Cold Turkey

Album: Lennon Boxed Set (1969)
Charted: 14 30
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Songfacts®:

  • This song is about drug withdrawal. Quitting "Cold Turkey" means abruptly stopping drug use, and wreaks havoc on the body because it has to suddenly adjust to not getting drugs. John Lennon quit cold turkey because he wanted to get off drugs and start a family with Yoko (who also quit with him). He wrote this song about that experience.
  • Lennon wanted to record this with The Beatles for their Abbey Road album, but the other Beatles rejected it. Lennon recorded it with a group of musicians he called The Plastic Ono Band and released it as a single. It was not available on an album.
  • Lennon's second single away from The Beatles. "Give Peace A Chance" was released a few months earlier.
  • Lennon performed this on September 13, 1969 at The Toronto Rock and Revival Show, where he introduced his Plastic Ono Band (at least the configuration of it for this show). Eric Clapton was on guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Alan White on drums. Yoko Ono was also part of the act, and she made an impact during "Cold Turkey." As the song played, she emerged from a bag on stage, stepped up to a microphone, and made turkey-sounding noises (not out of character). The set was released as a live album called Live Peace In Toronto 1969.
  • Eric Clapton played some of the guitar on this. Lennon asked Clapton to join The Plastic Ono Band, but Eric declined.
  • Lennon wrote and recorded this song before attending Arthur Janov's Primal Scream therapy workshop, which played a part in his song "Mother." The screams he used in "Cold Turkey," he was actually emulating Yoko singing.
  • Lennon discussed this song in an interview with BBC Radio 1 DJ Andy Peebles on December 6, 1980, four days before his death. He recalled: "Cold Turkey was banned. They thought it was a pro-drugs song. But I've always expressed what I've been feeling or thinking at the time. So I was just writing the experience I'd had of withdrawing from heroin. To some it was a rock 'n' roll version of The Man With The Golden Arm because it showed Frank Sinatra suffering from drug withdrawal." (Source Q magazine November 2010)
  • When John Lennon decided to return his MBE (Member of the British Empire) award on November 25, 1969, he sent it to Queen Elizabeth II with a note explaining, "I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts."

