The Meaning Behind John Lennon’s First Posthumous Single “Woman”

Fans around the world were reeling in the weeks following the death of John Lennon in December 1980. When they heard his first posthumous single, they quickly remembered all over again what a loss Lennon’s death was as that song, “Woman,” found him at the top of his game in prime crowd-pleasing fashion.

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What is “Woman” about? What inspired Lennon to write it? And how was it, in many ways, a throwback to his Beatles past? Let’s look back at this massive single that gave mourning John Lennon fans some consolation in a tough time.

A Return to Old Glories

As John Lennon prepared the 1980 album Double Fantasy with wife Yoko Ono, he was aware it had been five years since he had played the game, to use a phrase from his song “Watching the Wheels.” While that might not seem like very long these days, in that era five years was an eternity for an artist of his stature.

As such, Lennon made sure his first release back off that layoff was accessible and went down smooth on radio, without dumbing things down in any way. Of course, he had a pretty good template for that approach when he was back with The Beatles. While he, like the other members of the group when they went solo, had steered clear of obvious Fab Four moves for a while, Lennon felt free to embrace them with “Woman.”

The song’s construction certainly wakes up some of those echoes. From the circling guitars of Earl Slick and Hugh McCracken, through the limber bass work of Tony Levin, to the steadfast drumming of Andy Newmark, there’s a definite early Fab Four vibe to the track. Even the sighing backing vocals contribute to it, and Lennon manages to pull off a key change without interrupting the smooth flow of the song.

The Other Half

As far as the lyrics to “Woman” are concerned, Lennon first thought of the song in terms of the debt he owed to his wife. But he soon began to expand the scope, thinking it in terms of women everywhere and the wonders they provide. Here’s how he explained it to Rolling Stone:

“Anyway, in Bermuda, what suddenly dawned on me was everything I was taking for granted. Women really are the other half of the sky, as I whisper at the beginning of the song. And it just sort of hit me like a flood, and it came out like that.”

When Lennon was murdered in December 1980, Double Fantasy had already been released and the single “(Just Like) Starting Over” was climbing the charts. “Woman” was chosen as the first song released to radio following his death. It’s no surprise it was a smash hit (No. 2 in the U.S., No. 1 in the UK), considering the circumstances. But the song has held up as a gem long after those raw emotions have subsided.

What is “Woman” About?

Master songwriter that he was, John Lennon was able to toe the line between direct tribute to his wife and giving a shout-out to women everywhere. You can hear him reaching right out to his wife in the opening verses, especially when he thanks her For showing me the meaning of success.

He also suggests that his love with Ono was preordained by higher forces: After all, it is written in the stars. As the song progresses, many of the lines could apply to any guy who owes a lot to his significant other: Woman, I know you understand / The little child inside the man. And his final apologies could easily have come from the mouths of countless men: Woman, please let me explain / I never meant to cause you sorrow or pain.

I love you / Now and forever, Lennon dreamily sings as the song fades to its conclusion. It’s way of saying that not only his love, but also the love for women from all walks of life, is a constant. John Lennon’s time on earth may have been short, but truthful messages like the one he delivered on “Woman” are eternal.

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