It was 39 years ago today (January 27th, 1984) that John Lennon‘s first original posthumous album, Milk And Honey, was released. Lennon’s tracks were culled from the summer 1980 sessions recorded at New York’s Hit Factory during the same time as that year’s Double Fantasy collection. The unfinished, live-in-studio takes were never intended for release in such primitive form, but were held back for a 1981 release once it was decided that Double Fantasy would feature half original songs from Yoko Ono. Milk And Honey featured an alternate color shot from the same photo session as 1980’s Double Fantasy.
Unlike Double Fantasy, which features songs all recorded in 1980, several of Yoko’s tracks were then-recent songs recorded in Manhattan and San Francisco. Milk And Honey, was the only musical Lennon album released on the Polydor label. The previous December, Ono and Polydor released the spoken word collection, Heart Play – Unfinished Dialogue. The album featured edited excerpts from David Scheff‘s 1980 interview with the Lennon’s for Playboy.
Following both Lennon’s death and the 1981 Album of The Year Grammy Award for Double Fantasy, the chart placings for Milk And Honey were disappointing — with the album failing to crack the Top 10 in the U.S., stalling at Number 11 and peaking at Number Three in the U.K. To date the album has only been certified Gold for sale of 500,000 units.
Despite co-producing Milk All Honey, Jack Douglas was not credited for his work, and sued Yoko Ono for his rightful compensation — along with back royalties for Double Fantasy. In his 2019 memoir, titled Me, Elton John revealed that Yoko had adamantly urged him to complete what he felt were the unfinished Milk And Honey songs — which Elton declined to do.
The highlight of the set was the album’s lead single, “Nobody Told Me.” The tune, which had begun life back in 1976 under the title “Everybody’s Talkin’, Nobody’s Talkin’” was originally intended for Lennon’s unrealized Between The Lines album, which was sidelined upon the former-Beatle devoting his time to raising his newborn son Sean.
Under the title “Nobody Told Me,” Lennon ran through the song during the summer 1980 Double Fantasy sessions at Manhattan’s Hit Factory, and was among the tunes earmarked for Ringo Starr‘s upcoming 1981 solo album, which would feature contributions and productions from Paul McCartney and George Harrison. After Lennon’s murder, Ringo ultimately felt it would be in poor taste to record either of Lennon’s tracks.
“Nobody Told Me,” which marked the fourth straight Lennon Top 10 from the Hit Factory sessions, was Lennon’s final hit. The album’s subsequent singles included the under-performing “Borrowed Time” — which didn’t even chart — and “I’m Stepping Out,” which limped to Number 55.
In 1980 John Lennon spoke about how he picked certain songs for Double Fantasy, while others were earmarked for its followup: “We’ve done 22 of songs — basic tracks. So, then it was like having a lot of movie film; the way the film two movies? And it was a matter of which scene started where, and which scene works with the next. . . There’s been a lot of shuffling around, as you can imagine.”
In early-1981 Ringo Starr chatted with Barbara Walters and recalled the last time he saw John Lennon during a fall 1980 visit to Manhattan. At the time, Lennon gifted Ringo two demos for his upcoming sessions — “Nobody Told Me” and the sadly ironic “Life Begins At 40 — neither of which, Ringo ever recorded: “I saw him on the 15th of Novem. . . I was staying at the Plaza, we went over to New York for a little while. And I hadn’t seen him in a little while, because, we see each other wherever we are, and he came over with Yoko for an hour. And we had such a great time, ’cause they stayed five hours. And it didn’t matter it was a year between we hadn’t seen each other; it was always fine when we did. But it was particularly great time that I had, anyway.”
Milk And Honey featured Lennon’s 1980 home demo of “Grow Old With Me. At the time of its original 1984 release, Yoko described Lennon’s plans for the track as being, “(a) standard, the kind that they would play in church every time a couple gets married, with horns and other arrangements.”
“Grow Old With Me” was inspired by a poem penned by Robert Browning, titled “Rabbi ben Ezra,” as well as a Yoko Ono song, “Let Me Count The Ways,” which in itself was inspired by a poem by Browning’s wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Over the years, “Grow Old With Me” has been covered by several artists, most notably Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Glen Campbell, respectively.
Back in 1994, Yoko Ono gave the surviving Beatles one of Lennon’s demos of the song as a possible choice for their Anthology reunion tracks, but the group passed on it at the time. Four years later, the late-George Martin provided a new string section over Lennon’s original demo, which went on to close 1998’s John Lennon Anthology box set.
2019 saw the release of Ringo Starr’s 20th solo studio album, titled What’s My Name, which featured a version of him and Paul McCartney teaming up on “Grow Old With Me.” The new version of “Grow Old With Me,” which was produced by Ringo, features Paul McCartney on bass and backing vocals, with Lennon’s Double Fantasy producer, Jack Douglas, having supplied the orchestration for the track.