Well, that’s talkin’ about Yoko. You really don’t know what you got till you lose it.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Lennon recorded home demos of ‘What You Got’ in the early summer of 1974. Performed on an acoustic guitar, at this stage it was a rockabilly song recalling the works of Carl Perkins. Different demo recordings were released on the John Lennon Anthology box set and the Acoustic album.
‘What You Got’ also contained an echo of Little Richard’s ‘Rip It Up’, a song which Lennon recorded later in 1974 for the Rock ‘N’ Roll album. Whereas Richard was triumphant at the prospect of the weekend, Lennon was altogether more rueful: “Well it’s Saturday night and I just gotta rip it up/Sunday morning I just gotta give it up/Come Monday momma and I just gotta run away/You know it’s such a drag to face another day.”
By the time he entered the studio to record Walls And Bridges, ‘What You Got’ had become a slick funk performance recalling The O’Jays’ ‘For The Love Of Money’. Lennon loved 1970s disco and funk, and instructed his New York City session musicians to recreate the styles.
The song was one of three from Walls And Bridges that were written about his parting from Ono; the others were ‘Going Down On Love’ and ‘Bless You’. Although lyrically simplistic with little to say beyond the chorus refrain, ‘What You Got’ was nonetheless an acknowledgement that the excesses of his Lost Weekend were taking its toll on Lennon’s physical and mental health.