John Lennon: The Top 3 Songs Written For The Former Beatle After His Tragic Death

Unbelievably, Dec. 8 will mark 39 years since former Beatle John Lennon was gunned down in front of his home at The Dakota in New York City. Lennon loved Manhattan and felt free there, free enough to not carry security detail or to put any kind of buffer between himself and the public.

John Lennon
John Lennon | Rowland Scherman/Getty Images

Lennon was killed late in the day, so late that many didn’t learn of his death until the next morning. For weeks afterward, radio stations endlessly played his music.

Also after his death came quite a few songs written in tribute to Lennon.

Here are three of the best tribute songs. These are ‘the best’ because each of the composers/performers knew Lennon well and it shows in each song.

Elton John, ‘Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)’

“What happened here / As the New York sunset disappeared / I found an empty garden among the flagstones there”

With words by Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin, Empty Garden doesn’t mention what happened to Lennon; instead, the 1982 song refers to the sea of flowers left outside of the Dakota apartments, where Lennon was killed.

John Lennon's final concert, appearing with Elton John onstage at Madison Square Garden, 1974
John Lennon’s final concert, appearing with Elton John onstage at Madison Square Garden, 1974 | Steve Morley/Redferns

The song refers metaphorically to Lennon’s killer: “it’s funny how one insect can damage so much grain.”

Elton John was good friends with Lennon and was godfather to Sean Lennon. Elton performed on Lennon’s 1974 hit, Whatever Gets You Through the Night. To thank Elton, Lennon agreed to appear in concert with him at Madison Square Garden in 1974. It was Lennon’s final concert appearance.

In Empty Garden, one can hear the lump in Elton’s throat, wistfully singing to his friend, “I’ve been knocking but no one answers / I’ve been knocking most of the day / I’ve been calling, oh hey hey Johnny / can’t you come out to play?”

George Harrison, ‘All Those Years Ago’

“. . . you were the one that they said was so weird / All those years ago / You said it all though not many had ears / All those years ago / You had control of our smiles and our tears / All those years ago”

Although All Those Years Ago was a single Harrison originally had written for Ringo Starr, it eventually became the quiet Beatle’s tribute to Lennon.

George Harrison and John Lennon, 1964
George Harrison and John Lennon, 1964 | David Redfern/Redferns

The 1981 song features backing vocals from Paul and Linda McCartney and drum work by Starr (done before Lennon died, since Starr thought the song was his).

It expresses Harrison’s fury with Lennon’s killer (“Now we’re left cold and sad / By someone the devil’s best friend / Someone who offended all) and the tender, older brother affection he had for Lennon (“I always looked up to you”).

On Good Morning America in 1981, Harrison told David Hartman, “We grew up together, I was about 13 when I first met him. He was a tough guy, he wanted to do something different….he was always the cheeky one, a bit more outspoken than the others…it would be hard to say just in a minute [what John meant].”

Paul McCartney, ‘Here Today’

“And if I say I really knew you well / What would your answer be? / If you were here today”

Easily the most tearjerking of the three tribute songs, 1982’s Here Today is an imagined conversation between the legendary songwriting team.

Lennon’s (fictional) reaction to McCartney’s question above? “Well, knowing you / You’d probably laugh and say / That we were worlds apart / If you were here today.”

On The Jonathan Ross Show in 2014, McCartney recalled learning of Lennon’s death in 1980.

“I was at home, and I got a phone call,” McCartney said. “It was early in the morning…. I think it was like that for everyone. It was just so horrific that you couldn’t take it in.”

“I couldn’t take it in. Just for days, you just couldn’t think that he was gone.”

Read more: Why John Lennon Was So Happy the Day Before He Died