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John Lennon

Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band
John Lennon's long-term collaboration with Yoko Ono started with the Plastic Ono band, which included Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman.
John Lennon's long-term collaboration with Yoko Ono started with the Plastic Ono band, which included Eric Clapton and Klaus Voorman.

John Lennon's 1968 drug conviction came back to haunt him in May 1969, when the U.S. authorities refused to grant him a visitor's visa. Regardless, he and Yoko wanted to carry their message of love and peace to the Americans, so they held their second bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada. Here it was, in Room 1742, that on June 1 they recorded their classic anthem, "Give Peace a Chance," together with the many visitors who were gathered around their bed.

A couple of years earlier, John had told the world that no problem was too great because, in the end, "All you need is love." Yet many people still seemed intent on waging war, even if it didn't really get them anywhere. How about trying something else for a change? "All we are saying is give peace a chance," was the simple yet powerful suggestion, and one that filtered through to all corners of the globe.

Although this song was credited to Lennon-McCartney, it was, in fact, the first single release from The Plastic Ono Band. This was the name given by John and Yoko to a variety of musicians who backed them both in concert and on record, including a lineup that featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Alan White on drums; it was this ensemble that was heard on the chilling "Cold Turkey" single released later in the year.

A document of the painful symptoms of withdrawal from heroin addiction, the record boasted one of John's most extraordinary vocal performances to date, alternately trembling and hysterical, as he pleaded:

"Oh, I'll be a good boy, Please make me well, I'll promise you anything, Get me out of this hell."

While he was giving less and less of his time to the Beatles, John nevertheless still contributed some memorable numbers to the group's final efforts. Many of these were Yoko-inspired, such as "Don't Let Me Down" from Let It Be, and "The Ballad Of John And Yoko," the group's final #1 single in the United Kingdom.

On the Abbey Road album, three of the songs illustrated the ways in which John would vary his techniques as a composer: After listening to Yoko playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano, he reversed the chords, wrote some lyrics, and came up with "Because"; indulging his passion for wordplay and nonsense poetry, he wrote "Come Together," a sort of Son of I Am The Walrus; and then, reverting to the other extreme, the seven-minute, 46-second "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" mainly consisted of John singing:

"I want you. I want you so bad, babe. I want you. I want you so bad, it's driving me mad. It's driving me mad."

After a reviewer commented that these lyrics showed that the composer had lost his creative talent, John explained to Rolling Stone interviewer Jann Wenner that they were simple in order to make his message clear. "When you're drowning you don't say, 'I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me.' You just scream!"

True enough, but the activities of the Lennons during this period were not quite so straightforward. A car crash while vacationing with John's son Julian and Yoko's daughter Kyoko in Scotland was followed in September by a live appearance with The Plastic Ono Band at a rock 'n' roll festival in Toronto.

Yoko suffered another miscarriage in October, but she was sufficiently recovered by December to continue with her husband on two of their campaigns: To clear the name of James Hanratty, one of the last men to have been hanged in Britain, and to promote peace around the world by having huge billboards erected in eleven different cities, proclaiming "War Is Over! If You Want It. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko."

Two days before Christmas, 1969, John increased his standing as a "man of the people" when he and Yoko had a 51-minute private meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Afterwards, a beaming John told the assembled press men, "If there were more leaders like Mr. Trudeau, the world would have peace. ... You don't know how lucky you are in Canada."