40 years ago today, John Lennon was murdered outside his New York City apartment. In the days before and since his death, the Beatles legend changed the course of American music forever.
His influence on songwriting and culture as a whole continues to shape the sounds and lyrics of the biggest names in the music industry today. His life and legend are memorialized in all of the music he wrote and the people he impacted.
The Beatles Changed American Music Forever
The Beatles first performed on American soil on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 7, 1964. From that moment on, the Beatles sensation swept across America, through every household and every radio station.
Originally, the Beatles became popular for their catchy pop melodies and their immaculate vocal harmonies. However, the swarming crowds of screaming people became too loud to hear themselves play. Due to that issue, the band began pushing the boundaries of recording engineering. This push was led by Lennon.
John Lennon and the Effect on Recorded Music
John Lennon was responsible for some of the riskiest, most experimental music of the Beatles. His songwriting always dove deeper than the standard I IV V chord progressions, into the more complex, unexpected changes in music.
Even in their pop heyday, Lennon and Paul McCartney composed melodies that broke free from the standard. These harmonies and melodies only grew more complex and sonically interesting with their recording phase.
For instance, most musical minds believe Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band is one of the greatest albums of all time. This psychedelic journey changed the way musicians approached the art of recording. The way each song flows into the next and the use of such a wide variety of instruments opened up a world of possibilities. The popularization of that concept is largely due to Lennon and the Beatles’ experimentation.
Lyrically, the band progressed astronomically from somewhat corny love songs to deep, thought-provoking poetry. Lennon in particular began to explore new territory in songwriting. Both he and McCartney became some of the richest story-tellers in music, alongside Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia, and the Grateful Dead.
What was most impressive about the Beatles’ songwriting was the incredible amount of material they were able to come up with. In Just seven years, the Beatles released a whopping thirteen studio albums, each progressing their sound further.
Their discography covers such a wide range of musical genres, it becomes difficult to even define them. It would do them a disservice to box them into one category.
John Lennon in his Final Days
After less than a decade together recording music, the Beatles parted ways in 1970. Personal and musical differences came between the band, and each member embarked on their own solo careers. For Lennon, that also meant becoming more of a family man with his wife, Yoko Ono. He shifted his focus toward supporting his wife’s musical aspirations and experiencing music more as an art form.
His last album, Double Fantasy, marked another work of art rather than a musical piece. As Yoko Ono notes in her remembrance of Lennon to Rolling Stone, the album represented “a dialogue between man and woman,” between Yoko and John. Just weeks before his assassination, Rolling Stone did a photoshoot with Lennon and his wife. The iconic picture of John curled up naked next to Yoko truly represented where his priorities were in those final days.
As a musician and as a husband, Lennon dedicated himself to what he loved and who he loved until his tragic death in 1980. The entire world has benefited from his musical contributions, and his lyrics and voice will ring in the ears of generations to come.