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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 17, 1980

Well, after a couple of days off, it's back to the blog once more.  And today, we're going to be doing another Tuesday Timeline entry!  I have to tell you, I love doing these things!

In today's case, we're going to be making this one music themed.  It's got to do with an iconic album that didn't initially take off when it was first released...but after a tragic event became one of the biggest albums of its time.

But I've said way too much about that. 

As always, before we launch ahead with today's chosen topic, we should probably get a gander at what was happening in the world on the seventeenth day of November throughout history.  Off we go!

1511 - Henry VIII concludes the Treaty of Westminster

1558 - Following the death of Queen Mary I, she is succeeded by her sister, Elizabeth I, commencing the Elizabethan era

1603 - Sir Walter Raleigh goes on trial for treason

1800 - The United States Congress holds its first session in Washington, D.C.

1820 - Nathaniel Palmer becomes the first American to see the frozen continent of Antarctica

1863 - The Siege of Knoxville begins during the American Civil War

1896 - The Western Pennsylvania Hockey League began play at Pittsburgh's Schenley Park Casino

1925 - Actor Rock Hudson (d. 1985) is born in Winnetka, Illinois

1947 - An anti-Communist loyalty oath is implemented by the Screen Actors Guild

1962 - President John F. Kennedy inaugurates the Washington Dulles International Airport

1966 - Singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley (d. 1997) is born in Anaheim, California

1968 - Football fans all over the eastern United States are angered when the conclusion of the Raiders-Jets football game to air the television movie "Heidi" on NBC

1973 - Richard Nixon famously utters the phrase "I am not a crook" in retaliation to him being linked to the Watergate scandal

1982 - Reforms are made in the sport of boxing following the death of Duk Koo Kim as a result of injuries sustained during a match against Ray Mancini

1993 - The United States House of Representatives passes the resolution to establish the North American Free Trade Agreement

1998 - "Good Times" actress Esther Rolle dies at the age of 78

2000 - A devastating landslide takes place in Slovenia, causing millions in damages and killing seven

2010 - Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel hosts the first "National Unfriend Day"

2014 - "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" singer Jimmy Ruffin dies at the age of 78

And a very happy birthday goes out to the following famous faces; Robert Brown, Fenella Fielding, Rance Howard, Gordon Lightfoot, Martin Scorsese, Lauren Hutton, Danny DeVito, Lorne Michaels, Roland Joffe, Petra Burka, Howard Dean, Butch Davis, Stephen Root, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, William R. Moses, RuPaul, Jonathan Ross, Ralph Garman, Kate Ceberano, Daisy Fuentes, Sophie Marceau, Tab Benoit, Ronnie DeVoe, Leonard Roberts, Leslie Bibb, Brandon Call, Diane Neal, Zoe Bell, Rachel McAdams, Isaac Hanson, Sarah Harding, Katie Feenstra-Mattera, Hollie Smith, Harry Lloyd, Raquel Castro, and Ruby Jane Smith.

I tell you...November 17 must have been celebrity birthday central!  Holy birthdays, Batman!

Okay, so let's see what date we're going back to this week.

Ah, November 17, 1980!

Obviously 1980 was a year in which I do not remember.  At all.  Mainly because for the last part of the year, I was a fetus.  And, looking back on 1980, I'm kind of glad that I missed out on it.  It was a year in which Mount St. Helens blew a gasket, Led Zeppelin broke up, and where a massive summer heat wave killed 1,700 people all over North America. 

And as the year 1980 came to a close, we saw any hopes of a full-fledged Beatles reunion fade away forever when on December 8, John Lennon was shot and killed in front of his New York City apartment.  He was just 40 years old.

Tragically, his death came just three weeks after he released what would be his final album while he was still alive.  An album that was initially panned by critics, but managed to surge in popularity by the beginning of 1981.  In fact, "Rolling Stone" has ranked this album as the twenty-ninth greatest album of the top one hundred albums of the 1980s.  And at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, this album won "Album of the Year".

Not bad, considering that the album itself only had three major single releases.  But, I guess you could consider this album a collaborative work between Lennon and wife Yoko Ono, who collaborated together on the album.  I guess you could say that both of them had the dream of releasing an album together that acted as a musical dialogue between husband and wife.

That fantasy came true on November 17, 1980 when the album was released.  I guess you could call it a "double fantasy".

In fact, that's what they called the album itself!  And thirty-five years ago today, "Double Fantasy" was first released!

