Could it possibly be forty years since John Lennon walked this earth for the last time? Lennon was just forty years old in 1980 and indeed on December 8, 1980 Lennon was brutally shot down and killed in front of his Dakota apartment building in New York City.
I was a freshman in high school that far away Fall of 1980 and I still remember the cold sting of hearing Lennon had died and the sound of the songs from his and Yoko Ono’s recently released new album “Double Fantasy” filling the airways non-stop in the weeks after his death.
Oddly enough I had gone to bed early on the evening of December 8th and didn’t hear Lennon had died until the next day. The report of Lennon’s death the evening of December 8th broke during a football game of all things and I guess sportscaster Howard Cosell was the first to report that Lennon had been shot.
In those days there wasn’t the 24-hour news cycle like you have now with constant minute to minute reports of all the gruesome details of a major story like Lennon’s death. We didn’t have cable TV then so I was spared having to relive the shooting every five minutes and was blissfully able slept through the night unaware of the shooting.
I remember on the morning of the 9th my mother showing me the cover of my local newspaper with the glaring headline that Lennon had been shot and killed the night before. I just sat at the kitchen table for a few minutes in stunned silence.
I had only purchased the “Double Fantasy” album a few weeks prior, the week it came out, but I was already familiar with all the songs on the record including Yoko’s which truth be told I kind of liked. I had a love/hate relationship with Yoko’s music but I especially enjoyed the song “Kiss Kiss Kiss” which I found kind of hypnotic.
I remember so clearly my anticipation for this new John Lennon album was sky high as Lennon seemed like a mythical figure to me as he hadn’t had new music out for years and I was so excited to hear what he would come up with on his new album. Would it sound like The Beatles? Would I like it?
(Note: This album was the first Lennon solo album I remember looking forward to buying as I hadn’t purchased any of his solo work before 1975 when he was actively releasing new music.)
I actually scanned the airways for days to hear the first single from the album “(Just Like) Starting Over” which I finally heard late one night shortly before it’s release date while laying in my parents bed listening to their old 1960’s clock radio. I remember thinking the song was fun but kind of retro sounding. Of course I grew to love the song but it wasn’t what I was expecting.
I had really only become a big Beatles fan about six years earlier in 1974 when I discovered the then recently released “The Beatles 1962-1966 (The Red Album)” album as well as 1964’s “The Beatles’s Second Album”. By 1980 I had become such a rabid fan that I already owned most of The Beatles catalog of albums as well as a good portion of their solo work.
In fact on my 13th birthday the year before in 1979 I had received lovely sealed Apple first pressings of John Lennon’s “Mind Games”, “Walls and Bridges” as well as his 1975 oldies album “Rock ‘n’ Roll”. I loved all three but I had a special affinity for the “Walls and Bridges” album which remains my favorite Lennon solo album to this day.
I remember pulling that copy of “Walls and Bridges” out the week Lennon died and playing it over and over. Some of the songs on the album seemed so otherworldly like “#9 Dream” which to me seemed like a long lost Beatles song and the lilting “Bless You”. Plus I loved the grit of “Steel and Glass” as well as the haunting “Scared”.
Really there isn’t a song I don’t like on the album but obviously all of the songs on that album though took on new meaning after Lennon’s death.
On those grey December days of 1980 I recall fondly looking over the fold out cover and booklet for the “Walls and Bridges” album and thinking how strange that I had come to his solo work only a couple of years before his death. I don’t know why but I’ve always found that “Walls and Bridges” enchants me more than any other solo Lennon album.
Of course I have always loved the bit hit from the album “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, as I remember hearing it quite frequently on the radio in 1974, but there’s just something about Lennon’s work on this album that feels to me as if it was the last time Lennon’s music felt to me like the Lennon of 1967.
I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s just something a bit more Beatlely to the production as well as the sound of Lennon’s voice on this album that just reminds me of the “Magical Mystery Tour” album which I had discovered around the same time so maybe that’s why this album is so linked to The Beatles for me.
Both the “Walls and Bridges” and “Double Fantasy” albums hold such bittersweet memories for me. It took years for me to hear these records without that sinking feeling in my stomach which as time has gone on has drifted to an just an occasional sadness sometimes when I remember the Fall of 1980.
In remembrance of Lennon’s incredible body of work I thought I would post a few photos of some of the “Walls and Bridges” CDs I’ve acquired over the years.
Above you can see an original US CD pressing, the 2005 reissue with some tracks remixed and bonus tracks plus my favorite CD release of the album the 2014 SHM-CD from Japan which features Lennon’s original mix in great sound quality.
The original US CD release doesn’t get much love from fans as it has been treated to the no-noise process which tends to deaden the sound a bit. Truth be told I don’t think it’s a horrible listen but the more recent SHM-CD has much better and fuller sound and stays quite true to the sound of the original vinyl and it also includes a groovy mini replica of the original fold-out cover and booklet so it wins all the way around in my book.
I do enjoy the 2005 issue as well as it represents the music in a clearer sound than Lennon’s original mix but it tends to be a bit on the loud side compared to the other two CDs but is a nice change every so often and well worth seeking out to add to your collection if you want to hear this record a bit less murky than the original 1974 mix.
As of tomorrow it will be forty years but instead of sadness I think I’ll just pull out some of my favorite John Lennon music most especially the “Walls and Bridges” album and maybe “Double Fantasy” as well if I can escape the sadness associated with it.
Until next time enjoy the photos above and below, be safe and well and if you’ve never listened to Lennon’s solo work then I can’t think of a better time to start exploring his great catalog of music.