For most of solo career, John Lennon did anything he could to separate himself from his former bandmates in The Beatles. It’s right there in the lyrics to Plastic Ono Band‘s ‘God’: “I don’t believe in Beatles / I just believe in me.” Although he recorded with George Harrison and Ringo Starr after the band broke up, not to mention his calls with Paul McCartney discussing bread, Lennon was eager to break away from his past as much as possible.
He would record songs that were specifically rejected by The Beatles, like ‘Cold Turkey’, and slag off any of his former songs, whether they were written by him or not. From calling ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ “granny shit” to labelling ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ “a throwaway”, no Beatles-era sacred cow was safe from Lennon’s disdain.
But Lennon wasn’t always so harsh. In his final live performance, the former Beatles busted out an early classic from his previous band when he jumped on stage with Elton John in 1975, the Paul McCartney-penned ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. As he aged and mostly left his solo career behind to care for his young son Sean, Lennon seemed to soften his vitriol and dismissal of his past.
When he returned to the studio after a half-decade break to record Double Fantasy, Lennon wrote an ode to his wife and artistic partner, Yoko Ono, that couldn’t help but remind him of his previous exploits in The Beatles. “‘Woman’ came about because, one sunny afternoon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me,” Lennon recalled in one of his final interviews just days before his death 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.”
“The song reminds me of a Beatles track, but I wasn’t trying to make it sound like that,” Lennon continues. “I did it as I did ‘Girl’ many years ago. So this is the grown-up version of ‘Girl.’” Lennon claimed earlier in his career that ‘Girl’ was a void in him that was eventually filled by Ono, and the tribute in ‘Woman’ feels like an appropriate full circle moment.
Sadly, Lennon got to see the success of ‘Woman’ as a single. When the song peaked at number one in the UK and number two in the US, it was in the wake of Lennon’s tragic murder a few months before. But ‘Woman’ is a fitting final word from Lennon, someone who evolved his attitudes and actions towards the opposite sex as he matured and aged.