Skip to main content

When you read about The Beatles from 1967 on, you understand why the band split up a few years later. They had already stopped touring, so the main focus was on recording and matters like starting the Apple record label. In other words, they were mostly business partners by the end.

As of ’68, John Lennon had divorced his wife Cynthia and taken up with Yoko Ono full-time. In fact, John began bringing Yoko into recording sessions, something that bothered George Harrison and Ringo Starr while positively irritating Paul McCartney.

However, the band plowed through, producing masterpieces like Abbey Road in this state. It wasn’t until The Beatles split up and started recording solo albums that fans saw the tensions come out in Paul and John’s songwriting.

The first jabs came on Paul’s Ram album. When John responded on Imagine, the gloves had come off. It stands as a fairly brutal takedown of Paul after all these years.

John’s direct assault on ‘How Do You Sleep?’

CIRCA 1966: The Beatles pose for a band photo. | Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images

In fairness, the public nature of the feud began with “Too Many People,” a track on Paul’s second solo album. That tune included a reference to “too many people preaching practices” aimed at John and Yoko. “You took your lucky break and broke it in two” also went in their direction.

Paul admitted as much in a 1984 Playboy interview. Though he knew he took “a little dig” at the couple, he likely wasn’t prepared for the response from John later that year.

“So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise,” John sings in the opening line. Right away, he’s making Paul out to be a simple songwriter who couldn’t hang with the complexities of the later Beatles years.

After saying the “straights” Paul hangs out with do nothing but admire him, John takes a shot at his old bandmate’s entire body of work. “The only thing you done was yesterday,” he sings. With that line, John is agreeing with their idol Chuck Berry, who said he really admired Paul’s “Yesterday.”

As John sang of Paul’s ‘muzak,’ George was playing guitar on the track.

May 1968: John Lennon and Paul McCartney leave Heathrow Airport. | WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

There were several levels to the insults John was laying on Paul with this song. Obviously, the lyrics knocking him around were meant to be insulting. (“The sound you make is muzak to my ears,” for example, speaks for itself.)

But the lineup in John’s recording session also spoke volumes. As you will notice in the video above, none other than George Harrison is playing slide guitar on the track. If George was feeling great about Paul those days, that would not have been the way to show it.

According to stories from the recording session, Ringo showed up to try and persuade John to tone down the attacks (or remove them altogether). However, he wasn’t successful, though some say John’s original lyrics were even nastier than the ones he recorded.

Like Paul, John didn’t put a lot of weight in the song’s shots at his old bandmate. “It’s not about Paul — it’s about me,” he says in the Imagine sessions.

In the late ’70s, Paul and John spoke and realized they were still friends. They had just been going through some tense times early in the decade and recorded some lyrics they probably wanted back.

But it was too late to do anything about it, and it left quite a historical record for Beatles fans to explore.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!