Now, this album was the first album that Lennon had released since the birth of his son Sean in 1975.  And it wasn't until a fateful outing in the summer of 1980 that Lennon made the decision to release another album.  He was on a sailing trip from Rhode Island to Bermuda, and while they were out at sea, a strong storm struck the area, making the conditions of the water very choppy.  They were so bad that the majority of the crew that sailed along with Lennon became ill.  Lennon was one of the few on board who didn't feel any symptoms, so he ended up taking the wheel of the ship for a few hours.  During this time, he really began contemplating about how life was so short, and how empowered he was in the middle of the ocean and how it was from that experience that all of these song ideas came to him.

John and Yoko collaborated on "Double Fantasy" together - the first time in eight years that they had worked together on an album - and recruited the help of producer Jack Douglas to put the whole thing together.  Not only did they release enough songs to fill "Double Fantasy", but they had enough songs left over for another album's worth of material - which would eventually become the 1984 album "Milk and Honey".

The duo signed with the newly formed record company Geffen Records in the fall of 1980 after David Geffen made it a point to speak with Yoko Ono first, citing her contributions to be equal to Lennon's.  And in October 1980, the first single from the album was released.

Released:  October 20, 1980
Peak Position on the Billboard Charts:  #1 for 5 weeks

This song admittedly is an interesting one because when I first heard it years after it was released, it seemed like Lennon was taking the singing styles of several artists and blended them together to make it his own.  It was like I was hearing Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and even a little bit of Elvis Presley.  And, apparently that was the whole idea.  The first track was personally chosen by Lennon himself because he felt that it was the best track on the album, but also the song title was symbolic.  After all, this was his first solo release since 1975.  In a way, this song was meant to be his comeback song, even though Lennon had never really left the music industry.  Oh, and the reason why "Just Like" is in brackets?  Well, that was added in to distinguish this song from Tammy Wynette's "Starting Over", which was also released in 1980.

Now, initially, the song seemed to stall on the charts.  It made Top 10 status in late November 1980, but it didn't really seem to take off.  After all, some critics who reviewed "Double Fantasy" were less than kind in their observations, stating that the album wasn't Lennon's best work, and that people weren't nearly as enamored with Lennon and Ono as they seemed to be themselves.  Ouch.

But then the events of December 8, 1980 happened, and with Lennon's death came an outpouring of grief and pain.  But it also meant that people were more interested in Lennon's music than ever before.  Within three weeks of Lennon's passing, the song "(Just Like) Starting Over" topped the charts, and in 1981, this song reached #2 - the first one released after Lennon's death.

Released:  January 12, 1981
Peak Position on the Billboard Charts:  #2

I'm gonna be honest.  This is probably my most favourite John Lennon song ever recorded.  I absolutely love it.  If ever I get married (and that's a big if), I can easily see making this my wedding song. 

And, it seems as though Lennon had intended to make this song the second single release, having greenlit the choice days before his passing.  It was also a song that ended up being #1 in the UK.

Interestingly enough, Lennon had commented that the song "Woman" was meant as a follow-up to a song he released with The Beatles in 1965 called "Girl". 

Of course, one looks at the video for the song that was released, and it's easy to tell that "Woman" could be considered a love letter from John to Yoko...and I can only imagine just how heartbroken she was to lose her husband in such a horrible way.

One final song was released from "Double Fantasy", and while it wasn't as big of a hit as "Woman" or "(Just Like) Starting Over", it is worth mentioning.

Released:  March 13, 1981
Peak Position on the Billboard Charts:  #10

This song is Lennon's way of confronting all those who mocked him while he was on hiatus for being a "househusband".  After all, he did spend those five years taking care of Sean.  And, again, while the song wasn't a huge success, it still made Top 10.  Quite a good song, matter of fact.

But perhaps what is haunting about the final release from "Double Fantasy" is the photographer who took the photo for the cover art of the single was the same photographer who ended up taking one of the last photos of Lennon when he was alive.  It was the photo of Lennon signing an autograph on the cover of his "Double Fantasy" album for a fan - who turned out to be the man who would kill Lennon just hours later.

I don't even want to reveal the killer's name, but when this man was arrested for the murder and taken into police custody, he kept repeating the line "People think I'm crazy" - a line which was a lyric from "Watching The Wheels".  In 1991, the English band EMF had taken the recording from Lennon's killer and inserted it into their song "Lies".  But when Yoko Ono found out about it and protested, the line was cut out of future pressings.

You know, it's been thirty-five years since "Double Fantasy" was released - and this coming December will be thirty-five years since we lost John Lennon.  And you know, it doesn't make it any easier.  Lennon was definitely a musical legend who was just beginning a new start in his musical endeavours.  He certainly didn't deserve to die the way he did. 

But even though he's gone...he left us with such musical gifts that I don't think he will ever really fade away.

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