How Do You Sleep?

How Do You Sleep? - Imagine (Remastered)

Well, it was like Dylan doing Like A Rolling Stone, one of his nasty songs. It's using somebody as an object to create something. I wasn't really feeling that vicious at the time, but I was using my resentment towards Paul to create a song. Let's put it that way.

It was just a mood. Paul took it the way he did because it obviously, pointedly refers to him, and people just hounded him about it, asking, 'How do ya feel about it?' But there were a few little digs on his albums, which he kept but I heard them. So I just thought, Well, hang up being obscure! I'll just get right down to the nitty-gritty.

John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Contributing a slide guitar solo on the recording was George Harrison, whose complicity effectively endorsed the song's sentiments, even if he appeared outwardly unmoved in the filmed footage of the sessions. Lennon was evidently impressed with Harrison's playing, saying: "That's the best he's ever fucking played in his life! He'd go on forever if you'd let him."

More critical of the song's lyrical content was Ringo Starr. One of the visitors to the studio during the song's recording, he attempted to prevent in some of Lennon's more vicious sentiments.

Roughly half the lyrics were by Lennon, with the rest contributed by Yoko Ono and Allen Klein. One witness to the song's recording was Felix Dennis, one of the publishers of Oz magazine who was staying at Tittenhurst Park at Lennon's invitation following the magazine's infamous obscenity trial.

They were writing the song as they performed it. And as these lyrics emerged, I remember Ringo getting more and more upset by this. He was really not very happy about this, and at one point I have a clear memory of his saying, "That's enough, John.' There were two magnificent studio musicians, and they too were not very happy about it, but as usual, Lennon plowed his own furrow and he just didn't give a shit whether people liked it or not. It is absolutely true to say that Yoko wrote many of the lyrics. I watched her writing them and then watched her race into the studio to show John - which would often annoy the musicians, but she would race in there anyway, waving a piece of paper and show John she'd had an idea. He would say 'Great' or whatever, and he would add something to it, then he would come back and relax in the control room for a bit and they would confer together. They've both got appalling handwriting, writing in a great hurry.

He would think of a lyric, and then she would think of a lyric, and then they'd burst out laughing, they'd think that was absolutely hysterical. Some of it was absolutely puerile, thank God a lot of it never actually got recorded because it was highly, highly personal, like a bunch of schoolboys standing in the lavatory making scatological jokes and then falling about with laughter at their own wit. That was about the level of it but thank goodness in the end somebody obviously talked some sense to them, or they'd talked sense to each other. Maybe Ringo had got on to them and told them not to be so brutal. Some of the lyrics were a lot ruder than you will find on the final version.

To counterbalance that, even if it might have been very hurtful to Paul McCartney, I think that the mood in which it was written should be borne in mind, which was one of schoolboy for the hell of it. It's quite obvious that Paul must have been some sort of figure of authority in Lennon's life, because you don't take the piss out of somebody that isn't a figure of authority. The mood there wasn't totally vindictive. As I felt it, they were taking the piss out of the headmaster. A lot of giggling, a lot of laughing. They had one line about Paul's Little Richard singing. I don't know if this is true that Paul was always quite proud of his ability to sing like Little Richard; they were making reference to that. It never ended up on the final cut. Phil Spector never said a single word about the lyrics, but Ringo and other musicians there would remonstrate with him and say, 'Oh, for Christ's sake, John, that's a bit much, you know!' Sometimes he would agree and cross it out. All I can say, if he'd wanted to write something to really hurt Paul's feelings, they certainly compiled enough material to do so. If he'd had someone he could confide in, other than Yoko, I think they would have persuaded him to leave it in the vaults for posterity. It was a bit of a shame he ever let it out.

Felix Dennis
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Upon the release of Imagine, there was a further visual clue to Lennon's feelings: a postcard of him holding the ears of a pig, in a clear parody of the cover of Ram.

McCartney, for his part, wisely chose not to issue a counterattack in song. His peace offering was Dear Friend, a track on Wings' 1971 album Wild Life.

