The Beatles - Paul McCartney - John Lennon, live in 1965
John Lennon and Paul McCartney. (Credit: Bent Rej)

The song John Lennon used his resentment to write about Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney has been discussing the one infamous John Lennon song that arrived as a hurtful blow upon its release in 1971.

‘How Do You Sleep?’, a song that 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 song, littered with angry and cutting remarks aimed at his former Beatles bandmate 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, reflecting on the song in a recent 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’…?

He added: “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 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.”

Listen the full interview, below.

‘How Do You Sleep?’ lyrics:

So ‘Sgt. Pepper’ took you by surprise
You better see right through that mother’s eyes
Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
The one mistake you made was in your head

How do you sleep?
How do you sleep at night?

You live with straights who tell you, you was king
Jump when your momma tell you anything
The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’
And since you’ve gone you’re just ‘Another Day

How do you sleep?
How do you sleep at night?
How do you sleep?
How do you sleep at night?

A pretty face may last a year or two
But pretty soon they’ll see what you can do
The sound you make is muzak to my ears
You must have learned something in all those years

How do you sleep?
How do you sleep at night?

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