Monday, February 11, 2019

Musical Monday - Woman by John Lennon

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Never.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: March 14, 1981 through March 21, 1981.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: February 7, 1981 through February 14, 1981.

This is it. This is the last time John Lennon will appear on this list. This is the last word from him musically from the last album he would ever make. At this point, it seems almost sacrilegious to talk about the actual content of the song, so I'm going to talk about one of the contemporary reactions to the song, or more accurately, one of the contemporary reactions to the album Double Fantasy.

Before John Lennon's death, the critical reaction to Double Fantasy seems to have been largely negative, mostly due to the album's idealization of the relationship between and family life of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The negative reviews focused on the album's idealization of Lennon and Ono's marriage. One reviewer, Charles Shaar Murray of the New Musical Express, wished Lennon would have "kept his big happy trap shut until he has something to say that was even vaguely relevant to those of us not married to Yoko Ono". To me, this sounds like an odd complaint. Without putting too fine a point on it, many pop songs are intensely personal to the writer and singer of the song. Is anyone as in love with Beth as Peter Criss, or pine for Jessie's Girl the way Rick Springfield does? Can anyone who is not Irish understand U2's Sunday, Bloody Sunday, or the Cranberries' Zombie? In all of these cases, the message of the song is personal to the singer, but because most humans are empathetic beings, they can place themselves in the position of the singer even though that singer is singing about something that might not be directly of concern to the listener. The oddness of the reaction to Lennon and Yoko's album is that so many music critics decided that this simply wasn't something they could do with these songs.

In any event, all of this criticism was muted after Lennon's death, and to a certain extent I think the critics in question realized in retrospect that they were being ungenerous. The album ended up winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1981. The outpouring of grief and love following Lennon's death no doubt helped it in the voting, but it is also a really good album and deserved better than the critics originally gave it.

Previous Musical Monday: Imagine by John Lennon
Subsequent Musical Monday: Celebration by Kool and the Gang

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Keep on Lovin' You by REO Speedwagon
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Rapture by Blondie

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Imagine by John Lennon
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce Music Theatre

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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