How Do You Sleep? (John Lennon song)
|"How Do You Sleep?"|
|Song by John Lennon|
|from the album Imagine|
|Released||9 September 1971|
|Recorded||26 May – 5 July 1971|
|Producer(s)||John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector|
"How Do You Sleep?" is a song by English rock musician John Lennon from his 1971 album Imagine. The song makes angry and scathing remarks aimed at his former Beatles bandmate and songwriting partner, Paul McCartney. Lennon wrote the song in response to what he perceived as personal slights by McCartney on the latter's Ram album. The track includes a slide guitar solo played by George Harrison and was co-produced by Lennon, Phil Spector and Yoko Ono.
Composition and lyrics
John Lennon wrote "How Do You Sleep?" in the aftermath of Paul McCartney's successful suit in the London High Court to dissolve the Beatles as a legal partnership. This ruling had followed the publication of Lennon's defamatory remarks about the Beatles in a December 1970 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, and McCartney and his wife, Linda, taking full-page advertisements in the music press, in which, as an act of mockery towards Lennon and Yoko Ono, they were shown wearing clown costumes and wrapped up in a bag. Following the release of McCartney's album Ram in May 1971, Lennon felt attacked by McCartney, who later admitted that lines in the song "Too Many People" were intended as digs at Lennon. Lennon thought that other songs on the album, such as "3 Legs", contained similar attacks.
The lyrics of "How Do You Sleep?" refer to the "Paul is dead" rumour ("Those freaks was right when they said you was dead"). The song begins with the line "So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise", referring to the Beatles' landmark 1967 album. Preceding this first line are ambient sounds evocative of those heard at the beginning of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
The lyrics "The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you've gone you're just another day" are directed at McCartney, the first lyric being a reference to the Beatles' 1965 song "Yesterday". The second lyric is a reference to McCartney's hit single "Another Day", released in February 1971. Lennon initially penned the lyrics "You probably pinched that bitch anyway", as a reference to the many times McCartney had made claims that he was not sure if he "nicked" "Yesterday", having asked Lennon, Harrison, George Martin and others if they had heard that melody before. Although Lennon received the sole writing credit for "How Do You Sleep?", a contemporary account by Felix Dennis of OZ magazine indicates that Ono, as well as Allen Klein, Lennon's manager, also contributed lyrics.
Lennon recorded "How Do You Sleep?" on 26 May 1971 at Ascot Sound Studios, during the sessions for his Imagine album. String overdubs took place on 4 July 1971 at the Record Plant, in New York City. The song features a slide guitar part played by George Harrison. Aside from Lennon on rhythm guitar and vocals, the track also includes contributions from Klaus Voormann on bass, Alan White on drums, acoustic guitar played by Ted Turner, Rod Linton and Andy Davis, as well as additional piano parts by Nicky Hopkins and John Tout. Although he had been united with Lennon, Ringo Starr and Klein, against McCartney, in the recent lawsuit, Harrison recalled that the period was one of "very strange, intense feelings" among all the former Beatles, and he was initially wary of Lennon's invitation to play on the new album. Given this, Harrison added, he was relieved that Lennon was "openly pleased I came".
As with all the tracks on Imagine, several outtakes of "How Do You Sleep?" became available on bootleg albums and in documentary films about Lennon. A run-through of the song in the 2000 film Gimme Some Truth includes what authors Chip Madinger and Mark Easter describe as "John's query to Paul", as Lennon faces the camera and sings: "How do you sleep, ya cunt?" Starr visited the studio during the recording of the song and was reportedly upset, saying: "That's enough, John." The final mix version as released on the album is in mono rather than stereo, unlike all the other tracks. In 2018 two versions of the original recording sessions were released as part of the Imagine box set in 5.1 surround sound.
Reception and aftermath
In a contemporary review of Imagine, Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone highlighted "How Do You Sleep?" among the album's three "really worthy, musically effective numbers" but found it "horrifying and indefensible" as a song that "lay waste to Paul's character, family and career". Gerson concluded: "The motives for 'Sleep' are baffling. Partly it is the traditional bohemian contempt for the bourgeois; partly it is the souring of John's long-standing competitive relationship with Paul." Writing in the NME, Alan Smith said of the track: "Musically, it's tremendous – open, big, powerful, thundering, dramatic – but this is a song which will be remembered for its lyrics …" As its ultimate putdown of McCartney, Smith identified the couplet "The sound you make is muzak to my ears / You must've learned something in all those years." In Melody Maker, Roy Hollingworth lauded Imagine as the best work that Lennon had ever done and described "How Do You Sleep?" as "the unnerving slash at McCartney … a slow funk with Commanche or maybe Sioux flavoured strings".
Soon after the album was released, Lennon said that the song "was an answer to Ram" but added:
There's really no feud between me and Paul. It's all good, clean fun. No doubt there will be an answer to 'Sleep' on his next album, but I don't feel that way about him at all. It works as a complete song with no relation to Paul. It works as a piece of music. I started writing it in 1969, and the line 'So Sergeant Pepper Took You By Surprise ...' was written about two years before anything happened. There was always a musical difference between me and Paul – it didn't just happen last year. But we've always had a lot in common, and we still do. The thing that made The Beatles what they were was the fact that I could do my rock 'n roll, and Paul could do the pretty stuff ... But hardly a week goes by when I don't see, and/or hear from one of them."
In 1980, Lennon stated: "I used my resentment against Paul … to create a song … not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta … I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write 'How Do You Sleep'. I don't really go 'round with those thoughts in my head all the time".
The Magnificent Bastards, a side project of Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland, recorded a cover version in 1995 for the tribute album Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon. Replicants, featuring members of Failure and Tool, covered the song on their self-titled debut.
- John Lennon – vocals, guitar
- George Harrison – slide guitar
- Nicky Hopkins – Wurlitzer electric piano
- John Tout – piano
- Ted Turner – acoustic guitar
- Rod Linton – acoustic guitar
- Andy Davis – acoustic guitar
- Klaus Voormann – bass
- Jim Keltner – drums
- The Flux Fiddlers – strings
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- "Insight & Sound". Cash Box. 11 December 1971.
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- "Replicants - Replicants". Discogs. Retrieved 8 August 2017.