By Gillian G. Gaar
In October 1974, as John Lennon was finishing up work on “Rock ’N’ Roll,” his album of early rock covers, he had an epiphany. He’d been overdubbing a new lead vocal on Lloyd Price’s “Just Because,” and during the song’s instrumental break he began ad-libbing: “This is Dr. Winston O’Boogie saying goodnight, from the Record Plant East, New York. We hope you had a swell time. Everybody here says hi. Goodbye.” “And something flashed through my mind as I said it,” he later told DJ Andy Peebles. “Am I really saying farewell to the business?…And I looked at the [record] cover which I’d chosen, which was a picture of me in Hamburg the first time [The Beatles] got there…I thought, is this some sort of cosmic thing — here I am with this old picture of me in Hamburg in ’61 and I’m saying farewell from Record Plant, and I’m ending as I started, singing this straight rock ‘n’ roll stuff.”
In a sense, Lennon was right about his leaving the business. For though “Rock ’N’ Roll” wasn’t his final album — he would go on to release “Double Fantasy” five years later — his musical rebirth had barely begun before he was murdered on December 8, 1980.
Lennon’s death was most tragic to those closest to him: his sons, Julian and Sean; his wife, Yoko Ono; and his other family members and friends. But music fans around the world who’d never even come close to meeting him felt a great sense of loss, as well. And not only because of the senseless way John Lennon’s life had been brought to an end; his death meant the world had also been deprived of any future work he would have created.
And there would certainly have been future work. In the interviews he did at the time of “Double Fantasy”’s release, Lennon proudly stated that he and Ono not only had much of the next album ready, he was also thinking about the album after that. Touring was a likely possibility. He might even have worked again with his former partner Paul McCartney; if not in a full-scale Beatles reunion, perhaps as a songwriting collaborator, something he’d considered in the past.
Though we can never know for certain what kind of music Lennon would have gone on to write, it’s clear that in the fall of 1980 he was looking ahead to many more years of creative life. Contrary to his own interviews at the time, in which he claimed to have not made music at all during his “house husband” period of the past five years, instead looking after Sean, he’d never stopped making music entirely. And now that the floodgates had been fully opened, it seemed as if he didn’t want to stop working.
In the interviews Lennon did promoting “Double Fantasy,” he made it seem as if the songs for the album had all tumbled forth as the result of a sailing trip he’d taken to Bermuda the previous June; the boat had sailed into a fierce storm, and the experience of sailing through had “centered” him, Lennon explained, and freed him up to write. In fact some of the songs, like “Watching the Wheels” and “Beautiful Boy,” had been in various stages of development over the previous years. Lennon did indeed write new songs while in Bermuda, most notably “Woman,” but also drew on the bits of songs he’d been making homemade demos of, something that helped to keep his creative spark alive.