Paul Simon Felt John Lennon’s ‘Power to the People’ Was Inferior to a Similar Song
While 1960s classic rockers often got political, their activism wasn’t always well-received. Paul Simon wasn’t a fan of John Lennon’s “Power to the People.” He was suspicious of John’s political involvement in general. Considering some of John’s later comments, Simon’s suspicions may have been confirmed.
Paul Simon said John Lennon’s ‘Power to the People’ was inferior to a song by The Chi-Lites
During a 1972 interview with Rolling Stone, Simon attacked John’s “Power to the People” for being both “poor” and “condescending.” “Did you hear the other record of ‘Power to the People?'” he asked. “There were two records called that.
“There was one record called, ‘(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,'” he recalled. “It was a good record though. It really was a good record. I think it was The Chi-Lites. I like that record much better than Lennon’s record.” John’s song came out in March 1971, while The Chi-Lites’ song came out in July of the same year.
Paul Simon openly wondered if John Lennon got involved in activism for publicity
In the same interview, Simon was asked about his feelings regarding John’s political activism. “First reaction, he strikes me as being very interested in being seen or heard,” Simon explained. “Then I have to think, ‘What is he doing? What is the purpose of it? Is his purpose to get publicity for himself? Is his purpose to advance a certain political thought?’
“I don’t know what his motivations are,” he added. “Many things he’s done, I think, have been pointless. Some have been in bad taste. Others have been courageous. I think he’s generally a well-intentioned guy. I don’t know, it’s not my style.”
Simon explained that he didn’t feel musicians had more responsibility to get politically involved than anyone else. He didn’t think musicians had any reason to promote radical politics more than conservative politics. Beyond that, he wasn’t even sure what qualified as “radical.”
The former Beatle didn’t look back on ‘Power to the People’ fondly near the end of his life
The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono includes an interview from 1980. In the interview, John discussed the origin of “Power to the People.” In John’s recollection, he had a conversation with the communist activist Tariq Ali and tried to transform it into a song. John felt “Power to the People” didn’t live up to his ambitions. He didn’t think his head was clear while he was writing the song.
The “Imagine” singer admitted he wrote “Power to the People” because he wanted to get closer to Ali and other people with similar beliefs. He seemed to imply he didn’t write the song for purely ideological reasons, reinforcing Simon’s comments. In John’s opinion, “Power to the People” could come across as hypocritical on his part, but he didn’t explain how. John revealed “Power to the People” was not the sort of song he would pen later in life.
The Chi-Lites’ song is mostly forgotten today — but a folk-rock titan was a big fan of it.