I don’t remember John Lennon being killed. It would be more accurate to say I don’t remember John Lennon being alive. His murder is the first thing I knew about him, a founding fact of pop music: John Lennon is dead. For me he has been dead longer than Bolan or Hendrix or Buddy Holly, who also came packaged in their deaths, but who I heard about far later.
I guess my parents were shocked, probably upset: I don’t think they cried. There were people crying on the news – but here I’m remembering footage I saw later, howling fans outside the Dakota building, flowers and candles in the snowy night. And then there was this, at Number One.
In the posts on “Imagine” and “Woman” I’ll talk about the later reputation of Lennon and about my reactions at the time to the convulsive impact his murder had on the charts. Normal spoiler rules don’t apply: all three were in a sense the same number one, a procession of Lennon at the top until the grief had begun to be worked through. “Starting Over” happened to be in the right place at the wrong time, so it was up first.
The strength of “(Just Like) Starting Over” is that tragedy slips off it: it still sounds as slight and relaxed as it must have done in November 1980, a natural No.20 hit by a star whose comeback was to be greeted with fondness but not overly indulged. Even the horrid irony of the title and sentiment has faded, leaving its mushy goodwill intact. A pastiche of the 50s rock and doo-wop Lennon loved, “Starting Over” can seem little more than superior Showaddywaddy, the man’s gifts for a hook and obvious enjoyment lifting it out of the retro trap. It’s a strong record but not at all a great one: in fact it fits comfortably into the minor canon of Later Solo Beatle Works, cosy pop music made by clearly talented men with nothing much left to prove.
Even so there’s a little more to it: Lennon picked it as a comeback single because of its self-referential qualities, reintroducing himself to an audience who’d moved dramatically on since 1975. The song is a man feeling his way back into a relationship by deploying the music he’d loved when younger, implicitly asking himself (and us) what this music might still mean now middle-age was rolling on. “Starting Over” is a record that treats rock music with an amused, endearing fondness: not trying to recapture past glories, just wondering out loud whether they could fuel deeper, richer present satisfactions. As demographic and format changes turned the rock audience upside-down, the question would become an increasingly crucial one: the questioner never got the chance to expand on this sketch of an answer.