Just Like Starting Over was John’s first single in five years, and the first of new original material in almost six years. News of Lennon’s return to the recording studio made headlines around the world. Music papers were buzzing with speculation. 1Blaney, John, John Lennon: Listen to This book, p. 177 

The year 1980 was very important for John. He had disappeared for five years and was now ready to move on, not just making music again, but facing a new life. His approach towards life, music, and relationships was completely different from the past. In the song he acknowledged that “time flies to quickly” and he didn’t want to waste anymore time doing what he didn’t want to do, and, more importantly, to stay with the people he loved most. This makes one wonder how his life had been much restricted in the past. Now he wanted to live it fully, without boundaries and be free to do what he had always wanted to do.

In this context, (Just Like) Starting Over was the song that prefaced John’s new era. A new life, and a desire to come back to his roots, both anticipated with this song, a reference to his old-time favourites Eddie Cochran, Presley and Buddy Holly, and with a return to his old relationships with his ex band-mates, and particularly, with Paul. The song was one of the last songs recorded for the Double Fantasy album. Certainly this song referenced his ex band-mates more than ever. In fact, during the sessions, Lennon referred to the song as the “Elvis/Orbison” number because of his old-time rock and roll vocal stylings on the recording.

But this new John’s desire expressed both in life and music surely begs the question: Why is ‘Just Like Starting Over’ a reference to Paul and why did John decide to “come back” to his roots in 1980, to get in contact with Paul again?

To answer this question, we have to go back to the mid 1970s, during the Lost Weekend period, because 1975 was the first time John Lennon publicly mentioned his desire to go back working with Paul. May Pang, who was John’s girlfriend during the Lost Weekend period in 1975, confessed that John expressed a huge desire to see Paul again.

Piotrowski: “Did John ever talk about the four of them getting together? Do you think it would have happened?”
Pang: “Yes. We did.”
Piotrowski: “Wow”
Pang: “Absolutely. (Quoting John) Maybe we’ll do one.”
Piotrowski: “One song?”
Pang: (Quoting John) “If one comes around and it works, maybe we’ll do another.”
Piotrowski: “Yeah.”
Pang: “But, yeah, we talked about it. And the first one that they talked about was early on, because it was early in ‘74 when it was discussed. (Quoting John) ‘Maybe we could do it for Fall of ‘74.’ And Harry Nilsson even said, ‘Oh, I want to sing,’ you know? But, obviously, certain things were not meant to be, as I would say.”
Piotrowski: “It just never happened.”
Pang: “It was just logistics. It was just a bunch of things going on at the time.” Casey Piotrowski’s interview with May Pang, The Beatles Show, May 3 2008. 

This is an interview made to both Larry Kane and to May Pang about John’s desire to go back to England and to Paul in 1980:

Transcript:

“…But I still think that the back of John’s mind would be this sort of..fascination of wanting to get back with the first girlfriend…..to get back with Paul…with he had so much history with..” – Larry Kane, who travelled with the Beatles during the American Tour.

“I’m just angry that it didn’t happen, ‘cause I know that John wanted to do it..and I’m sorry for crying” – MAY PANG

May Pang’s tears express her frustration for something she knew John wanted and that sadly his tragic death stopped. This is concrete proof that John had a desire to meet and work with Paul again. And this desire was fully expressed with Double Fantasy, but most importantly, with ‘Just Like Starting Over’.

While in the mid 70s he started spreading this questioning of his to his close friends, he also began confessing it in his interviews.

This is a beautiful interview in which John discusses the possibility to work again with Paul and go back to England:

The tone is mild, relaxed, serene. Far from the harsh, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek frustration of the begining of the 70s. Here he confesses he’d love to work with Paul again. It was only 1975 and he already expressed this burning desire on TV. In 1980 he will do it with a song.

