Double Fantasy

In the studio

Double Fantasy Stripped Down (Remastered) - John Lennon & Yoko Ono

In July 1980, John Lennon called Yoko Ono from Bermuda, asking that she arrange sessions at New York's Hit Factory studio, with Jack Douglas producing. Work began the following month, with a group of seasoned session musicians assembled by Douglas.

Rehearsals with some of the session players took place at Apartment 71 in the Dakota on 2 and 4 August, where most of the arrangements were worked out. Recording began on 6 August, with Lennon immediately setting out an efficient working mode.

The group recorded 22 songs in around 10 days, including a roughly equal number written by Ono. Fourteen of these songs were included on Double Fantasy, while the majority of the remainder were issued on the posthumous collection Milk And Honey in 1984.

At least five songs - I'm Stepping Out, Borrowed Time, Nobody Told Me, Woman, (Just Like) Starting Over and Yoko Ono's Nobody Sees Me Like You Do - were recorded in the first three days.

Initially unbeknown to Lennon, Jack Douglas created what was known as an MCRT - Master Control Running Tape - which continually recorded the sound in Lennon's vocal booth. By the end of the Double Fantasy sessions there were around 230 tapes, each lasting 30 minutes.

Douglas was aware of the historic importance of the sessions, and while these recordings haven't been widely circulated, sections were broadcast during the Lost Lennon Tapes radio series, on the Westwood One Radio Network from 1988-1992.

During the second week of sessions, Jack Douglas brought two members of Cheap Trick into the studio. Guitarist Rick Nielsen and drummer Bun E Carlos recorded versions of I'm Losing You and Ono's I'm Moving On. Although Lennon loved the heavy guitar work of the recordings, disagreements with the group's management meant they were reworked by the normal studio band.

Although the Double Fantasy album presented Lennon's song interspersed with Ono's, they swiftly adopted a recording routine whereby she worked during the day and he arrived in the evening. According to Jack Douglas, the pair found it difficult to work together in the studio, and he arranged the sessions so they were effectively two solo projects.

Those two could not work at the same time. If she were there, it would have been impossible. I had to treat that album as two separate albums. I know that they're both artists on the record, but I had to treat it as a John album and as a Yoko album. My routine was like this: 9am, breakfast with John. Yoko from 11am, and then John would go home. Yoko from 11 o'clock until about 6.30pm. And then she would go home. John would come in at 7pm and would work until about one or two in the morning. I never worked with both of them at the same time. It was impossible. Because she drove John crazy.
Jack Douglas

The sessions for the basic tracks ended on 19 August 1980. Six days later an initial running order was assembled, which listed Ono's unfinished song Walking On Thin Ice instead of Kiss Kiss Kiss. The song was later moved aside for a standalone Ono EP, to be titled Yoko Only, but that idea too was later scrapped.

More overdub sessions were booked for September, and the album was mixed towards the end of that month and into October. Work on Double Fantasy finished on 13 October, and the final master tape was made six days later.

The songs

Lennon's compositions for Double Fantasy covered three broad themes: his relationship with Yoko Ono, his love for their son Sean, and his domesticated lifestyle of the previous five years.

The album presented a more mature Lennon than had previously been seen by the public, and was a far cry from the anguished figure he revealed on his first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 10 years previously.

The key track was the lead single, the 1950s-style (Just Like) Starting Over, which was formed from three unfinished song fragments. Although written about his life with Ono, it served as an optimistic look forward to this new phase in his recording career.

Perhaps the greatest emotional punch, however, comes with Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy), a song written for his second son, the lyrics of which were given added poignancy after Lennon's death just weeks after the album's release.

Ono's seven songs were perhaps more innovative than Lennon's. Whereas he looked back to his roots, she looked towards the new wave music of Talking Heads, Blondie and the B-52s. Kiss Kiss Kiss, in particular, took its cue from the post-punk sounds of CBGBs.

Not all her songs were of the time, however. I'm Your Angel - later retitled Yes, I'm Your Angel - was a pastiche of 1930s show tunes. She was later sued by the publishers of Gus Kahn's Makin' Whoopee.

Another song, Hard Times Are Over, was written in 1973 following a cross-American car journey Lennon and Ono took while attempting to kick a drug addiction. Ono later revealed that the song referred to withdrawal symptoms.

We were going to withdraw. And we were withdrawing while we were going cross-country. Can you imagine that? It was a station-wagon Peter Bentley, our assistant, was driving, and we were trying to get off drugs. And it was really frightening! So we're standing on a corner looking at each other and saying, 'OK, we're going to get off drugs'.
Yoko Ono, 1997

One song by Ono, Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him, featured a harmony vocal by Lennon. The recording was remixed in 1984 and presented as a single with Lennon's vocal to the fore.

13 responses on “Double Fantasy

  1. Tweeze

    I don’t play this album because it takes me right back to that time and then I have to relive it. I had just retired for the evening and my phone rings. My mother, so very aware of my total idolization of the Beatles and, especially, John, was on the other end, “I just heard some news that John Lennon was shot.” All I could think was, “Why would anyone want to do that?” I flipped on my radio and that was the only thing on the news, “John Lennon is dead.”
    I had plans to visit New York in January of ’81 to do exactly what I’d been wanting to do since the mid ’60s – go meet John – just shake his hand. Then this – it must be some kind of cosmic joke. Even until today I am entirely stunned. This bothered me – indeed – but then a recording source in Louisiana had informed me that John and Paul had been social of late and were, indeed, considering seriously working together though not necessarily in a Beatle capacity. That possibility alone, and I like to think it was true, makes this album harder to listen to.
    I wasn’t terribly impressed with John’s work here but it wasn’t embarassing either. I’m one of the apparently rare people who like Yoko’s work, though there are times when she probably shouldn’t sing. “Woman” edges very nicely toward early Beatles’ in atmosphere while “Dear Yoko” ends up sounding like what John should have been doing on the rest of the album – letting it hang loose and having fun. “Every Man Has A Woman….” is the one that is the hardest for me to shake. The melody is peculiarly haunting and, on this version, John and Yoko’s harmonies work very well. Interesting lyrics here.

