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'How Do You Sleep?:' John Lennon's Most Ungroovy Anti-McCartney Rant

Music | September 9, 2020

Musician John Lennon formerly of "The Beatles" performs onstage at the Chrysler Arena on December 10, 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The title track of musician John Lennon's Imagine sets him up as some kind of enlightened sage; but "How Do You Sleep?," from the second side of the LP, shows the ex-Beatle at his most petty. An unambiguous attack on Paul McCartney, his former songwriting partner and friend, "How Do You Sleep?" is totally out of sync with the way Lennon is often remembered today. Only a couple of years earlier, Lennon and McCartney had been friends, preaching a message of peace and love to society. What went wrong? 

When The Beatles broke up in 1970, the split was not a graceful affair for both the depressed fans and the bandmates themselves. The aftermath caused burning tension between former pals Paul McCartney and John Lennon, who ended up in a musical rivalry against each other. Lennon eventually poured his emotions out in a bitter song revealing his cruel thoughts about McCartney that would be called “How Do You Sleep?,” which would be one of the most brutal songs in history.

McCartney Was The Bad Guy For Quitting The Beatles

Source: Pinterest

McCartney’s image was tarnished when he sued The Beatles in order to break the band up as a legal partnership, which was seen as blasphemy at the time (although the world realized years later this was the best decision). This action caused a nasty feud between McCartney and Lennon, who had already been a competitive duo in creativity even when they admired each other. The battle continued when Lennon slandered all of his bandmates in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, and McCartney responded by dressing up with his wife Linda McCartney as clowns wearing paper bags (mocking John and Yoko’s controversial cover for “Two Virgins”) in a few advertisements. When McCartney released his 1971 album Ram, he threw in a few subtle insults against Lennon including his reference to Lennon in the tune “Too Many People.” The lyrics “Too many people preaching practices” alluded to Lennon’s constant preaching of his ideology of life and peace. Lennon viewed this entire album as McCartney spitting on him, which pushed him to seek his own revenge. 

'How Do You Sleep?' Attacks McCartney Professionally And Personally

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1965. Source: The Atlantic

Lennon reacted to McCartney’s hidden messages against him by writing “How Do You Sleep?” for his 1971 album Imagine. Lennon used the negative energy built up during those months to blatantly slam his former best friend and undermine all of his achievements. The spiteful, cruel, and nasty lyrics were meant to completely degrade McCartney and emotionally harm him. Lennon sings “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead” to concur with the “Paul Is Dead” conspiracy and “The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you’ve gone you’re just another day,” to state that McCartney’s song “Yesterday” was his only accomplishment. While the majority of Beatles songs are credited to Lennon and McCartney as a songwriting team, Beatles historians have identified one or the other as the main songwriter -- and McCartney wrote plenty more than "Yesterday." Lennon seemed to have forgotten about all the massive hits McCartney contributed, from "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Love Me Do" in the early days to middle-period hits "Drive My Car," "Michelle," and "Eleanor Rigby" to "Let It Be," "The Long And Winding Road," and "Get Back" off their final album. Lennon also states that McCartney is surrounded by “straights” that treat him like a king, and that he’s “fake” (pretty on the outside, but mean and sneaky on the inside.) These were the kinds of harsh words that can bring down even the strongest of musicians. 

How Was George Harrison Involved In This?

Source: YouTube

Joining Lennon for the recording of “How Do You Sleep?” was another ex-Beatle, George Harrison. Harrison was shocked he was invited to the session since there still was heavy tension between the entire group, but was pleased to see Lennon was as jolly as ever to see him. This was probably because he was anyone else other than McCartney. Legendary pianist Nicky Hopkins hopped in on the piano, future Yes member Alan White accompanied them on drums, and Klaus Voorman provided the rhythm on bass. It was obvious to everyone in the room who the subject of the song was. Yoko Ono and former Beatles manager Allen Klein were not fond of McCartney, so they contributed many of the song’s taunting lyrics hoping to offend the man as well. 


Proving that McCartney is actually a human being, “How Do You Sleep?” hurt him terribly. He took the song completely to heart analyzing every single word wondering if the way he was portrayed is really the kind of person he was. McCartney started to believe the song’s message, and he dealt with this pain and confusion for years, especially since this was coming from his former best friend. However, a great deal of these lyrics were coming from Yoko Ono and Klein who were likely encouraging Lennon to dig as harshly as possible. McCartney had recently read a GQ interview with Yoko Ono where she stated that Paul didn’t contribute anything to The Beatles,except booking their studio time. McCartney was confused, but brushed it off his shoulders because of how ridiculous he found the accusation.

'How Do You Sleep?' Lyrics

Paul McCartney, Linda Eastman, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Source: Louder

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?

Ah how do you sleep at night?

You live with straights who tell you "you was king"

Jump when your mamma tell you anything

The only thing you done was yesterday

And since you've gone you're just another day

How do you sleep?

Ah 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 all those years

How do you sleep?

Ah how do you sleep at night?

John Admitted He'd Been A Jerk, Eventually

McCartney and Lennon in 1967. Source: Billboard

Although it was obvious to the entire public what the song’s intentions were, Lennon tried to play it off as if it was all over fun and games and that the feud was a silly, friendly one. He also stated the song was an attack on himself, but he could not quite get away with this story because of the cruelty of the lyrics. In 1974 after McCartney and Lennon had reconciled, Lennon admitted the song’s true meaning and his emotions behind it, and even regretted using the song to belittle his mate. McCartney and Lennon remained friends throughout the rest of the decade until Lennon was murdered in 1980.  

Tags: John Lennon | Paul McCartney | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The Beatles

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Brian Gilmore

Writer

Brian Gilmore has been writing about and studying everything the Internet loves since 2006 and you've probably accidentally read something he's written before, and if you haven't, you're already reading this bio, so that's a good start. He's a culture junkie ranging from Internet culture, to world history, to listening to way more podcasts than the average human being ever should. He's obsessed with the social catalysts that have caused some of the biggest movements of the last few hundred years, including everything from their effect on the pop culture of the time, to where they end up ideologically. The idea that generations have a beginning and an end is fascinating to him, and the fact that their lasting effects at any given point of their evolution can steer the direction of the entire world lead to some interesting questions, and answers, about our current culture at any given time. He also loves retrofuturism, phobias, and the fact that every pop culture icon has at least a few photos of them that make you feel like you might know them. History isn't a collection of stories as much as it is humanity trying its hardest to maintain a grasp on lessons we've learned before as a species, and that is just way too interesting to not look into a few hours a week. Oh and he used to collect Pez dispensers.