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.