Used attributively, John Lennon denotes a pair of metal-framed spectacles or sunglasses with small, round lenses, a type worn and popularised by the English pop and rock singer, guitarist and songwriter John Winston Lennon (1940-80).
In the Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey) of Wednesday 17th December 1980, shortly after John Lennon’s assassination, his first wife, Cynthia Lennon Twist (née Powell – 1939-2015), told the story of John Lennon’s spectacles:
During 1966, John was given the opportunity by Dick Lester1 of proving his worth as a straight actor in the film “How I Won the War.”
John’s appearance altered drastically following “How I Won the War.” In the film he had to have his long, beautiful locks shorn. Round, wire-framed National Health2 glasses rested unflatteringly on his nose.
He looked the complete opposite of an adored pop idol. In fact, in the past, John had experimented with contact lenses, but they had proved to be an occupational hazard, thanks to the foreign bodies and particularly jelly babies that were hurled through the air during their concerts. Time and time again he would lose them on stage or be hit in the eye, which resulted in excruciating pain as the lens scratched his eyeball.
Now John loved his National Health glasses, ugly as they were. They were individual, like him, and set off a craze for John Lennon specs.
1 Richard Lester (Richard Lester Liebman – born 1932), American film director based in the United Kingdom
2 National Health Service (NHS): the British system of national medical care paid for mainly by taxation and started by the Labour government in 1948
John Lennon as he appeared in his first non-singing movie role in “How I Won the War” in 1967—photograph: Associated Press—published in the Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey) of Wednesday 17th December 1980:
The earliest instance that I have found of John Lennon as a qualifier of spectacles is coupled with Benjamin Franklin3; it is from British ‘rock’ band plays it straight, by Phil Mayer, Star-Bulletin Writer, published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) of Friday 29th September 1967—Mayer was writing about a concert given the previous night at Waikiki Shell by “the 37-man, red-coated International Staff Band of the Salvation Army” based in London:
The concert — the uniforms of the bandsmen, their use of only silver instruments, the number of musicians who wore Benjamin Franklin-John Lennon spectacles, and the fact that rock ’n’ roll is indeed a child of the “we’ll play-anywhere-for-anyone,” music-with-a-message style invented by the Salvation-ists — almost certainly would have intrigued hippies as much as it grabbed me.
3 Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), American statesman, inventor and scientist
The earliest instance of John Lennon glasses that I have found is from Composer Roger Hannay4 Is Tuned In: Mixed Media Is His Musical Beat, by Bill Erwin, Herald Staff Writer, published in the Durham Morning Herald (Durham, North Carolina) of Sunday 27th October 1968:
He has the same short, stocky build of Aristotle Onassis5. His blond hair is long but not Bob Dylan-long6. He wears Dave Brubeck-glasses7 rather than John Lennon-glasses.
4 Roger Durham Hannay (1930-2006), American composer
5 Aristotle Socrates Onassis (1906-75), Greek shipping magnate
6 Bob Dylan (Robert Allen Zimmerman – born 1941), American singer and songwriter
7 David Warren Brubeck (1920-2012), American jazz pianist, composer and bandleader
And the earliest occurrence that I have found of John Lennon specs is from Jersey City High School’s news, published in The Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer (Jersey City, New Jersey) of Tuesday 26th November 1968:
Freshman Happenings: Linda Grundman and Karen Hirshberg are wearing “John Lennon Specs.”