Roger Friedman, an American writer who talked to May Pang about John Lennon, and wrote a book about it, reported that she confessed John was making plans to see Paul and Linda McCartney right before Ono pulled her string and brought him home to the Dakota in Manhattan:

[May] “Paul and Linda were going to New Orleans to record the Venus and Mars album,” May recalled. “And John found out they would be there. He made plans to surprise them down there. He was in a great mood and he really missed Paul.” Just as Lennon was making this plan, he was also trying to quit smoking. Enter Ono. “She told him she had a method for quitting and he should come over and she’d show him. I had a feeling this was a bad idea. She hadn’t seen him in a while, and I felt something was wrong. John told me not to worry, but I did.” Indeed, Pang was correct, since Lennon did not return to her. Pang can only surmise that Lennon shared his plans with Ono, who feared a reunion with the McCartneys would spur Lennon to leave her forever. Paul McCartney was, and is, Yoko Ono’s prime rival and arch enemy. Case in point: When Linda McCartney died in 1998, Paul didn’t invite Yoko to the memorial service in New York. He did invite May Pang, and she attended. “Linda was wonderful,” she said. At first when Pang told people about Lennon’s plans — after he’d left her — no one believed it. “But then something happened,” she said. “Derek Taylor, the Beatles’ publicist, showed me a postcard he’d gotten from John in England. It said, ‘Going to New Orleans to see Paul.’ And that was it. That was the proof.”- Roger Friedman, FoxNews.com, “Lennon planned to visit McCartney in 1974,” September 25, 2011

John also met Paul Simon, an American singer and songwriter who reached fame and success as half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel. John asked him advice about what to do with Paul:

“John Lennon once turned to Art Garfunkel for advice about a possible Beatles reunion in the mid-1970s. Garfunkel had set aside his ongoing feud with Paul Simon for a series of reunion concerts and Lennon wanted to pump him for information about the get together after revealing he was receiving offers to team up with Paul McCartney. The Bridge Over Troubled Waters singer recalls his chat with Lennon – in the bedroom of the Dakota building home he shared with Yoko Ono. Incredibly disarmingly, he said to me, ‘Artie, you worked with your Paul recently … I’m getting calls … that my Paul wants to work with me and I’m thinking about it … How did it go when you worked with Paul?’ “He was measuring his situation – the great John Lennon with Paul McCartney – with Paul and Artie and testing me out as if to make sure that my ego is fully established as a colleague of his,” he said.  A thrilled Garfunkel felt that his answer could be the catalyst for a Beatles reunion and he responded, “John, remember that there was a musical blend that was a great kick; if you can return to the fun of that sound and musical happenings with your old buddy and ignore the strands and complications of history, what I found with my Paul is the harmony and the sound happenings are a full agenda. They’ll keep you busy and you’ll have fun.” Garfunkel left the meeting feeling confident that Lennon and McCartney would reunite. Appearing in new movie Beatles Stories, he says, “The subject seemed very straightforward and uncomplicated.” But the songwriting super-duo never did work together again – and Lennon was shot dead outside the Dakota building five years late”

So John’s desire to go back to England, to his roots, to the rock’n’roll, and to Paul had just started long before 1980, but with ‘Just Like Starting Over’ it reached its epitome. He was ready now, he didn’t need to ask anyone else what to do, what to say to Paul, and how to plan his come back. He was ready. And, in fact, simply expressed it in a song, making it public that he was coming back to England.

He also made four demo recordings that he planned to complete with Paul: ‘Free as a Bird’, ‘Real Love’, ‘Now and Then’ and ‘Grow Old With Me’,writing “For Paul on the demo tapes, eager to work on these songs with Paul. It was only in the early years of the 1990s that Yoko handed this famous tape to Paul who decided to work on a project with George and Ringo which will be The Anthology. That tape is another proof John wanted to go back to Paul to collaborate with him again.

Joe Flannery, the Beatles booking manager, and close friend to the Beatles, was one of the last people to have talked to John shortly before he was killed in December 1980. In his book Standing In The Wings: The Beatles, Brian Epstein And Me, Flannery recounts a conversation he had with Lennon shortly before he was assassinated by Mark Chapman outside his home in New York:

“We enjoyed a lengthy conversation. We talked a lot of rubbish of course. He was very well and happy but he missed Liverpool, he missed the others and he missed London but he told me at one stage that he regretted ‘getting too political’. He said that he had made a bit of a ‘t** of himself’. ‘We should start talking about me coming home before that b****** Nixon gets me’ he said. I was rather taken aback and asked him to explain. John launched into a diatribe against the former president. He was convinced that even out of office Nixon carried power and wanted him dead. He felt some kind of curse was hanging over him. He even suggested that I should fly out to New York when the time came to return with him on the liner. I was flattered but mentioned that I wondered whether the QE2 could actually get down the Mersey. ‘Look into it,’ John shouted, ‘I want to come home in a blaze of glory.’ As one might imagine I was buzzing after this wonderful conversation with my old friend. Of course it was not to be and I was soon to lose another friend pointlessly.”

