It’s been well over a decade since we heard this voice at the top of the charts, one of rock’s most famous. It’s great to hear it again… just a shame about the circumstances.
(Just Like) Starting Over, by John Lennon (his 1st of three #1s)
1 week, 14th – 21st December 1980
Three clear notes are struck – three notes that always make me think of a yacht coming into harbour – before an old-style acoustic intro. Our life… Together… Is so precious… Together… John Lennon made no secret for his love of rock ‘n’ roll music, and this is his tribute to the stars he grew up with, those who caused him to pick up a guitar: Elvis is the one who comes across most in the vocals, but there’s Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent in there too.
It’s a love-letter too, to his second wife, Yoko Ono, who appears on the cover and on the ‘B’-side… But when I see you darling, It’s like we both are falling in love again… It’ll be, Just like starting over… As controversial as her role in The Beatles’ final years is (and I think she gets a very bad rap), Lennon loved her dearly.
When the beat kicks in, the production is very early-eighties gloss. Thick, echoey drums, noodley guitar licks and the like. It’s got a karaoke backing-track feel to it – if that isn’t a huge insult to one of the 20th century’s most revered musicians – and doesn’t scream ‘lead-single from John Lennon’s first album in five years’. He chose it as the lead, though, not because he thought it was the best song on the LP, but because the theme of ‘starting over’ fit in with his comeback.
‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ doesn’t scream ‘huge #1 hit’ either, to be honest. It’s fine, it’s catchy, it’s far from Lennon’s greatest moment. I prefer the rock ‘n’ roll covers he had put out a few years earlier: they’re rawer, cooler. This needed a push to return him to the top, and that push came on the evening of December 8th, when a deluded fan, Mark Chapman, shot him in the entrance to his apartment in New York.
This single had peaked at #8 a few weeks earlier, but had dropped to #21 the day before his death. When the news broke, fans rushed out to buy his records as a mark of respect – in those pre-download days you had to make do with what was on the shelves – and this single was waiting for them. It’s the same reason why ‘Way Down’ became Elvis’s ‘funeral number one’. And ‘… Starting Over’ must have seemed nailed-on to become Christmas #1 too… yet fate had other ideas.
Unlike Elvis’s death, this chart-topper kicks off a run of Lennon-mania at the top of the charts. Between December 1980 and the following March, four out of the six UK number ones will be by John Lennon, or a cover of. The two records that disturb this run…? Um, classics, the pair of them… The first of which is up next.
26 thoughts on “471. ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, by John Lennon”
Despite Lennon’s massive popularity coming from the Beatles and with his activism, he arguably had during his time the least successful solo career of any Beatle. He was the first member to have a solo hit with the #3 “Instant Karma” in 1970 right as the Beatles’ own “Let It Be” was #1 but compared to his bandmates wasn’t as big of a hitmaker. Obviously, his political activism took up much of his time and image but from what I could tell he seemed to be more of a critical than commercial favorite compared with someone like McCartney. All of this led to Lennon being the last Beatle to land a solo #1 in America with help from Elton John on “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” in November 1974 which through a bet led Lennon to appear with John at his Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden at what would be his last concert appearance. Lennon would return the favor by appearing on John’s cover of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” which also hit #1 and through his friendship with David Bowie co-wrote and appears on his #1 hit “Fame” before retiring from public life to raise his son Sean. Obviously, a new Lennon song after 5 years of silence was going to be a big deal regardless of what it was like what it is now with Adele’s latest hit. And for what it is, “(Just Like) Starting Over” is a nice song. It may not be an all time classic but you can hear why Lennon wanted to kick off his new album with this song. I like the ‘50s style of the music that still sounds modern enough for 1980 and Lennon’s delivery. Ultimately, what makes it sad is its happy sound and Lennon looking forward to a life he wouldn’t get to live which makes the opening line sound even more tragic. On Billboard, “Starting Over” would have probably hit #1 regardless of the situation considering the week of Lennon’s murder it was at #6 rising pretty well but obviously his murder made people want to buy and hear it more along with his other songs. It wound up hitting #1 the week of Christmas all the way to Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. If you look up the coverage of Lennon’s death, it’s pretty amazing to watch in today’s world with how it dominated every discussion on the news in a way you don’t see much for famous artists with every person talking about Lennon’s importance not just in music but for pop culture at large. My mom graduated college in NYC in 1981 and in her yearbook that’s still kept at our house, there’s a page paying tribute to Lennon. From what she recalled, her and people her age were obviously upset about what happened but some of her older relatives didn’t see what was so big about Lennon. In the US, the outpouring of grief for Lennon did lead to two other Double Fantasy tracks going to the Top 10 including one that you’ll discuss soon and the album being named by Billboard as the #2 seller of 1981 behind REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity and winning the Grammy for Album of the Year which most definitely had to do with all the public sympathy. And the tributes popped up in other ways like the Stars on 45 disco medley of mostly Beatles going to #1 in June 1981 and the surviving members reuniting for the George Harrison Lennon tribute “All Those Years Ago” which peaked at #2.
Interesting claim that Lennon was the least successful solo Beatle, especially when he had bigger solo hits on the Billboard than in the UK charts. All the Beatles were more successful on the US charts – George only has 1 UK #1 (though it made the top twice), Wings only have 1 UK #1 (though its one of the best selling songs ever), even Ringo has a couple of US #1s. And ‘Starting Over’ was on its way down the charts when Lennon was shot, otherwise it would have been a ‘not bad’ #8 peak for his first single in half a decade.
