Five isolated vocals to prove John Lennon is a better singer than you think

An icon of the 20th century, it’s hard to distinguish the different elements of John Lennon. He’s one-half of the most potent songwriting partnership of all time. He’s the founding member of The Beatles, one of the timeless faces of the last century, a beacon of peaceful pop culture and the man who brought such enigmatic songs as ‘Help!’, ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘Imagine’. But while his accolades with the pen are always celebrated, his work as a vocalist is more often forgotten.

What many forget about the pop pomp of the early days of The Beatles was that the band were inspired by the magnificent singing voices of The Everly Brothers and rested largely on their uncanny ability to harmonise within the confines of rock and roll as their main draw. As the group moved further into their own brand of music making, Lennon, in particular, rejected the mainstream for something far rawer, and those sounds developed under experimentation. But while the sonics may have twisted and turned into a wildly woven tapestry, the vocals remained a golden thread throughout.

Lennon’s vocal ability is often sidelined when talking about his overall talent. While he certainly let go of any practical training or vocal training during the salad days of The Beatles, instead pivoting towards allowing the emotion of his performance to be the main draw, he always delivered the right tone for the right project. However, because of his willingness to push the overall sound ahead of his own performance, often, the passion for his vocal work was lost in the mix.

Below, in these five isolated vocal tracks, that raw energy and vulnerable passion can be heard in every note. Whether it is brimming with the hopelessness of youth or the unguarded willingness to be loved, Lennon here is stripped back. The icon status is removed, and what is left behind is one man and his voice, willing to be listened to and truly heard.

Five isolated vocals to prove John Lennon is a perfect singer:
Going to the start of The Beatles is a refreshing moment. The band are so ubiquitous to us now that diving into the roots of their proliferation can feel genuinely cathartic. For John Lennon, though he was naturally a pivotal figure in the band’s explosive beginnings, it wasn’t until ‘Help!’ that things truly began for him as a songwriter and a performer.

“Because I meant it, it’s real,” Lennon told David Sheff in his famed 1980 interview. “The lyric is as good now as it was then; it’s no different, you know. It makes me feel secure to know that I was that sensible or whatever- well, not sensible, but aware of myself.” The song is flecked with Lennon’s hopelessness and feeling of loss. Not loss of any single person but of the sense of normality.

The Beatles’ fame had already grown way out of proportion, and Lennon, a notoriously rebellious child, had already felt cut adrift from the world he knew. Though they may be packaged up inside a pop song, the lyrics and the vocals that deliver them portray a man peering over the edge of the precipice and the child inside feeling too scared to jump alone.

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’
Despite being regarded as a mainstream outfit, The Beatles were never too far from controversy. By the time they reached their enigmatic self-titled record, known as The White Album, the quartet were seemingly unbothered by any extra microscopic attention they received. So when they released a controversial song like ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, they were dab hands at batting it away.

While many have suggested the track is in reference to Lennon’s growing dependence on heroin, the truth is that producer George Martin showed the songwriter an advert containing the titular phrase as part of a genuine gun advertisement. Lennon took the “fantastic, insane thing to say” and built a fragmented set of lyrics.

No longer interested in delivering whole pieces, Lennon preferred to sew different elements of songs together. As such, his delivery style is expansive, with Lennon touching on many different areas. It ranges from the quieter, more soulful moments at the track’s inception to the climax’s wild bellows, where he evokes images of early rockers such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’
The song certainly isn’t the most complex piece of music you’ll ever hear, but Lennon’s inner rocker comes out in full force on this track. It ranks high as one of The Beatles’ most precious numbers and showcases Lennon’s vocal talent perfectly. However, it’s certainly one of the most impassioned as the singer desperately lets out a garbled plea for love.

Written about Yoko Ono, the track saw Lennon take his lyrics into the territory of pleading with Ono to stay with him, prove him right and live out their love together as a happily married couple. It was a plea that all the extra worries and troubles he was now dealing with were worth it. As Paul McCartney remembered in 1994, “So ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was a genuine plea, ‘Don’t let me down, please, whatever you do. I’m out on this limb…”

These emotions can be sorely felt within the isolated vocals. Lennon’s passionate delivery is only matched by the genuine emotion that can be felt traversing every vocal chord.

To distil Lennon’s contribution to pop music to just ‘Imagine’ would be to willfully ignore his widespread work outside of the seminal hit. However, to look away and pretend like this universal anthem — a song now as ubiquitous as ‘Happy Birthday’ — and not investigate the poignant vocal delivery behind it is to not shut yourself off from part of Lennon’s outreach.

After The Beatles, perhaps driven by ego or a genuine desire for change, Lennon put himself forward as the leader of change. ‘Imagine’ is Lennon setting himself a goal he knew that he would never achieve but simply couldn’t walk away from. The former Beatle was putting his money where his mouth was, and from it, the world gained one song that managed to unite them all.

Vocally, it is another demonstration of how Lennon can forgo the idea of perfection for something that chimes with the personality and passion of its singer.

‘Jealous Guy’
Though ‘Imagine’ may be the first song one thinks of when assessing John Lennon’s post-Beatles career, it is ‘Jealous Guy’ that perhaps defines it. ‘Jealous Guy’ is the very inner workings of the icon, it is the now-legendary man putting himself on the canvas, warts and all, and dissecting everything that is good and bad about him with unflinching prowess. Mostly the bad.

Inspired by his time with the Maharishi, the song has since become a vision of Lennon’s life at the time and a candid moment of vulnerability. The tune is a reflective piece of work, and it shows Lennon doing his best to right his wrongs. Vocally, it is also interesting.

It sees Lennon’s voice move away from the brutality of rock and roll and instead push back towards the tenderness of The Beatles’ early days. But where those harmonies popped with bright enthusiasm, Lennon now sings alone, pained yet still as beautiful as ever.

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