50 years ago today: John Lennon’s infamous quote

johnlennonIt’s safe to say that John Lennon ruffled a few feathers back in 1966 when he said The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”

It was during an interview with Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard for a series of articles on each member of the band called “How Does a Beatle Live?” when Lennon said he had been reading about religion, which led to the quote:

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

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The comment didn’t resonate much at first. Then, in July of 1966, the interviews were re-published in the U.S. by the publication Datebook, who put an emphasis on Lennon’s quote. Outcry ensued, among which included young fans in the southern U.S. burning Beatles records, The Vatican denouncing the comments, countries such as South Africa and Spain banning The Beatles from the radio, and the KKK picketing at Beatles concerts.

Lennon later went on to explain his comments:

“I never meant what people think I meant by it,” Lennon said.

In 2005, Cleave gave her thoughts on the quote in the London Daily Telegraph.

“With a PR man at his side, the quote would never have got into my notebook, let alone the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, where it ended up,” Cleave wrote. “As it was, the Evening Standard didn’t even put it in the headline. We were used to him sounding off like that and knew it was ironically meant. But the Americans have little sense of irony, and when the article appeared in a magazine called Dateline, all hell broke loose. It was the last time the Beatles ever toured.”

The quote remains one of the most famous in rock history. What are your thoughts on the quote? How do you think the quote would have been received today? Weigh in on our fan forums or in the comments section below.

Photo credit: By Roy Kerwood [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

2 comments to “50 years ago today: John Lennon’s infamous quote”
  1. If it happened today, it’d have to come from someone with a really high profile. Otherwise, no one would care. It’s too hard to cut through all the noise out there. It’s a pretty damn bold statement, though.

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