The John Lennon composition “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” off of The Beatles 1968 release “The White Album” remains one of his most dynamic, both in terms of musical structure and lyricism. Long rumored to address Lennon’s heroin habit, the song is certainly concerned with much more than just that: a hyper-sexual ode to his developing relationship with Yoko Ono; a comment upon the Guns & Ammo culture; and a display of the poetic depth and pleasure of language a skilled writer can achieve, as is evident in the song’s fragmented, imagist lyrics. However, for the purposes of my little quintet of songs, the narcotic aspect is the lens I’ve chosen to view the song through today.
Although they certainly never seemed to develop a habit horrific enough to warrant a memoir exclusively dedicated to the subject, Lennon and Yoko have both admitted to having a shared heroin addiction, which they attempted to kick together. A year after “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” Lennon recorded his second non-Beatles single, the harrowing “Cold Turkey,” which related the physical experience of withdrawal, and features a lacerating guitar riff played by Eric Clapton.
In a 2007 interview Ono stated that she believes they were able to overcome their addiction because of both their trepidation in using the drug intravenously and the fact that their dealer frequently cut his product down into a much more diluted form. “Luckily we never injected because both of us were totally scared about needles. So that probably saved us and the other thing that saved us was our connection was not very good. But that saved us actually” (Revoir, 2007).
Numerous and notable artists such as U2, Tori Amos, and frequent guitarist for Tom Waits, Marc Ribot have covered “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” over the years. My favorite cover, however, is the big band rendition performed by trumpet player Bobby Bryant on his 1969 album for Pacific Jazz Records, Earth Dance. Bryant’s orchestration heightens the dramatic tension already inherent in Lennon’s song and his jazz sensibilities make excellent use of its frequent shifts in time signature.
Check it out for yourself:
Like it? Buy it.
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by Bobby Bryant
Acoustic Bass – John Duke
Baritone Saxophone – Pete Christlieb
Bass [Fender] – Wilton Felder
Congas – Bob Norris, Chino Valdes
Drums – Carl Lott
Engineer – Dino Lappas
French Horn – David Duke
Harmonica – Don Bailey
Piano – Joe Sample
Producer – Wayne Henderson
Saxophone – Herman Riley
Tenor Saxophone – Ernie Watts
Trombone – Bill Tole, George Bohanon, John Ewing
Trombone [Bass] – Mike Wimberly
Trumpet – Bobby Bryant, Buddy Childers, Freddie Hill, Paul Hubinon
Tuba – Don Waldrop
Earth Dance features as well a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that is definitely worth checking out. And if you’re one of those people who, through some deficiency in your upbringing, are unfamiliar with The Beatles or are under the delusion that you actually do not like them, do your poor, neutered soul a favor and pick up “The White Album.”
Well, stay tuned for the conclusion of The Narcotic Wreck Quintet!
Lennon-McCartney. (1968). Happiness Is a Warm Gun. [recorded by Bobby Bryant] On Earth Dance [CD] Pacific Jazz Records. (1969). PSP Co Ltd. (2011)
Revoir, P. (2007, June 11). John and Yoko were saved from heroin addiction by greedy drug dealer. The Daily Mail. Retrieved February 11, 2012 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-461071/John-Yoko-saved-heroin-addiction-greedy-drug-dealer.html#ixzz1m7a1Od6g