Jealous Guy is a song John Lennon co-wrote with Paul in its original form as ‘Child Of Nature’ during their trip to India in 1968 and published it in his 1971 ‘Imagine’ album.
Both John and Paul wrote songs after hearing a lecture by the Maharishi about the unity of man and nature, but during the White Album session, it was to be Paul’s ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ that made the final selection. John’s song ‘A Child of Nature’ made similar observations about the sun, sky, wind and mountains, but, whereas Paul fictionalised his response by writing in the character of a ‘poor young country boy’, John wrote about himself ‘on the road to Rishikesh’. An interesting proof of their different way of approaching songwriting: John put himself and his warts in the first place, always. Paul, on the contrary, needed a filter to show his emotions and preferred to fictionalise his personal experiences in different characters he created to tell his story.
A demo of Child of Nature was recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison’s Kinfaus studio as part of the Beatles Esher tapes. The song also went under the title “On the road to Rishikesh”. On January 2, 1969, The Beatles rehearsed “Child of Nature” at Twickenham Film Studios with Harrison on backing vocals. Produced by George Martin with assistance from Glyn Johns, “Child of Nature” was rehearsed again by The Beatles on January 24, 1969, at the Apple Studio, but didn’t make the album’s final selection.
The song was later retitled and released on John’s Imagine solo album on October 8, 1971. ‘Jealous Guy’ features Klaus Voormann on bass and Nicky Hopkins on piano.
The song ‘Child of Nature’, written in 1968, has very different lyrics compared to the later re-written 1971 ‘Jealous Guy’:
ON THE ROAD TO RISHIKESH / I WAS DREAMING OF THE PAST
I WAS DREAMING MORE OR LESS / AND MY HEART WAS BEATING FAST
AND THE DREAM I HAD WAS TRUE / I BEGAN TO LOSE CONTROL
YES, THE DREAM I HAD WAS TRUE / I BEGAN TO LOSE CONTROL
I’M JUST A CHILD OF NATURE / I DIDN’T MEAN TO HURT YOU
In ‘Child of Nature’ John, inspired by The Maharishi, sings about nature with a positive and mild tone while having a dream. Re-written two years later, the once nature-evocative, dreamy song had turned into a melancholy, apologetic song about a man who’s asking for forgiveness for his jealousy, coincidentally after The Beatles/Paul McCartney break-up.
I DON’T NEED MUCH TO SET ME FREE / I’M SORRY THAT I MADE YOU CRY
I’M JUST CHILD OF NATURE / I DIDN’T WANT TO HURT YOU
I’M ONE OF NATURE’S CHILDREN / I’M JUST A JEALOUS GUY
SUNLIGHT SHINING IN YOUR EYES / I WAS FEELING INSECURE
AS I FACE THE DESERT SKIES / YOU MIGHT NOT LOVE ME ANYMORE
AND MY THOUGHTS RETURN TO HOME / I WAS SHIVERING INSIDE
YES, MY THOUGHTS RETURN TO HOME / I WAS SHIVERING INSIDE
“Paul’s Mother Nature’s Son] was from a lecture of Maharishi where he was talking about nature, and I had a piece called I’m Just A Child Of Nature, which turned into Jealous Guy years later. Both inspired from the same lecture of Maharishi. [..] 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.” – John Lennon, 1980 – All We Are Saying, David Sheff
When talking about ‘Jealous Guy’, John confessed to David Sheff that he was jealous over the women he had a relationship with through the years, making the song as an apology to them. But in the book “Come Together”, Jon Wiener speculates that ‘Jealous Guy’ may have been intended for both Yoko and Paul:
“The most striking thing about Crippled Inside [written for Paul] was that it was followed by John singing Jealous Guy. Written to Yoko, it was placed on the record in a way that suggested it might apply to Paul as well”. – Come Together: John Lennon in His Time by Jon Wiener
But for Paul McCartney the story is quite different: John’s jealousy was not intended just for the women he had a relationship with or for his latest wife Yoko Ono, but it was written exclusively for Paul, as he explained in an interview on February 1985 for Playgirl Magazine:
“He used to say, ‘Everyone is on the McCartney bandwagon.’ He wrote ‘I’m Just a Jealous Guy,’ and he said that the song was about me. So I think it was just some kind of jealousy.”
Paul revealed an intimate conversation he had with John in which he told him the song wasn’t really about Yoko, but for his old friend. In this case, the song must be reevaluated from a different point of view: not the insecurity and possessiveness Lennon brought through the years in his relationship with Cynthia or Yoko, but the same attitude towards his best friend and long-term music partner Paul McCartney.
Analyzing the song from this new, fresh and intriguing point of view, John probably tried to explain his feelings toward Paul that caused them to break up in 1969.
What has been said by John about his relationship with women is the same attitude he had towards Paul: he had mixed feelings toward him, he was possessive and protective because he was insecure, perhaps even scared of losing him, and, during the Beatles era, Paul was his partner. Jealousy and miscommunication were one of the major problems that brought Lennon to slowly leave Paul and replace him with Yoko, making him feel guilty and jealous as well.
