Will John Lennon’s genius ever be surpassed? We asked some of his biggest – and most famous – fans. So, in the words of Liam Gallagher, Alex Turner, Paul Weller, Miles Kane and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil:
Liam Gallagher on Lennon: The Icon
“John Lennon means everything to me. Everything and nothing. I wouldn’t say he’s a better songwriter than McCartney, I’d say they’re both different but great. But I like Lennon’s stuff more ‘cos it’s a bit more beautiful, and it’s more mad. McCartney’s like Noel – he’s too nice. Lennon was twisted and I like that kinda shit. His voice is the main thing I love. I like his speaking voice. That’s pretty fucking mega. But his voice when he sings is the one. Political voice? Don’t give a shit, couldn’t care less about politics. But everything else – his singing voice, his songs, and his words – means the world to me.
I love the early rock’n’roll stuff as much as I like the later stuff he did, but right now my favourite period would be ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. There’s this tune called ‘Now And Then’ which is one of the demos he did in India with George Harrison [It was actually a home demo made in New York in 1978 – Beatles Ed], and you should check that one out. I think they mixed it again like they did with ‘Free As A Bird’, but that song is fucking beautiful. As a songwriter, I don’t think anyone’s touched Lennon and I don’t know if they ever will. [The La’s’] Lee Mavers could have got near but he went down another road. Our kid’s good, but he lacks that fucking madness that Lennon had. He’s a normal chap who writes decent songs, and Mavers was too mad. But Lennon had all that and more. It’s a constant thing with him, and I don’t think I could ever get bored. You get bored of Lennon and you get bored of yourself, don’t you? And I ain’t bored of me…”
Alex Turner on Lennon: The Lyricist
“I remember when I first started writing songs and writing lyrics, I really wanted to be able to write an ‘I Am The Walrus’-type song. And I found it very difficult. You listen to that and it sounds like it’s all nonsense, but it’s really difficult to write that sort of thing and make it compelling, you know? Lennon definitely had a knack for that in those days. Even ‘Come Together’, which we played at the Olympics [in 2012] – I found that song difficult to get anywhere near. I’ve heard that song a thousand times before, but there’s not one word in that song that logically leads into the next one. It’s all a jumble, but it’s not just that, if you know what I mean. It paints you a picture and puts you in this place. He’s got a way of leading you somewhere with these unusual words that don’t make sense, but also make perfect fucking sense.
But there’s also this other type of song he does really well, where the writer is almost singing right into the listener’s ear, and you know exactly where it’s going, but you want to go anyway. I love the scenes from the Gimme Some Truth film where they’re filming him in his house with [Phil] Spector, when he’s doing his vocal takes on the song ‘Gimme Some Truth’ and he’s just spitting all this shit out, with all this menace and anger in his voice. I’m attracted to that angry Lennon, although it’s another thing I haven’t figured out how to do yet! He definitely deserves all the praise and accolades that he receives.”
Miles Kane on Lennon: The Fashion Icon
“There are loads of looks, and loads of different hairstyles John Lennon had through the years. But the best hairstyle he had was when he was doing ‘Instant Karma!’ on Top Of The Pops in 1970. His hair is a bit longer than a skinhead on top and he’s also rocking a beard and wearing all denim. Yeah, I think that look is my favourite of his, overall – the glasses and the beard with that hairstyle looked cool as fuck!
I associate the look with his swagger as well. Obviously you have a lot of inspirations and reasons why you get into music and John Lennon is a main one for me. From growing up where I’m from in the Wirral, that was just part of it, and he was always getting played in the house. I’ve mentioned it loads, but the song which [got me into music] is ‘Gimme Some Truth’ off ‘Imagine’.
I guess I always go back to that sort of era. I like The Beatles’ stuff as well but if I had to choose between the two, I’d probably go for Lennon solo.”
Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil on Lennon: The Rebel
“He was obviously the hugest rock star ever but Lennon seemed to operate in a slightly different dimension to that: he was the working-class hero, the everyman and a real provocateur. He made people question themselves, and he questioned religion on a mainstream level in a way that hadn’t been done before, which was very brave. He was just a special spirit. You think about the number of classics he wrote, how he did so much in such a short space of time. He birthed what we call entertainment. I think if he was alive today he’d be a crabbit fuck. I think he would find plenty to rebel against, because he always wanted music to give a voice to things and issues and I think, more and more these days, that’s pretty rare.
Our manager recently told us a story about John Lennon: he went to Harry Nilsson’s house and somebody answered the door with a lampshade on and acted like a right obnoxious prick all night. They started passing a joint around, and when it got to the guy with the lampshade he lifted it up and it was John Lennon. It didn’t quite fulfil his fantasies of what it would be like to meet him.”
Paul Weller On Lennon: The Singer
“Lennon’s a singer I admire not so much for the technical side but for the honesty and power. I was listening to ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and he was just letting go on that track. I love it. And songs like ‘Twist And Shout’, ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ and ‘Bad Boy’ really put him up there as one of the great rock’n’roll bawlers. They sound like he was gargling with razor blades before recording ’em. The flipside, of course, is songs like ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’, which show the more sensitive, soulful side to his voice. He’s been a massive influence on me right across the board, as a writer, lyricist and singer.
There are so many of Lennon’s tracks that are absolutely amazing. I’m currently into some of the less obvious ones like ‘Remember Love’ [B-side of ‘Give Peace A Chance’]. But when it comes down to it, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ is my all-time favourite.
I can still remember when I first heard it on the radio. I was only nine at the time. I didn’t know anything about drugs or psychedelia, I just knew it was a great tune. My mum was quite young and she was still buying records – so I’d already absorbed The Beatles and The Kinks, but that song just blew me away, it took me to a different place. I only had four teachers at school – John, Paul, George and Ringo – but you could say my education really started with ‘Strawberry Fields…’. I got really into them after that. I remember being desperate to watch Magical Mystery Tour when it was first on TV – Boxing Day 1967. My mum and dad wanted to watch some crappy film on ITV, so I’d switch the TV over during the ad breaks to see it!”
“From that point on I was obsessed. We had relations in Chester and one time I went on a pilgrimage to Liverpool with my dad. We went to Menlove Avenue [where Lennon grew up], and Paul’s house in Allerton, but we never made it to Strawberry Fields itself, sadly.
Technically, the production on ‘Strawberry Fields…’ is phenomenal. There was no Pro Tools or any of that business – if you got it wrong, you had to start again, simple as that. For me, it’s the first psychedelic record. People talk about ‘See My Friends’ by The Kinks, but ‘Strawberry Fields…’ is far more experimental. George Martin did a brilliant job editing together the two different sections; the key change in the middle is amazing. I still return to it. It’s one of those tracks where you hear something new every time you hear it, because it’s got so many textures. It’s still unsurpassed.”
This article was originally published in September 2012, when John Lennon was crowned the Ultimate Icon of NME’s 60-year lifetime.