Listening to a classic song through its isolated tracks is a wonderful way to understand just how little it takes to make a memorable song. Whether it’s the plaintive guitar lines of ‘Angie’ or the harried lead vocal of Jack White on The White Stripes’ ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’, oftentimes it’s the simplest of ideas that have the biggest impact.
That’s especially true for somebody like John Lennon, who famously favoured unadorned straightforwardness in his work. Despite working with the king of production gloss, Phil Spector, on many of his biggest albums, Lennon’s most famous pieces are mostly sparse: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was recorded almost exclusively in a power trio format and ‘Imagine’ is little more than a piano ballad. Albums like Walls and Bridges carry some dense overdubs, but Lennon himself seemed to enjoy when things were kept bare-bones.
That’s the case for ‘Jealous Guy’, his legendary cut from Imagine. Apart from the lush string overdubs, the song is mostly kept incredibly simple. Jim Keltner’s drum pattern is completely spare, with only a few fills decorating the song’s arrangement. The same goes for Klaus Voorman’s bass line: roots notes are all that are needed to propel the song forward.
But the real treat comes in hearing Lennon’s isolated vocals. Full of palpable regret and stirring emotion, Lennon lets it all out in one of the most heartfelt and vulnerable lead vocals of his career. For someone who could scream with the best of them on tracks like ‘Cold Turkey’ or ‘Move over Ms. L’, Lennon also had a remarkable ability to be soft and plaintive when it was needed.
Joey Molland and Tom Evans from Badfinger add some easy acoustic guitar to flesh out the arrangement, but that’s about it. Again, it’s the string overdubs, complete with harmonium and light touches of vibraphone from drummer Alan White that complicate the arrangement. But not overly so, as Lennon’s unguarded lead vocal is still the centrepiece of the track.
Check out the isolated tracks for ‘Jealous Guy’ down below.