Ian Gillan’s vocals defined the sound of Deep Purple, and, so many years later, his work with the legendary rock group is still held up as some of the finest of rock ‘n’ roll showmanship in the canon. It’s no wonder, then, that he has a thing or two to say about the art of singing. In an interview in 2020, for example, Gillan shared his thoughts on one of the most famous yet strangely underappreciated singers in the history of recorded music, John Lennon.
While Lennon’s voice is perhaps one of the most recognisable in music, he is rarely celebrated for his vocal work. Much is made of his songwriting, but his voice is often left unignored, which is strange considering just how different songs like ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘A Day in the Life’ would be without Lennon’s sloping Liverpudlian drawl.
Indeed, for Gillan, Lennon’s brilliance as a singer was less down to his ability to hit notes and more to do with his character: “Well, let’s not think of technicality speaking [as a singer] – let’s just think about vocal expression from an individual,” he began. “John Lennon was John Lennon. So many people are not themselves in the early days. They become themselves in their careers as they find their voice. John was John right from the beginning. That was down to his personality, his character, and his gregarious nature.”
But Lennon’s unique vocal character didn’t impress everyone, and he often received criticism – both constructive and inconsequential – on the matter. “The fact that he took on more of the influences and went with them in the face of opinion from his peers or from the public drew immense admiration from me,” Gillan continued.
Perhaps the most important quality of Lennon’s voice, according to Gillan at least, was one that was completely out of his own control. “I thought his character was the making of the Beatles. And the reason for that is because of the tone of the blend with McCartney – so that nothing stands alone. But when I heard his lead vocal on ‘Twist and Shout’ – which was the first time he really let rip – then I thought, ‘He’s the man.’ He had a great sense of humour. He was sometimes crude – but always listenable”.