The Paul McCartney Song That Made John Lennon So Angry

By the time The Beatles split up in 1970, the band’s members had no problem being hostile to one another. In 1969, it actually led to a physical confrontation between John Lennon and George Harrison. But George and John would remain friends after the scuffle.

That’s more than anyone can say for the relationship between John and Paul McCartney. After the damage inflicted upon one another during the late Beatles days, it took several years before John and Paul made peace.

In those days, you didn’t need reports in gossip magazines to know how bitter The Beatles were feeling toward each other; you could just listen to the songs they released on their solo records. When John dropped the scathing “How Do You Sleep?” about Paul, the gloves had come off.

As he acknowledged around the time he released Imagine (1971), “How Do You Sleep?” served as a response to Paul’s jabs on his Ram album. One song in particular made John angry.

‘Too Many People’ featured several references to John and Yoko.

John Lennon plays guitar during a 1970 recording session. | Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images

As attack songs go, Paul’s “Too Many People” comes off as fairly subtle. He doesn’t name names or refer to specific events in the lives of John and Yoko. However, when you dig into the lyrics, you can’t help but get the pointed references.

In the opening verse, “People reaching for a piece of cake” sounds like frustration over the bitterness of the late Beatles years. But the chorus gets personal, especially if you hear it as John and Yoko. “That was your first mistake,” Paul sings. “You took your lucky break and broke it in two.”

No one likes people telling them the love of their life was a “mistake,” or that you broke your “lucky break … in two.” For someone who was passionate about political causes, Paul’s reference to “people preaching practices” — not to mention the mocking tone — would have insulted John.

In a post on the episode in The Beatles Bible, there’s a clip from Paul’s 1984 Playboy interview in which he admits how he wrote it about John. For his part, John heard it loud and clear, and felt the need to respond soon after.

John punched back much harder on ‘How Do You Sleep?’

Beatles 1967: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr stand together at the sart of Magical Mystery Tour | Getty Images

How angry was John about “Too Many People” and a few other lines from Ram? He gave an interview to Crawdaddy (via The Beatles Bible) at the time that revealed his feelings. “I heard Paul’s messages in Ram – yes there are dear reader! Missed our lucky what? What was our first mistake?”

Later, he compared his response in “How Do You Sleep?” to the “nasty songs” Dylan recorded (e.g., “Like a Rolling Stone”). John also noted that he relished in being direct, which was the exact opposite of what Paul did. Any chance to do the opposite of Paul, John took it.

So that’s how he ended up singing that Paul played “muzak” and the only good tune he ever wrote was “Yesterday.” (That line clearly hurt Paul.) In the first verse, he positively clubs his old bandmate when he says, “Those freaks were right when they said you was dead.”

That referenced a weirdo fan conspiracy theory about Paul being dead. (The Beatles had fun with the idea on several occasions.) But in this case, John isn’t kidding around. With George playing guitar on his track, it came as a two-pronged attack from former Beatles.

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