‘Woman’ was truly one of the last classic John Lennon songs. A throwback both to the heavenly production of Mind Games and the personalised songwriting of late-period Beatles tracks, ‘Woman’ was carried by an all-time melody from Lennon and a genuine heaping of love and contentment that had surrounded the musician in the five years he spent caring for his son, Sean.
“‘Woman’ came about because, one sunny afternoon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me,” Lennon explained to David Sheff in 1980. “I saw what women do for us. Not just what my Yoko does for me, although I was thinking in those personal terms. Any truth is universal. If we’d made our album in the third person and called it Freda and Ada or Tommy and had dressed up in clown suits with lipstick and created characters other than us, maybe a Ziggy Stardust, would it be more acceptable? It’s not our style of art; our life is our art.”
“Anyway, in Bermuda, what suddenly dawned on me was everything I was taking for granted,” Lennon continued. “Women really are the other half of the sky, as I whisper at the beginning of the song. And it just sort of hit me like a flood, and it came out like that. The song reminds me of a Beatles track, but I wasn’t trying to make it sound like that. I did it as I did ‘Girl’ many years ago. So this is the grown-up version of ‘Girl.’”
Although ‘Woman’ would be Lennon’s final number-one hit in the UK, the song wasn’t above some criticism, even after Lennon was killed in 1980. A source of contention was the production style employed in the song, which favoured lush strings, backing choirs, and layers of echo that made the song sound angelic to some and overwrought to others. This was a far cry from the minimalist cries of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band or even the Phil Spector Wall of Sound from Imagine. It sounded very modern for the upcoming 1980s, but to some ears, ‘Woman’ still sounds stuck in the ‘80s.
For those people, direct your attention to the 2010 stripped-down remixes of Double Fantasy. The maximalist production from the original album is replaced with a far more relaxed and unadorned composition. Lennon’s voice isn’t doubled, while the strings and backing choirs are nowhere to be found. Instead, Lennon carries the song with his solo voice and acoustic guitar strums, grounded by simple drum and bass patterns behind him. Every once in a while, a backing vocal pops up to accompany him, but for the most part, Lennon is at his simplest and best in the stripped back version of ‘Woman’.
Check out the stripped-down mix of ‘Woman’ down below.