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Music

John Lennon’s favourite new-wave album

In the late 1980s, John Lennon had remained particularly inactive on the music front following the birth of his son Sean in 1975. The five-year recording hiatus was broken in October 1980 with the release of the single ‘(Just) Like Starting Over’. The following month, Lennon released the full album, Double Fantasy, just three weeks before he was shot by Mark Chapman in New York City. In the summer of 1980, Lennon had been interviewed by Playboy Magazine; during the interview, he was asked about his thoughts on punk music: “I love all this punky stuff,” Lennon explained. “It’s pure. I’m not, however, crazy about the people who destroy themselves”. 

Lennon had been alluding to the notorious Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious with this remark. Vicious had famously committed suicide the previous year after grievously murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. “I don’t want Sean worshipping John Wayne or Sid Vicious,” Lennon continued. “What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it’s garbage, you know”.

Lennon was then asked about his listening habits to which he responded: “Muzak or classical. I don’t purchase records. I do enjoy listening to things like Japanese folk music or Indian music. My tastes are very broad. When I was a housewife, I just had Muzak on, background music, ‘cause it relaxes you,” Lennon said, before adding: “I like all music, depending on what time of day it is. I don’t like styles of music or people per se. So I can’t say I enjoy the Pretenders, but I like their hit record. I enjoy the B-52s because I heard them doing Yoko. It’s great. If Yoko ever goes back to her old sound, they’ll be saying, ‘Yeah, she’s copying the B-52s.’”

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In 1979, just a year before Lennon’s death, a new-wave sensation from Athens, Georgia, named The B-52’s had begun making a name for themselves after the release of their eponymous debut album. The album exhibited an original new wave sound that drew on a healthy variety of influences ranging from old-school soul to 1960s pop music. Throw in the artillery of choppy guitar riffs and a kooky neo-1960s aesthetic and you had something particularly special. The group started in 1979, winning over the hearts of the zany bustle of students of the University of Georgia and ended it with acclaim led by John Lennon – not a bad year by all accounts. 

The B-52’s debut album included a refined version of most of the early hits that they would play during their formative shows in Athens, including ‘Planet Claire’, ‘Rock Lobster’ and ‘52 Girls’. The platinum-selling album has since gone down in history as one of the finest in the new-wave genre, and to add to the accolade, shortly after its release, Lennon was among the first big names to cite it as a personal favourite. 

Lennon had heard the B-52’s for the first time in Bermuda, where he was working on the songs for Double Fantasy. “I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda,” Lennon said in an interview recorded three days before his death.

“Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs I suddenly heard ‘Rock Lobster’ by the B-52s for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko’s music.” Lennon went on to cite ‘Rock Lobster’ as one of the main inspirations behind his return to the world of recorded music and a big influence on Double Fantasy. “I said to myself, ‘It’s time to get out the old axe and wake the wife up,” Lennon concluded.

Listen to The B52’s classic hit ‘Rock Lobster’ below.