The Words and Music of John Lennon
Jackson, Kathy Merlock, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)
The Words and Music of John Lennon Ben Urish and Ken Bielen, Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007.
In the 1960s, John Lennon was half of arguably the most successful popular music-writing duo in the world, Lennon-McCartney, whose songs recorded by the Beatles were credited jointly, regardless of who had greater input. By the time the Beatles broke up in early 1970, their musical legacy was enormous: fifty-one singles in the top forty, thirty-four in the top ten, and twenty that reached number one. In The Words and Music of John Lennon, Ben Urish and Ken Bielen do not consider this creative period in Lennon's life but instead begin with his solo or post-Beatles career, which has received less academic attention. Lennon, they write, "was able to fuse experiments in technology, instrumentation, lyrics, and song form into artistically and commercially successful recordings. Whether expressing emotions, explaining philosophies, protesting social situations, or ruminating on the joys and pains of romantic or familial entanglements, few have been Lennon's equal and none his better" (xvii).
Like other books in the Praeger singer-songwriter collection, this one is organized chronologically, addressing the compositions the writer recorded and focusing on the most notable songs. In Lennon's case, this musical work sometimes included collaborators, especially Yoko Ono, with whom he shared an intense personal and artistic relationship resulting in the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Although the book is not a complete biography, it inevitably contains information about Lennon's life as is necessary to explain the circumstances and themes that characterized his music.
Lennon was a complex man who lived a complicated life, and his music reflects this. He loved fantasy, nonsense, and wordplay and admired Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, W. S. Gilbert, and British comedy in the vein of The Crazy Gang, The Goons, and Monty Python. Musically, he enjoyed Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley. He later embraced the Eastern philosophy of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the activist spirit of David Peel. …