John Lennon was the Beatles' most committed rock & roller, their social conscience, and their slyest verbal wit. After the group's breakup, he and his second wife, Yoko Ono, carried on intertwined solo careers. Ono's early albums presaged the elastic, screechy vocal style of late- '70s new wavers like the B-52's and Lene Lovich. L7 and Babes in Toyland have also been influenced by and benefited from Ono's attitudinal, emotionally trailblazing work. Lennon strove to break taboos and to be ruthlessly, publicly honest. When he was murdered on December 8, 1980, he and Ono seemed on the verge of a new, more optimistic phase. In the years since Lennon's death, many critics and music historians have revised their view of Ono to recognize her contributions as a pioneering woman rock musician and avant-garde artist.
Like the other three Beatles, Lennon was born to a working-class family in Liverpool. His parents, Julia and Fred, separated before he was two (Lennon saw his father only twice in the next 20 years), and Lennon went to live with his mother's sister Mimi Smith; when Lennon was 17 his mother was killed by a bus. He attended Liverpool's Dovedale Primary School and later the Quarry Bank High School, which supplied the name for his first band, a skiffle group called the Quarrymen, which he started in 1955.
In the summer of 1956 he met Paul McCartney, and they began writing songs together and forming groups, the last of which was the Beatles. In 1994 a tape of John and the Quarrymen performing two songs, made July 6, 1957, the day he met McCartney, came to light. Recorded by Bob Molyneux, then a member of the church's youth club, it was auctioned at Sotheby's in September 1994, fetching $122,900 from EMI. On the tape, Lennon sings "Puttin' on the Style," then a Number One hit for skiffle king Lonnie Donegan, and "Baby Let's Play House," the Arthur "Hard Rock" Gunter song that had been recorded by Elvis Presley and a line of which ("I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man") Lennon later used in the Beatles' "Run for Your Life."
Just before the Beatles' official breakup in 1970 (Lennon had wanted to quit the band earlier), Lennon began his solo career, more than half of which consisted of collaborations with Ono. During the early '60s Ono's works (many of which were conceptual pieces, some involving audience participation) were exhibited and/or performed at the Village Gate, Carnegie Recital Hall, and numerous New York galleries. In the mid-'60s she lectured at Wesleyan College and had exhibitions in Japan and London, where she met Lennon in 1966 at the Indica Gallery.