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The Story of John Lennon’s Posthumous ‘Milk and Honey’

When John Lennon was killed on Dec. 8, 1980, he was in the middle of recording the follow-up to the recently released Double Fantasy. Those songs, combined with some outtakes from the Double Fantasy sessions, were compiled by his widow, Yoko Ono, on their album Milk and Honey, which came out on Jan. 27, 1984.

Milk and Honey followed the same format as Double Fantasy, with Lennon’s and Ono’s tracks alternating in the sequence. But where Ono’s contributions were fully completed recordings which dealt with her grief, Lennon’s were, apart from some editing and mixing, left in their raw, unfinished state.

And while this juxtaposition made for a moving statement by Ono on the loss of her soulmate, some sweetening and overdubs — with years of hindsight — might have been a better idea. Only “Nobody Told Me,” a Top 5 hit, sounds fully realized. The other two singles, “I’m Stepping Out” and the Caribbean-tinged “Borrowed Time,” hint at what could have been, but his other songs suffer from the circumstances.

An exception is “Grow Old With Me,” a piano-and-drum-machine demo recorded in Bermuda in 1980. Its sparseness, coupled with Lennon’s soaring falsetto, takes on added poignancy in light of Lennon’s murder. It pairs nicely with Ono’s “Let Me Count the Ways,” both of which were based on the poetry of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Ono’s pain on her songs is heartbreaking. “You made me free myself,” she sings to Lennon on “You’re the One.” Elsewhere, on “O’Sanity,” she admits to her own difficulties in coping with his death: “I don’t know what to do with my sanity / When the world’s on the verge of calamity.”

Still, the public was craving for anything that provided insight into Lennon’s mind in his final days. Milk and Honey hit No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold.

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