John Lennon's life was cut short by four bullets from an assassin's gun on Dec. 8, 1980.

In these days of instant gratification, instant fame and disposable heroes, it seems almost quaint to acknowledge someone like Lennon. Real in an unreal world, despite the insane heights of fame he reached, he never seemed like anyone but John Lennon. Sure, that definition may have changed a bit over the years. Certainly the Lennon of 1980 was a somewhat different figure from the Lennon of 1972 or 1964, but through all his life, he was still John.

Musician, singer, songwriter, author, artist, activist ... what can be said about the man that hasn't been said a million times over? From humble and troubled beginnings, Lennon would go on to literally change the world with his music, words, wit and his often open-wound approach to living life.

He and Paul McCartney became the most successful songwriting team of the 20th century. The two wrote songs that became standards of a generation or two, and though other artists would over time sell more records and play to larger stadiums of fans, no one will ever match the impact of the Beatles. It was a time and place never to happen again. Not bad for a bunch of kids who simply loved playing and writing rock 'n' roll songs.

Their constant desire to write better songs, to find new sounds and new ways of doing things, moved music (and pop culture) in directions no one at the dawn of the '60s could have ever imagined. From "She Loves You" to "Strawberry Fields Forever" in just three years? Incredible! For that matter, the Beatles' entire career was there and gone in the time it now takes many bands to release their second or third albums.

Married at a young age, he and his first wife Cynthia had one son, Julian, but due to the explosion of the Beatles, he was gone for much of Julian's childhood. In 1968, he met the woman who would become his second wife, Yoko Ono, and the two were famously inseparable. John always seemed to follow his heart both musically and personally. His solo catalog drives like a car on a bumpy road, with some incredible highlights and some highly questionable lows, yet anything but dull.

In the early 1970s, John and Yoko had moved to New York City, a place he very muched loved. During this era, his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam war and the Nixon administration led Nixon to attempt to silence him under the watchful eyes of the FBI, ultimately leading to him facing deportation. John dropped out of music altogether when his son Sean was born in 1975, famously playing the role of househusband for five years until the spark to make music struck again in 1980. The resulting album, Double Fantasy, was released barely a month before he was killed.

Today, Lennon's music lives on stronger than ever. His music, solo and Beatles, is still heard everywhere. It has taken on new life forms and shape-shifted its way into the hearts and minds of younger generations along the way. It would be hard to tell someone where to start on a journey through Lennon's music, but putting your ears to albums like Help, Revolver, the White Album, Plastic Ono Band or Imagine certainly wouldn't be a bad launch pad.

For those of us of, ahem, a certain age, it's impossible to imagine a world without Lennon or the Beatles. They've just always been there as part of our DNA. It's easy to state that the world would be a much different place had Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr never existed. It's almost impossible to overstate their impact on the world at large, let alone the music world.

It's hard to believe that so many years have passed since Lennon was murdered in cold blood on the streets of his favorite city by a so-called fan. There's still no way to wrap our heads around the insanity of the act, but there are plenty of ways to wrap our heads around the joy and excitement Lennon and his music have given the world over the years. And that's what we choose to remember on Dec. 8.

All these years later, Dec. 8 became even more of a dark day for rock music when former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was gunned down onstage in the middle of a concert.



John Lennon Albums Ranked