Even after The Beatles, Paul McCartney was still inspired by one specific John Lennon song
It’s no secret that the Lennon-McCartney partnership is a long and complicated one. Their time with The Beatles was not only filled with musical accomplishments but stretched by personal achievement, artistic pursuit and imposing tension. It would be naive to think that, as celebrities, pop stars and eventual musical icons, a friendship such as theirs, never witnessed any of the typical ups and downs found in any relationship between two lads from Liverpool.
In fact, it isn’t inconceivable that the pressure is ten-fold for artistically successful people, especially those who are in the public limelight; there is a lot of pressure on them to perform — this increases further when you are considered two of the best innovators of modern pop. Of course, during their time in The Beatles, they held it all together but when their professional relationship ended, their personal one soured immensely.
On this very subject, Fab Four aficionados have drawn a timeline of the rift between Lennon and McCartney. Many believe that it started with Lennon’s ‘How do you Sleep?’. However, this song was most likely in response to McCartney’s 1971 song ‘Too Many People’, a time when John perceived some of the lyrics on McCartney’s seminal solo album Ram to be a direct attack on him and his wife Yoko. “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, me, and other friends can’t all be hearing things.”
While later backtracked as merely “poking fun” at his bandmate, Lennon’s vengeful track may have, in fact, been intended to cause McCartney some grief, as he did to him. Not only this but Allen Klein, the later manager of the Beatles, may have helped Lennon with some of the sordid insults: “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?”
One would be amiss to assume that Lennon was being too paranoid about McCartney’s perceived insults. In an interview with Playboy, McCartney admitted to the fact: “In one song, I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn’t anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was ‘You took your lucky break and broke it in two” But how could such a bountiful relationship turn so suddenly on its head?
When the end was in sight for The Beatles, John and Paul became increasingly at odds with one another. McCartney recalls that their visions for what the group needed next and what “progress” meant became disparate. Macca, on the subject of them getting the boys back out and playing again, suggested it was Lennon who held up the idea: “So I came into the idea of going to village halls which hold a couple of hundred people. Have someone book the hall and put up posters saying, maybe, ‘Ricky and Redstreaks, Saturday Night.’ And we’d just turn up there in a van and people would arrive and we’d be there. I thought that was great. John said, ‘You’re daft.'” Equally, as McCartney was continuing to exert his musical dominance over the group, Lennon’s head had been turned and he was no more keen to pursue life as a political artist rather than a pop star.
It offers up a crystalline image of the pair’s partnership and their dual characters. Of course, McCartney would go on to pursue his pop dreams while Lennon would flirt with the role of political agitator all while maintaining a recording career and his feud with his former bandmate. It’s no surprise that at the height of their rift, when asked about the Wings’ song ‘Let Me Roll It’ and whether it was in any way a nod or an attack on Lennon, McCartney simply and determinedly replied with: “It was about rolling a joint.” It was clear that he wanted to avoid the estimation that he and Lennon were inextricably linked.
The connection between this song and Lennon’s ‘Cold Turkey’, however, is undeniable. The tone of each song seems perfectly entwined but specifically, the guitar riff, which for both songs, is the most defining element of the musical pieces, it’s hard to deny the connection. But it’s not just the riff. It’s the slapback reverb on the vocals; it’s how it plays with the empty space to create tension. It is a song steeped in their dual heritage in music. The biggest difference, however, is that Lennon’s ‘Cold Turkey’ really was about drug use — or the sudden lack of drug use.
When McCartney and Wings released ‘Let Me Roll It’ in 1973 as a B-side to their hit song ‘Jet’, critics had already picked up on what they referred to as the ‘Lennon Pastiche’ sound. Journalists at the time used this term to describe McCartney’s 1973 album, Band on the Run’s side one closer as an echo of the stripped-down production quality of the Lennon Plastic Ono band’s ‘Cold Turkey’. Despite the critic’s diagnosis, McCartney maintained in an interview for Club Sandwich that “‘Let Me Roll It’ was not really a Lennon pastiche, although my use of tape echo did sound more like John than me. But tape echo was not John’s exclusive territory! And you have to remember that, despite the myth, there was a lot of commonality between us in the way that we thought and the way that we worked. (Paul McCartney – Club Sandwich – The Beatles Bible).”
The obvious should be stated here; Lennon and McCartney were in the same band and collaborated together for a long time so, of course, cross-pollination of sound is inevitable and excusable. In fact, the two tracks act as a picture of the pair’s personalities, while McCartney is a softer smoke, Lennon is all about the hard stuff. It may have been what drove them apart but it was also what made them one of pop’s most sensational partnerships.