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John Lennon‘s girlfriend gave fans insight into his song “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” She revealed he was inspired to write it during a night of channel surfing. Notably, audiences in the United States and the United Kingdom had very different reactions to the song.

The Beatles' John Lennon wearing glasses
The Beatles’ John Lennon | Ron Howard/Redferns

How watching television inspired John Lennon

May Pang was once John’s girlfriend. According to Performing Songwriter, she gave fans insight into the origin of “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” “At night, he loved to channel-surf and he would pick up phrases from all the shows,” she told Radio Times in 2005. “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.'”

Pang revealed what happened when John heard the phrase. “John loved it and said, ‘I’ve got to write it down or I’ll forget it,'” she recalled. “He always kept a pad and pen by the bed. That was the beginning of ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.'”

Reverend Ike in front of a car
Reverend Ike | Thos Robinson/Getty Images

John Lennon wasn’t a huge fan of ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’

John didn’t seem to be a huge fan of “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” According to the book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, he discussed the track during a 1980 interview. “The only No. 1 I’ve had since I left The Beatles was ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,’ which was more like a novelty record,” he said. Subsequently, John had another No. 1 hit: “(Just Like) Starting Over.”

John commented on the lyric “In the middle of the night I call your name” from “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” “Yeah, yeah, it’s a message to Yoko [Ono],” he said. “Because I couldn’t say it in real life. Maybe, I don’t know. I mean not real life! Records are real life, but it expresses in song.”


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How ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’ performed in the United States and the United Kingdom

“Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” became a huge hit in the U.S. The track was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for one of its 15 weeks on the chart. It appeared on the album Walls and Bridges. The album hit No. 1 for one of its 35 weeks on the Billboard 200.

“Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” was far less popular in the U.K. According to The Official Charts Company, the song peaked at No. 36 in the U.K. and remained on the chart for four weeks. Meanwhile, Walls and Bridges reached No. 6 there and stayed on the chart for 10 weeks.

“Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” was a huge hit and it might not exist if not for a preacher.