The unsavoury fallout between The Beatles following their split played out in the public eye. In the immediate aftermath, the only contact John Lennon and Paul McCartney had outside of a courtroom was the malicious musical material aimed directly at one another.
In Lennon’s defence, it was his former creative partner who lit the initial match, a decision that sparked the sorry affair. The problems began with Ram – Paul McCartney’s second studio album – when he included a couple of thinly veiled digs at Lennon during the track ‘Too Many People’. McCartney sings, “Too many people preaching practices” and, later in the song, he adds: “You took your lucky break and broke it in two”.
While the references were clear for all to see, Lennon also believed that McCartney took shots at him elsewhere in the album, with songs such as ‘Dear Boy’, ‘3 Legs’, and ‘The Back Seat Of My Car’ all being cited. Additionally, the record’s back cover featured an image of two beetles having sexual intercourse, which also raised eyebrows.
Speaking to Playboy in 1984 about his allusions to Lennon throughout Ram, McCartney said: “There was one tiny reference to John in the whole thing. 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.'”
Lennon, with the fire raging inside him, headed into the studio to unleash his inner rage. Determined to exact revenge, he put pen to paper and recruited his old mate George Harrison for good measure in what would prove to be the most cutting of slide guitar contributions. Lennon was also mightily impressed with Harrison’s performance, later noting: “That’s the best he’s ever fucking played in his life! He’d go on forever if you’d let him”.
The track in question, of course, is ‘How Do You Sleep’. A number filled with venom, it left no questions about the intentions to attack his former bandmate, unlike McCartney’s more subtle effort. Lennon mentions the ‘Paul Is Dead’ theory on the track when he sings: ‘Those freaks was right when they said you was dead”, but his most damning line comes later when he adds: “The only thing you done was yesterday, And since you’ve gone you’re just another day”.
Explaining the song to Crawdaddy, Lennon said: “I heard Paul’s messages in Ram – 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 Ono, me, and other friends can’t all be hearing things.
“So to have some fun, I must thank Allen Klein publicly for the line ‘just another day’. A real poet! Some people don’t see the funny side of it. Too bad. What am I supposed to do, make you laugh? It’s what you might call an ‘angry letter’, sung – get it?”.
However, Lennon would later backtrack on the cruel intentions behind ‘How Do You Sleep’, claiming that the spiteful effort said more about his character than it did about McCartney. “It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself,” he said in the Imagine film.
Thankfully, the pair would patch things up shortly after the release, and Lennon would soon once again call Paul his “best friend”. Despite all the heartache and despair that they caused each other throughout their relationship, the love between the two survived.