Love – the beginning and the end

What happens when you walk away from the big relationship in your life, the one that people know you and love you for? This was the challenge for John Lennon in 1970 when his divorce from the Beatles was public and he had to answer the question ‘what next?’

By 1968, John Lennon was in a bad way. He’d been the acknowledged leader of the biggest band in the world, regularly performing to thousands. But now the adulation of the audience was gone, replaced instead by expectation, the hard work of the studio and doing something in all the time between.

While his marriage to Cynthia was on its last legs and then finally collapsed, John had found the love of a good woman – to be the love of of his life – famously inaugurated in a long weekend together in John’s home in Spring 1968.

Despite the lift that Yoko brought him, the pressures of life – and of past traumas – got to John. He and Yoko descend into a whirlpool of heroin use, further distancing himself from the big relationship of his life to date, that of Paul and the boys in the band.

Wind forward to December 1970, with the Beatles divorce announced and behind him, John Lennon gives us his first post-breakup solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

This album was remarkable for the level of confessional writing, particularly for someone as much a part of the public fabric of life as John Lennon. It’s a heartfelt and emotional set of songs that make you as listener feel like you’re sitting in on a long and deep psychotherapy session. It can be quite a challenging listen at times. (Esteemed music critics have used the word ‘harrowing’ multiple times in their reviews).

In the middle of all this angst sits one of Lennon’s finest love songs – simply titled Love. With a simple and sparse piano and acoustic guitar backing and lyrics of almost childlike simplicity, Lennon sets out the wonder and optimism of love “Love is you, you and me. Love is knowing we can be.” Amidst the darkness and challenges of the rest of the album, Love shines out as an optimistic jump into a bright future, and is probably one of the finest feats of songwriting that he ever pulled off.

Step forward another 10 years and the big question now is can a middle-aged man write about the power and passion of love in a convincing and compelling way? Can someone who’s devoted their time to “baking bread and raising babies” say anything new and meaningful about the rollercoaster ride of love?

With arguably the last song he ever wrote, John Lennon pulled off another triumph with the touching and beautiful Grow Old With Me.  Taking inspiration from a poem by Robert Browning (which he’d seen quoted in a made-for-TV movie about a baseball star) he crafts a wonderful picture about the marvels of passing the days with the one you really love.

“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be…” he starts, warming to the theme of the marvel of togetherness before concluding “… whatever fate decrees, we will see it through for our love is true…”

John and Yoko had worked on the song with the aim of getting it onto Double Fantasy, but had decided they wanted to take the time to get it right so decided they’d work on it for their next album. John wanted the song to be “a standard, the kind that they would play in church every time a couple gets married.” Sadly, fate had something else in mind and Lennon was shot dead before the song could progress beyond the demo stage. The song finally found light on the Milk and Honey album and was one of the songs in the collection marked ‘for Paul’ – that became the final Beatles singles worked up during the Anthology sessions. Sadly, Grow Old With Me was rejected by McCartney and the others at the time as ‘needing too much work’.

A final version of the song was given an orchestral arrangement byBeatles Producer George Martin, at Yoko’s request, providing a heartfelt coda to the greatest love of the man who brought love to millions through the power of music.

Listen to the songs here


Grow Old With Me

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