Revisit extremely rare footage of John Lennon and George Harrison recording ‘How Do You Sleep?’
At a time when millions of people remain locked down in self-isolation amid strict social distancing measures, we’re scouring the Far Out Magazine archives to add a bit of nostalgia to our daily lives and where better to focus than The Beatles?
Here, in what was extremely rare footage released in recent years, John Lennon and his Fab Four bandmate George Harrison record material for the highly controversial song ‘How Do You Sleep?’. The song, which featured on Lennon’s now-iconic album Imagine, would undoubtedly be described as a no holds barred ‘diss track’ if it was released in 2020.
The track, littered with angry and cutting remarks aimed at his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney, arrived in response to the not-so-subtle comments made by Macca in his debut album Ram. To make the situation worse for McCartney ‘How Do You Sleep?’ also includes a slide guitar solo contribution from George Harrison.
With lyrics such as “the only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’” and “the sound you make is muzak to my ears”, the song was relentless in its aim to put down McCartney’s musical talents and contribution to The Beatles. Shortly after the album was released, Lennon said that the song “was an answer to Ram” but did his best to backtrack a potential war of words. “There’s really no feud between me and Paul,” Lennon claimed at the time. “It’s all good, clean fun. No doubt there will be an answer to ‘Sleep’ on his next album, but I don’t feel that way about him at all. It works as a complete song with no relation to Paul. It works as a piece of music.”
Lennon added: “There was always a musical difference between me and Paul—it didn’t just happen last year. But we’ve always had a lot in common, and we still do. The thing that made The Beatles what they were was the fact that I could do my rock ‘n roll, and Paul could do the pretty stuff… But hardly a week goes by when I don’t see, and/or hear from one of them.”
Later, during an interview in 1980, Lennon stated: “I used my resentment against Paul… to create a song… not a terrible vicious horrible vendetta… I used my resentment and withdrawing from Paul and The Beatles, and the relationship with Paul, to write ‘How Do You Sleep’. I don’t really go ’round with those thoughts in my head all the time”.
McCartney, who recently reflected on the song in am interview with The Howard Stern Show, said: “What was I going to do? Come on and go, ‘Oh, no, wait a minute, how about ‘She’s Leaving Home,’ ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ ‘Lady Madonna,’ ‘Let It Be’. I knew I wasn’t going to do that. And knowing John, you have to love him because he’s a crazy dude! John is a crazy dude, but the most loveable crazy dude I’ve ever met.”
He added: “He would just say what he felt. He’d say whatever he wanted, and a lot of it wasn’t true. I’d pull him up on it later and go, ‘You know that’s bullshit?’, and he’d go, ‘Yeah.’ “In this case, it was kind of hurtful, I must admit – because The Beatles were broken up and it was sad.”
While the lyrics where glaringly cutting for McCartney, the news that George Harrison was also involved in its creation would have added another level of pain. Here, in a video which was uploaded to an official Lennon YouTube account, explains how the duo are sat inside the Ascot Sound Studios with The Plastic Ono Band. “No reverb or echo, no effects, no strings, just live, unvarnished and raw,” the description reads.
The footage is from 1971 and inside Lennon’s home, Tittenhurst Park in Ascot. Harrison, sat playing John’s pale blue Fender Strat, is joined by the likes of Rod Lynton and Ted Turner who are playing along.
Alongside Lennon and Harrison, piano player Nicky Hopkins is also spotted with drummer Alan White and bassist Klaus Voormann.