The influence of John Lennon on the music world cannot be overstated. As one-half of the iconic songwriting duo of The Beatles, Lennon’s work with Paul McCartney became the soundtrack of the 1960s and continues to resonate with audiences across generations. However, it was Lennon’s untimely death on December 8th, 1980, that left a profound impact on the rock community, including the members of Queen.
Queen, known for their anthemic rock songs and larger-than-life performances, paid tribute to Lennon in their own unique way with the song ‘Life is Real (Song For Lennon)’ from their 1982 album Hot Space. While none of the members of Queen had a personal relationship with Lennon, Freddie Mercury, the band’s charismatic frontman, poured his soul into the lyrics, expressing the collective sorrow felt by rock fans worldwide.
Although the song is titled as a tribute to Lennon, ‘Life is Real’ goes beyond mourning the loss of one of the founding members of The Beatles. Through the song, Mercury reminds listeners of the value of human life and the importance of preserving the collective energy of humanity. The title itself references Lennon’s own lyrics, “love is real,” from his solo album Plastic Ono Band.
While Hot Space leaned towards dance textures that were not the typical Queen sound, ‘Life is Real’ stands out as one of the album’s greatest moments. Mercury’s powerful vocals and heartfelt delivery bring a sense of seriousness and introspection to the track. Additionally, Queen often included performances of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in their live shows following his death, further honoring his legacy.
Tragically, ‘Life is Real (Song For Lennon)’ took on an additional layer of meaning in 1991 when Freddie Mercury passed away due to complications from AIDS. As a tribute to their fallen frontman, Queen guitarist Brian May occasionally performed the song live during tours with other singers, serving as a thank-you to Mercury and a way to keep his memory alive.
Queen was not the only band to pay tribute to Lennon. Elton John penned his own song in remembrance of Lennon titled ‘Empty Garden,’ while Tom Petty included the initials ‘JL’ in the first editions of his album Hard Promises as a nod to Lennon’s impact on his own work. Lennon’s retirement from music and his transformation into a man of the people did not diminish his profound influence on rock and roll, which continues to reverberate throughout the world.
The loss of John Lennon was a profound moment in music history, and artists like Queen found solace and inspiration in paying tribute to his legacy. ‘Life is Real (Song For Lennon)’ stands as a testament to the enduring impact of Lennon’s music and the profound effect he had on those who admired and respected him. Through their heartfelt song, Queen joined a long list of musicians who honored Lennon’s life and artistry, ensuring that his mark on rock and roll will forever be remembered.