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Released 17 November 1980, Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s seventh and final studio album, and the fifth album he did in collaboration with Yoko Ono. Many critics panned it initially, not necessarily because of the music itself, but because they thought it painted an unrealistic picture of John and Yoko’s marriage. Strangers always know best about other people’s personal lives, don’t they?
Sales weren’t particularly good until John’s murder three weeks later. The album then proceeded to jump to #1 in many countries. It also won 1981 Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards, and was ranked #29 on Rolling Stone‘s list of best Eighties albums.
But does it hold up on its own merits 40 years later?
DF is a concept album, structured as a call-and-response dialogue between John and Yoko. They each sing seven of the fourteen songs, going on a journey through their relationship, from fractured bonds on Side One to domestic bliss on Side Two.
This was the second of John’s solo albums I got, since it was the only one available at Mystery Train Records on that day. Back in 2002, online shopping hadn’t really taken off, so we were at the mercy of whatever merchandise was in a store, or had to put in a special order.
I gave it 5 stars on my old Angelfire page, and really liked it. Listening to it again after many years, I’m more inclined to give it 4 stars. There’s a lot of strong material, but it’s not one of the greatest, most memorable albums of all time. Some of the songs also veer a bit close to filler.
If you’re a Yoko-basher and don’t want to even try giving her music a fair listen, you’re gonna have a bad time with this album. Half of the songs are hers, like it or not, and it wouldn’t be the same album if it were only John’s songs.
Yoko was well-known and respected in the avant-garde world long before she met John, and her music has been hugely influential on other artists. Like The Velvet Underground, her influence is massively disproportionate to actual sales, radio play, and visibility.
People who think she only did tape loops and screaming betray their total unfamiliarity with her musical evolution. Sure she doesn’t have a classically-trained, conventional voice, but her music took on a more mainstream direction as time wore on.
Some of her DF songs have a very New Wave sound, which was right in line with other early Eighties music.
John and Yoko famously separated during the 18-month Lost Weekend, reconciled at the start of 1975, and welcomed their son Sean on John’s 35th birthday that October. From that time on, John was a contented househusband and put his musical career on hold.
During a sailing trip from Newport, Rhode Island to Bermuda in mid-1980, John was caught in a bad storm, and was the only one not stricken by seasickness or fatigue. As the last man standing, he had to steer the yacht for hours.
This experience fortified John’s confidence and made him contemplate the fragility of life. As he explained, “I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos—and all these songs came!”
John and Yoko recorded dozens of songs that autumn, some of which later found their way onto the posthumous Milk and Honey (1984). Their sessions were top-secret, and they had to pay for studio time out of their own pockets, since they weren’t signed to a record label.
Once their publicist broke the news, offers from record labels swarmed in. On 22 September, they signed with the new Geffen Records because David Geffen spoke to Yoko first and considered her John’s equal. Mr. Geffen believed in them so much, he signed them before hearing any songs.
John made it clear from the jump that Yoko would be an equal partner on this album (which is subtitled A Heart Play). The strength of her material compelled record execs to take her seriously. She earned her place on DF through her own talents.
Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:
“(Just Like) Starting Over” (#1 in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, and The Netherlands; #2 in Austria, New Zealand, and Norway; #3 in Sweden; #4 in South Africa and Belgium; #6 in West Germany; #9 in France)
“Kiss Kiss Kiss” (ends with an extremely realistic faked orgasm and very sexual words in Japanese)
“Give Me Something”
“I’m Losing You”
“I’m Moving On”
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”
“Watching the Wheels” (#3 in Canada; #6 in Switzerland; #6, #7, and #10 on various U.S. charts; #12 in Austria; #20 in Ireland; #30 in the U.K.; #45 in Australia; #46 in West Germany)
“Yes, I’m Your Angel”
“Woman” (#1 in the U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe; #1, #2, and #4 on various U.S. charts; #2 in Switzerland; #3 in Austria; #4 in West Germany, Australia, and South Africa; #5 in Norway; #11 in The Netherlands)
“Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him”
“Hard Times Are Over” (gut-punching, knowing what would soon happen)
“Help Me to Help Myself”*
“Walking on Thin Ice”* (released 1981) (#6 in Sweden; #13 on U.S. Hot Dance Club Songs; #18 in Australia; #22 in Canada; #35 in the U.K.; #48 in New Zealand; #58 on U.S. Billboard)
“Central Park Stroll” (dialogue)*
DF reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, France, and Japan; #2 in West Germany; and #6 in Italy. It was certified triple platinum in the U.S.
While DF has never been one of my favoritest albums or something I regularly listen to, I’ve always liked it and found it very solid. I understand why some people might be off-put by songs about a relationship they’re not in (regardless of who the couple is), but this is after all a concept album telling a story. It just happens to be a real story, not a fictional one.