The first single, “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” from John Lennon‘s third solo album, Sometime in New York City, was released on this day in 1972, arguably just as controversial a title as it is today. Lennon, as experimental as he was in that period, even took issue with it, explaining onstage a few years later: “The next song is one of those many songs of ours that get banned. It’s something Yoko said to me in 1968; it took me until 1970 to dig it.”
Of course, if one were to dive into the sparkling, wall of brass-laced sound, Phil Spector production, and receive what the Lennon and Ono-penned song was truly aiming to do, one would see that it’s glaringly pro-feminist and equal womens’ rights bound. Based on an interview Ono had with Nova magazine in 1969, Ono was taking a shot at the machismo-dominated art scene of the era, and came up with the analogy to convey the lengths at which a woman must fight and struggle in order to succeed. Too far? Hundreds of radio stations thought so, which would lead to the song’s status as the lowest selling and charting song Lennon cut, ever.
But Lennon thought long and hard in deciding to follow through with the title, even after his own back-and-forth, reaching out to civil rights activists for opinions on how not to be perceived as racist, culminating in an interview with comedian Dick Gregory that donned the cover of Jet magazine in the fall of that year with the title, “Ex-Beatle Tells How Black Stars Changed His Life,” and an entertaining discussion/performance on The Dick Cavett Show, elaborating on the root of the song title’s phrase, the evolution of the racial epithet and its place aside the word ‘woman’. Combined with the second verse of the song, what’s your stance?
We make her pain her face and dance
If she won’t be a slave, we say that she don’t love
If she’s real, we say she’s trying to be a man
While putting her down, we pretend that she’s above us