new decade, he decided that was his true passion, and so he set out to catch lightning in a jar again. He started a new record company, Geffen Records.

He quickly signed perhaps the singly most popular female and male artists of the previous decade – Donna Summer, then Elton John. But he was still looking for talent he could bank on to make his label a destination for artists. Enter John Lennon.

Lennon’s life had quieted down considerably in the second-half of the ’70s, perhaps not coincidentally because he’d left music behind. His contract with Apple Records had expired and his son Sean was born in 1975., He decided to stay at home, work on improving his relationship with his wife, Yoko Ono, and he “baked bread and looked after the baby.” It seemed to put him in a better headspace than he’d been in for a long time, but by 1980 he was ready to write songs and perform again. He had some song ideas, and hearing things like “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s on radio made him think the public might be more receptive to his wife’s avant garde musical approach as well. They began recording material which would become Double Fantasy in August of that year.

Now, it created the interesting situation of a superstar with a new record but no one to print and distribute it. A bidding war might be in the offing… but then again, Lennon hadn’t had a hit for years and even his fellow ex-Beatles had seen their sales drop off at the end of the ’70s. There was still interest in the recording of course, and here’s where the savvy understanding of psychology paid dividends for Geffen.

He’d only met John once – years before at a party, in a hot tub with Cher – but he wanted him on the new label. John at the time, according to one biographer, “was upset that his wife had not yet won the respect of the fans, critics and label chiefs.” He had Yoko handle the phone calls and correspondence from the major record companies. Most tried to get around her as quickly as they could and only wanted to speak to John. Geffen, however, understood John better. He was happy to talk to Yoko, and sent her a telegram with a business offer. This pleased John, who said “well he’s the one, isn’t he? He’s the one we’ll go with!”. Geffen then followed up with more business sense-slash-bravado, by offering them a million dollars straight off without hearing the record. Such was the confidence he had in them (well, mainly John) and the ability to make a quality record. That was probably the final tipping point that got the Lennons on the Geffen label. Things, both good and horrible, then happened quickly. The pair wrapped up the final production of the record in a few weeks and with Geffen they had the packaging ready and the product on shelves in less than two months. The first single, “Starting Over” actually was on air on radio around the world a mere month after they signed the contract.

The album showed the mellower, more content-sounding John than what most were used to. It received mixed reviews initially, but “Starting Over” quickly became a major hit, and with songs like “Woman” and “Watching the Wheels”, it’s likely the album would have sold well no matter what. Sadly, to point out the obvious, John was murdered before the end of the year, which pushed sales through the roof. It hit #1 in North America, and in the UK where it was his first chart-topper since Imagine nine years earlier. In W. Germany, it hit #2, his first entry into the top 20 there.

There’s no way to put a happy face on the events in December, but at least to that point, John probably felt satisfied that finally someone was giving his wife the respect he felt she was due, and thanks to Geffen’s devil-may-care the public got to remember him with some of his best work in a decade. And for Geffen, who’d seemingly over-estimated the ability of Elton and Donna to stay commercially relevant in the new decade, he was rewarded with the first smash hit album for his new company.

August 30 – Live From New York, It’s John Lennon

Call it playing catch-up or call it being a terrific humanitarian…likely both were true, and either way about 30 000 New Yorkers were all the better off for it this day in 1972. That was the day John Lennon held two concerts, an afternoon and an evening one, at Madison Square Garden. The concerts were quickly arranged benefit shows, and although no one knew it at the time, they’d be the last full concerts Lennon would ever give. He was the only one of the Beatles who never toured as such after the Fab Four split up.

Lennon decided to do the shows to raise money for the Willowbrook School after seeing a TV news story about it. Willowbrook was a state-run school for mentally disabled kids and none other than Geraldo Rivera, an up-and-coming newsman at the time, brought to light stories of both abuse of the children and poor conditions at the school caused by disrepair. Lennon and Yoko Ono felt moved to act, and so the concerts were arranged, with all proceeds going to the school. They brought in Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sha Na Na to play on the bill as well; in a surprisingly magnanimous move, Lennon also invited Paul McCartney, who declined.

The idea was wonderful, but it was also highly reminiscent of a double concert George Harrison had done the year before to raise funds for Bangladeshi relief at the same venue. As even the Beatles Bible point out, “the success of George Harrison’s ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ the previous year may well have influenced his decision.” No doubt it irked him a little to see Harrison come to the Big Apple – John’s adopted hometown – and become a hero, not to mention score a hit record, with a charity event that was exactly the type of thing they’d expect Lennon and Ono to do.

Whether a bit of jealousy played a role or not, it was hard to argue with Lennon’s gesture. They sold tickets at between $5 and $10 (depending on seat location) and both shows sold out quickly. ABC filmed it and turned it into a TV special, paying $350 000 to the cause for the rights.

