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.

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