Tag Archives: John & Yoko history

“Watching The Wheels”

John Lennon, circa 1960s, later recorded the 1980 song, “Watching The Wheels,” about his choice to step back from the “big time” and help raise his son in 1975-1980.
John Lennon, circa 1960s, later recorded the 1980 song, “Watching The Wheels,” about his choice to step back from the “big time” and help raise his son in 1975-1980.
     During the years 1975-1980, former Beatle John Lennon was living in New York city with his wife Yoko Ono and their child, Sean. In this period, Lennon had chosen to remove himself from the day-to-day hustle of the music business in favor of raising his son. 

One of the songs Lennon wrote and produced near the end of this period is titled, “Watching the Wheels.”  It’s a song Lennon used to reflect on his family time, also written in answer to those who questioned his withdrawal from the music world in favor of being a “house-husband.”

     Lennon had recorded the song in August-September 1980, a few months before his death. 

The song was later released as a single, posthumously, after Lennon was shot and killed in New York city by deranged fan Mark David Chapman in December 1980. 

“Watching The Wheels” originally appeared on Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy album of November 1980 as the first track on side two.  And it later became the third single released from that album.

“Watching The Wheels”
John Lennon-1980

People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
Well they give me all kinds
            of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I’m o.k.
            they look at me kind of strange
Surely you’re not happy now
            you no longer play the game.

People say I’m lazy, dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds
            of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I’m doing fine
            watching shadows on the wall
Don’t you miss the big time boy
            you’re no longer on the ball?

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels
            go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go.

People asking questions, lost in confusion
Well I tell them there’s no problem,
            only solutions
Well they shake their heads and
            look at me as if I’ve lost my mind
I tell them there’s no hurry…
I’m just sitting here doing time.

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels
            go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go.

Laid-Back & Upbeat

     The lyrics for “Watching the Wheels,” which appear at left, depict Lennon as being at ease with his life choices, more or less dismissing the concerns of those confounded by his not being in the “big time.”  The song has a free-and-easy, laid-back feel to it, prominently featuring Lennon’s vocals and a centerpiece piano.  The song is confident, assured, and upbeat, with a measure of between-the-lines wistfulness about it, though easy listening throughout.

Music Player
“Watching The Wheels”-1980

     “Watching the Wheels” was released as a single in early 1981.  The song charted in both the U.S. and the U.K., reaching No. 10 on the U.S. Billboard chart and No. 30 on the U.K. charts in March-April 1981.  Music critics and some fans have noted that Lennon was in a much different place when he wrote the song,  both personally and musically, having grown out of his older and edgier rock and roll inclinations. 

Still, the song struck a chord with a number of fans and listeners, going beyond mere chart position.   Many fans of  “Watching The Wheels”  identified with Lennon’s sentiments in the song — the need to step back from the grind, focusing on the life and family around him, and just living in the moment of those days.  Lennon’s song could also be taken as advice for others tied up on their own “merry go-rounds”of day-to-day business — to which he is saying more or less, “just get off.”  Or as he puts it in the song several times — “I just had to let it go.”

     The back story to this song revolves around Lennon’s personal commitment to his family.  Lennon’s second son, Sean, was born on October 9, 1975 (which also happened to be Lennon’s 35th birthday).  John felt that because of his earlier travels and involvement with the Beatles during their heady “Beatlemania” of the 1960s, he had missed much of the childhood of his first son, Julian, born in Lennon’s first marriage to Cynthia Powell.  In fact, at the time, Julian’s birth and Lennon’s marriage were kept secret because Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein feared public knowledge of either would threaten the Beatles’ commercial success. 

This time, however, in 1975, Lennon wanted to be more involved with his child.  Yoko, too — who reportedly had considered an abortion when she became pregnant — had John promise her that he would become more the primary parent with their new child.  So Lennon became fully involved, and began what would be a five-year break from the music industry, during which time he was devoted to his family and his new son, rising early each day to prepare Sean’s meals and spending lots of time with him.

John Lennon with his son Sean in the 1970s.
John Lennon with his son Sean in the 1970s.
     Still, Lennon had some musical obligations during that period which he fulfilled, one being an album for EMI/Capitol that became Shaved Fish (Oct 1975), a greatest hits compilation.  He also wrote a song for a Ringo Starr album in1976 and would record a demo of the song “Free as a Bird,” which was finished some years later by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison to help promote The Beatles Anthology 1 album (1995).  During his “house-husband” period, Lennon also did some drawings and worked on autobiographical material.  But most of time he was centered on family.  In Tokyo in 1977, Lennon said, “we have basically decided, without any great decision, to be with our baby as much as we can until we feel we can take time off to indulge ourselves in creating things outside of the family.”

