We’re looking back at the fantastic solo careers that The Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — all enjoyed following the Fab Four’s split. These are the songs the group wrote about each other. Thanks to their contentious break-up, it’s a list that could be extended three-fold, but we’ve decided to keep the songs down to the distillation of their love and hatred for one another. As with any set of friends, the group had their disagreements and their love-ins, below we’ve got the best of the lot.
April 10th, 1970, will go down in history for many Beatles fans. It was the moment that several tabloids in the UK announced that Paul McCartney was leaving The Beatles and pursuing his solo work full time, therefore bringing an end to the biggest band in musical history. Unbeknown to the nation, Lennon had already been divorcing the band in what had started to become an embittered battle some years ago. Later that year, McCartney would officially move to dissolve the band and their business partnership. The end had finally arrived, and it landed like a jab to the jaw.
When we came across John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s iconic appearance on the Dick Cavett show in 1971, it captivated our minds and showcased why the band’s break-up wasn’t such a bad thing. During this appearance, a little under 18 months since The Beatles hit the headlines following a revelatory interview with Paul McCartney, Lennon and Ono were asked the rather pointed question of whether or not Lennon’s relationship with Ono was the reason for the split. Lennon, clearly irked by such a remark, one which he was continuously facing, and instead flipped the script: “If she took them [The Beatles] apart, then can we please give her credit for all the nice music George made, and Ringo made, and Paul made, and I made since they broke up?”
The point is extremely valid. The moment The Beatles broke up was a seismic shift in pop culture and saw a ripple effect across the industry. Even years after the split and despite their solo careers, the band was still being asked when the Fab Four may get back together. But, in truth, the past had already happened, and the future looked brighter than ever for the group’s four members. “Imagine how we’ve flowered since [the breakup],” John Lennon told NME a year later.
“George is suddenly the biggest seller of all of us,” Lennon added in a reflection of Harrison’s debut solo album All Things Must Pass. “I think my music’s improved a millionfold lyric-wise and everything. And Ringo’s coming out and writing ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, and now he’s going to write the title song for this cowboy thing he’s in, and he’s playing a really tough guy and all that. It’s really beautiful.
“The fact is, the Beatles have left school… and we have to get a job. That’s made us work — really work harder. I think we’re much better than we ever were when we were together. Look at us today. I’d sooner have [Paul McCartney’s album] Ram, John Lennon Plastic Ono Band, George’s album, and Ringo’s single and the movies than Let It Be or Abbey Road.”
It’s a fair assessment. It may be painful for some people to think about the day the Beatles split, but it was like splitting the atom. A nuclear explosion erupted, and Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Harrison all poured themselves into their solo work, creating albums and singles worthy of the Beatles moniker. The four quarters of the group may have directed themselves to a new sound, desperately trying to get away from the band’s shadow, but they couldn’t help but be drawn to their memories.
It meant that, throughout their post-Beatles careers, the Fab Four rarely went through too many albums without mentioning their bandmates. While Lennon was the least proficient in this area, Paul McCartney wrote several songs about the bespectacled Beatle. The group, it seems, were happy to take potshots at one another over the airwaves. Equally, as Lennon’s tragic passing and later Harrison landed with the band, they paid tribute to their friends.
Below, we’ve got ten of our favourite songs The Beatles wrote about each other after they broke up. It’s a list that works as the perfect evidence for Lennon’s earlier blooming claim.
Best songs The Beatles wrote about each other:
10. ‘Early 1970’
Ringo Starr grabbed himself a serious slice of the spotlight following The Beatles break-up. As the Fab Four squabbled on the tabloid papers, with the band’s fans finding commonality with one side of the dispute or another, Ringo Starr became the group’s affable ambassador and cashed in because of it.
His singles were the ones that captured the public mood, the songs that kept The Beatles train rolling and confirmed Starr’s talent was vastly underestimated. But it was the B-side to his single ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ that shone a light on The Beatles, the brilliant ‘Early 1970’.
The song acts more as a plea for his bandmates to reconcile and finally put the past behind them—a classic Ringo angle delivered in his unique style.
