The death of John Lennon rocked the entire globe. The fact that such a behemoth figure in pop culture could be slain in front of his own home by a supposed fan was utterly incomprehensible. When you add to that fact that Lennon spent much of his time outside of The Beatles promoting a message of world peace, it becomes a truly heinous moment in 20th-century history. It was a moment that reverberated around the world but resonated more heavily with three specific people: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.
At the time of his death in 1980, each of the Fab Four experienced life out on their own solo path. Harrison, in particular, had enjoyed being released by The Beatles. Away from the shadow of the songwriting powerhouse of Lennon-McCartney, the spiritual sounds of George Harrison were finally given ample room to breathe. But, on one song, Harrison welcomed Starr and McCartney’s talents as they all paid tribute to their fallen friend, John Lennon. The song in question was ‘All Those Years Ago’.
After All Things Must Pass, George Harrison’s seminal solo LP, it was confirmed that Harrison need never reunite with The Beatles. He had clearly made his mark on music all by himself and the need for Messrs McCartney, Lennon and Starr was pretty low. Though not ever taking himself out on tour, beyond one failed attempt in 1974, Harrison was happy to sit back in his studio, his point made, and continue to churn out albums that pleased him. But, on 1981’s Somewhere in England, there was one moment that not only saw Harrison at his emotionally rawest but request the help of his former bandmates to help him.
‘All Those Years Ago’, released in May 1981, six months after Lennon’s tragic murder, was Harrison expressing his sadness at losing not only a mentor and a bandmate but one of his best friends. The song had originally started as a track for a new Ringo Starr album, that Harrison had penned for his former drummer. But following Lennon’s death, Harrison took the song back and adapted the lyrics to the circumstances.
In Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Harrison’s friend and collaborator remembers the ‘My Sweet Lord’ singer’s reaction to the news of Lennon’s death: “George was in the kitchen, white as a sheet, real shook up. We all had breakfast. He took calls from Paul and Yoko, which actually seemed to help his spirit, and then we went into the studio and started the day’s work. Ray and I kept George’s wine glass full all day…” Some of these sessions would end up featuring on the LP.
By this time in Harrison’s career, he was more than a dab hand on his own in the studio, but he was well aware of the song’s meaning and that it required an extra special touch. As such he invited Paul and Linda McCartney to add backing vocals to the song. Meanwhile, Ringo Starr filled in on drums while Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick helped Harrison fine-tune things while ‘The Fifth Beatle’ George Martin oversaw the production.
The tragedy of Lennon’s death will never quite be placated, but it did provide one of the sporadic moments that the Beatles, and such a heavy collection of those who worked with them, joined together in the studio. Though the world would have drooled at the thought of Lennon joining them, we can only hope that he was at least there in spirit.