1‘John Sinclair’, Some Time In New York City
‘John Sinclair’, Some Time In New York City (1972). A strident defence of the writer and MC5 manager busted for marijuana possession.
2‘How Do You Sleep?’, Imagine
‘How Do You Sleep?’, Imagine (1971). The back of Paul McCartney’s second solo album featured a picture of two beetles shagging – Macca’s oblique way of telling Lennon to fuck himself. John responded with this acutely bitter song, featuring lyrics brazenly goading Paul and a ‘Yesterday’ reference to make you wince.
3‘I’m So Tired’, The Beatles
‘I’m So Tired’, The Beatles (1968). Featuring one of Lennon’s funniest lyrics: “I’ll have another cigarette/And curse Sir Walter Raleigh/He was such a stupid get”. Head to NME.COM/video to watch a bunch of bands pick their favourite Lennon tracks.
4‘New York City’, Some Time In New York City
‘New York City’, Some Time In New York City (1972). When Lennon and Yoko moved to the US in 1971, they found themselves hanging out with radicalised artists and wrote this rock’n’roll stomp about the freaky new friends they were making – at the same time the FBI were trying to send them back to Britain.
5‘Bring On The Lucie (Freda Peeple)’, Mind Games
‘Bring On The Lucie (Freda Peeple)’, Mind Games (1973). Lighter-waving plea for social and emotional emancipation – one of Lennon’s catchiest songs.
6‘I Found Out’, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
‘I Found Out’, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970). Heavy electric blues rocker on which Lennon rages against organised religion, specifically George Harrison’s fascination with Eastern mysticism.
7‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!’, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!’, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Eerie evocation of a fairground with lyrics from a circus poster Lennon found in a junk shop.
8‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier Mama’, Imagine
9‘Mind Games’, Mind Games
‘Mind Games’, Mind Games (1973). Begun in 1969 for ‘Let It Be’, ‘Mind Games’ became a Lennon solo single in 1973. Where once he’d explored mind expansion with fistfuls of LSD, now Lennon was inspired by pop psychology, in this case a book of mind training exercises intended to unleash creative potential.
10‘One Day (At A Time)’, Mind Games
‘One Day (At A Time)’, Mind Games (1973). This lovely spectral waltz may be one of the very many tributes Lennon wrote to Yoko, but it’s also the most affecting.
11‘Grow Old With Me’, Milk And Honey
‘Grow Old With Me’, Milk And Honey (1984). With lyrics inspired by a Robert Browning poem, this simple ballad for Yoko is more heartbreaking for the fact that he never did grow old.
12‘Out The Blue’, Mind Games
‘Out The Blue’, Mind Games (1973). Another beautiful Yoko tribute, augmented by a gospel choir.
13‘Yes It Is’, Ticket To Ride single
‘Yes It Is’, Ticket To Ride single (1965). Cryptic mid-period Beatles ballad, hidden away as a B-side, on which Lennon urges his lover not to wear a red dress.
14‘#9 Dream’, Walls And Bridges
‘#9 Dream’, Walls And Bridges (1974). This string-laden wonder continued John’s fascination with the number nine (he was born on October 9), combining it with a just-woken-up sense of yearning for the departed Yoko – what Lennon’s then-girlfriend May Pang, who sings on the song, made of it is anyone’s guess.
15‘Meat City’, Mind Games
‘Meat City’, Mind Games (1973). Contains Lennon’s favourite curse – “fuck a pig” – sped up and backwards masked.
16‘One After 909’, Let It Be
‘One After 909’, Let It Be (1970). The number nine again – one of the first songs Lennon wrote with McCartney in the late ’50s, finally released in 1970.
17‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party’, Beatles For Sale
‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party’, Beatles For Sale (1964). Countrified album track, rumoured to be about Ronnie Spector, who often claims she should’ve married Lennon.
18‘Going Down On Love’, Walls And Bridges
‘Going Down On Love’, Walls And Bridges (1974). You can’t see Macca writing a song about cunnilingus. But Lennon did and it was great.
19‘Real Love’, Anthology 2
‘Real Love’, Anthology 2 (1996). A demo at the time of Lennon’s death, this was reworked by the remaining Beatles in the ’90s.
20‘Glass Onion’, The Beatles
‘Glass Onion’, The Beatles (1968). Lennon loved to wind up The Beatles’ more credulous/stoned fans, leaving mistakes and malapropisms in songs like this, one of his most self-referential, for them to analyse – but it was these kind of hidden messages that ‘persuaded’ Mark Chapman to assassinate him.