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?'

42 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. Randie

            And the countless *great* rock songs Paul wrote in The Beatles and during his early solo and Wings career.In fact it was Paul not John or George who was writing and playing (mostly) great rock and hard rock in the 70’s and that’s not a knock against John and George it’s just a fact.

            That is an inaccurate and especially even more ridiculous comment coming from a Beatles fan and especially on a Beatles fan forum.

          2. Randie

            The whole point is,is that as much as I love Paul McCartney,as a person for the most part and as music artist,(well at least from 1970-1975 when he did his best post Beatles music) Paul instigated this entire fight on record with John! Notice how there were no digs against John and Yoko on his first solo album,McCartney and there were no response digs at Paul on John’s first solo album,John Lennon Plastic Ono Band. So it wasn’t until Paul put the unkind digs at John and Yoko on Ram,that John rightfully responded. If someone picks on me for no justified reasons I’m going to react in an angry way.

            As award winning music journalist and good friend of John’s for 18 years,Ray Coleman who said something like in his great John biography Lennon,why Paul who knew what John could be like(in other words how hurt and angry John was and psychologically messed up he was for most of his life because of the traumas he experienced as a child and teenager) would pick a fight on record with John will always remain a mystery.

            Even more puzzling is that just one month before Paul released his Ram album, in this April 1971 Life Magazine interview he basically talks like things aren’t that bad between all four of them and that he wants them to get along etc

            Paul knew very well that if Paul or anyone made digs against Yoko that John would really be very hurt and angry and would respond that way.

  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.

    1. Revolt1983

      True. I think Paul’s primadonna antics in the studio you know, treating the band as his back-up musicians instead of having a collaborative process to make the song up. I remember, reading one article where it was documented john’s frustration over Paul for finishing a song up without the band. John as so frustrated he allegedly muttered the words: “So that’s how you want it done then” or something to that effect. And of course John and Yoko did contribute to the frustrations because of their self-absorbed ways in the latter years whereas wives and gfs were off limits on the studio when the band worked here comes Yoko wagging something off to John. A suggestion or something.

      Its also appalling to me John’s antics over Paul at the height of Beatlemania where he would just throw sudden digs even rudely mimicking Paul when he says: “Clap your hands” or “Stomp your feet”. I guess these broiled up so even at their height tensions were building. And as they say after their break-up it was a relief for all of them, well maybe not Paul at first but it was later.

  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.

    1. rwsjrss

      Yea Charlotte I couldn’t agree more. John was very jealous of Paul. I never realized how great a back up singer Paul was on John’s songs! If you ever have a chance to see Sir Paul, do it!

  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.

      1. Charlotte Bowen

        “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.”

        Now that is just crazy talk from a Lennonista.

        History has shown Paul has written the most hits and best songs…while Lennon was still alive to match him, even with the then music press spewing anti McCartney bile in favor of Lennon. John didn’t give him a run for his money. John quit to bake bread, change diapers and watch the wheels go round, or so we were told. Paul kept on putting out hits. Not the condescendingly described “catchy, sugary, bubblegum, silly pop confections”, or like Lennon, bitter confessionals about his life. Paul gave his fans a treasure trove of gems in many different genres, with a variety of emotional levels, on every album he has put out. He even put out outstanding entire album masterpieces, like Ram, Red Rose Speedway, Band On The Run, Venus And Mars, and after John’s death Flaming Pie, Personally I think his first 6 albums post Beatles were outstanding and I don’t care what nitpicky complaints the critics had, I and many many others loved them! Check the Youtube comments to see how many old, young, new, fans Paul has all over the world, many of them newly discovering and loving those still fresh sounding songs, panned by bitter, now old, music critics from back in the day.
        Paul McCartney’s music has stood the test of time. John tried, then quit for 5 critical years. Then resurrected but was sadly cut down.

        1. Greenlight

          Wings? Really? …After just having tried to watch a video of one of their concerts in the seventies (could only make it through 20 mins), I seriously would rather listen to crickets.

          1. Water Falls

            Well then go listen to the crickets, and any other bugs your heart may fancy. You don’t have to like Paul McCartney’s music, but that won’t stop millions of his fans, young, old, new, worldwide, from loving him and/or his songs from his The Beatles days, early solo/duet efforts with his beloved Lovely Linda, to Wings era and finally solo. He is, like his songwriting partner/ musical soulmate John was, and in Paul’s case, still living, a legend and musical genius. Now go and enjoy the bug concert.

