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In our 'Re: View' column, in which our writers look at albums from the past, Anthony Strutt reflects on John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1980 album, 'Double Fantasy' which has been reissued in a double CD 30th anniversary edition, which includes an alternative version of the album
2010 would have been John Lennon’s seventieth birthday if Mark Chapman had not gunned him down in cold blood on the 9th December 1980 and the eve of his live comeback. Gigs were planned including a show at Wembley Arena.
In 1980 six weeks before then it was one of my greatest joys to go into Our Price in Leicester Square in London and ask for ‘Double Fantasy’, the new album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and his first studio album in five years and since I fell in love with his previous band back in 1978.
Back then the Beatles were not liked. I was part of a second generation of Beatles fans. This was the pre video era so anything to do with the band was rare. If you wanted to see footage of them you had to travel the country to do so or go to rare showings at cult cinemas like the Scala in London.
The year before the release of ‘Double Fantasy’ Paul McCartney released his great album, ‘McCartney Two’. ‘Double Fantasy’, however, gave McCartney competition and it remains a masterpiece,
EMI decided to celebrate Lennon’s seventieth by re-releasing most of his solo back catalogue in remastered form, along with a greatest hits CD/DVD package ‘Power to the People’, and an eight CD box set, ‘Signature Box’.
John Lennon being back in the public eye after a five year absence was a threat. He had finally got his green card to stay in New York where he had based since the early 1970s in 1975. In the intervening years since his last album, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ which he had recorded with Phil Spector, he had got off heroin which he had been addicted to and he had had a son, Sean, of which ‘Double Fantasy’ album is a love song to, as well as also between John and Yoko themselves.
People wanted to know what John Lennon been doing in the five years he had been away and while Yoko had been main the bread winner buying up artwork and cows.
‘Double Fantasy’ did relatively well upon its initial release in late October. It didn’t, however, become a massive release until after his murder. I bought both the first single of it, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, and the album itself on the day of their release when that sort of thing still meant something special.
‘Double Fantasy’ has been re-released as a double CD with a sleeve drawn by Sean. The second CD is a remastered version of the original, while the first CD, ‘Stripped Down’, which is the main reason for buying this, features alternative versions of the fourteen songs on ‘ Double Fantasy’. It provides a much more crisp production of the album, sounding fresher and more alive than the version that is now 30 years old now. While ‘Double Fantasy’ was a great John Lennon album, it is an equally great Yoko album. She was a main influence on the whole punk scene and both Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux owe a lot to her.
‘Stripped Down’ opens with John saying, “This is for Gene,and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy (Being of course Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly) on the comeback single, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’. This has a much sharper vocal, a slightly different arrangement and cleaner instrumentation. As happens throughout this album, this John song is followed by a Yoko track. ‘Kiss, Kiss, Kiss’ was disco flavoured but infused by punk, very B52's and Banshees and has Yoko coming in a sexual manner on record whilst singing in Japanese. It sounded very different and fresh for 1980.
‘Clean Up Time’ has a different ending and is a song about John getting cleaned up and straight. Yoko's ‘Give Me Something’ is superior to the original, full of attitude and the guitar solo on this is stunning, far sharper then on the first version.
John's ‘I'm Losing You’ was probably written during a time when he and Yoko weren't getting on, It is a love song for Yoko when John wasn't feeling secure. Yoko's ‘I'm Moving On’ is her reply to the last number.
‘Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)’ is a love song for Sean. John had spent five years bringing up Sean after not being there for his first son Julian as he was too busy being a Beatle to see him growing up. It is softly played with a different arrangement and a slightly dfferent ending. ‘Watching the Wheels,’ was the third and final single from ‘Double Fantasy’, a reply to the people who had spoken to him on the streets and asked him what he had been doing while he had been absent from the music scene. It is crisp vocally with more up front piano. Yoko's ‘Yes, I Am Your Angel', is a 1920's New York ditto.
John's ‘Woman’ was released as a single a month after John Lennon died and was a huge hit for all the wrong reasons. It remains as classic a single as ‘Imagine’. The version on ‘Stripped Down’ has a different arrangement. ‘Beautiful Boys’ is Yoko's love song for both her boys, John and Sean.
John's ‘Dear Yoko’ is similar to his 1970's love songs for her. ‘Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Her’ has a different arrangement and is sung by both John and Yoko with Yoko on lead vocals. Yoko ends the album with the untimely ‘Hard Times are Over’ which sounds like a Christmas hymn. It is a lovely song to close the album,
It is just a pity that the theme became the opposite and hard times were just around the corner. And I for one will never forgive that bastard for what he did to John.
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