‘How Do You Sleep?’, the most notorious song on John Lennon’s Imagine album was an attack on his former bandmate Paul McCartney.

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 Ono, 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’, ‘3 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 of ‘How Do You Sleep?’ contained the couplet “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’/You probably pinched that bitch anyway”.

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’s manager Allen Klein suggested its replacement, “And since you’ve gone you’re just another day” – a reference to Paul 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 c**t?’

John actually had Allen Klein and Yoko in the room, suggesting lyrics during writing sessions. In his song ‘How Do You Sleep?’ the line ‘The only thing you done was yesterday’ was apparently Allen Klein’s suggestion, and John said, ‘Hey, great. Put that in.’ I can see the laughs they had doing it, and I had to work very hard not to take it too seriously, bnut at the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute, All I ever did was ‘Yesterday’? I suppose that’s a funny pun, but all I ever did was ‘Yesterday’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘The Long And Winding Road’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Lady Madonna’

A lot of hurt went down during that period in the early 1970s – them feeling hurt, me feeling hurt – but John being John, he was the one who would write a hurtful song. That was his bag.

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