Comments: 25

  • Swillis from CanadaI know (not from personal experience) that it sounds like getting off heroin and Lennon has said as much. But reportedly he also said it was prompted by getting sick after eating--get this: cold turkey. No one would have accepted that so he made up the other~~or so I've read.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 15th 1969, UNICEF held a 'Peace For Christmas' charity concert at the Lyceum Ballroom in London, the concert featured the live debut performance by the Plastic Ono Band, and it was also the last stage appearance by John Lennon in the United Kingdom...
    At the time the POB's "Cold Turkey" was at #35 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; just under four weeks later on January 11th, 1970 it would peak at #30 for one week {See next post below}...
    Also at the time the Beatles had a record on the Top 100; "Come Together" b/w "Something"* was at #6...
    * The composer of "Something", George Harrison, played with the POB at the concert.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 9th 1969, "Cold Turkey" by John Lennon & the Plastic One Band entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #86; and 9 weeks later on January 11th, 1970 it peaked at #30 {for 1 week} and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    As stated above this was his 2nd* charted record on the Top 100; between 1969 and 1985, as a solo artist, he had seventeen Top 100 records, seven made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" for 1 week in 1974 and "(Just Like) Starting Over" for 5 weeks in 1980...
    He just missed having a third #1 when "Woman" peaked at #2 {for 3 weeks} in 1981...
    May John Winston Lennon R.I.P. {1940 - 1980}...
    * His next Top 100 record would be his first Top 10 entry, "Instant Karma (We All Shine On)" at #3.
  • Sue from Mumbaai, IndiaI was thinking how i went Cold Turkey on Chicken..(No i 'm not talking about Cross-Breeding here..)& something is Fishy as i 've now turned Pescatarian..This song just Blew my mind..Just happened to stumble upon it!!! Loved it..Will make me go Cold Turkey on my Vices.
  • John from Anaheim, CaThe single version was different from the live version on the "Live Peace" album. This studio version was apparently included on the Lennon greatest hits album. The picture sleeve for the 45 portrays black & white x-rays of John and Yoko's heads.
  • Ekristheh from Halath, United StatesJonathon in Clermont - That happened several times with anti-drug songs. "Snowblind Friend" and "The Pusher" are two of the most anti-drug songs ever written but they were banned from radio airplay, along with "Hand of Doom" by Black Sabbath. Meanwhile, songs like "Journey to the Center of the Mind" and "Eight Miles High" which extol or at least don't condemn drug use, not to mention "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and other acid-soaked Beatles tunes, were played regularly on AM radio where kids as young as myself at the time could hear them.
  • Julia from Richland, WaI think he wanted the moaning and screaming at the end to sound like dry heaving because of the drug withdrawal, but what do I know....
  • Reed from New Ulm, MnOnly John Lennon would be creative enough to record a virtual testament to the experience of withdrawl.----very moving!
  • Karma from New York City, Ny{For Adrian in Caldwell} I know right? you just want to stay with him the whole time. But I do want to thank Yoko for motivating him to get off the hard stuff. (btw, I'm a Jersey girl myself. off 287!)
  • Adrienne from Caldwell, NjThis song makes me sad..it makes me want to give John a hug.
  • Ian from Lethbridge, CanadaGreat song. Wow, that's an intense ending!
  • Krista from Elyria, OhThis song is great! One of the very few when I think Yoko joins in, but we can't here her! HA!
  • Robert from Cambridge, NyThe live version on "Sometime In New York City" is great, however, Frank Zappa is not on this track. FZ and the Mothers play on "Well (Baby Please Don't Go)", "Jamrag", "Scumbag" and "Au".
    I still wish The Beatles would have done this together.
  • Wayne from Edgewater, MdI remember a friend having this song on a 45 and the flip side was nothing but Yoko wailing like she was on withdrawal.
  • Joel from Manchester, Englandyes, it is about drug withdrawl.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThat comment I posted several months ago about not knowing it was about a drug withdrawal, was refering to the first time I heard the song. i should have made it more clear.
  • Jonathon from Clermont, FlJohn Lennon was mad because they banned this song. He was talking about quitting heroin, and he felt they acted like he was promoting it. I got that right out of the published parts of his own journals.
  • Kevin Murphy from Ridgewood, NjYou can really see the two sides of Mr. Lennon's music, or more appropriately, the outward John and the inward John. Songs like 'Give Peace a Chance' and 'Imagine' totally contrast that of 'Cold Turkey' and 'God'; and for good reason. When I hear GPAC and Imagine, I see a masked Lennon, setting an example, stepping out of his own element to convey a message for the world around him. CT and God come across much more like psychiatric sessions in that Lennon is totally enveloped in his own battle for peace: unmasked, unclothed and unhappy. John was a master of confusing his listeners through the lyrics of songs like I am the Walrus and Strawberry Fields Forever. But I think a deeper sense of audio bedlam was created in the early seventies when songs like these came out.
  • John from Woburn, MaNot hard to see why the other beatles, especially paul, didn't want it on an album.John was stretching the limit with songs like "come together", "Iwant you", and "dont let me down" but finally the beatles put their foot (feet) down
  • Ryan from Lakewood, OhI like the live version of this with Frank Zappa on 'Sometime in New York City/Live Jam'.
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhJohn probaly could have meant Cold Turkey as quiting anything tough, like the Beatles.
  • Joe from Los Angeles, Cayeah, john should've included this on 'plastic ono band'.it would have fit right in next to 'well,well,well'. the part at the end where that accordion starts playing then abruptly cuts off always creeps me out.
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScI didn't know it was about a drug withdrawal until lennon sang the line "Cold turkey's got me on the run."
  • Erin Lennon from Toronto, Canadai love the part when he's like "ah oh aww ahhhhh... " i thought he was having sex before, but then i actually really listened to the song, it's a great song
  • Dawn from Colonial Heights, Va"Cold Turkey" was actually written more about heroin withdrawal than it was about general drug withdrawal.
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