‘Borrowed Time’ was inspired by a couplet in Bob Marley’s 1973 song ‘Hallelujah Time’: “We got to keep on living/Living on borrowed time”. Lennon heard the song in Bermuda, and his recent experiences aboard the Megan Jaye, a 43-foot Hinckley centreboard sloop, inspired him to write his own.
On the journey from Newport Rhode Island to Bermuda, Lennon’s yacht had entered a storm, and with the crew suffering from seasickness or fatigue, Lennon was forced to take control for several hours. He found the experience invigorating, and later claimed it had inspired him to return to the public eye.
Lennon recorded two demos of ‘Borrowed Time’ in Bermuda using an acoustic guitar for backing. The second of these, taped on 22 June 1980 with double-tracked vocals, was released on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology.
Reggae and ska had been an influence on Lennon’s music as far back as 1964’s ‘I Call Your Name’, but his attempts to convincingly perform it were often stymied by the efforts his fellow musicians to play the styles effectively.
‘Borrowed Time’ was no exception, with the session players at New York’s Hit Factory unable to convincingly grasp the style. Three takes were recorded, which a guitar overdub being added to the last. This was the version which appears on Milk And Honey.
It was the second song to be performed during the Double Fantasy sessions, and was recorded on 6 August 1980. On the day Lennon referred his band to The Isley Brothers’ songs ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘Spanish Twist’; he planned to use those songs as the basis for a horn overdub which was never recorded.
The song celebrates life and getting older, and its lyrics were all the more poignant in the knowledge that Lennon’s days were numbered. The Milk And Honey take also contains a spoken word passage in which he joked about his former insecurities:
Oh yes, it all seemed so bloody easier then
You know, like what to wear very serious like, you know, am I gonna get the little pimples?
Does she really love me? All the crap
But now I don’t bother about that shit no more, I know she loves me!
All I gotta bother about is standing up!
‘Borrowed Time’ was released as a single in the United Kingdom on 9 March 1984, with Yoko Ono’s song ‘Your Hands’ on the b-side.
It peaked at number 32 in the charts. There was also a 12″ version which added ‘Never Say Goodbye’, from Ono’s 1982 album It’s Alright (I See Rainbows), which was written about her sense of loss following Lennon’s murder.
The single was released on 14 May 1984 in the United States, and peaked at number 108.