On this day in 1940, John Winston Lennon was born in Liverpool, England. Lennon started the most successful and influential rock-group in history, the Beatles, and also produced classic music as a solo artist, such as "Give Peace a Chance" and "Working-Class Hero."
Raised by his aunt, Mimi Smith, after his parents split up, Lennon played skiffle music as a youth and formed the Quarrymen in 1955. Two years later, Lennon met Paul McCartney, who joined the group. The two began writing songs together and eventually became the most successful songwriting-team in pop-music history.
The Beatles hit it big in England in 1962 and traveled to America two years later. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" became their first #1 song in the States and began the reign of popularity that lasted until the band's official breakup in 1970.
Lennon has always been known for the acidity and toughness he brought to the Beatles on such tunes as "Come Together" and "Revolution," but he also wrote and sang some of the band's most tender songs, including "If I Fell," "Julia" and "Across the Universe."
After Lennon married his second wife, avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, in 1969, his interest in the Beatles waned and the couple quickly began making music together. Lennon and Ono also campaigned for peace and staged wild publicity-stunts, such as their infamous "Bed-in" against the Vietnam War. Their actions were controversial, and, in the early '70s, Lennon -- who had settled in New York -- was targeted for deportation by the Nixon administration.
After a series of experimental-noise albums with Ono, Lennon released the critically hailed John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album in 1970 with the band of the same name. The LP's brutal starkness on such intimate songs as "Mother" and "I Found Out" was startling and it has been cited as a major influence on a generation of musicians, including confessional songwriters and punk rockers.
Lennon's most famous solo-album is arguably Imagine (1971), which yielded the classic title-track (RealAudio excerpt) and contained his thinly veiled attack on McCartney, "How Do You Sleep?" After a few more successful LPs, Lennon retired in 1975 to raise Sean, his son with Ono, who tended to business matters while her husband remained mostly housebound.
The couple emerged from their domesticity in 1980 with the charming Double Fantasy LP, brimming with happy songs such as "Beautiful Boy" and "Watching the Wheels." As the album was charting, Lennon was murdered in front of his New York City home by crazed fan Mark David Chapman. After his death, the single "(Just Like) Starting Over" topped the charts, and his ode to Ono, "Woman," soon went to #2.
In the years since Lennon's murder, Ono has made a point of releasing his music and artwork almost every year. Posthumous albums have included Milk and Honey (1984), which included the top-5 "Nobody Told Me," and John Lennon Live in New York City (1986).
When the surviving Beatles issued their Anthology music- and film-project in 1995 and 1996, they included Lennon's vocals on songs Ono had stashed in her vaults, including "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love."
Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Beatle in 1989 and as a solo artist in 1994. Lennon and Ono's son, Sean, issued his debut album, Into the Sun, this year.
Sean recently told Entertainment Weekly: "I can't tell you how many times I walk into a store or mall and hear my dad singing on the radio. I just get this really nice feeling, almost as if he's saying, 'Hey, how are you?' or 'I'm still around.' It's almost magical."
When the rock-history books are closed, John Lennon may stand as the most important artist in the genre's history.
Other birthdays: Pat Burke (Foundations), 61; John Alec Entwistle (Who), 54; Jackson Browne, 50; Al Jourgensen (Ministry, Revolting Cocks), 40; Thomas Wydler (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), 39; Kurt Neumann (BoDeans), 37; Mat Osman (London Suede), 31; PJ Harvey, 29; Sean Ono Lennon, 23; and Peter Tosh, 1944-1987.