After nearly a decade of making great music together, John Lennon clearly got sick of Paul McCartney, and vice versa. For John, there was only so much “She’s Leaving Home” he could take. On Paul’s side, listening to Yoko Ono scream into a mic during recording sessions was driving him nuts.
Once The Beatles broke up, John and Paul took to song to express their annoyance with each another. Paul sang that John took “his lucky break” and “broke it in two.” He saw John’s prospects with his new partner as bleak. “Now what can be done for you?” he asked in “Too Many People.”
In response, John dispensed with politeness and described Paul as “dead,” someone who made “Muzak” and lived among the squares. Meanwhile, the two spiced up their musical battles with plenty of insults in the rock press.
On paper, it sounds like the type of thing that would lead to bandmates settling things with a fistfight. Fortunately, it never came to that. However, a Beatles recording engineer described one time when John and Paul were very close to a brawl.
The fight occurred while recording what John called Paul’s ‘granny music.’
Anyone who glances at The White Album can see what a different path John and Paul had taken by summer 1968. On Paul’s end, you find tracks like “Rocky Raccoon” and “Martha My Dear,” the latter of which he wrote for his sheepdog.
As for John, he was writing lyrics about being “so lonely, wanna die” and titling songs, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” If you think about it, there wasn’t a better Jekyll and Hyde routine anywhere in the business. But when it came to Paul’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” John couldn’t stomach the rehearsals.
According to White Album recording engineer Geoff Emerick, John started referring to the lighthearted tune as “more of Paul’s ‘granny music sh*t.” Whether intentional or not, Paul extended the recording sessions on the song for several days.
Sometime around the fourth or fifth day of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” Emerick said John “went ballistic” and walked out of the studio “ranting and raving.” When he returned visibly intoxicated, things got even more tense.
Paul seemed ready to punch an inebriated John at the piano.
We know John was quite a performer, and Emerick said he made a grand return the day he left the White Album session. “I am fucking stoned!” he yelled walking in the door, to the shock of everyone present. (The late Emerick recounted this story in his book, Here, There and Everywhere.)
“I am more stoned than you have ever been,” John continued shouting. “In fact, I am more stoned than you will ever be! And this is how the f*cking song should go.” With that, he hammered the opening chords to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on the piano. Emerick said Paul was furious.
“A very upset Paul got right in Lennon’s face,” Emerick wrote. “For a moment I thought fists might fly.” Instead, Paul swallowed the provocation and accepted John’s idea. (He used it in the song, in fact.) Eventually, somehow, they finished the album.
By 1974, the days of nearly coming to blows were over, and they were friendly enough that rumors of a Beatles reunion actually sounded plausible.
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