The unexpected and sad passing of the great 60's pop singer Lesley Gore had me thinking back about another tragic loss from the music world that happened over 30 years ago: the death of John Lennon in December 1980.
After over five years of "retirement" without producing an album, John Lennon was back in the studio again. His new hit single "(Just Like) Starting Over" was released in late October 1980 in both the US and UK. It debuted at #49 on Cash Box on November 1. It would appear on his final studio album, Double Fantasy, before Thanksgiving Day. I purchased the single sometime in mid-November 1980 and would not buy the album until after his murder on December 8, 1980. Prior to that awful night, I can attest that the song was well-liked by patrons of the nightclub where I deejayed, but not often requested. That would change, along with a lot of other things. The song had a lot of remarkable competition to say the least: The Police, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Kings, AC/DC, Bob Seger, Diana Ross, Kool & The Gang, Devo, and others ... all had major hits out at the time. Nevertheless, it was rising on US charts when the terrible news broke.
For most of us, that news was not learned until the wee dark hours of the AM after returning home from the bars. When I got home, I turned on one of the FM radio stations I listened to and it was playing Beatles songs non-stop. Great, I thought ... haven't heard this much interest in The Beatles in quite a while! No word from the DJ though and no commercials. Hmmmmmm. Out of curiosity I checked another FM station. Same. Must be Beatles competition night, I thought. Tried a third station. Same. What the hell is going on? After two more Beatles songs played, I would find out when the deejay returned to his ramble that must have been going on for several hours. Then I turned on CNN, which had just debuted as the first 24/7 cable news channel earlier that summer. The cameras were on the crowds in New York City gathered outside of The Dakota where John Lennon had been shot. My initial reaction was a peculiar sense of disbelief and deja vu which vanished after the reality set in. Was it only 10 years earlier I was in high school and we were all talking about whether or not Paul McCartney was really dead or not? Most of us outgrew the conspiracy, others never did. Whatever the truth, this tragedy was not a fiction. And I would be playing a lot of Beatles songs over the next year for crying young women ... not crying and swooning with excitement over their girlish crush on the Fab Four, but crying in mourning of John Lennon's ghastly, premature death at the age of 40.
"(Just Like) Starting Over," an upbeat Elvis-style song intended to mark a new beginning for John and Yoko, and for the resumption of John's recording career at the dawning year of the 1980s, was perhaps only destined to reach #6 on US charts. Instead it soared to #1 on December 27, 1980, and held the position for five consecutive weeks until toppled by Blondie's "The Tide Is High" on January 31, 1981. The retro trend that had dominated the first year of the new decade had found its resolution in the renewed popularity of the greatest rock band in history, a nearly year-long farewell tribute by millions of fans of that band's iconic founder and leader, the late, great John Lennon.