  2. kezron9

    Hey why did John claim to have lost his muse? Is he meaning that he didn’t have the urge to release music? I read the books by his assistant Fred Seamen and the tarot advisor Charlie Swan ( John Green) and they claim he lost his muse also basically quoting John. But I’ve heard the great demos from 76-80. Mostly the ones from 79-80 ended up on DF. But many of the songs are in rough from, but the melody and music is almost the same on double fantasy. Also the song topics are basically there too with many of the lyrics being present also on the demo. I think in Bermuda he fully completed these song but I dont consider that losing your muse just lack of motivation. Any with input? Many of the demos are on youtube and are fantastic.

    1. Julian

      Well, John tended to exaggerate a lot in interviews, so he might say that all the songs SUDDENLY came to him in Bermuda, but the truth of the matter is he has been working on them for a while. What’s sudden about it is that in Bermuda John finally decided to take those demos to the studio and make an album. Suddenness is true but in a slightly different way.

      1. Jack

        Indeed there is a clear example of this in the movie ‘Let it Be’ where joins appears to be pretending to write the lyrics of ‘across the universe’ on the hoof when in fact he had recorded a version of this song more than a year previously.

  3. GK

    “Its hard to listen to this album without thinking of when it came out, and then being left with it after he died, it has so many memories.
    In the summer of 1980, I saw a photo of John and Yoko coming out of the Hit Factory in New York in the newspaper. Not been seen hardly for 5 years, and there he is, “cool” as you like with a brief case and hat. A new album on the way after people saying he would never record again…..
    Hearing the lead single “Just Like Starting Over” which got some mixed reviews, hearing it for the first time was great anticipation! I got the album on release, “Clean up time” (the only JL track from DF not on the John Lennon Collection) is a good “funkyish” guitar track, with great lines like “no friends and yet no enemies”. “I’m losing You” was a personal favourite, great vocal, good track, biting lyrics all the way through,”Beautiful Boy” is a classic, always moves me as a song.”Watching the Wheels” was class in 1980, and still sounds so after so many years. I never liked the “Dear Yoko” track, thought it was a little corny…….”Woman” was and is beautiful, a mature Lennon track.
    These were and are matched with the Yoko tracks that sounded very upfront on production, and I read a review at the time that said they were more advanced than John’s.”Kiss Kiss” was on the b side of “Starting Over”, a strong track, I like “I’m Moving On”, “Beautiful Boys” has good lyrics, linking in John at 40 and Sean at 4, and the dangers of “Boys toys” and “war mongering” (could apply to today couldn’t it?). There are one or two others that were emotive at the time, but less so now.
    The new cd has the “Help me to help myself”,demo, an undiscovered little “gold nugget” from John…..full of premonition…..
    The sadness with what happened to JL, quite apart from the personal tragedy, was the fact that JL still had more songs, he would have developed as he got older, not to say he would have got better, just different, and no less interesting.
    Sonically, “Double Fantasy” (still a great title!) sounds fantastic!”

  4. Hammer 109

    There are songs on this album I love as much as any of Lennon’s works. Not crazy about “Clean Up Time,” which is heavy handed and kind of abrasive. But “Starting Over,” “Watching the Wheels,” “Dear Yoko,” “Woman” and, of course, “Beautiful Boy,” are all great. Lennon really puts his heart into these lyrics. Yoko’s songs also work for me for the most part. She tones it down just enough but they are still interesting. Ah, John. Almost 35 years later and we still miss you so much.

  5. Graham Paterson

    In late 1980 the news that John Lennon was releasing a new album after a hiatus brought massive anticipation. I remember hearing (Just Like) Starting Over on the radio and loving it. That song Woman, Watching The Wheels,Clean Up Time and the utterly poignant and sad,(for obvious reasons), Beautiful Boy are great songs. I got this album the following March after Lennons tragic death for my birthday. No wonder Paul McCartney picked Beautiful Boy as a Desert Island Disc. So much hope and renewal cruelly taken away weeks after its release.

  6. David (from Peru)

    I’ve just posted a video on YouTube with a mix between Imagine and Watching The Wheels (the Double Fantasy Stripped Down version). Both songs are great and share many (harmonic) similarities, so I said “It’s easy if you try”, worked for 8 hours straight with Audacity and made this little mixed version (WtW as the backing track + Imagine vocals). Hope you can check it out! It is at: /watch?v=HrIsTWyMNQg

  7. Graham Paterson

    Six weeks or so ago when I made my comments on Double Fantasy, it was remiss of me to not mention I’m Losing You. It is one of the best songs on the album. Great lead guitar and Lennon’s lyrics and vocals are great.

  8. Aaron Clausen

    There’s some good material here, even some of Yoko’s songs are fairly listenable. But in general, when compared against Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and even Walls and Bridges, it’s pretty pedestrian. The sole exception is Losing You, which carries the signature of John’s ascerbic side. Double Fantasy’s greatness comes from the tragedy that too soon followed its release. Like Sgt. Pepper, it’s reputation is as much about the historical context as about the songs.

Leave a reply