While on vacation in Bermuda during the summer of 1980, Lennon tried to call Yoko Ono but couldn’t get through to her and channeled his frustration into this bluesy rocker. In the song, he worries that she’s shutting him out because she can’t forget all the bad things he did in the past. Lennon concedes he hurt her but counters that it was long ago and, exasperated, implores her to let go of the negative memories.
When Lennon began recording his next album, Double Fantasy, he chose Jack Douglas for his co-producer. Douglas engineered Lennon’s Imagine album as well as Who’s Next, worked with Patti Smith, Blue Oyster Cult, and the New York Dolls, and produced three mid-seventies Aerosmith albums, including the seminal Toys in the Attic with “Sweet Emotion,” “Walk This Way,” and the overlooked “No More No More.” As Douglas had produced some of the heaviest rock of the ’70s, he was slightly restless with Lennon’s current middle-of-the-road approach and suggested Lennon try cutting “I’m Losing You” with another up-and-coming band he had produced, Cheap Trick.
When the power pop group made its debut in 1977, Cheap Trick was quickly tagged as the bridge between Beatles melodicism and punk energy with hits like “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me.” Guitarist Rick Neilson garnered further attention by always wearing a flipped-up ball cap and hamming it up onstage like one of the Bowery Boys. No less than Beatles producer George Martin was producing their latest album, so Lennon said bring them in. Neilson’s wife had just given birth, but she gave him permission to go to the studio with drummer Bun E. Carlos.
The track became Lennon’s most primitive and edgy since 1970’s Plastic Ono Album. Afterward, Lennon told Carlos he wished Neilson had been around when he did “Cold Turkey,” as Lennon felt Eric Clapton “choked” when he played guitar on that 1969 track.
But Lennon didn’t bring them back for any other songs, and their version didn’t end up on the album. The regular session guys listened to the Cheap Trick version in their headphones and laid down a less gritty version. Some Beatles scholars speculate it was because the cut would have sounded out of place amidst the rest of the glossy album. Others say Ono didn’t like Neilson and Carlos, Lennon thought it sounded too much like “Cold Turkey,” and/or Cheap Trick’s manager asked for too much money. Another theory is that Lennon was angry when someone leaked news about the sessions to Rolling Stone — he was trying to keep everything secret because he was nervous he might not “have it” after five years of semi-retirement.
The track finally saw the light of day eighteen years later when it was released on the John Lennon Anthology. Ironically, today the Cheap Trick version sounds more contemporary than the soft rock version Lennon went with.
Cheap Trick later covered “Cold Turkey,” “Day Tripper,” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and were the house band for the Sgt. Pepper fortieth anniversary concert at the Hollywood Bowl.