John Lennon is one of the most acclaimed songwriters ever, with good reason. At one point in his life, he said he only wrote a few “true” songs — two of which became massive hits for The Beatles.
The classic Beatles songs which were ‘personal’ to John Lennon
In 1971, Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone interviewed John. They discussed John’s most recent album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. John declared the album to be his best work because of its honesty.
John said at one point in his life, he rarely wrote about himself but began to write about himself often during the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band era. He liked writing about himself because of the honesty of his reflective music. Then he reflected on earlier songs from his career which he considered honest.
“‘Help!’ ‘Strawberry Fields [Forever],’ they are…personal records,” John told Rolling Stone. “I always wrote about me when I could. I didn’t really enjoy writing third person songs about people who lived in concrete flats and things like that. I like first-person music.”
John continued discussing the songs of his which he liked the best. “I don’t know about anything else, really, and the few true songs I ever wrote were like ‘Help!’ and ‘Strawberry Fields [Forever].’ I can’t think of them all offhand. They were the ones I always considered my best songs.” John said these songs were based on his lived reality rather than any stories he concocted.
The reality behind the Beatles’ ‘Help!’
It’s fascinating how John viewed “Help!” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” as two of his only “true” songs. On a purely musical level, the two tracks couldn’t be more different. “Help!” is a bouncy pop-rock tune while “Strawberry Fields Forever” is one of the most avant-garde Beatles singles. However, it’s hard not to see why John thought the two songs were honest.
“Help!” might be buoyant, but it was born from John’s pain. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the song was born from John feeling depressed and uncomfortable with his weight. Paul McCartney noted how “Help!” deals with those feelings in an indirect way.
In addition, Paul recalled John was “always looking for help” because of his tumultuous life. First, John had to deal with an absent father and deaths in his family. Later in life, he dealt with being a member of the Fab Four, which was totally overwhelming.
What inspired ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
Why is “Strawberry Fields Forever” honest? Though the lyrics of the song are oblique, they reflect John’s life. The song was named after a real place, a Salvation Army children’s home called Strawberry Field. When John was a child, he would play there. The song “Strawberry Fields Forever” was designed as a nostalgic reminiscence of John’s childhood experiences at Strawberry Field.
In addition, John felt the lyric “Nothing is real” (ironically) reflected reality. “In a way, no thing is real, if you break the word down,” John told Rolling Stone. “As the Hindus or Buddhists say, it’s an illusion. … We all see it, but the agreed-upon illusion is what we live in. And the hardest thing is facing yourself.”