Yoko, in this scenario, coming into John’s life and also in the Beatles’ circle, played a major role in distancing Paul from John. She also simultaneously altered the dynamic between the two and consequentially, in the group as well, deteriorated their friendship and their music partnership until 1970, when The Beatles officially broke up.
In this song, John is trying to apologize, showing a side of himself he rarely dared to unveil, if not only for Yoko but never for Paul. Considering John’s marriage to Yoko which was at its full bloom in the first years of the 70s, it’s unlikely to think that John was writing a song of apology for the newlywed, rather it’s more appropriate to believe he was trying to make peace with his past, his old best friend.
“Lennon sings both a confession and an apology for the pain his jealous actions have caused, eventually psychoanalyzing himself by saying he was “swallowing his pain”, reminding the beloved that he is still “just a jealous guy”.- The Words and Music of John Lennon, Ben Urish and Ken Bielen James E.
Without any doubt, reading the lyrics as a dedication from John to Paul, the song appears more compelling.
The first lines which contain the words ‘past’ might be referring to the recent past years of The Beatles period.
I was dreaming of the past,
and my heart was beating fast,
I began to lose control: What could this line mean from this new perspective? John and Paul had a strong bond and a deep relationship. But they were also very possessive and jealous towards each other. John, as he explained himself, was an insecure man and consequently tended to control his relationships. In this line, he admits that he had lost control over his jealousy. But this jealousy and possessives were not only on John’s side:
“I constantly saw Lennon and McCartney together because Paul came along to see that I wasn’t rude to John – who I can’t say I got on with. Paul didn’t want me to upset John.” – Sir Joseph Lockwood
Sir Joseph Lockwood, who was close to The Beatles since he generated a large share of EMI’s profits during the 1960s, unlocks a protective side of Paul, which shows how deep and intimate his relationship with John really was. They protected each other, but there was more. They were also possessive. The same possessiveness John confessed to have towards the women he loved. From this extract, it’s not hard to believe that it was the same for Paul.
But why this possessiveness towards Paul, you might ask.
John and Paul met in 1957, and since then, they never left each other. Together they realized the dream they wanted to achieve since they were teenagers. They grew up together. They faced the same brutal tragedy and shock of losing a mother at a very young age that bonded them through the years. The Beatles were, as Mick Jagger put on, four-headed monsters: Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and John&Paul. Lennon and McCartney lived in their bubble, in their own world, and created an inseparable link between each other made of trust and creative energy. But this deep, troubled, complex relationship reached a point in which John lost control over his possessiveness and jealousy toward Paul, and something really bad happened.
I didn’t mean to hurt you: Surely John and Paul shared a deep bond, but they weren’t quite good at communicating or expressing this feeling to each other. That’s why they used songs to express the sentiments they had. ‘Dear Friend’ by Paul is one of the examples.
They didn’t talk, they preferred to write songs and hope the other one would catch it, at the same time letting things slide and happen without understanding that, in this way, their relationship deteriorated.
Here, in ‘Jealous Guy’, John is analyzing things from a different point of view: a man who is now living far away from London has lived the past years away from his old friend and is capable to analyse facts from a new perspective. He’s reflecting and singing that he didn’t want to hurt Paul so bad and lose control of his emotions. He didn’t want to make Paul cry.
He sings it, so he probably also witnessed Paul crying in front of him. And it’s not far-reaching to imagine that, since the last years of their friendship became a war between the two of them and who was the best at hurting the other.
In 1969, as mentioned in Mojo Magazine of October 1996, an Apple Scruff confessed that one night she saw Paul running out the Abbey Road studios with tears streaming down his face. He allegedly went home and didn’t come back the next day even if the studio was already booked.
Another magazine posted two photos from the same period, probably the same day of the story mentioned above, in which it seems that Paul didn’t show up to Abbey Road studios for a booked session because it was his anniversary with Linda. While the other two Beatles seemed uninterested, John went mad and decided to go to Paul’s house and climb the wall to make a fracas.
