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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dr. Wesley Britton Learns Some New Things About John Lennon


Title: John Lennon 1980 Playlist 

Author: Tim English 

Genre: Nonfiction/Biography

Publication Date : September 23, 2020

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Reviewed by: Dr. Wesley Britton originally for


Forty years after his murder, I thought there wouldn't be much new ground to unearth regarding the last days of John Lennon. On that point, I've been proved wrong twice this week. On Friday, Oct. 16, ABC's 2020 aired "John Lennon: His Life, Legacy, and Last Days" featuring new interviews with friends and associates of the influential musician.


At the same time, this week I read Tim English's new John Lennon 1980 Playlist, an analytical history lesson with many surprises for me, a lifetime Lennon aficionado. The book made me remember what I was doing and how I felt on December 8, 1980 and the days and nights that followed. Forty years later, I'm surprised at the emotional impact of revisiting those times.


Part of that emotional resonance I felt while reading Playlist is due to how English captures the musical and cultural times of 1979 and 1980, focusing, of course, on what impacted and influenced John Lennon to come out of retirement and work on Double Fantasy. I wasn't surprised to hear of his interest in New Wave music by The Clash, Blondie, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, and Elvis Costello. I was interested to learn how Lennon responded to "Rock Lobster" by the B52s. He was delighted to hear singer Kate Pierson's stylings clearly based on the warbling vocals of Yoko Ono.  This sort of appreciation for his wife was a major kick-starter for his own musical revival.


I admit discovering there was music I missed back in the day--I never heard of The Vapors "Turning Japanese." The title alone tells me why Lennon would have responded favorably to that hit. I hadn't known that "Coming Up" from his ex-partner Paul McCartney ignited Lennon's competitive juices.  


I already knew of Lennon's interest in the growing importance of Bob Marley and reggae,   but I would never have guessed that he liked disco in general, and Donna Summer in particular.  Wanting to get Yoko Ono's music on the disco floor had much to do with his work on her "Walking on Thin Ice" dance number. Christopher Cross and the soft pop of the era was never my cup of tea, but I could understand Lennon's love of "Sailing" as that song had special meaning for a man who had just been sailing to Bermuda where his musical torch was relit.



To be fair, Playlist is more than a recital of popular tunes and which songs were on Lennon's personal jukebox.  English offers many anecdotes about the origins of many tunes Lennon had liked back in his formative years like Sanford Clark's 1956 rockabilly hit, "The Fool." Lennon had a well-known fondness for straightforward, old style rock 'n roll and the styles being revitalized as in Queen's 1979 "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." No surprise that "(Just Like) Starting Over"  had obvious nods to Elvis Presley and the rockabilly era.


So, even if you think you know it all, odds are 1980 Playlist should provide knowledgeable readers with fresh revelations into the process of how Double Fantasy and it's follow-up, Milk and Honey, came to be.   I love this sort of stuff and found Playlist to be a fast and engaging read.  It took me back to a place of wonderful memories before the December 8 crash in so many lives. It's no spoiler to reveal the abrupt last two sentences of the book:


"Perhaps John would have sung "Liverpool Lou” to Sean that Monday night. If only he’d made it home."


This review first appeared at on Oct. 19, 2020:


 More About the Reviewer


 Dr. Wesley Britton is the author of The Beta Earth Chronicles and a regular reviewer for and #TheNewBookReview. Learn more about Britton and his work here: 

Explore the Beta Earth Chronicles websiteFollow Wes Britton’s Goodreads blogCheck out Wes Britton’s Beta Earth Chronicles Facebook pageEnjoy the videos at Wes Britton’s YouTube Channel

Dr. Wesley Britton Learns Some New Things About John Lennon

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