John Lennon’s solo career contains some towering, Everest-like highs. A songwriter who helped give the Peace movement a true anthem in the form of ‘Imagine’, he was also able to dive into caverns of loss, and inadequacy.
On the surface, ‘Jealous Guy’ might not have what it takes for a hit – the lilting melody aside, it’s the sound of someone admitting they fear that they’re not good enough. Yet it’s become an enduring statement of John Lennon’s solo work, an ode to Yoko Ono that has become fixed in the public gaze.
The song’s roots owe a debt to a tumultuous time in the Beatles’ lives. The Fab Four decamped to India, in order to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Ringo was the first to leave – unhappy with the food, and missing home – before being followed by a doubtful Paul McCartney.
George Harrison – the prime mover behind the meditative trip – opted to stay, with John Lennon sticking it out beside his friend. Their time in the ashram allowed John to focus on his music, constructing a plethora of future classics destined for what would become ‘The White Album’.
One sketch became known as ‘Child Of Nature’. Recorded in sketch form at George Harrson’s Esher pad on the group’s return to the UK, it dealt with the trip, and a longing to embrace spirituality.
Here’s a fragment of the lyrics:
On the road to Rishikesh
I was dreaming more or less
And the dream I had was true
Yes, the dream I had was true / I’m just a child of nature
I don’t need much to set me free
I’m just child of nature
I’m one of nature’s children / Sunlight shining in my eyes
Unable to quite nail the song down, John Lennon shelved it. Years later, the melody re-emerged, coupled to lyrics about his relationship with Yoko Ono.
A song of jealousy, John would later insist it was “almost on a very conceptual, spiritual level”. Speaking to Rolling Stone, he said:
“When you’re in love with somebody, you tend to be jealous and want to own them and possess them 100 per cent, which I do. Intellectually, I thought owning a person is rubbish, but I love Yoko, I want to possess her completely. I don’t want to stifle her. You have so little as a child, I think once you find it, you want to hang onto it. You grab it so much, you tend to kill it.”
Lennon’s sudden passing in 1980 would propel the song back into the charts. Bryan Ferry opted to cover it, his touching, lounge-leaning rendition topped off with a pitch perfect whistle solo from the Roxy Music singer.
The original, though, and the long path behind it, remains definitive.
Related: Yoko Ono Interviewed