December 1980 was exhibiting all the trappings of a comeback for John Lennon. Five years after assuming his self-proclaimed role of ”househusband” — taking care of his son Sean while wife Yoko Ono handled all business matters — Lennon had just released Double Fantasy, featuring seven of his songs and seven from Ono. The album’s first single, ”(Just Like) Starting Over,” had risen to No. 6 on the Billboard singles chart on Dec. 6. As Ono would later recall, ”John and I were gloriously happy in the first week of December..We kept saying ‘We did it, we did it.”’ Lennon himself explained, ”This is like the Beatles’ first album. It’s to say hello, hi, here we are. The next one will verify it.”
Lennon and Ono were working on ”the next one” the night of Dec. 8. After remixing a track called ”Walking on Thin Ice,” Lennon and Ono left the Record Plant studio in midtown Manhattan and headed home to their apartment at One West 72nd Street in the Dakota, arriving at approximately 10:50 p.m. As they made their way toward the entrance, a voice called out, ”Mr. Lennon.” Emerging from the shadows, Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old unemployed security guard for whom Lennon had signed an album cover just six hours earlier, produced a .38 caliber pistol and opened fire, striking Lennon four times in the back and left shoulder. At 11:15 p.m., ”the thinking man’s Beatle” was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital.
In the following week, radio stations devoted full days of airtime to broadcasting the music of the Beatles — including their 20 chart-topping singles — as the world mourned the loss of the Fab Four’s eloquent and enigmatic leader. By the end of the month, ”(Just Like) Starting Over” reached No. 1, where it stayed for five weeks. Next came ”Woman,” Lennon’s love song to Ono, and the elegiac ”Watching the Wheels,” both of which landed in the top 10.
One critic has offered that ”[‘Woman’] would have been a hit no matter what happened.” Indeed, John Lennon’s music has transcended his death and proved itself ultimately and beautifully timeless. Today, his voice can be heard carrying ”Free As a Bird,” the ”new Beatles song” that features a 1977 Lennon vocal over a recent recording by surviving members Paul, George, and Ringo. Somehow, it seems right that a recording from Lennon’s blissfully happy househusband days should herald his return in 1995: As he explained a month before he died, ”Now the music’s coming through me again.”