The longest track on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, ‘Well Well Well’ featuring a blistering guitar part, screaming vocals and a brutal, pounding backing track.
Having dealt with family, politics, drugs, religion and paranoia elsewhere on the album, on ‘Well Well Well’ John Lennon turned his attention to sexual politics. The verses, with references to revolutions, women’s liberation, guilt and “liberals in the sun”, were among the most humorous on the album, and in the simple chorus of “well well well, oh well” Lennon gave up looking for a meaning or message.
Lennon recorded a solo guitar demo of ‘Well Well Well’ in the summer of 1970, in a Bel Air house he rented while undergoing Primal Therapy with Dr Arthur Janov. One of the couplets in the recording, later rejected, was “Because she’s looking so much thinner/She looked so beautiful I could wee”.
In the studio, however, the song took on another guise. Ringo Starr claimed in a 1973 interview that Lennon had played Lee Dorsey’s 1969 single ‘Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)’ “a hundred times” to get the spirit he wanted.
Lennon’s two guitar parts were raw and distorted, and the backing by Starr and Klaus Voormann was dense and stifling. The levity of the words was furthermore lost amid the savage screaming that Lennon’s vocals descended into.
In his lengthy 1970 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Lennon denied that the screams in ‘Well Well Well’ were connected with Janov’s therapy.
Listen to ‘Twist And Shout’. I couldn’t sing the damn thing, I was just screaming. Listen to ‘A-wop-bop-a-loo-wop-a-wop-bam-boom’. Don’t get the therapy confused with the music.
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner
A rough studio jam containing a snippet of ‘Well Well Well’ can be heard on ‘Something More Abstract’, a bonus track on the compact disc edition of Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.
‘Well Well Well’ was mixed by Phil Spector in mono, with plenty of echo on the vocals, bass guitar and drums. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was largely kept dry of effects, and Spector’s involvement was in fact minimal, but on ‘Well Well Well’ he was given free rein on the mixing desk.