Yoko, John & Sean in Japan, 1979. Photo, Nishi F. Saimaru.
Yoko, John & Sean in Japan, 1979. Photo, Nishi F. Saimaru.
     But by the summer of 1980, after he and Yoko had taken a June sailing trip to Bermuda with a few others on a sloop named Megan Jaye, Lennon had become inspired again to make music. 

“I was so centered after the experience at sea,” he said. “All these songs came, after five years of nothing, no inspiration, no thought, no anything, then suddenly voom, voom, voom.”

During his temporary retirement, however, Lennon had been putting numerous song ideas on tape, but was not then able to follow through with them, given his focus on family. And the songs Lennon wrote in Bermuda, by and large, dealt with the life he had been leading as father to Sean — a life, then mostly happy and fulfilled.

     The new musical material, and time off, had reenergized, Lennon — “having found fulfillment in the stable family life that he’d been deprived of in his own youth,” according to one account.

Recording sessions for the new music proceeded back in New York in August and September of 1980, when he and Yoko were working on plans for a couple of albums, one of which would become Double Fantasy, an album that would feature half Lennon songs and half Ono’s songs.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono at the Hit Factory in NY, Aug. 22, 1980. Photo: Steve Sands, AP.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono at the Hit Factory in NY, Aug. 22, 1980. Photo: Steve Sands, AP.
By late September 1980 Lennon and Ono had signed with Geffen Records, then a new label, later becoming part of EMI. Among the songs Lennon had written in Bermuda were “Beautiful Boy,” about his son, and “(Just Like) Starting Over,” an ode to Yoko, with lines that include, “our life together is so precious” and “our love is still special.” And there was much more.

In fact, there was enough additional written and recorded material compiled during the Double Fantasy sessions — recorded at New York city studio known as “the Hit Factory” — that a planned follow-up album, Milk and Honey, would be produced and released in later years.

London “Daily Mirror” runs front page story on John Lennon’s December 1980 murder.
London “Daily Mirror” runs front page story on John Lennon’s December 1980 murder.
     Not long after the recording sessions, “Starting Over” was released as a single in October 1980, and that song soon hit No.1 in both the U.K. and the U.S., becoming a million-seller. The Double Fantasy album followed in November 1980. And plans were being made for more music ahead.

However, in early December 1980, Mark David Chapman lay waiting for Lennon near his Dakota apartment building residence. Lennon was heading home that evening to make a quick stop to say goodnight to his son before going to out dinner. And that’s when Chapman shot him, as he and Yoko were walking into the entrance archway area at the Dakota.

     In the aftermath of Lennon’s murder, there was extensive mourning and vigils worldwide, and his and the Beatles’ music became highly sought. The Double Fantasy album, which at its earlier release had a sub-Top Ten showing, went to No. 1 in the U.K., U.S., and a number of other countries through February 1981. Two more Lennon singles from that album were also released in 1981. “Woman” came out in January 1981, and hit No.1 in the U.K. and No. 2 in the U.S. Like “Starting Over,” it too was also a million-seller. “Watching the Wheels,” meanwhile, was released in March 1981, rising to No.30 in the U.K. and No.10 in the U.S. Although not a top hit like the other two singles, it nevertheless became a favorite of many Lennon fans. An earlier YouTube video, offered below, set to “Watching The Wheels,” includes Lennon-Ono home movies focused on the childhood years of their son, Sean.

Lennon Lives On

John Lennon photograph, undated.
John Lennon photograph, undated.

   Since the 1980s, the Double Fantasy album and other Lennon albums have been released on several occasions with updated CDs, along with other memorabilia.  And in the 70th anniversary year of Lennon’s birth — October 2010 — a new round of revisions and boxed-set material have been released, some of which appears below on the Amazon carousels.

     John Lennon, the icon and legend, meanwhile, is bigger than ever.  And while Lennon had his missteps in life, made some offending statements on occasion, and with Ono, pulled off some zany stunts, he is nonetheless highly revered by many. For in the end, it is his messages of hope, peace and moving toward a better world that stand out.  As for “Watching The Wheels,” perhaps it aptly captures the sentiment of one of the happiest times in his own life, delivered in typical Lennon style, making a statement as he went.

     See also at this website, “Beatles History,” a topics page with links to additional Beatles stories, or the “Annals of Music” page for other song histories and artist profiles. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website.
Thank you. — Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 19 October 2010
Last Update: 27 November 2018
Comments to:  jackdoyle47@gmail.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Watching The Wheels, 1980-1981,”
PopHistoryDig.com, October 19, 2010.


