Tonight at 9 p.m., A&E is examining the untold story of John Lennon’s 1971 album Imagine, recounting “a story of hope for a world divided yet still desperately in need of peace, justice, empathy, and love.” The special titled John and Yoko: Above Us Only Sky will include never-before-seen footage of Lennon and Ono from their private collection, deep diving into the creative collaboration between the couple, including how their art, politics, and music was “intrinsically entwined.”
The special will remind viewers of the genius that sparked a movement and defined an era, drawing from the past and present to shine a light on the couple’s messages of love and radical engagement.
The special features interviews with the people who witnessed the period first hand including Ono, Julian Lennon, photographer David Bailey, gallerist John Dunbar (who introduced the couple), Ono’s neighbor and Lennon’s former assistant Dan Richter, and studio designer Eddie Veale; some of the interview subjects have never spoken publicly on camera before, according to the network.
Ahead of the special’s premiere, here are five fast facts you need to know about Lennon and Ono.
1. Lennon and Ono Met at an Art Gallery in London
The couple met when Lennon attended the Indica Gallery in London where Ono was prepping a conceptual art exhibit. They were introduced by gallery owner John Dunbar who appears in A&E’s special. Although the exhibition had not begun yet, Lennon wanted to hammer a nail into her exhibit aptly called “Hammer A Nail,” and he also took a bite out of the apple on display in her piece called “Apple,” both of which angered her.
“And then he saw the apple. You know, he didn’t say anything. He just grabbed it and had a bite in it….and looked at me like, you know, “There!” you know? I was so furious, I didn’t know what to say. And it all showed in my face: How dare this person, you know, mess around with my work? So he just said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and just put it on the stand again,” Ono said.
Ono began visiting and calling Lennon’s home despite the fact that Lennon was married to his wife, Cynthia. Lennon told his wife that Ono was “another nutter wanting money for all that avant-garde bullshit.” While his wife went on vacation in May of 1968, Lennon invited Ono over and the two recorded would eventually become their Unfinished Music No 1: Two Virgins record. According to the album’s liner notes, they “made love at dawn.” When Lennon’s wife came home, she found Ono wearing her bathrobe. Lennon divorced Cynthia, and he and Ono were married in Gibraltar in March of 1969.
2. Lennon and Ono Recorded Eight Studio Albums Together
Following their Two Virgins album, Lennon and Ono recorded eight total albums together. Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions was released in 1969, and the couple steadily worked together until Lennon’s death in 1980. Their last piece of recorded work came out posthumously in 1984. Milk and Honey was recorded in the last months of Lennon’s life, and after his death, it took Ono three years to resume work on it.
Lennon made five other records without his new wife including 1971’s wildly popular Imagine which was certified two times platinum by the RIAA. Ono, on the other hand, released 14 solo studio albums without Lennon, her most recent being last year’s Warzone.
3. Some Blame Yoko Ono as One of the Reasons The Beatles Broke Up
The Beatles’ break-up was the result of a combined number of factors, and increased tension in the studio was at the core heart of their conflict. However, John Lennon’s infatuation and collaboration with Yoko Ono drove a deeper wedge into an already fractured band. While Ono certainly didn’t help the band’s situation, she was hardly the only cause of the split.
Lennon and Ono were pretty much inseparable following Lennon’s divorce, and Ono often attended studio sessions despite the band’s agreement not to let wives or girlfriends into the studio. As The Independent wrote, “The professional sanctum of the studio, which had long been the bandmates’ sanctuary from the ever-encroaching outside world, had suddenly been upended by Ono’s presence.”
As Lennon’s infatuation grew so did the rift between the band. Lennon wanted to grant Ono artistic input into the band’s recordings; Ono would often comment or make suggestions in the studio, which only served to increase the friction between her and the other three-fourths of The Beatles.
4. Lennon and Ono’s Kids
Before he married Ono, Lennon had one son with his first wife, Cynthia. Julian Lennon, an English musician and photographer, was born in April of 1963. Julian was the inspiration for Beatles songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Hey Jude,” and “Good Night.” He’s a singer-songwriter in his own right releasing a number of solo albums starting with 1984’s Valotte.
Julian had a complicated relationship with his dad telling The Daily Telegraph, “I have to say that, from my point of view, I felt he was a hypocrite…Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces—no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.”
Ono also had one child before her marriage to Lennon, Kyoko Chan Cox, from her marriage to Anthony Cox. Lennon and Ono shared one child together, Sean Lennon, born October 9, 1975. Sean is a musician, songwriter, and actor who has been a member of the bands Cibo Matto, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, and his parents’ group The Plastic Ono Band. He has released two solo albums throughout his career: 1998’s Into the Sun and 2006’s Friendly Fire.
5. Lennon’s Murder at the Hands of Mark David Chapman
After a night recording at the Record Plant on December 8, 1980, Lennon and Ono returned to their Manhattan apartment at approximately 10:50 p.m. As the couple was walking through the archway of the complex, lone gunman Mark David Chapman shot Lennon four times in the back at close range. Lennon was rushed to the ER of the Roosevelt Hospital where he was pronounced dead by 11:00 p.m. Earlier in the evening, Lennon autographed a copy of his and Ono’s Double Fantasy record for Chapman; that record went up for sale in 2017 for $1.8 million.
Ono issued a statement the following day saying, “There is no funeral for John…John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him.”
Lennon was cremated and Ono scattered his ashes in New York’s Central Park where the Strawberry Fields memorial was later created. Chapman ignored his attorney’s advice and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20-years-to-life. Last year, Chapman was denied parole for a 10th time.