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 in September 1969 at "The Toronto Rock and Revival Show," featuring Eric Clapton on guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Alan White on drums. The set was released as a live album.
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."