In 1980, John Lennon returned to the music business following a five year absence. The result was “Double Fantasy”, the comeback album he recorded with wife Yoko Ono. Thirty years later, the album has now been remixed and re-released as “Double Fantasy Stripped Down”.
This new version of “Double Fantasy” works well, and ends up being a fine album on its own merits. Original “Double Fantasy” producer Jack Douglas and Ono have stripped away the background vocals, sound effects, much of the horn parts etc., and the album comes across as more loose than the original. Lennon seems to be having fun as count in’s and snippets of dialogue are now heard before several of the songs. The opening track, the Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison influenced “(Just Like) Starting Over”, now begins with a spoken intro by Lennon, “This one’s for Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy” referencing late rockers Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Presley, and Buddy Holly.
“Cleanup Time”, Lennon’s tune about his home life during the recording hiatus, comes across more funky on “Double Fantasy Stripped Down” than on the original album. The song’s horn parts in the chorus have now been replaced by Lennon singing “Make a ring around the world”, and at the end of the track he ad-libs the words , “Christmas time, party time” .The fade from “Cleanup Time” to Ono’s “I’m Moving On” on “Double Fantasy” is gone, to separate the tracks now, and emphasize Lennon singing the words”Long Lost John” at the end.
To some, Ono’s vocals might be an acquired taste. But, in 1980, the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” featured vocals that sounded exactly like Ono’s wailing/vocal improvisations, and Lene Lovich’s “Lucky Number” also had a quirky style similar to an Ono song. So, Ono’s influence was being felt in some contemporary music performers of the time. In fact, a few early reviews of “Double Fantasy” in 1980 praised her contributions, while some critics felt that Lennon’s songs lacked bite. Those opinions changed following Lennon’s senseless murder.
Her songs on “Double Fantasy” were even a little restrained from her past avant-garde vocals. The new wave style “Give Me Something” and edgy “I’m Moving On” are successful in the “Stripped Down” format. “Yes, I’m Your Angel” unfortunately, does sound a lot like the 1930’s tune, “Making Whoopee”,which resulted in a lawsuit in the 1980’s. The album’s last track, Ono’s gospel influenced “Hard Times are Over” finds Lennon’s backing vocals more prominent in the mix .His humorous ad libs are heard in the song too,such as “Hear ye, hear ye. Come what may” and “Collection will be taken. It’s an offer you can’t refuse”.
Of course, the songs are still poignant decades later. Lennon’s song for son Sean, “Beautiful Boy”, with its line “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” is the prime example.
A remastered version of the original “Double Fantasy” album is included with the disc. The bonus tracks included in the 2000 “Double Fantasy” CD reissue, in particular “Walking on Thin Ice”, the track Lennon and Ono were working on the night he was killed, have been cut from this release. That’s too bad, as the song is Ono’s best, eventually hitting number one in 2003 as a remixed maxi-single for the U.S. dance chart.
The front and back cover of the original Double Fantasy release has been replaced in this reissue with a a pencil drawing recreation by the couple’s son Sean. The two discs are housed in a tri fold digipak, just like the 2009 Beatles remastered CD’s were issued.
While not the “definitive” version of “Double Fantasy”, this release makes for fun listening for Lennon and Ono fans and rock fans in general.
“Double Fantasy” review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide.com
“Cleanup Time”, The Beatles Bible.com.
“Beautiful Boy”, The Beatles Bible.com.
Yoko Ono “Walking on Thin Ice” Billboard Single chart info, All Music Guide.com.