9. ‘All Those Years Ago’
At the time of his death in 1980, each of the Fab Four experienced life out on their own solo path. Harrison, in particular, had enjoyed being released by The Beatles. Away from the shadow of Lennon-McCartney’s songwriting powerhouse, the spiritual sounds of George Harrison were finally given ample room to breathe.
However, on one song specifically, Harrison welcomed Starr and McCartney’s talents as they all paid tribute to their fallen friend, John Lennon. The song in question was ‘All Those Years Ago’.
‘All Those Years Ago’, released in May 1981, six months after Lennon’s tragic murder, was Harrison expressing his sadness at losing not only a mentor and a bandmate but one of his best friends. The song had originally started as a track for a new Ringo Starr album that Harrison had penned for his former drummer. However, following Lennon’s death, Harrison took the song back and adapted the lyrics to the circumstances.
8. ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’
One of the sadder moment of The Beatles break-up was realising just how business savvy they were. The preferred image of any band in their fans’ mind’s eye is that they would happily be writing and recording music if they were paid or not. When McCartney broke away from the band, he did so with lawyers and business advisors in tow. It meant that the group were, for the first years of their split, embroiled in courtroom conferences.
McCartney was happy to hide behind Linda’s father and family as they prepared his continuous litigious behaviour. Lennon equally duelled with McCartney within the courtroom experience. But for one of Macca’s fiercest opponents, the need for so many lawyers was unbearable. George Harrison made his feelings clear on ‘Sue Me, Sue You’.
With McCartney winning the courtroom battle, Harrison’s song was clear in what that meant: “Now all that’s left is to find yourself a new band.”
7. ‘Run of the Mill’
Following the group’s break-up, the band’s members weren’t shy about voicing their disdain for one another either. Not only did they trade insults in interviews; after all, all anybody wanted to talk about was the Fab Four anyway, but the bandmates also used songs to shoot barbs at one another. George Harrison had suffered greatly at the band’s hand as the principal songwriters in the group stifled his songwriting style.
Harrison told Derek Taylor in 1979 of the song’s composition, “It was when Apple was getting crazy…Paul was falling out with us all and going around Apple offices saying ‘You’re no good’ – everyone was just incompetent (the Spanish Inquisition sketch). It was that period – the problem of partnerships.”
In typical Harrison style, his song would be a touch more subtle. The ‘My Sweet Lord’ singer would do it in a more nuanced way than his counterparts on his triple solo album All Things Must Pass. The record featured several subtle references to his time in The Beatles, hinting at his displeasure of being so low on the ladder. But ‘Run of the Mill’ is undoubtedly the track in which Harrison goes into the most depth about his troubles with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
6. ‘Here Today’
There’s no track more obviously written for, and in admiration of, John Lennon on this list than ‘Here Today’. Written in tribute to his friend after Lennon’s shocking murder rin 1980, the song sees McCartney pose his now deceased friend a series of questions, answering them the way he thought John would have. It is a truly heart-wrenching song that as well as being laden with pop sentiment, is also a voracious piece of therapeutic work as McCartney works through his grief.
McCartney takes to his canvas to paint a beautiful, earnest and honest reflection of his friend. Warts and all, Lennon is accurately rendered for a generation who will now only know his memory. Macca adds texture to this image, showing their relationship’s tender moments, hinting at the day they met and ‘the night they cried’.
While we cannot be sure, it’s fair to assume that when Lennon was alive, the two songwriters didn’t say half of what they should have to each other. We’d bet the use of the word ‘love’ in this track is a hint to what McCartney wishes he told his friend.
It goes down as one of McCartney’s most poignant tracks and one that always deserves listening to as the typification of the Lennon-McCartney partnership.
5. ‘Man We Was Lonely’
After the more than acrimonious split between The Beatles, it’s fair to say that Paul McCartney felt like he was on the outside. In fact, judging by ‘Man We Was Lonely’, it seems as though the alienation of Macca began back when The Beatles were still going. During the group’s fractious end, the song was composed but not given a release until the 1970 album McCartney.
The song acts as a diary entry of sorts, capturing not only the mood of the camp and the tension that underpinned the band at this time but also McCartney’s view of events. The musician had become the pivotal figure in the band’s demise, and he struggled to have himself heard in the papers. Instead, he chose to communicate through song.
