John Lennon

God

Song Review by

"God" is the culmination of former Beatle John Lennon's debut solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, released in December 1970. The album is a virtual trip to the psychoanalyst's couch in song and also an elaborate, embittered farewell to Lennon's life before his relationship with Yoko Ono. "God" is the logical conclusion to this journey. Lennon is no longer screaming, as he did on the album-opening "Mother," nor is singing sarcastically, as he did on "Working Class Hero." "God" is full of sadness and resignation, but it is sung calmly. The music consists of a slow, stately, repeated progression; it has a static, circular feel, rising and falling. The lyric begins with a theological abstraction: "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." After repeating this statement for effect, the singer begins a recitation of people and things he doesn't believe in, a list that includes religious figures and concepts, narrows to politicians, and finally focuses on pop music. The singer does not believe in Elvis Presley, Zimmerman (Bob Dylan's real name), or, most tellingly, the Beatles. After a dramatic pause, he adds that he only believes in himself, that is, Ono and himself. He then informs his listeners that "the dream is over" and they will have to fend for themselves. While highly effective in the context of its time and Lennon's career, "God" is a highly idiosyncratic and personal song. Of course, the dream to which Lennon referred was one shared by a generation in the 1960s, so his declaration meant a lot to many others besides himself. At the same time, "God" and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band on the whole has earned criticism for its self-seriousness and sanctimoniousness. As early as 1972, the National Lampoon album Radio Dinner satirized Lennon in a track called "Magical Misery Tour," said to be from an album called Yoko Is a Concept by Which We Measure Our Pain. Though "God" and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band sounded like the work of a man who was leaving the world behind in a fit of bitterness and recrimination, it actually seems to have had a cleansing effect on its creator, who was back within nine months with the more accessible Imagine. "God" has been included on a few Lennon anthologies, but it is much too personal a work to be covered by another artist or to have much exposure beyond its original context, powerful though it is there.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Plastic Ono Band 1970 Capitol / EMI 4:12
Imagine: John Lennon [Original Soundtrack] 1988 Capitol 4:08
Lennon 1990 Capitol
Anthology 1998 Capitol 3:32
Wonsaponatime 1998 Capitol 3:15
Acoustic 2004 Capitol / EMI Records 2:41
John Lennon [Collector's Tin] 2009 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 4:08
Gimme Some Truth 2010 Capitol 4:11
Signature Box 2010 Capitol / EMI / Universal 4:34