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More than any other rock ‘n’ roll group, The Beatles are often described as having defined the 1960s. John Lennon didn’t see his band that way. Furthermore, he criticized Beatlemaniacs who wanted to take their cues from him. Regardless of his comments, the media has cited the band as deeply influencing the decade.

John Lennon said The Beatles weren’t the leaders of the 1960s and he hated leadership

The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features an interview from 1980. During the interview, John was asked if felt that he influenced people’s actions too much. “No, because it’s the same bit about saying that The Beatles led the ’60s,” he replied. “It’s not true.”

He wasn’t a big fan of leadership. “The idea of leadership is a false god,” John said. “If you want to use The Beatles or John and Yoko or whoever, people are expecting them to do something for them. That’s not what’s going to happen. But they are the ones who didn’t understand any message that came before anyway.”

The singer felt that overzealous Beatles fans were similar to members of an infamous cult

John compared his acolytes to both the Nazis and members of the Unification Church, an infamous cult started by Reverend Sun Myung Moon. “And they are the ones that will follow Hitler or follow Reverend Moon or whoever,” John said. “Following is not what it’s about, but leaving messages of ‘This is what’s happening to us. Hey, what’s happening to you?’ We’re sending postcards and letters. That’s what we do. And that’s different. Do you see?”

John was asked if his fans understood his work properly. He said he didn’t know. “I have a hopeful wish/prayer that they will take it in the spirit that it is given, which is with love and a lot of sweat, the life experience of two people,” he said. 


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John Lennon’s comments about his band’s impact on the 1960s are both true and false

Not everyone got John’s memo. PBS quotes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as saying The Beatles led the way for the 1960s music that came after them. Their influence can be seen in everything from The Monkees’ daytime TV shenanigans to The Beach Boys’ and The Rolling Stones’ more psychedelic moments to the oddly British vultures from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book. Even if they didn’t lead the decade, they inspired it more profoundly than most of their contemporaries.

Despite this, John definitely didn’t want to think for other people. Elsewhere in All We Are Saying, he admitted he couldn’t make anyone’s dreams come true; everyone had to chase their dreams themselves. He said people shouldn’t look to him or Bob Dylan or Ronald Reagan or anyone else to solve their problems. Over 40 years later, his comments are a thoughtful and challenging response to celebrity culture.

The Beatles were instrumental in crafting the sounds of the 1960s. Despite this, John didn’t want anyone to see him as a messiah.