John Lennon was perhaps the most prominent singer of his era. When you get as famous as he did, everyone has an opinion of you and your work. Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel voiced his opinion of John.
Simon had a mixed view of John. He didn’t even understand some of John’s work. One of John’s songs particularly upset Simon.
What Paul Simon thought of ‘Power to the People’
In a 1972 interview with Rolling Stone, Simon discussed a whole host of topics. He let fans know what he thought about everything from Bridge Over Troubled Water to Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Simon had some negative things to say about John’s then-recent song “Power to the People.”
Simon said “It’s a poor record, a condescending record. Like all of these cliché phrases, they’re dangerous. What does that mean — power to the people? And who is he saying it to? Is he saying it to people who have any idea what it means?”
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Simon found the song’s title phrase “manipulative.” “Isn’t it really a manipulative phrase? And since he’s picking it up, consciously aware that this is going to be broadcast over the air waves, my question is, who is he manipulating and for what purpose? That’s even putting aside the question of whether he has the qualifications to manipulate, because obviously you don’t even need any qualification to manipulate in this country. Anybody who wants to manipulate can.”
Simon contrasted John’s “Power to the People” with the Chi-Lites’ similarly titled song “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People.” Simon found the latter superior. Despite this, John’s song remains more famous than the Chi-Lites’ song.
Furthermore, Simon admitted he wasn’t part of the audience John was trying to reach. It’s unclear what Simon meant by that. In addition, Simon said he wasn’t very interested in what John had to say.
What Paul Simon thought of John Lennon
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Simon discussed John as a person and his intentions. “Many things he’s done, I think, have been pointless. Some have been in bad taste. Others have been courageous. I think he’s generally a well-intentioned guy.”
Although Simon had some criticisms of John, John apparently meant something to Simon. Rolling Stone reports Simon wrote the song “The Late Great Johnny Ace” in response to John’s brutal murder. The song briefly discusses John’s death as well as the deaths of other icons like the rock singer Johnny Ace and President John F. Kennedy. Simon debuted the song in 1981, not long after John’s death. It must have struck a deep chord at the time.
Simon would pay tribute to John years after his death. The Los Angeles Times reports in 2010, Simon honored John’s memory at a tribute concert called We Are Plastic Ono Band. Both Simon and his son, Harper, were among the many artists who played songs at the concert. It seems Simon may have softened on John as time went on.
Also see: What John Lennon Thought of Ringo Starr’s Flop Country Album