JOHN LENNON: Barefoot in Nutopia

An insider’s story of his last years

by Mike Tree


Nutopia     Mike Tree     The Occult     Bermuda     Studio Sessions     Helter Skelter     Silent Vigil     AfterwordNutopia.htmlMike_Tree.htmlThe_Occult.htmlBermuda.htmlHelter_Skelter.htmlSilent_Vigil.htmlAfterword.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3shapeimage_1_link_4shapeimage_1_link_5shapeimage_1_link_6shapeimage_1_link_7

pretty big in this business, before I took my shoes off.” 

It was his first recording session in five years, and he behaved like a giddy teenager in love. After a day or two of working with the band, crafting the sound he wanted, the sessions began. Whenever there were delays, John would play Beatles songs or recall old times for the musicians. During one long delay, Tony Levin, the bass guitarist, began improving on the sheet music in front of him. 
“That’s lovely!” John said. “I love it. They didn’t have that in those days. That's the only thing they didn't have—a good bass!”

“John, we’re all set,” interrupted co-producer Jack Douglas. “Are you ready for a take?”

“Uh, I guess so, Jack. Well, I’m never that ready.”

During another session, just as the twenty-four-track tape machines began to roll, lead guitarist Hugh McCracken interrupted John to ask about a chord change. Again, everything came to a halt. 

“It’s the same one in every song!” John snapped. “I only know ten. Why doesn’t somebody blindfold that guy, instead of looking at these fuckin’ sheets?”

Meanwhile, the musicians haggled about the chord changes. The delay lasted several minutes—John became agitated. “Okay! Okay! Let’s do it before the drugs wear off!” 

Finally, sensing his irritation, Douglas announced, “We’re rolling!”

But before John gave the band a countdown, he declared, “This one’s for Gene, Eddy, and Elvis . . . and Buddy!”

It took several weeks for him to record the master vocal tracks. Most were done in two or three takes. John preferred to record the songs first, then have the band back him while he played rhythm guitar. The last layers to be added were the vocal harmonies and instrumental overdubs. 

One day while he worked in the main studio, recording guitar overdubs, Yoko announced from the control room, “Sean is here.” John’s son walked up to the window that isolated the room from the studio, and pressed his face against the glass. 

“Hello! I can see you,” John waved. “I'll come in and say hello into minute. Isn't it a funny place like a space ship? Did you see your picture?”

A large color photograph of Sean had been taped over the television screen above the window. 

“I can see the picture,” Sean shouted to his father.

When he had finished playing the overdub, Sean and nanny Helen joined him in the studio. While John waited for the engineer to check the recording, he talked with Helen.

“We never have to shut up for dad. Dad's always spouting off,” he told Helen, when Sean interrupted them.

“Oh, are you going?” he asked as the nanny took his son out of the studio. “Au revoir my dears; I'll see you later, or tonight, or tomorrow, or whenever.”

Alone again, John played several run-throughs of “Woman,” before Douglas asked if he was ready to double the guitar track.

“Aaah, probably.”

“Okay, let's do it,” Douglas said.

“I never feel that confident, Jack.”

A few days later, John worked on guitars overdubs for another song, late at night. He sat beneath a halo of light in the darkened studio, alone. Music stands, microphone booms and sound partitions 
cluttered the empty room. Chairs poked 
from the shadows, looking like tombstones. 

“Live from the cemetery. Live from Forest Lawn,” he scoffed before the take. 

When he had completed the overdub, Douglas listened to the recording. “That sounded good,” he told John. “Come on in.” 

“I will, I will. Get me outa’ here. I’m getting paranoid.”

But when John listened to the track in the control room, he was uncertain. “He kinda’ rushes it,” he said to Jack. “I don’t blame him. He’s so excited; he can’t wait to start. Who is that fucker?”

It amused me to hear John refer to himself in the third person like a politician, when criticizing his singing or playing. He knew what he wanted, but he worked without any hint of an ego. If anything, he seemed awed by the skills of the musicians who accompanied him. 

The tape machines were now ready with the multi-track reels for “Woman.”

“Put me on in the intro,” John said to the engineer. “I wanna’ say something; whisper something.” As the tape starts, he whispered, “This is for the other half of the sky.” A reference to Chairman Mao’s famous statement about the equality of women.

A few days later, while he double-tracked vocal harmonies, mostly long “oohs” and “aaahs,” for the background sound layers on “Woman,” Yoko listened in the control room, sitting in front of the large mixing console with Douglas and the chief engineer. 

When John had finished the track, Yoko reached for the talkback microphone button on the console. “You sound like a Beatle,” she said. 

“An ex-Beatle, you fuckin’ Jap!” John shot back. 

His retort shocked me. But it also impressed me because of its implied trust. Yoko didn’t react to his snappy comeback. She even seemed amused. Was it their in-joke, I wondered? 

I’m not very good at forgiving, so I avoid angry confrontations. Yoko and John, however, argued regularly. There were times when I overheard their fights at the apartment; I feared they would become physical. John had a fiery temper and never withheld his anger. Yet equally fast, he would express contrition for his outbursts, writing a poem to Yoko or sending her orchids. 

After his “Jap” comeback, John added a good-natured chuckle. 

“Actually my dear, I’m supposed to be Smokey Robinson at the moment. Because the Beatles always were supposin’ they were Smokey Robinson.” 

His clipped Scouser accent boomed from the control room speakers. 

“I was just trying to think who this would be good for,” he said, referring to “Woman.” “Somebody should have a hit with this. Not me. We’ve done a good demo.”

The recording sessions were supposed to be completed by the end of September. The plan had been to release Double Fantasy for John’s 40th birthday. When Yoko realized the album would not be ready in time, she had the engineers assemble a promotional single for release to radio stations. It had John’s “Starting Over” on the A-side and Yoko’s “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss” on the B-side. The record received an enthusiastic response from DJs.

Finally, in mid-November, Double Fantasy was released. Though the critics welcomed John’s return to the industry, the album received scathing reviews. But he didn’t seem to care. One afternoon, as I headed to the first floor of the Dakota and the office of Lennono Music, John joined me in the elevator.

“It was fun working on Double Fantasy,” he told me. “I wasn’t answering anyone or making a record because a contract said I had to deliver one. I just had fun. Sean and Yoko had a lot to do with that.”

NOTE:  All of the above quotations were transcribed from the studio reference tapes. Jack Douglas bugged the control room throughout the Double Fantasy recording sessions. He told Rolling Stone in August 1981 that he made the tapes because of an off-hand comment made by John, who said, “I wish someone would wire the control room, because all the best things are said in here.” Jack gave the tapes to him as a birthday present.

Photo of John Lennon from 1974 Walls and Bridges recording sessions by photographer unknown. 
Photo of John and Chuck Berry © 1972 by an unknown photographer.
All photos used in a nonprofit, educational context with the claim of fair use.
This web site is copyright © 2011 by Michael Medeiros. All rights reserved.http://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Lennon-Barefoot-in-Nutopia/268616569821321

While having lunch with John in Bermuda, I

brazenly asked him for a job in the recording

studio. “We’ll see he replied. “I’ll ask mother.”

The answer to my request came when he

returned to New York in August. He told me

Yoko had already decided on the staff; I would

be the archivist, mostly relegated to the


Three months later, when the sessions were

over, I had the opportunity to listen to the

hundreds of hours of reference tapes. John

called them the “bugging tapes,” which

captured the musical takes and studio chatter

among the musicians. The tapes gave me

the feeling of being a fly-on-the-wall in the

studio. [See note below]

“I get so excited we’re recording,” I heard John
tell the studio musicians. “You know I used to be

Made on a Mac