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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 158
Sat. July 6, 2013

“Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”
John Lennon

1974

“♫ Hold
me darlin’
come on
listen to
me/ I
won’t
do you no
harm
♫”

In 1974 fresh off his Lost Weekend in Los Angeles and estranged from his wife Yoko Ono, John Lennon was still singing the blues. In an interview with Lisa Robinson of NME, Lennon talked about the pressure of being away from Yoko and trying to deliver a hit to the record label, when John said, “I would say that I was under emotional stress—a manic depression, I would call it.” With somber songs like “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down & Out,” “Scared” and “Steel and Glass,” Lennon’s new album needed a pop hit to liven up the sonic festivities that was Walls & Bridges. John was actually inspired while listening to radio as he explained in John Blaney’s book Lennon & McCartney: Together Alone, “I heard someone saying it on the radio, on a late night talk show, talking to someone on a phone, saying, ‘Well, whatever gets you through the night.’ And there it was, the whole tune came to me in my head.”

But it wasn’t just that televangelist that sparked “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” Lennon wanted “Whatever” to sound like George McRae’s “Rock Your Baby” explaining in Blaney’s Together Alone, “It was going to be like “Rock Your Baby,” but I often have no idea what it’s going to be like but it never turns out anything like it. It’s a very loose track. I Call it the “Crippled Inside” of the album, you know, or the ‘Oh Yoko!” of the album, which are tracks I made which people say I should put out as a single, and I always fought it.” But this time I swayed with the people who told me to put it out. I think they were right. It’s almost the first or second take, and the musicians are ragged but swinging. We tried to cut it a few times but it never got the feel.”

Even after Lennon tracked “Thru The Night,” he realized that needed some extra harmonies and Elton John added his vocals on one condition, Lennon explained telling David Sheff in All We Are Saying, “[Elton] sang on a single that turned out to be a cut from Walls And Bridges, Whatever Gets You Thru The Night. He sang harmony on it and he really did a damn good job. So I sort of halfheartedly promised that if Whatever Gets You Thru The Night became number one, which I had no reason to expect, I’d do Madison Square Garden with him. So one day Elton called and said, ‘Remember when you promised…’ It wasn’t like I promised some agent or something, so I was suddenly stuck. I had to go on stage in the middle of nothing.

In the middle of one of the darkest moments in John Lennon’s life and with the help of a radio preacher, George McRae’s “Rock Your Baby” and Elton John— the former Beatles put himself back on the charts and hearts of Fab Four fans everywhere when he composed this cheerful number one song in 1974. Lennon himself was perplexed by “Whatever’s” success in Bill Harry’s The John Lennon Encyclopedia when John said, “That was a novelty record. It’s the only one I’ve done since I left The Beatles to get to number one. We didn’t get a good take on the musicians, but I quite like the words. It was more commercial than, say, “Imagine,” but in my opinion “Imagine” should have been number one and “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” should have been number thirty-nine. Who knows?

During my early more pretentious days, I really used to have that same problem, Lennon had with his own song—“Whatever.” I was more into Lennon’s more poignant numbers like “Working Class Hero.” But today, trying to motivate myself creatively— I found some inspirational delight from spinning this half serious disco pop gem. I must admit it’s amazing that Lennon could even craft an enthusiastically joyful number one pop song while missing his wife in the middle of his estrangement with Yoko. Still Lennon overcame his anxieties and listened to his muse and “Whatever” brought him the hit record his career needed. Did you know that “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” was Lennon’s only number one single released during his lifetime? The song that saved his career was also one of John’s most hopeful pop songs. Lennon’s self confessed “novelty” hit single is one that will definitely liven up your already smokin’ Saturday Night.

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