Jack Douglas, who produced the final album issued in John Lennon’s lifetime, says the former Beatles star was so nervous about returning to music in 1980 that he initially had Douglas rehearse a band without him.
Douglas, who had earlier worked as a studio assistant on Lennon’s 1971 project Imagine before producing a series of hits for Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, assembled a crack group of players — including Tony Levin, Hugh McCracken, Andy Newmark and others. (Later, he even brought in members of Cheap Trick for an unreleased session.)
But Douglas didn’t initially tell anyone who the gig was for, at Lennon’s instruction.
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They met and began running through potential songs without Lennon. Douglas would then take the tapes back for Lennon to evaluate the process.
Lennon had been out of the limelight for some five years before the eventual 1980 release of Double Fantasy, living as a househusband while raising his young son Sean with Yoko Ono.
Douglas, in a new talk with MusicRadar, says Lennon didn’t introduce himself to his backing band until the very last rehearsal before recording was to begin.
“The whole thing was top secret,” Douglas tells Joe Bosso. “I hired great guys and put together a band, and we did some terrific rehearsal tapes. But they didn’t even know who they were backing — that’s how secretive this was. John didn’t want to come to the sessions at first; he was unsure of himself. So I would record the rehearsals with the band, then I’d go and play them for John, who would sit in his bed at the Dakota and listen to them. He’d suggest some changes, and then I’d go to the band and work things out.”
After finally meeting Levin and Co., Lennon played a new song that he’d been working on, one that hadn’t yet even been demoed. It was “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which would become a No. 1 hit two weeks after Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan on December 8, 1980 — then eventually earn a Grammy nomination for record of the year.
“I heard it and I said, ‘That’s the first song we’ll record,’” Douglas says. He was certain from the first that it would be a smash: “That one was so obvious. The minute I heard it, I knew.”