Beatles icon John Lennon would have been 80 this month, we look at his legacy

History is littered with ‘what if’ moments.

John Lennon with his wife Yoko Ono in 1971. (Getty Images).
John Lennon with his wife Yoko Ono in 1971. (Getty Images).

What if JFK hadn’t been slain by an assassin, would he be as revered as he is today? And what kind of president would his brother, Robert Kennedy, have made?

Similarly, we will never know what John Lennon would have gone to achieve had he, too, not been killed, shot dead outside his New York apartment in December 1980 – a tragedy that sparked an outpouring of grief around the world.

Lennon would have turned 80 next week and to mark the occasion his youngest son Sean Ono Lennon has interviewed Julian Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John in a special two-part documentary – John Lennon At 80 – to be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 this Saturday and Sunday.

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    John Lennon and Paul McCartney at London Airport after a trip to America to promote their new company Apple Corps in 1968. (Getty Images).

    The documentary is a celebratory portrait of the legendary former Beatle, shedding fresh light on his remarkable life in music, with Sean and his older brother Julian offering their unique insights and sharing their thoughts and recollections about their father.

    It’s the first time the brothers have spoken publicly together about their memories of their dad, and the first time Sean has talked about him publicly with fellow Beatle and song-writing partner, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sean’s godfather, Sir Elton John.

    In his interview, McCartney admits he is pleased that he and Lennon put their differences aside before Lennon’s death, following a very public falling out when The Beatles split in 1970.

    Speaking to Lennon’s son Sean, he said: “It really, really would have been a heartache to me if we hadn’t have reunited. It was so lovely that we did and it really gives me sort of strength to know that.”

    McCartney also shares his memories of meeting John. “The great thing was the combination of those two attitudes and I look back on it now like a fan. You think, ‘Wow, how lucky was I to meet this strange Teddy boy off the bus who turned out to play music like I did. And we get together,” he said.

    “Boy, we complemented each other. It was a bit ying yang. They say with marriages opposites attract and I think we weren’t like madly opposite, but I had some stuff he didn’t have, and he had some stuff I didn’t have. When you put them together it made something extra, which I think was this.”

    It’s 50 years since The Beatles went their separate ways and yet they remain the biggest, and arguably the best, rock and pop band of all time.

    In March 1963, the Fab Four released their debut album, Please, Please Me, and in doing so changed the face of modern music.

    By May the album was top of the charts, where it remained for the next 30 weeks, and over the next seven years they produced an astonishing 11 more studio albums that helped reshape popular culture.

    Lennon was certainly the band’s most outspoken member. It was his “bigger than Jesus” remarks that caused furore and led to their records being burned in America, and in 1969, he and Yoko Ono staged a series of so-called “bed-ins” to promote peace.

    He wasn’t afraid to speak out on issues like the war in Vietnam and the FBI was so concerned about his ties to left-wing and anti-war groups that it kept a file on him when he moved to the US in the early 70s.

    It is right that we celebrate the life of a man whose words and music have inspired and brought happiness to millions of people, and continue to do so, even if those celebrations are tinged with sadness at what the world was robbed of by his tragic, senseless killing.

    We will never know, of course, but I like to think he would have become a wise old man with something to say about the state of the world that was worth listening to.

    John Lennon at 80 is from 9-10pm on October 3 and 4 on BBC Radio 2

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    Thank you

    James Mitchinson