The Beatles’ first song about The Beatles broke up; McCartney used his opportunity to highlight the band’s difficulties and the particular struggles he had with Lennon.
4. ‘Never Without You’
Following the break-up of the band, Ringo Starr and George Harrison could finally explore their own songwriting style and it saw them gain huge prominence outside of The Beatles.
Speaking of ‘Never Without You’ in 2003, Ringo said of the song: “George was really on my mind when I wrote it.” He claimed that he had remained closest friends with George following the break-up of the band and that the song was an attempt to convey “how I miss him in my heart and in music.”
The song takes reference from Harrison’s most notable compositions including ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘I Dig Love’ while there are elements of Harrison’s riff for ‘What Is Life’ too. But perhaps what would have been Harrison’s favourite part was Eric Clapton’s use of slide guitar “Eric’s on two tracks on the album Ringo Rama, but I really wanted him on this song because George loved Eric and Eric loved George.”
After all, that’s what this song is about — love.
3. ‘Wah Wah’
“At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001 about the band’s demise. “He was on a roll, but…in his mind, everything that was going on around him was just there to accompany him. He wasn’t sensitive to stepping on other people’s egos or feelings.”
Harrison admitted: “I just got so fed up with the bad vibes,” he told Musician magazine. “I didn’t care if it was the Beatles, I was getting out.” That day, arriving at his Surrey home, Harrison enacted the ultimate reply to his oppressive partners by reaching for his guitar and writing one of his most treasured tracks, ‘Wah Wah’.
Though it was named in part as a reference to the guitar effects pedal, later Harrison admitted in his autobiography I, Me, Mine that it was saying “You’re giving me a bloody headache,” to his bandmates. The bleating sound and Harrison’s power make this song a classic on its own.
2. ‘Too Many People’
‘Man We Was Lonely’ may have been McCartney’s opening statement on The Beatles but his next course of rhetoric was designed to hurt John Lennon directly. Things don’t get more direct than ‘Too Many People’ from McCarney’s album RAM.
Starting by covertly telling Lennon to ‘piss off’ with the phrase “piece of cake,” McCartney writes this song as a bonafide list of everything he hates about a certain group of people. When we say, ‘ a certain group of people’ we mean is John Lennon and Yoko Ono. “I heard Paul’s messages in Ram,” recalled Lennon, “yes there are dear reader! Too many people going where? Missed our lucky what? What was our first mistake? Can’t be wrong? Huh! I mean Yoko, me, and other friends can’t all be hearing things.”
McCartney viciously attacks Lennon and his choice of music, women, and lifestyle, lavishing heaps of resentment on Lennon in McCartney’s most pointed songs. It garnered a response from Lennon who responded with his own aggression and the chastising ‘How Do You Sleep?’.
It was clear the duo were still infatuated with one another.
1. ‘How Do You Sleep?’
From the glory of The Beatles came the sorry fallout of its aftermath. The solo projects that followed may have contained some glinting pieces of pop-perfection, and time may have healed all the gaping wounds, but there were also periods when a lamentable fraction of bitterness bubbled over.
John Lennon’s Imagine record provided a song that straddled the dichotomy that the fallout presented. ‘How Do You Sleep?’ was undoubtedly a gem of a tune but one with an unmistakable stem of bitterness.
The reason behind Lennon’s caustic effrontery was that he seemed to pick up on a few subtle digs that McCartney had thrown his way on his second solo album, Ram. Whilst these are not readily apparent, Paul himself did admit to one unambiguous jibe. “There was one tiny reference to John in the whole thing,” McCartney told Playboy magazine in 1984, “He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. In one song, I wrote, “Too many people preaching practices.” Before later adding that the line, “You took your lucky break and broke it in two,” was also aimed at his former bandmate.
‘How Do You Sleep?’ was Lennon’s gloves off response, but it was one which he later downplayed. At a fan Q&A, he responded to a question about why he wrote it, saying, “Why did I write it? I don’t have a reason for writing it.”
It’s one of the most searing songs written during the post-Beatles run and takes our top spot as our favourite of the bunch.