John Lennon Nearly Changed Lyrics on His Final Single to Avoid Paul McCartney Chatter
After the 1970 breakup of The Beatles, fans of the Fab Four got solo albums from each member of the band that year. Overall, the quality was high and the animosity in the lyrics was low. In fact, outside of John Lennon’s “I don’t believe in Beatles” (from “God”), I can’t think of any direct references to the old gang on those records.
That changed in ’71, when Paul McCartney released Ram in May. Lennon noticed a few shots aimed his and Yoko Ono’s way on that album. He pointed to “Too Many People,” which included a line about “people preaching practices,” and another about someone breaking their lucky break in two.
Lennon used his annoyance from those jabs to record his pointed response, “How Do You Sleep?” for Imagine. Lennon decided not to beat around the bush on that track. “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead,” he sang. “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday,'” he added in another line.
But Lennon and McCartney got over it. In ’74, the two old friends jammed and made up. As the years wore on, the early ’70s wars represented water under the bridge. By 1980, when Lennon released Double Fantasy, the last thing he wanted was McCartney-related chatter surrounding the album. And he almost changed lyrics on his last single to preempt that.
John Lennon had the phrase ‘spread our wings’ in the lead single to ‘Double Fantasy’
After the release of Rock and Roll (1975), Lennon didn’t put out any new material in the late ’70s. He spent the time taking a complete break from recording and performing, and took the lead in raising his son Sean during those years.
But at the end of the decade Lennon had something of a creative burst. He began writing songs and compiled an album’s worth of material. One of the last songs Lennon wrote for the record was “(Just Like) Starting Over,” which became the lead single in October ’80.
In David Sheff’s All We Are Saying, Lennon said writing that track (and “Cleanup Time”) felt “like the fun after the work is finished.” And he acknowledged the ’50s throwback feel to the single. “A la Bing Crosby,” he told Sheff.
“I’d never written a song that sounded like that period. So I thought, ‘Why the hell not?'” When Sheff asked if there was anything behind the lyric “spread our wings and fly,” Lennon laughed and said no. However, he did consider that people might take it as a reference to McCartney’s ’70s band.
Lennon almost removed ‘wings’ so people didn’t take it as a reference to Paul McCartney’s band Wings
As Lennon said in All We Are Saying, “(Just Like) Starting Over” is very much a sincere, old-fashioned love song. In terms of lyrics, listeners get a cross between “Let’s Get Away From It All” and “Nice and Easy” (to use two Sinatra tracks from the era).
Lennon sings about flying away with his love and spending some special time together again. It’s his plea to get back to their old ways. And “it’ll be just like starting over.” But when Lennon sang, “It’s time to spread our wings and fly,”he realized people might start looking for meanings related to the McCartney band.
“I nearly took the word ‘wings’ out,” Lennon said with a laugh in All We Are Saying. “Because I thought, Oh, God! They’ll all be saying, ‘What’s this about Wings?’ It has nothin’ to do with Wings.” Lennon had seen and heard just about everything when it came to lyrical interpretations (see: “Glass Onion“). But he kept “(Just Like) Starting Over” as it was.