John Lennon didn’t see much of the 1980s, just short of a year, in fact. It’s a shame, really. It would have been fascinating to hear his thoughts on a decade of music that saw so many innovations. It would have been interesting to listen to his opinions on MTV (launched in 1981), the proliferation of electronic and dance music, and the many transformations that rock underwent throughout the era. But it wasn’t to be. On the evening of December 8th 1980, John Lennon was shot and fatally wounded in the archway of The Dakota apartment complex, where he was living with Yoko Ono at the time.
Prior to his death, Lennon had just emerged from a five-year recording hiatus following the birth of his son, Sean. In October 1980, he released the single ‘(Just) Like Starting Over’. The following month he released Double Fantasy, which was made up of songs he’d written during the summer of 1980. It was during this period that he was interviewed by Playboy magazine. In the interview, he was asked about his feelings towards punk music, a style that had come to define the latter half of the 1970s and was already making a mark on the new decade: “I love all this punky stuff,” Lennon began. “It’s pure. I’m not, however, crazy about the people who destroy themselves.”
Lennon was referencing the notorious bassist of The Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious, who had committed suicide the previous year after murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. “I don’t want Sean worshipping John Wayne or Sid Vicious. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it’s garbage, you know.”
The interviewer went on to ask Lennon about his listening habits, and the answer might surprise you: “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, ‘cuz it relaxes you,” Lennon began, 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.'”
The B-52s formed in 1976 after meeting over a drink in Athens, Georgia. By 1980, they’d achieved three chart-topping hits: ‘Planet Claire’, ‘Rock Lobster’, and ‘Dance This Mess Around’. Lennon heard the band for the first time in Bermuda, where he writing 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 would later recall.