When John did How Do You Sleep?, I didn't want to get into a slanging match. And I'm so glad now, particularly after his death, that I don't have that on my conscience. I just let him do it, because he was being fed a lot of those lines by Klein and Yoko, I had the option of going for equal time and doing all the interviews or deciding to not take up the gauntlet, and I remember consciously thinking, No, I realty mustn't. Part of it was cowardice: John was a great wit, and I didn't want to go fencing with the rapier champion of East Cheam. That was not a good idea. And I also knew that those vibes could snowball, and you start off with a perfectly innocent little contest and suddenly you find yourself doing duel to the death with the Lennon figure and it's, Oh, my God, what have I carved out here? But it meant that I had to take shit, it meant that I had to take lines like 'All you ever did was Yesterday.'

I always find myself wanting to excuse John's behaviour, just because I loved him. It's like a child, sure he's a naughty child, but don't you call my child naughty. Even if it's me he's shitting on, don't you call him naughty. That's how I felt about this and still do. I don't have any grudge whatsoever against John. I think he was a sod to hurt me. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and because we had been so intimate he knew what would hurt me and he used it to great effect. I thought, Keep your head down and time will tell. And it did, because in the Imagine film, he says it was really all about himself.

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Lennon and McCartney later reconciled, although it took many years for their relationship to return to an even keel. By 1974 were on good terms once again, although their friendship never recovered the warmth of the 1960s. They met for the last time in May 1976.

I realised that I couldn't always ring him up to ask about business, which was my main priority at the time. It was better to talk about cats, or baking bread, or babies. So we did that, and I had a lot in common with him because we were having our babies and I was into a similar sort of mode. So the air cleared and I was able to speak to him and go and see him.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

28 responses on “How Do You Sleep?

    1. robert

      I remember reading somewhere that some of the original working lyrics made fun of Paul’s Little Richard “oohs” that Paul used to do all the time.

      I remember when this song first came out and my friends and I (all die hard Beatles fans since ’64) were shocked at what John was saying about Paul. It was so un-fab.

      The RAM references really hadn’t been brought out.

      I think the fact that John, years later, had to eat some humble pie on this song was good for him. I mean, does anyone really believe John’s line about “It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself.” ?

      1. fabbill

        I think I believe that John wrote that more about himself than about Paul more than John believed that. Ultimately, this is a song about John’s bitterness. Although it was outwardly directed at Paul, he was really exposing his own character, or at least a side of it. Vindictive, hurt, biting. All writers end up doing this: Attempt to comment on the world, end up revealing ones own character flaws. At the very least, it’s as much about Lennon’s immaturity and insecurity as it’s about McCartney’s penchant for silly little love songs.

        1. Oudis

          I agree with you in everything Fabbil –I especially liked the part where you said “…he was really exposing his own character, or at least a side of it. Vindictive, hurt, biting. All writers end up doing this: Attempt to comment on the world, end up revealing ones own character flaws.” Very insightful. But I beg to differ about Paul. He’s more than a writer of silly little love songs. You can’t say that about the man who wrote “Eleanor Rigby”, “Penny Lane” or “The Fool on the Hill”, to name a few. Respectfully yours, Oudis.

  1. James France

    I really hate Chapman for taking John from us. I’m sure there’d have been more to come from the Lennon/McCartney partnership. It’s nice to know they were always really close right up until John was shot.

    1. James

      No I don’t think so. In the book Memories of John Lennon there’s a story from Klaus Voorman where he is sharing what happened when Klaus went to visit John after Sean was born. John said that too much had happened between he and Paul for there ever to be a reunion, but maybe as the 90’s came around things would have changed. I guess we’ll never know.

  2. Ryan

    “George and I both think that the best guitar solo he’s ever done is on the record ‘How Do You Sleep’. . . . and George thinks ‘How’ is the best song he’s ever heard. . . . that’s very kind of him.” – John Lennon, Imagine era interview for Japan

  3. Leonard Meyer

    This work saddens me and diminishes slightly my regard for both John Lennon and George Harrison. John on his album with the title song about the brotherhood of man and George who just released his great album celebrating humanistic spirituality. It is an unfair, untrue, and a vitriolic attack on a man who was once an intimate and also upon the Beatles. The Beatles are not bigger than Jesus but John is not bigger than the Beatles. It was the unique gifts of all four and of John and Paul, in particular, which made the Beatles what they were and in some sense, are. And despite what John wrote, the dream is not over. I was too young to remember the Beatles when they were active as a group. But the Beatles as a phenomena still exists and will exist after I’m long gone. I believe in Beatles. Imagine that.

