Did John Lennon write ‘Jealous Guy’ about Paul McCartney?

John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a habit of writing songs about each other. Although they worked closely as songwriting collaborators during the early years of The Beatles, their partnership began to fracture as each man found his unique point of view. Beatles songs occasionally made reference to each other (Lennon’s ‘Glass Onion’ was a meta-take on The Beatles’ catalogue, including making the claim that “the Walrus was Paul”), but Lennon and McCartney really started to write about each other once the band was over.

Across their first solo studio albums, Lennon and McCartney traded jabs in the form of songs. McCartney took umbrage with Lennon’s preachy ways and wrote ‘Too Many People’ to take him down a peg. Lennon responded with the vitriolic ‘How Do You Sleep?’, the most direct attack that either man would create. But the idea of writing songs inspired by each other had filtered into Lennon and McCartney’s respective minds while The Beatles were still an active concern.

While The Beatles met with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in 1968, Lennon and McCartney each went on a tear of creating new songs. With just acoustic guitars at their disposal, the songwriters took any inspiration they could, whether it was self-isolation in ‘Dear Prudence’ or two monkeys getting it on in ‘Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?’. After listening to one of the Maharishi’s lectures on man’s relationship to nature, Lennon and McCartney were separately inspired to write songs.

McCartney came up with ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, an idyllic folk tune that fits well within McCartney’s more whimsical sensibilities. In contrast, Lennon wrote ‘Child of Nature’, a more personal and critical look at jealousy. When ‘Child of Nature’ eventually evolved into ‘Jealous Guy’ from 1971’s Imagine, Lennon claimed that he crafted the song around his own attitudes surrounding how he treated the women in his life.

“My song, melody written in India,” Lennon told David Sheff in 1980. “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.”

Lennon also acknowledged that both ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ were born from the same place. “[‘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,” Lennon said. “Both inspired from the same lecture of Maharishi.”

According to a 1985 interview in Playgirl magazine, however, McCartney took an opposing view. In the article, McCartney claimed that Lennon had admitted that ‘Jealous Guy’ was about McCartney. “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,” McCartney claimed. “So I think it was just some kind of jealousy.”

There doesn’t seem to be any trace of Lennon talking about McCartney being the inspiration for ‘Jealous Guy’. McCartney made his claims about the song five years after Lennon was killed, so it would have been impossible for him to give a contemporary reaction. Throughout his numerous interviews conducted in the 1970s, Lennon only mentions McCartney when talking about the lecture that inspired both ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ and ‘Jealous Guy’, not the final lyrics that wound up on Imagine.

So is it possible that Lennon reworked ‘Jealous Guy’ to make another dig at McCartney? Possibly: it fits within the timeline of when Lennon was writing his most direct slights. He may also have been highlighting his own jealousy toward McCartney; however, that too seems somewhat unlikely. Lennon copped to his McCartney references at the time and was rarely shy when given the opportunity to highlight the kernels of truth at the centre of his harshest songs, no matter who they were inspired by. It doesn’t seem likely that Lennon would openly admit to taking a swipe at McCarney in ‘How Do You Sleep?’ but fail to acknowledge his influence on ‘Jealous Guy’.

The most likely scenario is the one that has been canonised in history books – Lennon wrote ‘Jealous Guy’ about himself, not McCartney. Is there a chance that Lennon had McCartney on his mind while finishing up the songs for Imagine? Absolutely. In fact, it seems likely that Lennon was trying to find ways to get under McCartney’s skin at the time. But ‘Jealous Guy’ doesn’t appear to be one of those missiles with McCartney as the target that song was about Lennon’s favourite subject of all — John Lennon.

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