Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Geffen Records: (Just Like) Starting Over

Everything seemed to be going right for John Lennon and Yoko Ono during the fall of 1980. While John had taken off five years from the music business to help raise his son Sean, he continued to write songs and record demos in his home studio. After a sailing trip earlier in the year, John told Yoko that it was time to get back into the studio and record a new album.

The result was “Double Fantasy,” which was a concept album of a husband and wife conversing with each other through song. One of John’s songs would start the album and it would be followed by one of Yoko’s. This was the format for the entire LP from start to finish; however, the critics initially hated it. Lennon picked the first single to be “(Just Like) Starting Over,” as it was his first record since 1975’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” that sported his version of the Leiber, Stoller, and King classic, “Stand By Me.”

The single was released on Geffen Records in the US on October 20 and it began its climb up the charts until it peaked at #6 in December. It was the second single release for David Geffen’s fledgling label. For “(Just Like) Starting Over,” Lennon channeled the styles of Elvis and Roy Orbison with his vocal delivery. It didn’t appear that the single would rise above the #6 slot and the album to #11 – that is until December 8, 1980.

You may not be able to remember where you were between 10:30 and 11:00 PM that evening, but I do. I was working the night shift at WEMM in Huntington, West Virginia. During the evenings, my girlfriend would drive me to the station and take my car to run errands until about 9:00 PM. At that time, she would return to work on her homework in the staff break room while I finished out my shift.

The UPI teletype was located in the break room and she came into master control to tell me that the machine (which had alarm bells) was ringing like crazy. When I pulled the wire copy, we learned that John Lennon had been shot in New York and had been rushed to the hospital – no further details were known. Within a half-hour or so, we learned via the same manner that Lennon had died.

Somewhere I have the wire copy from that evening and a special John Lennon audio tribute that UPI had sent down the phone lines to its stations. That next day, I went to the National Record Mart to buy “Double Fantasy” and any other Lennon album I could find, but only walked away with “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and The Beatles’ compilation “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” as the store had already sold out of many of the other LPs. Strange, I never noticed until now the similarities of those two albums’ titles.

Needless to say, Lennon’s untimely death propelled the single and album sales through the roof. “(Just Like) Starting Over” began climbing the charts again and spent five weeks at the #1 position. “Double Fantasy” followed and was the #1 album for eight weeks. It also won the 1981 Grammy for “Album of the Year.” It is unfortunate that John Lennon’s life had to be snuffed out at the age of 40 – that a great talent had to be taken – and that only through his death would these recordings receive the accolades they deserved.

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