Story of the song: Walking on Thin Ice by Yoko Ono

From The Independent archive: Robert Webb on ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ by Yoko Ono

Friday 21 January 2022 21:30
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<p>Ono: ‘I was actually walking on thin ice after John’s passing. I thought, did I set this up?’ </p>

Ono: ‘I was actually walking on thin ice after John’s passing. I thought, did I set this up?’

Whatever its merits as a piece of music, “Walking on Thin Ice” will always be associated with the murder of John Lennon. On 8 December 1980, Yoko Ono and Lennon were working together on the leftovers from their album Double Fantasy, at Manhattan’s Hit Factory studio. This is the song that tumbled with the former Beatle on to a New York sidewalk that night, when a deranged fan pumped him with five bullets. A cassette of his evening’s work skated through the gated archway to the Dakota building and was rescued by Ono as her husband lay dying. Two months later she released the pair’s final creative venture as a solo single, backed by “It Happened”, a doodle from 1973 which Lennon had unearthed from his wife’s tapes.

The original plan had apparently been to couple the tracks with two from Ono’s Double Fantasy contributions and issue them as a 12-inch single, titled “Yoko Only”. When Lennon was killed, the idea was sensibly dropped. “I was actually walking on thin ice after John’s passing. I thought, did I set this up?” Ono said. The song gave American charts a wide berth and only just crawled into the UK Top 40. But New York DJs loved its infectious chug and Ono’s breathy, half-sung disco-vocals, and made it a dance-floor hit.

In 2003, Ono was approached by the Pet Shop Boys for permission to remix. As with previous requests, Ono was reluctant. “It brought up memories,” she says. “I didn't want to touch it.” Eventually she thawed and a synthesised treatment of “Thin Ice” made Ono the first septuagenarian to take the Billboard top spot. On the extended version, Lennon can be heard remarking: “I think we’ve just got your first No 1, Yoko.” Ono is sanguine: “He said it without thinking, probably, but it came true. It’s so funny.”

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