The John Lennon Song That Was Inspired by a Horror Movie

John Lennon’s solo music is associated with many things — like peace and musical experimentation — but horror movies aren’t one of them, and that’s not entirely fair. One of John’s songs was directly inspired by a scene from a horror film. Although the song wasn’t a hit, a major pop star later covered it.

John Lennon | Ron Howard/Redferns

One of John Lennon’s unorthodox singles

In 1971, John gave a lengthy and sprawling interview to Rolling Stone’s Jann S. Wenner called Lennon Remembers. In it, John spent lots of time discussing his album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. He gave special attention to the ballad that served as the album’s lead single: “Mother.”

“Mother” opens with the sound of bells ringing. After that, the song has a minimalist beat accompanied by some pounding piano chords. John’s emotive vocal performance is the most striking part of the track, with the grief in his voice imparting the pain John felt over his mother’s death. Near the end of the song, John starts screaming.

“Mother”

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How a horror movie inspired ‘Mother’

“Mother” is somewhat disturbing because of John’s wailing. Interestingly, “Mother” was partly inspired by a horror movie — which is fitting given the song’s unsettling tone. However, the horror movie in question didn’t inspire John to scream on the track. Rather, the movie influenced the song’s instrumentation.

“I was watching TV as usual, in California,” John said, “and there was this old horror movie on, and the bells sounded like that to me. It was probably different because those were actually bells slowed down that they used on the album. They just sounded like that and I thought oh, that’s how to start ‘Mother.’” John didn’t say which horror movie inspired the film, though it sounds like it was something Gothic. 

A bell | Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

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How John Lennon and the public reacted to ‘Mother’

“Mother” isn’t as unorthodox as some of John’s other works like Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. However, it’s still pretty odd. How many pop songs can you think of that include a singer wailing in grief? Although “Mother” is unusual in several ways, John still thought of it as a potential hit.

“I keep thinking ‘Mother’ is a commercial record,” John explained, “because all the time I was writing it, it was the one [song on the album] I was singing the most and the one that seemed to catch on in my head.”

John Lennon | Val Wilmer/Redferns/Getty Images

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John’s assessment proved false. According to Billboard, the song only reached No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100, so it wasn’t much of a hit. Regardless, the song still resonated to some degree, as Entertainment Weekly reports Christina Aguilera performed it live in 2016. How many other songs from the 1970s that weren’t even hits are getting performed by major pop stars? “Mother” might have macabre origins, but it earned has a place in popular culture.