How Do You Sleep?

Imagine album artwork - John LennonWritten by: Lennon
Recorded: c.20-28 May, 4-5 July 1971
Producers: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector

Released: 8 October 1971 (UK), 9 September 1971 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, piano
George Harrison: slide guitar
Nicky Hopkins: piano
John Tout: piano
Ted Turner: acoustic guitar
Rod Linton: acoustic guitar
Andy Davis: acoustic guitar
Klaus Voormann: bass guitar
Alan White: drums
The Flux Fiddlers: strings

Available on:
John Lennon Anthology

The most notorious song on John Lennon's Imagine album was an attack on his former bandmate Paul McCartney.

How Do You Sleep? - Imagine (Remastered)

It's not about Paul, it's about me. I'm really attacking myself. But I regret the association, well, what's to regret? He lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about these things and not what the writer or commentator thinks about it. Him and me are okay.
John Lennon
Imagine (film)

Although Lennon later described Imagine as "Plastic Ono with chocolate coating", there was no such sweetening on How Do You Sleep?. The song was an unbridled response to the slights Lennon perceived on Paul and Linda McCartney's Ram album, as well as mutually-aimed jibes in the British music press.

I heard Paul's messages in Ram - yes there are dear reader! Too many people going where? Missed our lucky what? What was our first mistake? Can't be wrong? Huh! I mean Yoko, me, and other friends can't all be hearing things. So to have some fun, I must thank Allen Klein publicly for the line 'just another day'. A real poet! Some people don't see the funny side of it. Too bad. What am I supposed to do, make you laugh? It's what you might call an 'angry letter', sung - get it?
John Lennon
Crawdaddy magazine

Lennon believed there were several coded messages in the lyrics of Ram, notably in the songs Too Many People, Dear Boy, Three Legs and The Back Seat Of My Car. The back cover of the album also featured a photograph of two beetles copulating, which was interpreted as a commentary on the former members' treatment of one another.

In a 1984 interview with Playboy magazine, McCartney denied that much of Ram was aimed at Lennon.

I was looking at my second solo album, Ram, the other day and I remember there was one tiny little reference to John in the whole thing. He'd been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. In one song, I wrote, 'Too many people preaching practices,' I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn't anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was 'You took your lucky break and broke it in two.'
Paul McCartney, 1984

Whereas McCartney's lyrics had been allusive and non-specific, Lennon's were direct and pointed. He accused McCartney of being surrounded by sycophantic 'straights', having achieved nothing more than writing Yesterday, and trashing his recent works as "muzak to my ears". To ram the point home, he suggested those believers of the 'Paul is dead' myth were actually right.

So what if I live with straights? I like straights. I have straight babies. It doesn't affect him. He says the only thing I did was Yesterday. He knows that's wrong. He knows and I know it's not true.
Paul McCartney, 1971
Melody Maker

In its original draft the lyrics contained the couplet "The only thing you done was Yesterday/You probably pinched that bitch anyway". Lennon's manager Allen Klein suggested its replacement, "And since you've gone you're just another day" - a reference to McCartney's 1971 single Another Day - in a wish to avoid a libel action from McCartney. In another studio outtake Lennon spat out the words: "Tell me, how do you sleep, you cunt?'

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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