Behind The Two Paul McCartney Songs That Expressed His Unhappiness With John Lennon

The Beatles' April 1970 breakup marked the culmination of years of increasing tension within what had been, for the past six years or so, the world's most popular rock band. The death of longtime manager Brian Epstein, John Lennon's issues with substance abuse, messy financial squabbles, myriad creative differences, and clashing egos all contributed to the Fab Four's unfortunate disbandment. There's also the matter of Lennon's relationship with his second wife, Yoko Ono, and how she's often been blamed (mostly unfairly) for causing the Beatles' downfall. When everything was said and done, Lennon and Paul McCartney — the two men who wrote the bulk of the Beatles' songs — weren't exactly on the best of terms.

It can be said that Lennon and McCartney sort of feuded through some of the songs they released after the Beatles' breakup. Lennon's 1971 song "How Do You Sleep?" immediately comes to mind. We're talking five and a half minutes of pure vitriol directed at McCartney, with obvious references to the "Paul is dead" conspiracy theory ("Those freaks was right when they said you was dead"), the fact that he wrote "Yesterday" by himself ("The only thing you done was yesterday"), his status as the "cute" Beatle ("A pretty face may last a year or two"), and yes, his sappy songwriting tendencies ("The sound you make is muzak to my ears"). That tune, however, was an apparent answer song to a track where McCartney expressed his unhappiness with Lennon — the first of two where he made such sentiments known.

McCartney's Too Many People was a thinly veiled jab at John and Yoko

It didn't take too long for Paul McCartney to start venting out against his former creative partner in song. Per The Beatles Bible, "Too Many People' was recorded in late 1970 and early 1971 and included in McCartney's second post-Beatles album, "Ram." And while it wasn't too obvious in most of the lyrics, there were certain parts of the song that were clearly about John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono.

For years after the release of "Too Many People" (as a B-side to the U.S. single "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"), McCartney was quite cagey when asked about the song's lyrics. Speaking to Playboy in 1984, Macca claimed to have made only a few references to Lennon in "Ram," specifically mentioning what was arguably the most obvious example of shade. "He'd been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit," he said. "In one song, I wrote, 'Too many people preaching practices,' I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn't anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was 'You took your lucky break and broke it in two.'"

That one song, of course, was "Too Many People," and Lennon, who recognized that he and Yoko were the song's subjects, soon fired back with an even angrier tune, the aforementioned "How Do You Sleep."

Too Many People's first line was actually another dig at Lennon

As the years passed, Paul McCartney became more open about the lyrical content of "Too Many People," confirming what legions of fans may have suspected in the years since the song's release. In 2001, the ex-Beatle spoke to Mojo (via The Beatles Bible) and, aside from reiterating that the line "too many people preaching practices" was about John Lennon, he also shared that the tune's very first line was his way of telling Lennon to buzz off. "P*** off, cake," he said. "Like, a piece of cake becomes p*** off cake, And it's nothing, it's so harmless really, just little digs. But the first line [of the third verse] is about 'too many people preaching practices.' I felt John and Yoko were telling everyone what to do."

The "piece of cake" line may have been a subtle bit of wordplay on McCartney's part, but allegedly, there was nothing subtle about the words he originally wrote for the chorus. While he eventually went with "you took your lucky break and broke it in two" for the chorus' second line, it's been claimed that the first word was supposed to be "Yoko," which would have undoubtedly added fuel to the "Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles" fire had it been used in the song. McCartney wisely opted to replace "Yoko" with "you," though that doesn't make it any less of a jab against Lennon at a time when the wounds of the Fab Four's breakup were still fresh.

McCartney defended his penchant for writing 'silly love songs'

One of John Lennon's biggest gripes with Paul McCartney had to do with his songwriting — Macca just loved his silly love songs. But McCartney seemingly didn't feel he had the need to change the subject matter of his songs for anyone; he didn't literally double down on the saccharine, but rather countered this criticism by writing a song about his apparent calling card as a songwriter. The aptly-titled "Silly Love Songs" was released by Wings in 1976, and 25 years later, Billboard brought up how the tune seemed to make a broader point about why McCartney loves to write ... about love.

"Over the years people have said, 'Aw, he sings love songs, he writes love songs, he's so soppy at times,'" he explained to the outlet. "I thought, Well, I know what they mean, but, people have been doing love songs forever. I like 'em, other people like 'em, and there's a lot of people I love — I'm lucky enough to have that in my life. So the idea was that "you" may call them silly, but what's wrong with that?"

Although he didn't mention Lennon by name, McCartney added that "Silly Love Songs" was, indeed, his way of firing back at detractors who felt his songwriting was too mushy. "The nice payoff now is that a lot of the people I meet who are at the age where they've just got a couple of kids and have grown up a bit, settling down, they'll say to me, 'I thought you were really soppy for years, but I get it now! I see what you were doing!'" he continued in his defense of the 1976 hit and the message it conveyed.