Music

It’s Johnny’s Birthday: Nine Lennon Tributes

Celebrating John Lennon’s 73rd birthday with songs from famous friends.

On October 9th, 1940, one of the world’s most beloved musicians was born. Amongst the millions of people who are fans of John Lennon, many notable musicians have shown their devotion through music. Most of these loving tributes are sung by his closest friends, while the others are by average, everyday rockstars who simply loved the man and his music.

 
George Harrison -- “All Those Years Ago”: His former Beatles bandmates teamed up with producer George Martin to record this tribute, which despite some of its more cutting lyrics (specifically “They treated you like a dog” and ”Now we’re left cold and sad by someone, the devil’s best friend”), still manages to have a light, cheerful sound to it.

 
Paul McCartney -- “Here Today”: It’s a simple-sounding song, but that just gives its heart-wrenching lyrics more impact. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were best friends. Every second of that friendship was speculated upon by millions of people. But despite the deeply personal nature of what McCartney felt after Lennon’s death, he released this song. Despite its relatively short length, it says all that needs to be said. We should all be so lucky as to have a friendship like that in our lives.

 
Queen -- “Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)”: If it wasn’t for the title and the lyric “Lennon is a genius”, you probably wouldn’t realize that this was a tribute to John. There are also subtle musical hints, like the first notes, which are similar to the beginning of “Mother”.

 
Elton John -- “Empty Garden (Hey, Hey, Johnny)”: Elton John once listed this song as one he wanted to be remembered for, along with his other tribute to a fallen star, “Candle In The Wind”. The garden referred to here is Madison Square Garden, where Lennon made his last live concert performance. Elton John refuses to perform the song live anywhere else.

 
Die Puhdys -- “Hey John”: This East German band isn’t singing in English, but a loose translation of its lyrics tells the story of a fan who idolizes Lennon and loves “Give Peace a Chance”. The most telling lyric comes last: “Your songs do not remain silent."

 
Bob Dylan -- “Roll on John”: Some of the lyrics are vague enough to apply to somebody else, but a few lines specifically refer to John. The last track off his latest album, it shares the same title as an old folk song that Dylan covered decades before but never officially released.

 
Oasis -- “I’m Outta Time”: Liam Gallagher named one of his sons Lennon, so it’s not surprising that he spent several years crafting this ode to his hero. A snippet of Lennon’s last recorded interview appears at the end of the track.

 
Barclay James Harvest -- “John Lennon’s Guitar”: The specific guitar mentioned here is the Gibson Epiphone Casino that Lennon played during many important musical moments, including the Beatles’ last world tour, the making of The Beatles and Let It Be albums, and the Live Peace in Toronto concert.

 
George Harrison -- “It’s Johnny’s Birthday”: Under two minutes in length and featuring a sped-up ending, this was a cutesy parody of Cliff Richards’ “Congratulations”. (Its songwriters would later file a claim for a share of the royalties.) Think of it as a friend’s lively way of celebrating the fun side of someone who was truly great.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

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