    1. Wannabepr

      Well…you didn’t get the joke it seems! To john or Paul, these little play with words are normal and they have lived it their entire life together. It’s unfair for us to judge. John Paul George Ringo & the Beatles is a trip full of love, fun, tears & spiritual and beyond the music they made!!!

  4. robert

    I imagine that if John was still alive today – at the age of 73 he would be utterly embarrassed by the immature vitriol of these lyrics as well as some of the comments made in the outtake video.

  5. jinksmuffin

    I wouldn’t get hung up on whether this was mean thing john did. It is a great tune. Paul is no angel or fool. This just the epiphany of what the dynamic of john n paul’s relationship was lIke.

  6. Eralides E. Cabrera

    I think this is nothing but garbage music. Who cares about the personal problems of John and Paul and their childish arguments? I certainly would not pay a penny to buy such a record and I am a Beatles fan. I think the music stinks. The lyrics are bad, sounds like some one is moaning rather than singing. Nothing worth repeating, certainly not singing. As for Paul’s answer, who cares? It’s nice to belittle your own art when you’re at the top but when you’re at the bottom, you’ll do anything to make it. If the Beatles were such a heavy burden to John and Paul and the others, why didn’t they just donate their moneys to charity, go back to Liverpool and get a job? Forget the Beatles then if the name caused them so much grief. That’s my take on the situation, for what it’s worth.

    1. SouthofReality

      I like the song. At least it’s more interesting than the usual “boy loves girl; girl loves boy” song. Not that I’ll be singing it in the shower any time soon…

  7. Lukey Boy

    The original ‘diss’ track! I don’t buy his claim that ‘It’s not about Paul.’ I don’t think anyone does. I find it a bit strange that the man who in his later years was all about peace and love would write such a vicious, scathing song. But it IS pretty damn funky.

  8. Qasim Raza

    beautiful song..well just how many beautiful songs are there? too many!! this is is beautiful, not literally, but figuratively…and whenever i need to vent out and sing something on a guitar, this comes to find…never have i thought of playng and singing “silly love songs” or “uncle albert” puppy love songs..

  9. Manny

    I was watching youtube and I thought don’t forget to watch “Uncle Albert” before you logoff, thanks for reminding me, I’m gonna listen to that wonderful song, and don’t forget “Another Day’, “Maybe I’m amazed” and “Band on the Run” just to mention a few, Paul was far more talented than John and the spat they had is nothing uncommon, we all have ‘em with past friends, I know I have.

    1. D.Mitch

      Look, Paul is not “way more talented than John” , John wasn’t even trying that hard back then. If he really wanted to he’d give Paul real run for his money. Remember, that’s what made the two of them great, Oh, I see, well I’ve got this up my sleeve… back and forth. And we were the ones who benefited from their competition with new styles, recording techniques and the lyrics in their songs. It was a mutual benefit, their little competition. the formula for greatness… This is the same thing on how America got to it’s level back in the early years.. But, now it’s all about the money, the attorneys and not the innovative side of it all. Go through the list of all that was created way back then and compare the truly new number of inventions of then to todays. Twinkies, Xerography, Photography, home computer, (Xerox really created) Penicillin and the electric light bulb included.

  10. Graham Paterson

    John Lennon in later years put this attack on Paul McCartney in perspective ,which for us that are fans of both of them is a good thing. They were of course the greatest and most influential song writing partnership of the twentieth century and beyond. The animosity was at it’s height at this stage, but they later moved on from that. Nevertheless this is a brilliant recording with George Harrison’s slide guitar complimenting Lennon’s singing and words. Great production work by Phil Spector.

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