John Lennon had a complicated relationship with religion. He often angered religious communities with provocative comments or lyrics that critiqued organized religion. His views also shifted frequently, so where he stood wasn’t obvious. So, it’s surprising that the title for one of John Lennon’s songs came from a famous televangelist.
John Lennon often sparked controversy for his religious views
John Lennon was known for making provocative political or social statements. His most controversial statement occurred when he compared The Beatles to Jesus, saying the band was “bigger” than the religious figure.
“Christianity will go,” Lennon said in an interview with the London Evening Standard. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right, and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
While this statement angered Christians in the U.K., the main center of outrage was the United States. When The Beatles ventured to America for their 1966 tour, Lennon apologized for this statement, saying he should not have said it and didn’t mean it as an anti-religious statement.
In his solo career, Lennon also felt pressure from the church due to his song “Imagine”. The song famously asks audiences to imagine a world with no religion. In his 1980 Playboy interview, Lennon revealed the church asked him to change the lyrics to imagine a world with one religion, but he said that defeats the song’s purpose.
John Lennon borrowed a phrase from an evangelist for his song ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’
“Whatever Gets You Through the Night” is one of three songs that John Lennon created with Elton John, the other two being John’s covers of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “One Day (at a Time)”. Surprisingly, the song’s title was inspired by a famous American televangelist, Reverend Ike.
In a 2005 interview with Radio Times (shared via songfacts.com), May Pang, Lennon’s former assistant and girlfriend during his “Lost Weekend,” said Lennon was channel surfing one night and stumbled upon the reverend. He heard him say the phrase that he later used for the song’s title.
“At night, he loved to channel-surf, and he would pick up phrases from all the shows,” Pang recalled. “One time, he was watching Reverend Ike, a famous black evangelist, who was saying, ‘Let me tell you guys, it doesn’t matter, it’s whatever gets you through the night.’ John loved it and said, ‘I’ve got to write it down or I’ll forget it.’ He always kept a pad and pen by the bed. That was the beginning of ‘Whatever Gets You Thru The Night’.”
‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night’ Reached No. 1 in the U.S.
“Whatever Gets You Through the Night” debuted in 1974 and peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. John Lennon wasn’t confident it could get there, but Elton John had faith it would be a hit. The two made a bet that if it reached No. 1, Lennon would have to perform the song with John live on stage. The “In My Life” singer made good on the bet and joined Sir Elton on stage at a 1974 concert in Madison Square Garden.