The Story of John Lennon’s Final No. 1 Song, ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’
John Lennon made a retro-powered return to rock and roll with the single “(Just Like) Starting Over” in late 1980. Sadly, the triumph of this comeback was short-lived.
Barely six weeks after “Starting Over” was released, and just as the song was ascending into the Top 5, Lennon was taken from us by an assassin’s bullet. This sudden and shocking loss created an outpouring of grief that eventually buoyed "Starting Over" to No. 1, where it remains for five straight weeks. That marked only the fourth posthumous chart-topper of the rock era, following singles by Otis Redding ("Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"), Janis Joplin ("Me & Bobby McGee") and Jim Croce ("Time in a Bottle").
The first new music to come from the ex-Beatles star in more than half a decade, "(Just Like) Starting Over" was one of the last tracks recorded for Lennon and wife Yoko Ono’s comeback album, Double Fantasy. In the months following the 1975 release of a covers collection called Rock 'N' Roll and the birth of his son Sean, Lennon decided to take some time off to be a dad and house husband.
Perhaps in keeping, this song included no small amount of nostalgia. "All through the taping of 'Starting Over,' I was calling what I was doing 'Elvis Orbison,'" Lennon told Rolling Stone. "It's like [Bob] Dylan doing Nashville Skyline, except I don't have any Nashville, being from Liverpool. So, I go back to the records I know – Elvis [Presley] and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis." On the 2010 “stripped-down” re-release of Double Fantasy, John introduces “Starting Over” by acknowledging the rock ‘n roll architects who inspired him: “This one’s for Gene, and Eddie, and Elvis ... and Buddy.”
Things seemed to have come full circle for Lennon. The addition of a tiny Tibetan wishing bell to open the track was seen as a way to illustrate the contrast between his life at the time and that of his debut solo album 10 years before. Back then, 1970’s painfully autobiographical Plastic Ono Band began with a darkly tolling church bell. This final touch completed things on Sept. 26, 1980.
"Starting Over" was released on Oct. 20 – just weeks before Mark David Chapman killed Lennon on Dec. 8, as he was returning from a separate recording session with Ono. That this happened during a period of creative rebirth only added a layer of cruel irony to his awful murder. "Starting Over" roared to No. 1 in the U.S. on Dec. 27, becoming Lennon's second Billboard charttopper following the Elton John-assisted “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” six years earlier. It also went to No. 1 in the U.K., Canada, Spain and the Netherlands.
A nomination for Record of the Year followed, though Lennon's song lost the Grammy to Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes.” Still, there was no shortage of appreciation for Lennon at the ceremony. Ono, in fact, delivered the evening’s most emotional moment when she and Sean took the stage to accept the Album of the Year award for Double Fantasy.
"I love 'Starting Over,'" Yoko Ono later told Ken Sharp, "but when I hear it now it just chokes me up a bit because it's how we felt at the time. We really thought that we were starting over, and it didn't work out that way."
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