About one year after The Beatles broke up, John Lennon and his wife, the Japanese-born avant-garde artist Yoko Ono, moved from his native England to New York City to start a new phase of his life and his post-Beatles solo music career. Lennon arrived in New York in August of 1971, but almost as soon as he set foot in the United States, his career took a turn that focused on much as on political activism as on music.
As a result, Lennon — who would turn 31 in October of that year — drew the unwanted attention of the United States government which embarked on an all-out attempt to deport him, citing an earlier, minor conviction for marijuana possession in the United Kingdom as the supposed basis for kicking Lennon out of the U.S.
Though Lennon ultimately beat the government and earned his permanent resident status in 1976, his life was thrown into turmoil and his public image suffered.
So in August of 1972 when Lennon watched a shocking television news exposé of horrific conditions inside Willowbrook State School, a New York State school for mentally challenged children, by a young reporter named Geraldo Rivera, the former Beatle was moved to act. He called Rivera and told him that he wanted to help the children in the school — by performing a live, benefit concert at New York’s City’s Madison Square Garden.
No one, not even Lennon, knew it at the time, but what became the August 30, 1972, “One To One” concert would be the last time Lennon ever performed a full, live concert for a paying audience. The concert was filmed — though not released until 1986 — and that film of John Lennon’s final, full live performance may be viewed below.
The “One To One” concert was actually two concerts, both of which sold out. While Lennon had originally planned to perform a single show accompanied by Ono and a local New York City bar band known as Elephant’s Memory, at 8 p.m. in the evening, the overwhelming demand for tickets to see the ex-Beatle led Lennon to add a matinee performance at 2 p.m. as well.
The early show proved useful, as Lennon, despite three rehearsals, clearly was not fully ready for a return to the stage. He had performed only one solo concert previously, in Toronto on September 13, 1969 — and otherwise had not played a full show in front of a live audience since The Beatles played their last concert almost exactly six years earlier, on August 29, 1966.
Lennon and his band were so disorganized during the early show that he quipped from the stage, “Welcome to the rehearsal!” But the evening performance went off smoothly.
In addition to Ono and the Elephant’s Memory band, Lennon was joined on the Madison Square Garden stage by Motown superstar Stevie Wonder, soul singer Roberta Flack (a neighbor of Lennon and Ono at the time) and “Bowser,” the most famous member of the 1950s nostalgia act Sha Na Na.
The former Beatle played 17 songs in the early show and 14 in the evening concert — but he included only a single Beatles song, “Come Together,” from the 1969 Abbey Road album, the last album the legendary band recorded together. Most of the set list for each show consisted of Lennon’s solo work, including his hits “Instant Karma,” “Cold Turkey” and what would go on to become the best-known and most enduring song of Lennon’s solo career, the peace anthem “Imagine.”
John Lennon would perform live only one more time, joining Elton John — a longtime acquaintance of Lennon’s though Elton had only recently become a superstar himself — for a brief three-song interlude during Elton’s November 28, 1974, Madison Square Garden concert. Lennon then took a lengthy hiatus from performing and recording, finally reemerging with a new album, Double Fantasy, released on November 17, 1980.
But only three weeks after the album was released, John Lennon was dead, murdered with four gunshots outside the Dakota apartment building, his home in New York City, on December 8, by a so-called “crazed fan.”
[Featured Image by AP Images, File]