John Lennon had spent much of the 1960s in thrall to a succession of gurus or other sources of promised enlightenment, from drugs to meditation, politics to Primal Therapy. On ‘I Found Out’ he cast aside the array of false idols he had accumulated and rejected, and presented himself as free from illusion.
The lyrics are some of Lennon’s most vitriolic, taking shots at religion, his parents, drugs, and even his former songwriting partner (“I seen religion from Jesus to Paul”). It presents a clear perspective on the past, a theme he would revisit on the Imagine album’s ‘Oh My Love’ the following year.
Nobody, it seemed, was safe from Lennon’s ire. The song begins with a paranoid warning to “stay away from my door”, but as the song progresses Lennon goes on the offensive to various parties who he perceived as having wronged him.
Despite the rejection of these unworthy figureheads, Lennon continued to be seduced by various ideologies in later years. Between 1970 and 1972 he aligned himself with a succession of political figures that he later dropped, and even Dr Arthur Janov, whose Primal Therapy proved such an inspiration for John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, would in time become one of Lennon’s targets.
Lennon recorded a series of demo versions of ‘I Found Out’ at a house on Nimes Road, Bel Air, where he stayed while undergoing Primal Therapy in Los Angeles. During the recordings he made a number of changes to the composition, including a change from third to first person, and changing ‘neurosis’ to ‘religion’ in the final verse. One of these electric guitar demos, dating from the summer of 1970, can be heard on the John Lennon Anthology box set.
Upon its release, much of the controversy over John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band centred on the two profanities in ‘Working Class Hero’; both instances were censored on the album’s printed lyrics at the insistence of EMI. ‘I Found Out’ contained the line “Some of you sitting there with your cock in your hand”, which was similarly censored at the record company’s request.
In the studio
Upon entering EMI Studios at Abbey Road, Lennon turned up his guitar’s distortion to unleash some lacerating licks, and Ringo Starr and Klaus Voormann provided a driving rhythm to complete one of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’s most effective rockers.
‘I Found Out’, I think it’s nice. It drives along. I don’t know, ask Eric Clapton, he thinks I can play. A lot of you people want the technical thing, then you think, oh, well that’s like wanting technical films. Most critics of rock ‘n’ roll and guitarists are in the stage of the Fifties where they wanted a technically perfect film finished for them and then they would feel happy. I’m a cinéma-vérité guitarist musician. You have to break down your barriers to be able to hear what I’m playing.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
In between takes Lennon made reference to “Carl Wolf”, seemingly an explanation to Starr and Voormann that he wanted a performance pitched somewhere between Carl Perkins and Howling Wolf. During the session he also sang part of Perkins’ ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’.
Yet another example of John edging his guitar into a tone that ends up being exactly what the song needs. Incredible distortion. It sounds less like a guitar and moves closer to being part of the percussion a la Bo-Diddley. What I always found interesting is that the guitar seems to be repeating the word ‘bitch bitch’ as if to accent that the song is, in fact, one big bitch session for John. It is intended to raise your hackles as it even seems to be insulting you – the audience (not the only instance on this album). It’s not a great song but it isn’t supposed to be anything more that a vehicle for John to gripe – and somehow it ends up being fascinating nonetheless.
The line “I told you before/stay away from my door” seems to be a reference to the song Revolution with a similar theme of telling supporters of various causes, this-ists and that-ists to stop looking to John for support.