One of John Lennon’s best-known and most-loved songs, “Jealous Guy” first saw the light of day on his 1971 Imagine album, before Roxy Music had a No.1 hit with their version, released in February 1981 as a tribute to the then recently murdered ex-Beatle. Even by the time John finished his version, however, the song had already been through a number of incarnations.
‘I was dreaming more or less’
“Jealous Guy” began life during The Beatles’ time studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, in spring 1968. Both Lennon and McCartney composed songs inspired by a lecture given by the Maharishi about humans’ position as the sons of mother nature. Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son” is one of “The White Album”’s more gentle moments, while John wrote “Child Of Nature,” a song that began “On the road to Rishikesh, I was dreaming more or less”, sung to the melody that would become familiar to millions as “Jealous Guy.”
The Beatles recorded a demo of the song in May 1968 in preparation for inclusion on “The White Album”. That Esher demo is a tender performance, with mandolin adding a Mediterranean flavor to the piece. For whatever reason, however, the song didn’t make the album; Lennon reintroduced it during the Get Back sessions of January 1969.
By then, with the Rishikesh experience having turned sour for John, the song had changed, and it was “On The Road To Marrakesh” that John and George attempted on the first day of the Get Back sessions, returning to it briefly with the other Beatles later that month, as they drew close to making their last-ever public appearance together, on the roof of the Apple offices in London.
‘I was a very jealous, possessive guy’
By the time the song reappeared in 1971, only the melody remained. Encouraged by Yoko Ono to “think about something more sensitive”, John penned a new set of lyrics that seemed to address his changing attitude towards women. Talking to U.S. journalist David Sheff in 1980, he revealed: “The lyrics explain themselves clearly: I was a very jealous, possessive guy. Toward everything. A very insecure male. A guy who wants to put his woman in a little box, lock her up, and just bring her out when he feels like playing with her. She’s not allowed to communicate with the outside world – outside of me – because it makes me feel insecure.”
This certainly ties in with a subject John spoke about at the time of recording the Imagine album. In an interview with the BBC’s Woman’s Hour radio show, conducted at his Tittenhurst home, where the album was recorded, he talked about his changing view of relationships: “When you actually are in love with somebody you tend to be jealous, and want to own them and possess them one hundred percent, which I do… I love Yoko, I want to possess her completely. I don’t want to stifle her, you know? That’s the danger, that you want to possess them to death.”
‘So flabbergasted I can’t play’
The song was recorded at the eight-track studio that John had built at Tittenhurst Park, near Ascot, on May 24, 1971. A number of notable musicians contributed to the recording, among them in-demand session musician Nicky Hopkins, whose distinctive, gospel-tinged piano makes the song instantly familiar from the off. As Yoko later put it: “Nicky Hopkins’ playing on ‘Jealous Guy’ is so melodic and beautiful that it still makes everyone cry, even now.”
Drummer Jim Keltner described the session as “like being in a dream”, noting, “Nobody in the world ever played piano like Nicky Hopkins, and Klaus [Voorman] has such a tremendous deep feel on the bass. Having John’s voice in your headpones, glancing up and seeing him at the microphone – 1971 – fresh from The Beatles and such a tremendous musician and songwriter – singing this beautiful, haunting little song. You only have a few moments of those in your life as a musician and that was one of them.”
Also present at the session were Joey Molland and Tom Evans from Badfinger. Molland later wrote of the session: “In walks John Lennon and he’s really bug-eyed, really gone – ‘Hello everybody!’ He was shouting. It was 11 o’clock at night and he’d just gotten out of bed… I was just in awe, just ga-ga. Then he sits down on the stool and starts playing ‘Jealous Guy’ and I’m so flabbergasted I can’t play. He was singing and I’m literally astounded, ‘It sounds like John Lennon.’”
Almost a month and a half after the session, on 4 and 5 July, strings were added by members of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at New York’s Record Plant East, further augmenting the evocative instrumentation.
‘They did not leave a tip’
“Jealous Guy” has the honor of being the last song John Lennon ever performed in public, albeit to an unwitting audience. During a stay in a Japanese hotel in 1977, John and his friend, the New York writer and DJ Elliot Mintz, were lounging around in the presidential suite when an elderly Japanese couple wandered in and sat down, thinking they were in a lounge bar. John found this most entertaining and, as Mintz recalled, began to play “Jealous Guy” on his acoustic guitar. The couple soon left, presumably having no idea that they weren’t in a bar with poor service and a western singer, leaving John and Elliot in fits of laughter.
As Mintz wrote: “It was the only time I think he ever performed for a private party of two. They did not leave a tip.”
Imagine: The Ultimate Collection can be bought here.
Further explore the release at imaginejohnyoko.com.