Let us get one thing straight, thankfully, before the death of John Lennon and, some decades later, George Harrison, The Beatles had largely settled their differences. There may well have been the odd annoying inflexion or interpretation, a nagging piece of resentment or a smouldering bridge left uncrossable, but, by and large, the group had reconciled their major disagreements.
With the newly released Peter Jackson-helmed documentary Get Back, we can also see that even during their more tumultuous times, the group were still more than cordial to one another’s faces. However, like the ending of a romantic relationship, the few years following their split, the foursome were at each other’s throats and ready to rumble at a moment’s notice.
Naturally, the band would use the countless interviews afforded to them to throw the odd barb at one another — a snide remark here or the flash of a smile there would be enough to send tabloid printers whirring into the night. Whether it was Harrison pretending to be repulsed by the seat Yoko Ono sat on during an appearance on Dick Cavett or Lennon claiming that his solo album was “the best thing he’d ever done”, battle lines were clearly being drawn. But where those battles commenced most routinely and viciously was in the recording studio. Below, we’ve got ten songs that the individual Beatles wrote about hating each other.
The moment The Beatles broke up was a seismic shift in pop culture that few were ready for and fewer recovered from. It saw a ripple effect across the entire industry, providing a chasm of culture to be filled. 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.”
While all of that is unquestionable, and all of the band members would go on to have fantastic careers, it does ignore the bitterness left between the band. There is of course a couple of obvious songs that weren’t afraid of putting their creator’s feelings on the Fab Four out and proud, largely the attacks one another went under the radar. Until now.
Here, we’ve got the ten best songs The Beatles wrote about hating each other.
The 10 best songs The Beatles wrote about hating each other:
10. ‘God’ – John Lennon
Never afraid to put his own thoughts in the same breath of God almighty, Lennon once again set about annoying his Christian fans by bringing ‘God’ into the Beatles discussion with a wink and a nudge. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain,” he sings without fear of reproach, perhaps even provoking it.
The real point o the song is that the icons mentioned within the track – JFK, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and so on – are not here to guide your life for you. Their place within the world should not supersede your own.
Naturally, this is the perfect analogy for Lennon and his newly acquired solo sound.
9. ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ – Ringo Starr
There aren’t many moments within the Beatles’ break up where Ringo Starr puts on his boxing gloves and goes to war with his bandmates. More often than not, his songs were tinged with the idea of reconciliation. One such track, ‘Early 1970’, has always been seen as one of Ringo’s best, but, in truth, we couldn’t really call it a song where Ringo threw shade at his bandmates. He was always aiming to bring them together with the number. However, on ‘Back Off Boogaloo’, released in 1972, he let it all hang out. The usually affable Ringo was no longer happy to sit and take it.
While the band were all happy to take shots at one another, one man certainly bore the brunt of the material. Ringo used this one to take aim at Paul McCartney, this time using the song to show his displeasure at McCartney’s recordings. With Harrison on the guitar, Ringo calls McCartney a “meathead” and goes further by singing: “Get yourself together now and give me something tasty / Everything you try to do / You know it sure sounds wasted.”
8. ‘Silly Love Songs’ – Paul McCartney
Following John Lennon’s turn away from music and towards the green grass of peaceful fatherhood, he and his former partner McCartney managed to patch things up and begin their friendship once more, away from the glare of the public eye. They saw each other regularly and even nearly reunited the band one night in New York City. During this brief respite, McCartney still found a little bit of bitterness to write and record ‘Silly Love Song’.
The duo talked about their differences in the band and, in truth, Lennon had always set himself and McCartney apart. Lennon was the rocker in the group who wrote songs with brutal honesty and left them heaving with substance. In Lennon’s eyes, McCartney wrote “silly love songs” and music hall numbers the bespectacled Beatle labelled as “granny shit”. After talking about their chasm of creativity once more, McCartney couldn’t stop himself from writing a song about his friend.
“What’s wrong with that?” asks McCartney in the song, showing his defiance at Lennon’s labelling. He’s right, too. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if all our musicians were Lennons and we didn’t have a single McCartney? This is the case the bass player makes with aplomb.
7. ‘3 Legs’ – Paul McCartney
RAM is arguably one of Paul McCartney’s greatest albums, including his work with The Beatles, and it’s because it offers up a vision of one of the world’s greatest musicians at his most vulnerable. Let there be no doubt, in 1971, McCartney was very vulnerable indeed. Largely seen as the reason why the band broke up, he and Linda McCartney escaped London for the Scottish highlands to avoid the situation’s intensity. Macca did, however, let that tension boil over on a couple of RAM tracks.
There is more than enough content here to suggest that this song was keenly aimed at the bandmates he had left behind. After all, each member of the group had seemingly fallen out with McCartney at one point or another during their journey. But there is also a hefty amount of referencing to John as his “friend” within the lyrics.
The duo had been working together for over a decade and seen all the highs the world had to offer as two members of a partnership. Now, McCartney was being cast as the outsider, and he wasn’t very happy about it. He let John Lennon, and the rest of the band, know about it on ‘3 Legs’.
There is also more than a suggestion of the same style on ‘Smile Away’; however, it seems a little too general to lay at Lennon or the rest of the band’s feet.
6. ‘Man We Was Lonely’ – Paul McCartney
After the more than acrimonious split between The Beatles, it’s fair to say that Paul McCartney felt like he was on the outside looking in. In fact, judging by ‘Man We Was Lonely’, it seems the alienation of Macca began back when The Beatles were still a foursome. The song was composed during the group’s fractious end, but not given a release until the 1970 album McCartney.
The track acts as a diary entry of sorts, capturing the mood of the camp and the tension that underpinned the band at this time and 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.
In the Beatles’ first song about The Beatles break-up, McCartney used his opportunity to highlight the band’s difficulties and the particular struggles he had with Lennon. It wasn’t the fiercest set of chords we’ve heard on our list, but it does offer the most insight into the life and time of being a Beatle.
5. ‘Sue Me, Sue You Blues’ – George Harrison
One of the sadder moments of The Beatles break-up was realising just how business savvy they were underneath all the artistic endeavour. The preferred image of any band in their fans’ mind’s eye is that they would happily be writing and recording music whether they were paid or not. When McCartney broke away from the group, he did so with lawyers and business advisors in tow. It meant that the band 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.”
4. ‘Run of the Mill’ – George Harrison
Following the group’s break-up, the band’s members weren’t shy about voicing their disdain for one another either. George Harrison had suffered greatly at the band’s collective hand as the principal songwriters in the group stifled his songwriting career. He let loose on this song.
Harrison told Derek Taylor in 1979 of ‘Run of the Mill’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.
‘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.
3. ‘Wah-Wah’ – George Harrison
“At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself,” Harrison told Guitar World in 2001 about the band’s demise and his songwriting shunning. “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 but it also revealed the frayed tensions that remained between the group. They may have been seen as the archetypal band but scratch beneath the surface and they were clawing at one another’s eyes.
2. ‘Too Many People’ – Paul McCartney
‘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 delivered 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?’ – John Lennon
The solo projects that followed the band may have contained some gilded and golden pieces of pop-perfection, and time may have healed all the gaping wounds looking back now. Still, there were also periods when lamentable friction was the only thing that survived between one of the most famous songwriting partnerships of all time.
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 attack on his former partner 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.” The singer was clearly hurt by the insinuation that he wouldn’t have survived without McCartney and responded with fire, “The only thing you done was yesterday / And since you’ve gone you’re just another day.”
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 largely because it provides such an honest reflection of Lennon’s feelings at the time.