Keith Badman, author of eleven highly acclaimed biographies, 5 of which about The Beatles, discussed this subject in his book too:

”Just days before his brutal death, John was making plans to return to England for a triumphant Beatles reunion.  His greatest dream was to recreate the musical magic of the early years with Paul, George and Ringo.  That dream depended on the success of ‘Starting Over’.  John was always an Englishman at heart.  He wanted to return to his roots but he wanted to do it in style.  John discussed the possibility of returning to England if ‘Starting Over’ made it to No.1″ “The Beatles – The Dream Is Over – Off The Record 2 By Keith Badman.

It is not a coincidence that John Lennon discussed both publicly and privately his planned reunion with Paul. Despite they had been together for almost twenty years, now more than ever, he felt insecure about his upcoming and urgent desire to come back working with him again. And so he waited years before making the final decision. Double Fantasy would have been the natural conclusion of a solo career that now Lennon needed to renew, and he felt the best way to do it was with Paul.

All John’s acquaintances and colleagues were not the only ones who publicly admitted John talked to them about coming back to England and working with Paul again. Being the more introverted one, Paul never publicly admitted it, but surely he talked to John in 1980, and it seems, even days before his death. The news comes from his late wife Linda McCartney, who explained that, although it wasn’t publicly known, only days before his death, she and Paul had visited John and Yoko at the Dakota:

John Lennon had been killed only months before outside his apartment building, the Dakota in New York. Linda explained that, although it wasn’t publicly known, only days before his death, she and Paul had visited John and Yoko at the Dakota. At the end of the visit, as they were saying goodbye, John said to Paul, “Think of me every now and then, my old friend.” , “Crossing Over” by John Edward

The same day he died, December 8, 1980, John gave an interview to Dj Dave Sholin in which he discussed his new song ‘Just Like Starting Over’, comparing it to the first time he fell in love with Yoko and their marriage, and to his relationship to Paul, another proof that not only he was in good terms with him in 1980, but he was constantly putting his wife’s and the ex-bandmate’s relationships, both personally and musically, on the same level:

Transcript: DECEMBER 8TH, 1980: John talks to DJ Dave Sholin about his impetus for the song ’(Just Like) Starting Over’, and relates it to the two great (creative) loves of his life.

John: It’s kind tongue in cheek, you know it’s (imitates Elvis) sort of “I like Elvis”, and I think it’s a serious piece of work, but it’s also tongue in cheek, you know? I mean I went right back to my roots. All the time I was doing Elvis, and it’s not back to the Beatles John, it’s being John Lennon, whose life has changed completely hearing American Rock’n’Roll on the radio, and that’s why I enjoy it. I’m not trying to compete with my old songs or with the young new wave, I’m not competing with anyone, I’m trying to go back and enjoy it, and it’s working.

Yoko: And it’s because he enjoys it so much that’s why it’s really good, isn’t it?

John: You know I was saying to somebody the other day, “There’s only two artists I’ve ever worked with – for more than a one night stand, as it were. That’s Paul McCartney, and Yoko Ono.” And I think that’s a pretty damned good choice! Because in the history of The Beatles, Paul met me the first day I did ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ live on stage, okay? And a fr– a mutual friend brought him to see my group called The Quarrymen. And we met and we talked after the show, and I saw he had talent, and he was playing guitar backstage, and doing ‘Twenty-Flight Rock’ by Eddie Cochran. And I turned ’round to him right then on our first meeting and said, “Do you want to join the group?” And he said, “Mm-hmm, y’know, mm hm hm hmm…” And I think he said yes the next day, as I recall it. Now George came through Paul, and Ringo came through George, although of course I had a say in where they came from. But the only – the person I actually picked as my partner, who I’d recognised had talent, and I could get on with, was Paul.

Now, twelve or however many years later, I met Yoko, I had the same feeling. It was a different feel, but I had the same feeling. So I think as a talent scout, I’ve done pretty damn well! [laughs]

In the same period, always talking about Just Like Starting over, John again compared this song to both Yoko and Paul:

John Lennon: “I’ve had the boyhood thing of being the Elvis and getting my own spot on the show. I want to be with my best friend. My best friend, my wife. Who could ask for anything more?” Lennon On Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon by Jeff Burger.

