By 1968 many would argue that the writing was on the wall for The Beatles. The Beatles had arguably hit their peak in 1967, a moment where fandom, fame and artistic prowess all seemed insurmountable. Following the death of Brian Epstein, the group’s manager, things started to fall apart. The Fab Four were still creating incredible records on the face of it, but, behind the facade, the tension between all four members of the group was growing unbearable. It would see the band often splitting into factions during recording and one such split really “hurt” John Lennon.
It wasn’t particularly hard to upset one of The Beatles at this time but to do it with a song was still quite impressive. It was a particular song that had upset Lennon during the recording of their stunning record known as The White Album. But rather than being offended by the lyrical structure of the song, avoiding any obvious slights on the bespectacled Beatle, it was that the way that Paul McCartney recorded it that truly upset John.
John Lennon has never been shy about his favourite and most hated songs from the band. Oddly enough, the track that upset Lennon was also a song that the ‘I Am The Walrus’ singer loved, once calling it “one of his best”. The song in question, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’, would still be regarded as one of McCartney’s better compositions within the band and the short but sweet ditty added a welcomed fragrance to the spiralling LP, that would otherwise be lost.
Macca’s curious meeting with a pair of monkeys inspired the song, the moment happened while the band stayed in Rishikesh in India, studying under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the songwriter shared: “A male [monkey] just hopped on the back of this female and gave her one, as they say in the vernacular. Within two or three seconds he hopped off again and looked around as if to say ‘It wasn’t me!’ and she looked around as if there’d been some mild disturbance… And I thought… that’s how simple the act of procreation is… We have horrendous problems with it, and yet animals don’t.”
Despite having some base construction, the song became a beloved part of the record and was another gem in McCartney’s crown jewels of songwriting, especially considering even John Lennon liked it. The singer, speaking with David Sheff in 1980 said: “That’s Paul. He even recorded it by himself in another room. That’s how it was getting in those days.” This simple line is an indication of the issues at hand for the Fab Four.
It was a situation that was worsening by the day as the band’s connections with one another began to deteriorate around artistic egomania. Lennon continues with Sheff: “We came in, and he’d made the whole record. Him drumming, him playing the piano, him singing. But he couldn’t… maybe he couldn’t make the break from the Beatles. I don’t know what it was, you know. I enjoyed the track.”
Lennon revealed that, despite his tough exterior, Paul working on his own had upset him: “Still I can’t speak for George, but I was always hurt when Paul would knock something off without involving us. But that’s just the way it was then.”
A year later and McCartney was defending his right to record the track on his own, claiming it wasn’t an intentional slight on his friend and the band’s principal leader: “There’s only one incident I can think of, which John has publically mentioned. It was when I went off with Ringo and did ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.’ It wasn’t a deliberate thing, John and George were tied up finishing something, and me and Ringo were free, just hanging around, so I said to Ringo, ‘Let’s go and do this.'”
So rare was Lennon’s complimenting of Macca’s track that he also remembers John enjoying the song: “I did hear John sometime later singing it. He liked the song, and I suppose he wanted to do it with me. It was a very John sort of song anyway. That’s why he liked it, I suppose. It was very John, the idea of it, not me. I wrote it as a ricochet off John.” It was a testament to not only the vibrating energy of the songwriting partnership and how it had evolved into a symbiotic relationship of two organisms that grew aligned but separated. It also showed that the two twines were never truly destined to spin around with one another again.
Listen to The Beatles song that “hurt” John Lennon, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ from the band’s White Album.