Casey James took some bold chances on “American Idol” on Tuesday night. He was the only contestant to venture outside the Beatles catalog to choose a solo song by John Lennon, “Jealous Guy.”
Gently picking out the melody on an acoustic guitar, James played a measured, emotional version of the song, accented by a mournful cello. Changing up and slowing down the arrangement, he gave it a bluesy feel, turning it into a Ben Harper-style lament.
The song was recorded for Lennon’s 1971 Imagine album, the ex-Beatle’s second studio effort after leaving the group and his most popular solo work. It was written while Lennon was still in the Beatles during a trip to India to visit the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and was demoed with the title “Child of Nature,” with the lyrics later reportedly changed to comment on Lennon’s relationship with wife Yoko Ono.
Along with the iconic title track to Imagine, “Jealous Guy” has become an enduring favorite target for cover versions, one of the most famous being the 1981 hit take recorded by English act Roxy Music just months after Lennon’s murder in 1980.
Among the other acts that have taken it on are the Black Crowes, the Deftones, late indie singer Elliott Smith, Collective Soul, Gavin DeGraw, Joe Cocker, Starsailor, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, former Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle, James Morrison, Lou Reed, Luna, Donny Hathaway and Rod Stewart.
The song’s simple lyrics — which are allegedly about the possessive feelings Lennon had for Ono during the tumultuous breakup of the Beatles — tell a story of emotional insecurity and fear. “I was feeling insecure/ you might not love me anymore/ I was shivering inside/ I was shivering inside,” he sings. The original includes a breakdown in the middle, in which Lennon whistles the melody over piano, strings and a simple backbeat.
The original video features images of Lennon and Ono looking somber and strolling through misty fields, as well as dancing, embracing, kissing, frolicking on the beach and playing chess.
The judges had nothing but kind words for James’ version, with Randy Jackson praising his acoustic-guitar playing and saying the heartfelt song was a strong glimpse of what kind of artist he could be. “That, to me, was your best performance to date,” Ellen DeGeneres said.
What did you think of Casey James’ take on “Jealous Guy”? Share your reviews in the comments below.
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