Lennon and his wife brought in session drummer Jim Keltner, and the Elephant’s Memory Band (a group of session musicians from the New York area who often backed Lennon at the time) to play, with John playing rhythm guitar himself. They rehearsed for three days. After Rivera welcomed them to stage for the afternoon show, it was apparent to some that a bit more practice might have helped. The sound was a bit off, and at one point John joked “welcome to the rehearsal.” They played 17 songs, starting with “Power to the People” through a finale of “Hound Dog”. He powered through his Beatles tour de force “Come Together” and a number of his early hits or near-hits like “Imagine,” “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma”. Yoko took center stage to do a couple of numbers, “Born in a Prison” and “Sisters, Oh Sisters.” The evening set apparently sounded a bit better, and had 14 songs, including “Give Peace A Chance” to end it. The two Yoko songs were dropped from the bill, with no record of if any fans felt short-changed because of it.

The shows ended up raising over a million dollars for the school, making it a great humanitarian success. Commercially, it wasn’t a massive, or immediate hit. In 1986 (after John’s death of course) a live album – John Lennon Live In New York – and videotape of it were put out, produced by Yoko.

Two surprises came of that fact. One, she chose the afternoon set to use, which even the musicians themselves thought the lesser of the two, performance-wise, and two, that she had an uncommon lack of egotism, basically editing herself out of the record. Her songs weren’t included and on songs where she was singing harmony, her voice was mixed very low so as not to detract from Lennon’s. The video had a different selection of songs. Rolling Stone would say of it while it “could have used a few more hours of practice” it was still a decent listen as “classic Lennon, because it’s all here – his humor, pain, anger and unshakeable faith in the power of rock’n’roll to change the world.” Traits his ex-bandmate George Harrison would no doubt admire. The album was a minor success, hitting #41 in the U.S. and eventually going gold.

What no one there knew of course was that it was going to be the last time to see John do a concert of his own. Even though he was active recording through the ’70s and up until his death in 1980, he gave up playing live entirely after this show. The only exception was a brief appearance, also at Madison Square Garden, to be on stage with his friend Elton John in 1974 at one of his concerts.

August 19 – Lennon Kept Summer Of Love Anthem Simple

Ok… you’re in a band and you have been around a few years. You keep making albums, but you keep leaving your best work aside, telling the label bosses, the album’s don’t need that. We’ll put these out as singles. Not a shortcut to success, is it? Surprisingly, it was… if you were The Beatles and it was 1967. This day that year, they took over the #1 spot in the U.S. from The Doors “Light My Fire” with “All You Need Is Love.” At the time, their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band was the hottest album going, but they neglected to put this song on the album. Nor did they put their previous #1 hit, “Penny Lane” (with “Strawberry Fields” on the other side) five months earlier on it either. Nor did their next #1 hit, “Hello Goodbye” find its way onto the current album of theirs. Such was the power of the Fab Four then.

Marketing may have been the reason “Penny Lane” didn’t make Sgt. Pepper... but this one probably missed the LP for a more reasonable reason – it was a last minute single they put out on short notice. They did it upon request by the organizers of Our World, an ambitious TV program taking place in real time in dozens of countries around the world, the first satellite, international program. They wanted The Beatles, and since it was going to be shown in a lot of places where English isn’t the first language, they wanted “a song which could be easily understood.” No “I Am the Walrus” or “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” then. John Lennon was up to the task and he quickly dashed off the lyrics and general melody. He called the song “propaganda”, but in a good way. “I’m a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change,” he said at the time. The Guardian noted “they really did believe all this…they wrote something really, really basic yet still got the counter-culture message across.”

Although they performed it live in the studio on June 25 that year for the TV show, they had recorded some of the basic track beforehand, with George Martin bringing in orchestration loosely incorporating the French National Anthem and Bach pieces into it (and George Harrison even dabbling with the violin!) and they’d add some overdubs, including a lot of their friends – including members of the Rolling Stones, Pattie Boyd, Marianne Faithfull and the Who’s Keith Moon – singing backing vocals before putting the song out, they mostly did it live on TV for millions to see. Months later, they’d include it on Magical Mystery Tour for those who somehow didn’t buy the 7” single.

The song was a smash…as most Beatles singles were. Not only did it hit #1 in the U.S., but it did so in Canada, the UK, New Zealand and many other lands as well. Bob Geldof would cite it as a musical inspiration for his fund-raiser “Do They Know It’s Christmas” nearly two decades later, saying he needed “something that could be sung around the world, like ‘All You Need Is Love’”.

Maybe Bob should give it a go again, since regrettably we have no John Lennon or George Harrison to do it for us. When we see what is happening in Afghanistan, and the hostility between political parties at home and civil wars raging here and there around the globe, it might not be a bad time to be reminded “All You Need Is Love.”