The Beatles died their first death in September of 1969 when John Lennon finally quit the band, but nobody knew it outside their tight circle. They were still on the airwaves with new music, since their final album Abbey Road was released that same month. John, at the behest of the other Beatles, had agreed to keep it a secret and not announce his departure publicly. In the meantime, John released “Give Peace a Chance” and “Cold Turkey” under the moniker Plastic Ono Band.
As late as April of 1970, the world was laboring under the delusion that the Beatles were still together, safe in the comfort that all was as it should be, despite the lack of a single release in 6 months. John had kept silent like he promised, but then Paul announced his own departure from the band, simultaneously releasing his first solo album, simply titled McCartney.
Paul beat John to the punch with the announcement of the breakup, put the attention solely on himself, and sold lots of records, the songwriting profits from which would go directly to Paul instead of the Lennon/McCartney team. With all three things, Paul left John royally screwed over. As you might have guessed, John was just a wee bit upset.
This latest act of selfishness on McCartney’s part was just the final straw in a long string of issues and complications John had endured throughout his life. They included the death of his mother, trouble at school, the death of Stuart Sutcliffe, his difficult relationship to his first wife Cynthia – and his physical abuse of her – and the baggage from the birth of his son Julian. That’s a lot of riders on the camel of John’s emotions. So what did he do? He screamed a lot.
Theoretically, primal scream therapy ought to work like a charm. You have a bad experience, you scream, you get it all out, and then it doesn’t bother you anymore. Arthur Janov basically says that we accumulate and hold on to traumatic experiences throughout childhood, and they manifest themselves repeatedly until they are finally let go of through some sort of release. That’s where the screaming comes in.
Despite John Lennon’s ringing endorsement (as well as that of a few other celebrities) that caused its popularity to spike in the early 70s, it fizzled soon afterwards due to the lack of definitive outcomes to prove its effectiveness. Real psychotherapists never put much stock in it, and it now exists as the quintessential psycho-fad.
John Lennon’s first proper solo album came directly out of his primal scream therapy. It was officially called John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and it was the very first time the world was looking at John and seeing all his baggage lying nakedly out there for all to see. It’s a complete mess, formless and unregulated, unified only by John’s unhindered exploration of his entire psyche. Imagine has form and appeal that Plastic Ono Band doesn’t, and also has the beauty, grace and focus John found through his experience with primal scream. POB was John in the middle of his scream, and Imagine was where he took a deep breath and said, “let’s see about moving forward.”
However, John was not above personal attacks. There’s just one on Imagine, but it’s a doozy. “How Do You Sleep?” sees John simply letting his vitriol fly, all directed at Paul McCartney. John’s pretty nasty here; he calls Paul “a pretty face,” says he’ll last “a year or two” on his own, and is still holding on to bitterness over the Beatles’ most commercially successful song being the Paul-penned banal toss-off love song “Yesterday.” He insults his prowess as a songwriter, something only a consummate song-spinner like John can feel comfortable doing. The only thing left is calling Paul bad in bed.
The other Beatles must have thought Paul had been a real douche-bag, too. George lent his talents on the slide guitar to “How Do You Sleep?” and guested on 4 other tracks. Ringo was hanging around the studio, but didn’t play. Paul was nowhere to be seen.
Next: John and Yoko – stupidly, sickeningly, beautifully in love.