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 Chap- man 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.
Laid-Back & Upbeat
The lyrics for “Watching the Wheels,” which appear below, 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 Len- non’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.
“Watching The Wheels”
People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing
People say I’m lazy, dreaming my life away
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels
People asking questions, lost in confusion
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels
“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 senti- ments 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 Octo- ber 9, 1975 (which also happened to be Len- non’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 knowl- edge 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.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.” 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 Mary 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.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. 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. A YouTube video below, set to the song, includes some Lennon-Ono home movies focused on the childhood years of their son, Sean.
Lennon Lives On
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 along with Ono, pulled off some zany stunts, he is nonetheless highly revered by many for his message of hope, peace and a better world. As for his song “Watching The Wheels,” perhaps it aptly captures the sentiment of one of the happiest times in his own life.
For other stories at this website on the Beatles or other music stories, please visit the site’s various category pages, the Archive, or the links provided below. Thanks for visiting.
Date Posted: 19 October 2010
Last Update: 22 October 2010
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “Watching The Wheels, 1980-1981,”
PopHistoryDig.com, October 19, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
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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.
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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.
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Tom Zito The Peaceful Man Behind the Glasses,” Washington Post, December 9, 1980, p. B-1.
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Other Beatles Stories at this Website
Jack Doyle, “Beatles’ Closed-Circuit Gig, March 1964” (history of Beatles’ first U.S. concert appearances), PopHistoryDig.com, July 9, 2008.
Jack Doyle, “Nike & The Beatles, 1988-89” (pop music & advertising history), PopHistory Dig.com, November 11, 2008.
Jack Doyle, “Michael & McCartney, 1980s-2009” (Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney his- tory), PopHistoryDig.com, July 7, 2009.
Jack Doyle, “Dear Prudence, 1967-1968“( Beatles & pop music history), PopHistoryDig.com, July 27, 2009.
Jack Doyle, “Beatles in America, 1963-64” ( pop music history), PopHistoryDig.com, September 20, 2009.