Just Like Starting Over was initially more successful in America than in Britain. In the weeks beginning at 5th December, the single sat at number 7 in the American charts, in Britain it reached a peak of number 9, dropping to number 11 in the first week of December. However, It became a post-humous Nr.1 hit for Lennon only in the weeks after his murder. Technically ‘’Just Like Starting Over’’ begins with tones of a wedding bell, a sharp contrast with the funeral bell sounds that inaugurated the song Mother on the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album.

The first demo of the song even contains plain references to Paul and The Walrus:

[minute 1:30]

The time has come,

the walrus said

for you and me to stay in bed again

it will be

Just like starting over.

In his introduction for the song – included on the Stripped Down version of the song in 2010 – Lennon remarks that:

“This one’s for Gene (Vincent), and Eddie (Cochran) and Elvis (Presley), and Buddy (Holly)”

As foreshadowed by John with his references to his old-time favourite music legends, the song is a desperate reach towards a come back, something that sounds far fetched if compared with John’s marriage to Yoko, instead comprehensible if related to Paul. He acknowledged that they have “grown” that “time flies so quickly which is a huge step in John’s personal journey. Before that, he didn’t care about the change of time. Here for the first time he sees it as a problem. For the first time in 1980 in some interviews John understood that he didn’t want to lose time anymore, that he wanted to come back writing songs, come back with the people he loved most. The years spent away the music media served him to focus not just on himself, his family and his personal problems, but also to look back at the past, and the problems he had faced with Paul. After five years of silence he seemed to be a completely new man, eager to face a new journey of his life, to put his past back, and to come back not just writing songs again, but come back to his band-mates, to The Beatles, and to Paul. In this context, it is important to analyse the song because it contains those feelings of rebirth, of a desire to come back where he once belonged.

When he cites ‘But when I see you Darlingwith the “Oh!Darling”reference, a song Paul wrote for John, or the more blatant “let’s spread our Wings and fly” or don’t let Another Day go by, my love’. “We’ll be together on our own again” sounds incomprehensible if related to his marriage with Yoko. They had been already together, on their own, for ten years. A completely new perspective is given if it’s taken in account what he and his acquaintances had said previously in the interviews, that he wanted to go back to Paul, come back writing songs with him. He probably felt that the time was mature enough to start a collaboration again, and he positively expressed it in this song.

Finally, Paul always recalls in his interviews that in the last period of John’s life they got very close again, adding how this in some way this helped him going through the grief of his lost. George Harrison also recalled that in the last period of 1980 John got closer to him and for him that was a good sign, that he probably wanted to get his friendship back.

In conclusion,‘’Just Like Starting Over’’ was not just the song that signed John’s return in the music scene. It meant more. He was coming back to his roots, to his rock’n’roll days when he listened music in Mimi’s house with Paul, singers like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Eddy Cochran, Roy Orbison. He wanted Paul to grasp the message fully, both musically, with a rhythm and music that reminded him of their first days in Liverpool, and with the lyrics, a beautiful positive song in which John finally sang, after ten years of longing, battles, phone-calls, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and casual reunions, how much he wanted to come back to his homeland, and to Paul, how much he missed him and wanted to write songs with him again. Just like starting over.

Our life together
Is so precious together
We have grown, we have grown
Although our love is still special
Let’s take a chance and fly away
Somewhere alone
It’s been too long since we took the time
No-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly
But when I see you darling
It’s like we both are falling in love again
It’ll be just like starting over
Starting over
Everyday we used to make it love
Why can’t we be making love nice and easy
It’s time to spread our wings and fly
Don’t let another day go by my love
It’ll be just like starting over
Starting over
Why don’t we take off alone
Take a trip somewhere far, far away
We’ll be together all alone again
Like we used to in the early days
Well, well, well darling
It’s been too long since we took the time
No-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly
But when I see you darling
It’s like we both are falling in love again
It’ll be just like starting over
Starting over
Our life together
Is so precious together
We have grown, we have grown
Although our love still is special
Let’s take a chance and fly away somewhere
Starting over (over and over and over)