It’s a morbid thought but… I do wonder what the chart/public reaction would be to a mega star… an Adele, an Ariana Grande, a Ed Sheeran etc… death. Would that even match the reaction to John Lennon’s in 1980? Prince, Bowie, Michael Jackson were all past the peak of their hit making days when they died.
Lennon’s solo singles may have been bigger hits in the US but he kind of lost people along the way in the early ’70s. Unlike Paul, John wasn’t really going for pop hits with all the personal and political themes that ran through his music and even critics that had preferred him to Paul started to get tired of it. Even Lennon thought he had lost America saying to Elton John in response to him saying “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” would be a #1 hit that he was out of favor in the US.
Honestly, I can’t imagine today’s big pop stars getting the same kind of death coverage that John Lennon got in 1980 even if they were brutally gunned down the way Lennon was. The truth is that Lennon and the Beatles at large are a one-time-only phenomenon that today’s big stars can only dream of achieving. There’ll definitely be a chart impact with fans and casual listeners alike streaming many of the artist’s songs and many times will cause songs to reach a new peak like what happened this year with DMX with “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” a song that barely charted upon its original 1998 release, becoming DMX’s new highest-charting hit peaking at #16 after his death beating the #27 peak of “Party (Up In Here)” from 2000.
Michael Jackson came closest to a posthumous #1 when ‘Man in the Mirror’ made #2 in the weeks following his death (just through spontaneous downloading rather than a rerelease). I guess it also helped that Lennon had a new album out and singles ready to go, I suppose, enabling the record label to give the public what they wanted.
I can see the freak out if Adele passed. I know very little about the other two.
Those 3 chimes…give me the chills in the worse way. I went to the theater later in the 80s and watched Imagine…at the end…I knew damn well what was going to happen but they played those damn 3 chimes.
He IS Elvis in this song. It’s fitting really since he was a big influence to John. This was my JFK moment. No celebrity death ever bothered me as much as this one. I was 13 and I didn’t understand why. Our schoolbook the spring of 81 had him in it.
I didn’t grow up in the Beatle generation but they were the only band that mattered to me.
It’s a cliché, but dying young cemented his legacy. If Lennon were alive today, God knows what he’d have said over the past forty years to get himself in trouble. McCartney’s great, but he never had the edge – for better or worse – that Lennon had.
I would have loved to hear what Lennon would have said recently…I don’t know though…in his last 5 years he wasn’t really popping off anymore. He was a little more mellow….but I’m sure something would have come out…probably NON Pc lol.
He had a mouth on him… But he punched upwards, and was very left-wing. I think he would have had a lot to say about the world in the past few years…
Yea…but he could swing right wing once in a while. It was depending on which way the wind blew.
Let me bore you for a second…it’s funny…he went into an Occult book store…grabbed a book and just to piss the people off as he was walking out the door…said “God Bless You” lol.
Him and Pete Townshend always reminded me of each other….they would say stuff just to shock and say something the opposite the next day.
Haha. My favourite is still that he wrote ‘I Am the Walrus’ to annoy the teachers who dared to use his songs in class. That’s brilliantly petty
Oh yea…I like that one also. He threw everything in there. They had to be scratching their heads over that one.
You know the funny thing…most of the fans who met them throughout their lives say John was the most sincere and then George…Paul was nice but fake at times…and Ringo was a grouch.
I can see John as very sincere, and honest… You’d know where you stood with him
Question…would he have been the type to influence people to vaccinate or tell them to f*** off like Van the Man & the injured Clapton? Ted Nugent, too, for that matter…
I don’t know…I really dont because I’ve been surprised…especially by Eric Clapton
It may not have been John’s best song, but it’s a great pop tune, and I will always love it. In fact, I think the “Double Fantasy” album is one of his best solo albums, even though only half of the songs are by him. “Watching the Wheels” is one of my all-time favorites by John. Sadly, this album will always be connected to his senseless murder!
I love ‘Watching the Wheels’ too – my favourite of the ‘Double Fantasy’ singles. I’m not a huge expert on his albums – the one I’ve heard most often is ‘Rock and Roll, which is great… Singles wise I do prefer his hits from the early seventies.
I loved this comeback record, john and paul were my heroes. Starting over had peaked at 2 in my charts before the murder. I grew up with The Beatles, saw the films when i 6 and 7at the cinema, dad bought some singles snd i loved their records right up to the split snd the solo stuff beyond. I literally was grieving at the loss, bigger than Elvis, Bolan and Mama Cass which had all upset me greatly. But this one was horrific to boot. I worshipped the ground john wslked on loved his interviews and hed had several number 1s in my charts. The chtistmas of 80 is just all about john and the beatles. The movies were on Tv the records were selling and it continued into the first hslf of 81. I recorded the entire in depth radio interview that radio 1 had just done. Several hours worth of stuff – but its too sad to listen to, all the enthusiasm and accrptance of the past and happiness all taken awsy by a lunatic egomaniac.
That’s a good point… The violence of his death must have been a huge factor in the outpouring of grief. Other huge deaths were sad accidents (Bolan, Holly) or drugs (Elvis, Morrison, Hendrix)… not as visceral. Plus, having a new album out and songs ready to go probably helped with the chart domination.
My point of comparison for this would be Diana’s death, in terms of the reaction, though I can’t say eleven-year-old me was particularly upset by it.
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Yeah. More background music…
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