The song, a raw depiction of the experience of heroin withdrawal, was recorded in September and October 1969 at EMI and Trident Studios, London.
‘Cold Turkey’ is self-explanatory. It was banned again all over the American radio, so it never got off the ground. They were thinking I was promoting heroin, but instead… They’re so stupid about drugs! They’re always arresting smugglers or kids with a few joints in their pocket. They never face the reality. They’re not looking at the cause of the drug problem. Why is everybody taking drugs? To escape from what? Is life so terrible? Do we live in such a terrible situation that we can’t do anything about it without reinforcement from alcohol or tobacco or sleeping pills? I’m not preaching about ’em. I’m just saying a drug is a drug, you know. Why we take them is important, not who’s selling it to whom on the corner.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
‘Cold Turkey’ peaked at number 30 on the US Billboard Pop Singles chart. In the UK it was released on 24 October 1969, four days after the US.
The label for the single had “PLAY LOUD” printed in large bold type. The b-side was Yoko Ono’s ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)’.
Its relative lack of success disappointed Lennon, although he can hardly have been unaware that the song’s lyrical theme and musical delivery would have put off many Beatles fans.
On 26 November he returned his MBE to Buckingham Palace, along with a statement which read: “I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With love, John Lennon of Bag.”
A promotional film for ‘Cold Turkey’ was made by a friend of Yoko Ono’s, New York-based filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Designed for use on TV pop shows and in art-house cinema presentations, the clip featured off-cuts from the Montreal bed-in, footage from the Toronto performance, and high-speed shots of New York street traffic. Mekas originally intended the collage to accompany ‘Give Peace A Chance’.
Also on this day...
- 2015: Ringo Starr live at Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- 1998: US album release: Rushes by The Fireman (Paul McCartney and Youth)
- 1969: Mixing: Live Peace In Toronto 1969 by Plastic Ono Band
- 1969: US album release: Wedding Album by John & Yoko
- 1968: Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman holiday in New York
- 1967: Recording: The Fool On The Hill, Hello, Goodbye
- 1965: Recording: We Can Work It Out
- 1964: Live: Caird Hall, Dundee
- 1963: Television: Thank Your Lucky Stars
- 1962: Live: Majestic Ballroom, Hull
- 1961: Live: Knotty Ash Village Hall, Liverpool
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
- 1960: Live: Kaiserkeller, Hamburg
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.