John Lennon's Music Still Shines On By Dean Goodman, Reuters LOS ANGELES (Dec. 7) - Time has been kind to John Lennon, the former Beatle who was killed 25 years ago on Thursday just as he was starting over. Despite some erratic solo work and questionable political alliances, the "smart one" in the Fab Four has been canonized by music fans as a thoughtful songwriter, courageous activist, and devoted father -- to one of his sons, at least. His songwriting partner Paul McCartney lived long enough to receive a knighthood, but sainthood has been more elusive. The "cute one" is viewed by some as the lightweight half of the pair, and has achieved the near-impossible feat of making his nemesis, Lennon's widow Yoko Ono, look slightly sympathetic. Credit the imbalance to a handful of tunes that will never go out of style as long as there is war and injustice, anthems like "All You Need is Love" and "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine." McCartney may have sold more records, been just as politically active and written "Yesterday." "Helter Skelter" and "Let It Be," but Lennon is the Working Class Hero. For Rolling Stone magazine editor and publisher Jann Wenner, who put Lennon on the cover of his first issue in 1967, the Paul vs. John debate is no contest. "What are you going to remember?" he asked, citing some of their respective songs. "'Silly Love Songs' or 'Give Peace a Chance'? 'Band on the Run' or 'Imagine'? 'Helen Wheels' or 'Whatever Gets You Thru the Night?"' "EXTRAORDINARY SINGER" Others take a more diplomatic stance, perhaps mindful that his song "Forgive Me (My Little Flower Princess)" or the album "Two Virgins" are not exactly classics. "If John were alive, he might be saying, 'Hogwash, it's all just a bunch of good songs,"' said Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler, whose band covered "Come Together" in 1978. A good voice also helps, and Lennon's was arguably the greatest in rock 'n' roll, said Interscope Records president Jimmy Iovine, who helped record the Lennon albums "Walls and Bridges" and "Rock 'n' Roll." "It never gets talked about. That guy sang his ass off," Iovine said. "He was an extraordinary singer, very, very spontaneous, never needed a lot of takes, but always with such feel. This is as if he was completely straight, or, not!" Lennon was not afraid to share his inner turmoil, singing about such painful chapters as the death of his mother, the demise of the Beatles or his turbulent relationship with Ono. Influenced by Bob Dylan, Lennon also thought he could use his talent to try to change the world. After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Lennon and Ono famously took to bed to promote peace. The Nixon administration spied on him and tried to get him deported. His pacifist songs gave way to more strident tunes like "Power to the People." But not everybody was buying it. His 1972 album, "Sometime in New York City," featuring the ironic single "Woman is the ****** of the World," was a flop. If he were alive today, "I bet he'd like hip-hop," Iovine added with a laugh, "because of the potency of the lyrics. What was ever going on in his head, in his gut, in his life, in somebody else's life, he sang it." "RODE LIFE LIKE A SURFBOARD" Iovine said few modern-day rock stars have followed Lennon's lead, citing U2's Bono, Trent Reznor of techno band Nine Inch Nails and Jack White of the blues-rock duo White Stripes as the rare singers who conjure up a primal honesty in their songs. "(Rapper) Eminem is, attitude-wise, closer to John Lennon than most rock singers are today," he said. (Interscope represents U2, Nine Inch Nails and Eminem.) Lennon's final album, "Double Fantasy," issued just before he was shot dead outside his Manhattan home at the age of 40, found him in a more reflective mode, happily facing middle age ("Watching the Wheels"), and singing about his love for Ono ("Woman") and their son Sean ("Beautiful Boy"). "He rode life like a surfboard," said Tyler, "and then when he got to the shore, instead of paddling straight back out again to catch the next wave like I did, he sat there for a while and wrote it down, and then went on to something else. And I love that about him."