Song facts: Cold Turkey

Cold Turkey is widely believed to be about John Lennon and Yoko Ono's experience going cold turkey from heroin; a term commonly used for getting off of one addiction or another without a cooling down period. But there's also another claim the song is a reference to food poisoning John got from eating some cold turkey; most people refer to the former.

Lennon had already left The Beatles and formed the Plastic Ono Band. Cold Turkey was his second solo single, following Give Peace a Chance.

"Cold Turkey is self-explanatory. It was banned again all over the American radio, so it never got off the ground. They were thinking I was promoting heroin, but instead... They're so stupid about drugs! They're always arresting smugglers or kids with a few joints in their pocket. They never face the reality. They're not looking at the cause of the drug problem. Why is everybody taking drugs? To escape from what? Is life so terrible? Do we live in such a terrible situation that we can't do anything about it without reinforcement from alcohol or tobacco or sleeping pills? I'm not preaching about 'em. I'm just saying a drug is a drug, you know. Why we take them is important, not who's selling it to whom on the corner." - John Lennon

Recording

The Plastic Ono Band got together at Abbey Road Studios on September 30th, 1969, with Ringo Starr on drums, Eric Clapton and John Lennon on lead guitar and Klaus Voormann playing bass. Although the band had earlier recorded 26 takes of Cold Turkey, Lennon was unhappy with the sound; on this day they worked to get a harsher, more raw feel to the track - helped greatly by Clapton's audatious guitar playing.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1969.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1969.

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"Heroin. It just was not too much fun. I never injected it or anything. We sniffed a little when we were in real pain. I mean we just couldn't - people were giving us such a hard time. And I've had so much shit thrown at me and especially at Yoko. People like Peter Brown in our office, he comes down and shakes my hand and doesn't even say hello to her. Now that's going on all the time. And we get in so much pain that we have to do something about it. And that's what happened to us. We took H because of what The Beatles and their pals were doing to us. And we got out of it. They didn't set down to do it, but things came out of that period. And I don't forget." - John Lennon

Release

Cold Turkey was released in the US on October 20th and four days later in the UK. The song peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 14 on the UK singles chart.

"We were full of junk too. I just threw up for hours till I went on. I nearly threw up in Cold Turkey - I had a review in Rolling Stone about the film of it - which I haven't seen yet, and they're saying, 'I was this and that.' And I was throwing up nearly in the number, I could hardly sing any of them, I was full of shit." - John Lennon

 Personnel

  • John Lennon – lead and backing vocals, lead and rhythm guitar
  • Eric Clapton – lead guitar
  • Klaus Voormann – bass
  • Ringo Starr – drums

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