In the same period they also had a confrontation after John exposed his feelings for Yoko to Paul:
“As the meeting was drawn to a weary close, John not this day with Yoko, who hadn’t seemed particularly connected with what was going on, said he wanted to play a tape he and Yoko had made. He got up and put a cassette into the tape machine and stood beside it, looking at us as we listened. The soft murmuring voices did not at first signal their purpose. It was a man and a woman but hard to hear, the microphone having been at a distance. I wondered if the lack of clarity was the point. Were we even meant to understand what was going on, was it a kind of artwork where we would not be able to put the voices into a context, and was context important? I felt perhaps this was something John and Yoko were examining. But then, after a few minutes, it became clear. John and Yoko were making love, with endearments, giggles, heavy breathing, both real and satirical, and the occasional more direct sounds of pleasure reaching for climax, all recorded by the faraway microphone. But there was something innocent about it too, as though they were engaged in a sweet serious game. John clicked the off button and turned again to look toward the table, his eyebrows quizzical above his round glasses, seemingly genuinely curious about what reaction his little tape would elicit. However often they’d shared small rooms in Hamburg, whatever they knew of each other’s love and sex lives, this tape seemed to have stopped the other three cold. Perhaps it touched a reserve of residual Northern reticence. After a palpable silence, Paul said, “Well, that’s an interesting one.” The others muttered something and the meeting was over. It occurred to me as I was walking down the stairs that what we’d heard could have been an expression of 1960s freedom and openness but was it more likely that it was as if a gauntlet had been thrown down? “You need to understand that this is where she and I are now. I don’t want to hold your hand anymore.” – Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond” by Michael Lindsay-Hogg
The world knows what happened after. They both married their wives and the weddings were only a few days apart. Coincidence? Maybe. But it seems more likely that they wanted to show each other how in love they were with their new partners, starting to replace each other with their women, making Linda and Yoko become their new music partners, singing, writing songs and playing at concerts with them. Only a couple of years later, when the emotions and feelings had cooled down, John will realize that his jealousy made Paul suffer and cry, and this song was his way to apologize.
When he wrote ‘How Do You Sleep’ or when he released the many interviews against Paul during and after the Beatles break-up, he probably didn’t fully realize the hurt he caused for Paul, but that was his intent, his way of taking revenge. When he realized that maybe he had gone too far, he wrote ‘Jealous Guy’.
‘I’m sorry that I made you cry, I’m just a jealous guy’
Simple, direct, yet effective. It’s typical John’s songwriting process mentioned above, characterized by a full emotional man who penned honest lyrics while caught in the moment of expressing his feelings: everything he felt he wrote it down in his songs. But when he realized that maybe he had gone too far, he took a step back and corrected himself. That’s the main difference between his and Paul’s writing.
“Some of my warts? Oh boy…I don’t particularly want to reveal them. I’ve got plenty. What I meant was that John could show how human he was by vocalizing all of that. It’s just my character not to vocalize that kind of stuff.” – Paul McCartney, Newsweek, May 3, 1983.
John’s songwriting process was made by the emotion stream of the moment. ‘How Do You Sleep’, was the product of his frustration and anger towards Paul. And some days later, when the anger passed and he realized he was too mean to Paul, he wrote ‘Jealous Guy’.
During this period, John experienced some moments of genuine anger towards Paul. He, in general, took their dispute less to heart. His temperament was typically characterized by short bursts of cathartic fury.
For Paul, it ran a little deeper. His bitterness towards John was expressed more subtly, but the openly explicit criticisms from John levelled towards him were internalized and taken more to heart.
“After John’s death, Paul was comforted by Yoko’s simple confirmation that John had been “really fond of him”. After all they had gone through together, and despite being on good terms for several years before John’s death, it seems he still wasn’t even sure of that.” – Lennon vs. McCartney: The Beatles, inter-band relationships and the hidden messages to each other in their song lyrics by Adam Thomas
When he described their feud in 1980, John admitted that he deliberately stirred up his own angry feelings for creative purposes:
“I used my resentment against Paul – that I have as a kind of sibling rivalry resentment from youth – to write a song. It was a creative rivalry…it was not a vicious vendetta.”
Although the lyrics appear to be about a relationship, if one reads them as being about McCartney it provides a revealing insight into Lennon’s viewpoint on The Beatles’ breakup and a counterpoint to Imagine’s ‘How Do You Sleep?’, Lennon’s vitriolic attack on his former songwriting partner. From this point of view, ‘Jealous Guy’ is the counterpart of ‘Dear Friend’, Paul’s apology to John in his album ‘Ram’.
In 1977 ‘Jealous Guy’ became the last song John ever performed in public. While staying in the presidential suite in Tokyo’s Okura Hotel, Lennon played Jealous Guy on his acoustic guitar for a couple who accidentally entered the suite after taking the hotel’s elevator to the wrong floor
An alternate take of ‘Jealous Guy’ entitled ‘Child Of Nature’ is included in the ‘Fly On The Wall’ disc as a part of the album package associated with the ‘Let It Be…Naked’ release.
Although there are traces of personal confession of his jealousy in “Run For Your Life” (Rubber Soul, 1965) in which Lennon sings that he’s known to be a “wicked guy born with a jealous mind”, ‘Jealous Guy’ was the very first song in which John admitted his weak status and the negative state of being a jealous man that caused pain in his relationships.
It might have been written for Yoko, and later John could have addressed the lyrics to Paul as well. It would explain the phone call he had with him in which he felt the need to confess to him that the song was his way of apologizing to him.
Whoever the real subject is, it shows how profound and deep the relationship really was between McCartney and Lennon, and what a slight, thin difference there was between John’s relationship with his wives and Paul.
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