  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.

  11. David M. Roberts

    I see no one has mentioned “Steel & Glass” ? ( from “Walls & Bridges” ).
    While it’s entry here on this site make more than a couple references back to “How Do You Sleep ?”, it’s only been a one-way street here . . . till now.
    Musically, “Steel & Glass” revisits the same motifs, certainly in the strings and horns arrangement.
    The horns even use the same figure in the chorus !!
    While John holds a sustained note . . .
    It also held the same position in the album’s sequence . . middle of side two !

    So, it’s pretty clearly “How Do You Sleep ? – Part 2”,
    and lyrically, I always felt it was John turning the dissecto-beam back on himself, even if the interviews quoted here have him talking about it as an attempt to write “a nasty song” and drawing from many people.

    Being a first-generation fan helps one remember how time passed thru phases and stages . . it’s more than a humungous digital pile of info to get lost in. But the modern perspective is indeed handy, as interviews and various puzzle-pieces have continually filled in the pictures:

    3 or 4 years had passed since “Imagine”.
    Paul had visited the first night of the “Pussycats” sessions for “toots and snores”, and the Nilsson bio indicates that those bright, sunny photos of them all hanging out on a patio were from the next day.
    John’s “wounds are all healed” interview on the beach was also from the same time-frame, roughly.
    He also had lovely things to say about all his Fab-mates when he did his morning DJ-stint on KHJ !

    The picture I’m painting here is that, in the years since “How Do You Sleep ?”, John may have naturally felt compelled to balance things out a bit.
    It’s one thing to deal with feeling stung by one of your “brothers”, and indulge in a cheeky rant, but few of us can know how it feels when that clever rant has sold millions of copies and is “out there” forever “on Apple records and tapes” !

    John may not have made his initial urges obvious by including cover images of 2 beetles waltzing together,
    But I believe that his inspiration originally came from conflicted feelings after a few years had passed.

  12. castironshore

    “it’s me….attacking myself” .

    Bullshit. Lennon was rightly embarrassed about some of the sentiments in this song years later. But it is no doubt a great track. It just has such an amazing,malevolent feel to it. Those strings are just awesome.

  13. Charlotte Bowen

    I pretty much made this comment on the McCartney thread but it bears repeating.

    John was eaten up with jealousy at Paul’s genius and talent. Lennon recognized just how amazingly gifted McCartney was (is) and feared that Paul, who loved, admired and hero worshipped him as a teen and as a young adult, would surpass him (in my opinion Paul did) would no longer need or want John anymore, which we know wasn’t the case, but John with all of his “issues” and knee jerk reactions to Paul’s songs, went on his McCartney bashing crusades, spurred on by Ono, Klein, and who ever else wanting to hitch a ride on the “Lennon cool” bandwagon at that time. So sad, because I believe John loved and admired Paul and his talent but Lennon always wanted to be perceived by everyone as “The Best, The Most”, even though he pretended not to care what people thought. He was such a headcase, and that was not “edgy, cool,or genius”.That was him being childish and needing therapy to exorcise his demons. I love the music of the Beatles. I love the post Beatles music of both McCartney and Lennon, but Lennon really did diminish his stature with his mean spirited “truth” and poison pen lyrics about his songwriting partner/brother and then lamely claim, he wrote it about himself after the backlash.

  14. Rosco

    John was quite vocal about which songs of Paul’s he always hated (Another Day, Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, Martha My Dear, etc. for their lack of deep substance). Then he records a song like ‘Stepping Out’…a song about him bored of watching TV and getting dressed to go out for the night. Lamest song ever. And screw George for participating on that song. Low class behavior from “Mister Peace and Love” himself.

  15. Phil K

    Lennon WAS a pompous, self-congratulatory prick, talented or not.
    If he hadn’t been murdered, he would have recorded umpteen albums and songs with Paul by now, and, like Paul – long past his sell by date. My own belief is Lennon and Mccartnmey would have reunited the Beatles for maybe another half dozen years then went back to solo albums, with Lennon boring the tits off everyone writing how unlimited islamic immigration is right and proper as long as it’s not next to him, and all the usual PC crap he swaddled himself in THEN

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