“The son of John Lennon and his first wife Cynthia, Julian Lennon parlayed a remarkable vocal similarity to his father into a moderately successful singing career during the 1980s.”
So begins Julian Lennon’s All Music Guide bio. It isn’t the most flattering of introductory sentences, but it’s fairly accurate, anyway. While making perfectly clear that I have absolutely nothing against Julian — and have enjoyed his music from time to time — it’s hard not to look at his career as a poignant lesson for anyone dumb enough to think about following in a well-known parent’s footsteps.
Julian’s dad was more well-known than most, of course; he was one half of the most beloved songwriting team in the history of rock & roll, murdered in cold blood during the prime of his life. Given all that — not to mention the fact that John hadn’t even been dead five years when Julian’s first record came out — there was literally no way Julian could win. He could have been twice the songwriter his dad was and it wouldn’t have mattered.
Of course, Julian Lennon is not twice the songwriter his dad was; on a good day, he might fill 60 percent of that glass, and most of the time, he didn’t get anywhere near that level. But having said all that, this album’s overall crappiness is not entirely Julian’s fault.
It is, as Angela Lansbury might say, a tale as old as time: An artist gets his entire life to work on his first album, and six weeks to finish his second one. This is pretty much exactly what happened to Julian Lennon with The Secret Value of Daydreaming (or, as I like to call it, The Diminished Value of Cutouts), with an extra twist — Lennon apparently didn’t even labor long over his first album, and supposedly only had a pile of half-finished demos when he was signed by Atlantic prior to releasing 1984’s Valotte. He wasn’t ready, in other words, but Atlantic knew there was a Lennon-shaped vacuum in the marketplace, so they rushed their golden goose to market.
It worked for awhile — even if there was still plenty of griping about Julian’s voice sounding too much like his dad’s, whatever that means. Valotte was a hit, and although Julian’s songs were clearly nowhere near as profound as his dad’s best work, most people seemed willing to give him a mulligan. And things actually started off promisingly enough for The Secret Value of Daydreaming, too. Remember “Stick Around”?
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mr7ea9Deu2s" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
(If you were a child of the ’80s, you have to watch the video, even if you think Julian Lennon sucks the big one — where else are you going to see Joe Piscopo, Michael J. Fox, a young Jami Gertz, and hear the words “brought to you by new Hostess Pudding Pies”?)
“Stick Around” was a slam dunk hit, an enjoyably fluffy laker cake of synths, ’80s power chords, and…well, synths, actually. But past that track, the album’s wafer thin, which probably has something to do with the way it was slapped together. As Julian himself is quoted at the Hey Jules fansite:
“Well, with Valotte, I had an idea what I was going to record, you know, because I’d had a lot of chance…a lot of time to work on the material. But, with this one, I didn’t have so much time, you know. After the tour I went to Barbados for a month and shipped all my gear down because it was going to be a working holiday, but none of the gear arrived until the last week.”
All things considered, Lennon’s probably lucky Daydreaming ended up selling half a million copies — and that some of his fans continued to stick around (ha! ha! ha!) after hearing limp tracks like “You Get What You Want” (download) and “You Don’t Have to Tell Me” (download).
They’ve continued to stick around, actually — long after Atlantic (or Virgin, depending on your preferred side of the Atlantic) stupidly pruned Lennon from its roster in the early ’90s. After entering free agency, he took most of the decade off before returning toward the end of the century with Photograph Smile. The positive reviews that greeted it (not to mention the then-obligatory episode of VH1’s Behind the Music) went a long way toward erasing the last few whiffs of this album’s memory, a process Julian will presumably continue when he finishes his next release, supposedly some time this year.