(Just Like) Starting Over

In the studio

(Just Like) Starting Over - Double Fantasy Stripped Down (Remastered)

We did that song in two or three takes. It came fast. In a sense, the song kind of played itself - the piano playing, the triplets, Andy's backbeat, Tony's great bass part, and John, Hugh, and Earl's guitar playing. The production is also great.
George Small, keyboards, Double Fantasy
Starting Over, Ken Sharp

John Lennon elected for a 1950s sound for (Just Like) Starting Over, telling the engineer Lee DeCarlo: "Make me magnificent, Lee, make me the man of my dreams. I want Elvis Vincent." Prior to take one he dedicated the song to "Gene and Eddie and Elvis... and Buddy!"

I'd done that music and identified with it - that was my period - but I'd never written a song that sounded like that period. So I just thought, Why the hell not? In the Beatles days that would have been taken as a joke. One avoided clichés. 'Course now clichés are not clichés anymore.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

As if to underline the link between the old and new, Lennon busked a version of Roy Orbison's early 1960s hits Crying and Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel) in between studio takes of (Just Like) Starting Over. Lennon explained the influence of Orbison in one of his final interviews:

It was really called Starting Over but, while we're making it, people kept putting things out with the same title. You know, there's a country and western hit [by Tammy Wynette] called Starting Over, so I added 'Just Like' at the last minute. And to me it was like going back to 15 and singing à la Presley. All the time I was referring to John [Smith], the engineer, here in the room I was referring to Elvis Orbison. It's kinda like... Only The Lonely, you know... a kind of parody but not really parody.
John Lennon, 1980
The Lennon Tapes, Andy Peebles

If the music referenced Lennon's musical idols, he was wary of an unintended reference to Paul McCartney's band Wings in the second verse.

I nearly took the word 'wings' out because I thought, Oh, God! They'll all be saying, 'What's this about Wings?' It has nothin' to do with Wings.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the master version, the drum fill immediately prior to the coda was partly repeated due to an editing error.

I did an edit on the drum fill and when I cut it together, I missed the edit and had repeated one of the ending drum fills. Everybody went, 'Oh no!' and I yelled, 'I like it better!'
Lee DeCarlo, Double Fantasy engineer
Starting Over, Ken Sharp

Fortunately John Lennon agreed, and the repeated fill was left in the final mix. The song's coda also featured the voice of an unidentified flight attendant.

In the fade, you hear a flight attendant announcing that the plane is approaching the runway. It's a woman's voice announcing, 'World Airlines flight, (maybe 'flight twelve') with service to...' I think it came off a sound effects record. He [Lennon] had originally wanted the sound of a supersonic jet landing and I remember calling all over the country, trying to find somebody who had that sound effect. We never got it, so instead we used the flight attendant.
Jon Smith, Double Fantasy assistant engineer
Starting Over, Ken Sharp

(Just Like) Starting Over was mixed on 26 September 1980, along with the single's b-side, Yoko Ono's Kiss Kiss Kiss. The studio staff hurried to complete work on the release before 7pm, because Ono was concerned by a 'significant moon change' about to take place.

John had warned us that we had to finish the mix by a certain time of the day. According to Yoko, the stars would be in perfect alignment (or something) and if we didn't finish by this time it wouldn't be good. We saw the deadline approaching and we were working like crazy to get it done in time. Finally, with just a few minutes to go, the mix was all done except for one detail, the bell at the front of Starting Over. John had brought the bell from home. I believe it was a special bell, maybe a wishing bell or something.
Jon Smith, Double Fantasy assistant engineer
Starting Over, Ken Sharp

(Just Like) Starting Over began with the sound of a small bell being struck three times. This was intended to be a contrast to the foreboding church bell which opened the song Mother on Lennon's first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, showing how his life and career had come full circle.

Lennon used a Tibetan wishing bell on the track, which was brought to the studio from the Dakota by Lennon and Ono's assistant Fred Seaman. It was the last element to be added to the recording. The bell also appeared at the start of Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy).

We ran and got a mic and hooked it up. Time was running out so we really had to move. We recorded the bell and put it into the mix and finished with just a minute to spare. We laughed with joy at making it in time. I'm not sure, but I seem to remember John calling Yoko to tell her we made it and then the session was over.
Jon Smith, Double Fantasy assistant engineer
Starting Over, Ken Sharp

Chart success

(Just Like) Starting Over was released as the first single from Double Fantasy in October 1980. It was Lennon's much-anticipated comeback following five years away from the public eye.

We knew that song would be the first single. I love Starting Over, 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.
Yoko Ono
Starting Over, Ken Sharp

The record was heavily promoted, with US record stores using countertop cardboard display boxes, and 21"x8" posters being sent out to UK shops. A promotional 12" single lasting an extra 23 seconds was issued to radio stations has since become a collector's item.

In the United Kingdom the single was released on 24 October 1980, with the catalogue number Geffen K 79186. The inner groove of the vinyl bore the inscription: "One world one people". This was a chant which had been recorded in the studio, and had initially been intended to close Hard Times Are Over on Double Fantasy.

(Just Like) Starting Over entered the UK charts on 8 November, where it spent a total of 15 weeks. Prior to Lennon's death on 8 December 1980, it had begun to slip down the charts; it peaked at number eight, but fell to number 21. From there it topped the chart as fans worldwide mourned his passing, and was replaced at number one a week later by the reissued Imagine.

In the United States it became Lennon's biggest solo hit. Prior to his death it was at number three in the Billboard Hot 100, and the following week became a chart-topper.

5 responses on “(Just Like) Starting Over

  1. David

    I didn’t know about the three fragments being developed as separate songs before Lennon put them together – they work so amazingly well together that I have always thought he had just brilliantly conceived the song as one whole. To this day, whatever I’m doing – working, talking, driving – I stop and listen to this song whenever it comes on. In general I’m more of a McCartney man, but there are not many more poignant songs around than this one!

  2. Marie

    That’s what I love about John, how he matched cool pieces that had little catchy had created a master piece
    (The Worst is ooooveeeerrr!!! —> Starting Oveeeeer!!)

    BTW, after all these years I still cant find someone to tell me WHAT DOES HE SAY ON THE BACKMASKING?(when music stops and makes the chorus/ending)

  3. David

    This is a really great song, nice structure, cool chords and wise lyrics. I like it as much as Woman. Both are among his best.

    Almost forgot: every time I see the videoclip I get a lump in the throat.

  4. Graham Paterson

    I remember hearing this song on the radio when it was released and loving it. Also I thought John Lennon is back, because this was his come back song. He described this as himself doing Elvis Orbison, which is a great description as it has a retro feel and the music that influenced him as a teenager remained his first love.

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