Double Fantasy was out the 17th November 1980,released by John Lennon and Yoko Ono after 5 years of silence. It is the seventh and final studio album released by Lennon (apart from his work with The Beatles)
During his lifetime. Though initially poorly received, the album is notable for its association with Lennon’s murder three weeks after its release, whereupon it became a worldwide commercial success, and went on to win the 1981 Album of the Year at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards.
Let’s talk about John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy. Can you separate how it felt making the album from what happened afterwards?
Absolutely I can. Because the two emotions on either side of Dec. 8th are really weighty. There’s a great amount of joy on one side and just terrible tragic feelings on the other. And scars that have yet to go away and probably never will. But it’s easy to separate between the two. Because I was working with him right up to the last day and the last night, there’s a certain line drawn there. It drew a line in my life.
As it did everyone’s, yours more directly and explicitly. How was he in the sessions? From what I gathered, happy to be back at work, the long sabbatical is over, back in the game, future looking good.
There’s plenty of other material bouncing around. Some people have heard it, other things no one’s ever heard. There’s a lot of material from the Double Fantasy sessions, a ton of things—nothing really complete. A lot of jams, a lot of Beatles songs.
That’s all up to Yoko, what she wants to do with it. As it gets later and later in her life, I’m doubting [anything will come out]. I keep asking—she and I are in touch all the time—and I keep asking if we can go back to the [Nov. 28, 1974] Madison Square Garden concert and dig into that thing and make it work. It was released, but doesn’t sound all that good. There’s a lot of footage that wasn’t used. There’s all kinds of gems there that fans would love. It’s an important statement, that concert, and she’s like, “Let’s do it next year, let’s do it next year.”
Listen to John Lennon and Elton John singing “I Saw Her Standing There” at Madison Square Garden.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. In more ways than one. We finished that record and he told me that he wouldn’t see me ’til after the new year to work on some more stuff. And within two-and-a-half weeks he was calling me up saying, “What are you doing?” I said, “Aren’t you supposed to be in Bermuda?” He said, “Ah, you know what, once I get rolling I can’t stop. So, let’s go back [in the studio].” I was already doing another project for RCA and he asked me to move it around so I could start doing that at 9 at night and we’d start working [together]at noon. And I did.
Listen to “Watching the Wheels” from Double Fantasy
The album came three weeks before he was shot. I know you were back in the studio, working on “Walking on Thin Ice.” What was the vibe like?
First of all, he wanted no one else in the studio except whatever assistant I wanted. He wanted to just experiment. He wanted me to both produce and engineer and we were basically just going to sit in the room and have fun. I had Mark Antonio come in to assist me. John said, “Let’s listen to some loops we have here and there.” We had a drum track and a bass track and some other instruments going for what turned out to be “Walking on Thin Ice.” I cut a loop for that, drum loops and guitar loops, and basically John and I played guitar over those loops. This is like what you imagine kids doing in their basement, but we were in a real room where we could just go crazy and do whatever we wanted and do it all ourselves. It was actually a guitar solo we were both playing at the same time. Then there was the rapping over it, the poetry reading, the Yoko thing, and we were pretty much through and we finished it. That was the beginning of a bunch of stuff we had planned. But it started and ended right there with that one.
Listen to “Woman” from John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy
Related: That day in December 1980 that we can never forget
John and Yoko with Douglas (at bottom right)
So, there’s nothing else that might come out of those sessions?
In the summer of 1980, Lennon made a sailing trip through treacherous waters from Newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda. During the journey, Lennon’s yacht encountered a prolonged severe storm, most of the crew eventually succumbed to profound fatigue and seasickness. Lennon (free of seasickness) was eventually forced to take the yacht’s wheel alone for many hours. Lennon found this terrifying but invigorating. It had the effect of both renewing his confidence and making him contemplate the fragility of life. As a result, he began to write new songs and reworked earlier demos.
He commented later, ‘I was so centered after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos – and all these songs came!’ Ono also wrote many songs, inspired with new confidence after Lennon had stated that he believed that contemporary popular music such as The B-52’s “Rock Lobster” bore similarities to Ono’s earlier work.
The couple decided to release their work on the same album, the first time they had done so since 1972’s politically charged Some Time in New York City. In stark contrast to that album, Double Fantasy (subtitled A Heart Play) was a collection of songs wherein husband and wife would conduct a musical dialogue. The album took its title from a species of freesia, seen in the Bermuda Botanical Gardens, whose name Lennon regarded as a perfect description of his marriage to Ono.