Sources, Links & Additional Information

Newsweek’s cover in the wake of John Lennon’s shooting death, December 22, 1980.
Newsweek’s cover in the wake of John Lennon’s shooting death, December 22, 1980.
John Lennon with his son Sean, undated.
John Lennon with his son Sean, undated.
Sean Lennon, 2007.
Sean Lennon, 2007.
John Lennon at work, undated.
John Lennon at work, undated.
The tile mosaic "Imagine" circle at the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park, NY, in memory of John Lennon.
The tile mosaic "Imagine" circle at the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park, NY, in memory of John Lennon.

Philip Norman, “Lennon’s Downfall: Had it Not Been for One Last Touching Act of Love, He Might Still Be Alive Today,” The Daily Mail (London), October 8, 2008.

Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life, New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

“John Lennon: 1973-80: Lost and Found,” Wikipedia.org.

Arnold H. Lubasch, “Deportation of Lennon Barred by Court of Appeals,” New York Times, October 8, 1975, p. 42.

Leslie Maitland, “John Lennon Wins His Residency in U.S.,” New York Times, July 28, 1976, p. 16.

Robert Palmer, “The Pop Life” (re: Lennon & Ono at “Hit Factory” recording studio), New York Times, September 12, 1980, The Weekend, p. C-15.

Robert Hilburn, “Geffen to Release New Lennon Album,” Los Angeles Times September 23, 1980, p. G-2.

Robert Hilburn, “Lennon Exorcises the Beatles’ Ghost,” Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1980, p. G-1.

Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times, ” ‘The Last Five Years Were A Penance’,” Washington Post, October 26, 1980, p. L-1.

Robert Palmer, “John Lennon: Must An Artist Self-Destruct?,” New York Times, November 9, 1980, Arts & Leisure, p. D-1.

Robert Hilburn, “Lennon: He Doesn’t Believe in Magic or the Beatles,” Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1980, p. Q-1.

Richard Harrington, “Pap From John & Yoko,” Washington Post, November 26, 1980, p. B-8.

Les Ledbetter, “John Lennon of Beatles Is Killed; Suspect Held in Shooting at Dakota; Wife Reported Unhurt,” New York Times, December 9, 1980, p. A-1.

Tom Zito The Peaceful Man Behind the Glasses,” Washington Post, December 9, 1980, p. B-1.

Robert Palmer, “Lennon Known Both as Author And Composer; Never Lost Sight of Dream; Influenced by U.S. Rockers…,” New York Times, December 9, 1980, p. B-7.

Jerry Belcher, “The Day the Music Died – Lennon 4 Ever,” Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1980, p. B-1.

“Lennon Gave An Interview On Final Day,” New York Times, December 10, 1980.

Art Harris, “He Rebelled at Being ‘Nowhere Man,’ But Ended Up Floating Through Life,” Washing- ton Post, December 11, 1980, p. A-2.

Robert D. McFadden, “Half-Staff Flags Among Tributes To John Lennon; World Vigil Set Tomorrow –Wife in Seclusion…,” New York Times, December 13, 1980, p. 31.

John Leonard, ‘Lennon Energized High Art With Pop,” New York Times, December 14, 1980, Arts & Leisure, p. D-1.

Pete Hamill, “The Death and Life of John Lennon,” New York Magazine, December 20, 1980.

Meg Greenfield, “Thinking About John Lennon,” Washington Post, December 24, 1980, p. A-11.

“John Lennon — Watching The Wheels,” You Tube.com, Collage of Lennon, Ono & Beatles Photos.

“Watching the Wheels,” Wikipedia.org.

Jerome Adamstein, “Remembering John Lennon,” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2010.

“The Lennon Library: A Personal Selection of Books About, By, or Relevant to John Lennon, Presented in Order of Publication Date”  (annotated), NTLWorld .com.

Other Beatles/Lennon Stories at this Website

Jack Doyle, “In My Life: The Beatles,” PopHistory Dig.com, July l6, 2016 (Lennon wrote this song).

Jack Doyle, “Tomorrow Never Knows: The Beatles, 1966,” PopHistoryDig.com, February 7, 2015 (history & profile of early psychedelic-era song which also made a cameo in a 2015 MadMen TV episode).

Jack Doyle, “Burn The Beatles: 1966 – Bigger Than Jesus?,” PopHistoryDig.com, November 11, 2017 (longish piece on the U.S. reaction to Lennon’s comment and Beatles’ U.S. tour that year…)

Jack Doyle, “Dear Prudence, 1967-1968” (beautiful Beatles song mostly by Lennon), PopHistory Dig.com, July 27, 2009.

Jack Doyle, “Beatles in America, 1963-64” (pop music history), PopHistoryDig.com, September 20, 2009.