From the glory of The Beatles came the sorry fallout of its aftermath. The solo projects that followed may have contained some glinting pieces of pop-perfection, and time may have healed all the gaping wounds, but there were also periods when a lamentable fraction of bitterness bubbled over.
John Lennon’s Imagine record provided a song that straddled the dichotomy that the fallout presented. ‘How Do You Sleep?’ was undoubtedly a gem of a tune but one with an unmistakable stem of bitterness.
The reason behind Lennon’s caustic effrontery was that he seemed to pick up on a few subtle digs that McCartney had thrown his way on his second solo album, Ram. Whilst these are not readily apparent, Paul himself did admit to one unambiguous jibe. “There was one tiny reference to John in the whole thing,” McCartney told Playboy magazine in 1984, “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.” Before later adding that the line, “You took your lucky break and broke it in two,” was also aimed at his former bandmate.
‘How Do You Sleep?’ was Lennon’s gloves off response, but it was one which he later downplayed. At a fan Q&A, he responded to a question about why he wrote it, saying, “Why did I write it? I don’t have a reason for writing it.”
During the interview, he speaks more of the artistic merit of the melody as opposed to the lyrical intent, “People think of it as only a reference to Paul, where we [the band and I] think of it as a good guitar solo.”
This is a notion that Yoko Ono adds to by affirming, “If you listen to it artistically and lyrically, I think it’s a beautiful song.”
Lennon does not detract from the fact that the song was clearly written as a dig at McCartney, the “sycophantic straights” of the music industry and the British press but cushions the weight of the blow by imbuing the track with a tongue-in-cheek edge. “If I can’t have a fight with my best friend,” John Lennon states, “I don’t know who I can have a fight with!”
However, this tongue-in-cheek notion is somewhat dismissed on a studio outtake of the song where Lennon infamously spat out the line, “Tell me, how do you sleep, you c**t?”
Clearly, the pair were able to patch up their differences as Lennon also references that despite the song, he had dinner with Paul, “his best friend”, shortly after its release. When asked if really meant that Paul was his best friend, Lennon replies, “I guess in the male sex he was, I don’t know about now because I don’t see much of him.”
Later, in 1972, John Lennon would remark in the Imagine film, “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.”
You can check out the fan Q&A clip below.