John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (1980)

History: After his five year break to devote his time to raising Sean, John decided to get back into recording music again. He and Yoko went into the studio together with producer Jack Douglas to record the album even without a record label. They made the choice to record a dual album instead of two separate ones, alternating tracks between them to make it like a conversation between husband and wife.

My own personal history and initial impression: While I don’t own a copy of this album, I think I’ve heard every John song included here, though some I’m more familiar with than others. “Woman” is of course the most well known, a song I’ve always felt had similarities to “Something” in terms of its quality as a love song. “Beautiful Boy” is also a wonderfully sweet song for Sean. Of Yoko’s songs I think I have heard “Kiss Kiss Kiss” before though I’m having a hard time remembering how it goes. I mostly wonder if this album is going to make me sad, knowing how happy he was and ready to get back into music before it was all so suddenly taken away from him.

Review: I can’t believe I possibly forgot “Kiss Kiss Kiss.” Certainly you can’t forget that ending once you’ve heard it. This album is interesting, though I have to say the only time this feels like an exchange between the two of them is when “I’m Losing You” goes straight into “I’m Moving On.” The subject matter doesn’t always fit, and more than anything the music style doesn’t. Yoko is doing something very modern with most of her songs here, while John’s are a mixture of throwback sounds from anywhere from the 1950s to his last album of the mid 1970s. “Cleanup Time,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Dear Yoko” all feel like they were written not long after Walls and Bridges to me. The remainder of his songs almost feel timeless.

It’s amazing to read that critics apparently panned the record as it came out (or maybe right before if they received advanced copies?) complaining that they didn’t want to hear so much about a couple’s personal life. Do we complain when other artists write love songs? “Dear Yoko” is obviously more direct, and “Beautiful Boy” does drop Sean’s name at the very end, but otherwise most of these songs feel pretty universal to me. And of course with his death not long after, they got so much airplay that they’ve been ingrained in all of us. “Watching the Wheels,” on the surface, can sound like a rich man bragging about how he’s able to just sit around and do nothing while others want him to act, but if you get past the literal qualities of John’s life (wouldn’t we all love a five year break from work?) I do think there’s some wisdom there for all of us. Letting go of a strong desire to be the best, to get to the top, and instead just enjoying life as it comes for its small pleasures is definitely something I’ve come to take to heart as a recent 40 year old.

I’m afraid there isn’t much here on Yoko’s side of things that has converted me to her music. The orgasmic ending of “Kiss Kiss Kiss” just feels so incredibly out of place on the album with all of John’s sweet songs and even really her own other tunes. Musically I enjoy that she embraced the new wave sound that was starting here but her vocals don’t really appeal to me. I believe she is once again embracing a purposeful affectation rather than singing poorly, but it’s just not one I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, her songs here are not the painful experience of their experimental albums, they’re just not my cup of tea. They are worth giving a listen once to see just how influential she no doubt was on a lot of other female new wave artists of the era, but there’s nothing I really want to return to.

The album ends breaking the pattern of alternating between the two of them with two Yoko songs, “Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him” into “Hard Times Are Over.” I’m sure they chose that last one in particular to end on a bit of hope, which makes it all the more heartbreaking knowing what life was going to be for Yoko and Sean in just a few short weeks. It’s always killed me to hear the interviews John did at this time, literally saying “where there’s life, there’s hope” when his life was going to be gone so soon. I hate that there’s only one more album to hear from him going forward, a collection of songs he recorded at the same time as this album. What could we have gotten from a John who lived through the 80s, the 90s? Sadly, we’ll never know.

In 2010, Yoko and Jack Douglas got back together to release a Stripped Down version of this album, but beyond changing some of the doowop qualities of “Just Like Starting Over,” I personally didn’t hear a huge difference in that version of the album. It’s not like the production of the original really hurts it in any way.

Next Time: George records Somewhere in England.

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