JOHN LENNON WAS constantly bugged by fans congratulating him for writing The Beatles' Yesterday, a song he had nothing to do with. "Yesterday drove him crazy," veteran New York journo/broadcaster Howard Smith told MOJO. "People would say, 'Thank you for writing Yesterday, I got married to it, what a beautiful song...' He was always civil. But it drove him nuts."
Smith's intimacy with the Lennons began in 1969, when he first interviewed the couple for the ABC-syndicated radio show he hosted in New York. He was to conduct a number of major interviews between 1969 and 1972. All have been retrieved, collected and made available to buy on CD or download from iTunes and Amazon as The Smith Tapes.
"Once we were in a Mexican restaurant, in a back room," Smith recalled. "We'd just been to see the musical Lenny, about Lenny Bruce. In the main room John spotted this strolling guitar player, which used to be standard in Mexican restaurants. He turned to me and said, "Howard, in five minutes that guitar player is gonna come in, stand next to me and play Yesterday. And sure enough, it wasn't even three minutes. We had hardly settled down, and the guy came in and played Yesterday, a ridiculous over-the-top version. And I said, 'John, that really does happen to you everywhere...' And he said: 'Everywhere.'
And Smith was also in attendance when Lennon first unveiled his rejoinder to McCartney's whistle-test classic.
"John came over to my loft one day and he was all excited," Smith recalls. "He said, 'I think I finally wrote a song with as good a melody as Yesterday."
Sat at Smith's piano, Lennon revealed he had a title – Imagine – but only a smattering of lyrics. For the rest he sang 'scrambled eggs'.
"He played it through and asked me what I thought. 'It's beautiful.' 'But is it as good as Yesterday?' 'They're impossible to compare.' So he played it again. And again. And he said, 'You'll see, it's just as good as Yesterday.'"
Smith's status as a head-simpatico journalist, established through his column in the Village Voice newspaper, brought him access to many of the figureheads of the counterculture, and MP3s available to buy include feisty encounters with Jim Morrison and George Harrison. Sadly absent, however, is his audience with the legendary inventor, theorist and polymath Buckminster Fuller.
"I had a long list of questions, but I only asked one," Smith recalls, "then he spoke, without stopping and almost entirely incomprehensibly, for an hour. He crashed through the news, everything! Then when he's finished and looking to leave I ask him one last thing. 'Mr Fuller,' I begin, 'The audience of this show is mostly young people, and what they would really like to now from a person of your years and experience...' And he interrupts me. 'I know exactly what you're going to ask, and I have your answer! At my age, sex is even better than when you're young!' And with that, he was gone."
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