Friday, January 16, 2009
While the title track “Imagine” is undoubtedly the most famous song off Lennon’s masterful 1971 LP, it is the haunting “Jealous Guy” that has become the most covered. Growing up with the legendary album, I must admit that “Jealous Guy” has always been my favorite, and as I have gotten older it has lost none of its hypnotic and powerful pull for me.
Lennon originally wrote the tune for “Jealous Guy” after The Beatles returned from their visit to India as “Child of Nature”, a song that was left off The White Album.
The discarded song stayed in Lennon’s head throughout the next few years and he brought it back to life during the Imagine sessions with new typically ultra-personal lyrics focusing on his relationship with artist, collaborator and muse Yoko Ono.
“Jealous Guy” is one of the ultimate John Lennon songs as it shows so many aspects of his volatile and passionate personality. Beautiful sounding but with a real line of bitterness underneath, the song offers up an apology without a resolution. It’s as though Lennon is explaining a line of behavior he has no plans on changing.
Despite the fact that the song includes Lennon’s own undeniably effective piano playing, the haunting harmonium work by John Barham, Jim Keltner on drums and the ever present Klaus Voorman on bass, the real pull of the track is Lennon’s pleading vocal take and an eerie mid-song whistle that would go on to influence Billy Joel a few years later on his equally mesmerizing "The Stranger" in 1977.
“Jealous Guy” wasn’t released as a single in Lennon’s lifetime (it finally appeared as a 45 under his own name in the mid eighties) but its impact was immediately felt. Of the dozens of cover versions of the song, one of the earliest by late soul legend Donny Hathaway remains the most effective:
Rod Stewart and The Faces began performing the song live in the mid seventies shortly before they split up, and the tune lent itself well to their scrappy but ferociously great playing, and is heard well in this rehearsal version:
The most successful version of the song (and truth be told, perhaps the greatest) was released by the peerless Roxy Music in 1980 shortly after Lennon had been killed outside The Dakota in New York. Armed with one of Bryan Ferry’s most enduring vocals and the band’s typically immaculate playing, Roxy Music’s version would ironically turn out to be their only number one hit in Britain, and it served simultaneously as a lament and tribute to an extraordinary talent taken all to soon.
Everyone from The Black Crows to Kiss have performed the song since. Much missed Elliot Smith was an unabashed fan of the track and his tender version would pop up often in his live shows throughout the nineties:
The most original version of the song came courtesy of Lou Reed at the Come Together tribute concert in 2001. Lou’s pulverizing and passionate version of Lennon’s track instantly became a ‘Lou Reed Song’ in the famed New Yorker’s hands and it’s a shame he hasn’t (to my knowledge) revisited it since.
Vivid, unflinching, and altogether haunting, "Jealous Guy" remains one of John Lennon's most beloved tracks and, along with the raging "Crippled Inside", it is the key song off his most commercially successful album.