In the studio

Twelve days after the Toronto festival took place, the Plastic Ono Band had their first attempt at recording ‘Cold Turkey’. The band’s line-up was the same as for the Toronto show, apart from Ringo Starr replacing Alan White on drums.

The session took place at EMI Studios at Abbey Road, London. The group recorded 26 takes before giving up. Three days later, on 28 September, the group reconvened at Trident Studios, and recorded the song to Lennon’s satisfaction.

Gone was the rhythm guitar of the demos and live version, and in its place was a searing riff played by Eric Clapton. Klaus Voormann’s bass and Starr’s drums were mixed with without echo or treble, giving a claustraphobic feeling, and Lennon’s howls and screams towards the song’s end pointed the way to the primal screams of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, his first solo album.

A rough mix was made at Abbey Road on 29 September, featuring different vocals and lacking some overdubs. These were added at a final session on 5 October, after which the single mix was made.

The looseness of singing was developing on Cold Turkey from the experience of Yoko’s singing – she does not inhibit her throat.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

The release

‘Cold Turkey’ was released in the US on 20 October 1969, peaking at number 30. Four days later it was issued in the UK, reaching number 14. 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’.

Live performances

‘Cold Turkey’ was first performed live on 13 September 1969 at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival festival, the Plastic Ono Band’s debut show.

Lennon next performed the song during a Unicef benefit concert at the Lyceum, London on 15 December 1969. It was the Plastic Ono Band’s only European concert, and featured guests including Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie’s band, Billy Preston, Keith Moon, and George Harrison.

I announced ‘Cold Turkey’ at the Lyceum, saying, ‘I’m gonna sing a song about pain.’ So pain and screaming was before Janov.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

The performance was later issued on 1972’s Some Time In New York City, as a bonus disc entitled Live Jam. Nicky Hopkins overdubbed a piano part as Preston’s contribution had become lost in the mix. The other song performed by the group during the show, ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’, was also included.

The final live performances of ‘Cold Turkey’ took place at the One To One concerts in aid of handicapped children, which took place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on 30 August 1972. Performing with Elephant’s Memory, Lennon played the song at both the matinee and evening shows. The first of these was issued on the Live In New York City album in 1986.

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