A collection of songs that deeply “embarrassed” John Lennon

There was no one more critical of John Lennon’s work than the man himself. From the moment he broke out with The Beatles in the early 1960s to the final interview before his murder in 1980, Lennon made it clear he was a formidable taskmaster regarding his compositions. This meant that on numerous occasions, he tore apart beloved songs that had taken on cultural significance after release. None of Lennon’s work was safe from his objection. He was one of the foremost artists who realised that objectively analysing work wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It was this restless attitude that fuelled all of Lennon’s creative successes. After all, The Beatles were the first to recontextualise a rock band and popular music through their many innovations as songwriters and in the studio. Without the innate desire to do something truly remarkable, they would not have had the significant second half of their career that they did. Most likely, the Fab Four would have continued to produce the same sounds they did in their early years until life eventually moved past them like it did many of their peers.

Yet Lennon and the rest of the band’s tenacity and outward-looking perception meant they were acutely aware of musical developments and sought to be at their forefront. They truly achieved this with 1965’s Rubber Soul and remained there until 1970’s swan song, Let It Be. While each member had their role to play in this arc, much of it rested on Lennon, who was the group’s primary songwriter alongside Paul McCartney.

However, as he sincerely believed in creating music of worth, numerous moments were not up to Lennon’s high standards, despite being fan favourites to millions worldwide. There’s even a collection of songs he mentioned as being acutely embarrassing because of how he let himself, his band, or the general art form of songwriting down.

One of the earliest and most famous compositions that sent chills down Lennon’s spine was 1963’s ‘Twist and Shout’. Although it was technically a cover of Phil Medley and Bert Berns’ original, The Beatles made the number their own, but even still, the tough-to-please Lennon said he “always hated singing that song”.

Lennon delivered a classic vocal performance on the hit, but this status was achieved with a tremendous struggle, which played into why the final product “embarrassed” him. It was recorded on February 11th, 1963, the day the group also captured the rest of their debut album, Please Please Me, in a session lasting over 12 hours. However, at the time, Lennon was suffering a horrible cold.

This meant that when it came to committing the final track ‘Twist and Shout’ to tape, Lennon was exhausted and needed to dig deep. He almost eviscerated his throat when singing. “It doesn’t seem right, you know. I feel sort of embarrassed,” he once said. “It makes me curl up. I always feel they could do the song much better than me.”

It wasn’t just that classic moment, though. ‘Eight Days a Week’, one of the only iconic moments on The Beatles’ most-maligned effort, 1964’s Beatles for Sale, was one of the songs Lennon was also mightily embarrassed by. During one interview, he said it “was never a good song” before adding, “It was lousy anyway”.

Although the Fab Four improved after that release with its follow-up, Help!, the following year, according to Lennon, one of the album’s most lauded junctures, ‘It’s Only Love’ had always caused him much distress. He simply hated it from the outset. “‘It’s Only Love’ is mine,” he recalled in 1980, speaking to David Sheff of Playboy, “I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.”

That extensive interview – the last Lennon gave before his murder – provided several instances where the ex-Beatle tore apart his music. There was one fan favourite from his solo career that he surprisingly revealed embarrassed him more than most of his other supposed duds. This was ‘Oh Yoko!’ the closing track from 1971’s Imagine. Somewhat characteristically, he thought the track didn’t represent his tough-guy image.

“It’s a very popular track,” he explained, “But I was sort of shy and embarrassed and it didn’t sort of represent my image of myself as the tough, hard-biting rock’ n’ roller with the acid tongue.”

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