Paul McCartney and John Lennon were, for a time, two halves of the same whole. An undefeated songwriting partnership, the duo created some of the most timeless pop hits in existence with The Beatles. But as time passed, their fame burned like wildfire and the money kept rolling in, The Beatles began to tear themselves apart, and Paul McCartney and John Lennon were at the centre of it.
Arguably, by the time The Beatles split, the group were already working as four solo artists. Certainly, Lennon, McCartney and now George Harrison had all begun to craft songs more singularly. Their individual sounds became more and more apparent with every passing record. When the group disbanded, the members went off into the sunset and began working on their own music, seemingly untarnished by their time in The Beatles; the musicians headed for greener pastures. Or so it seemed at least.
With a little bit of digging, it soon became clear that The Beatles couldn’t quite get over being one-quarter of the Fab Four even if they were now out on their own. It meant that on all of their solo efforts, the group took shots at the band. Some were wistful others were filled with pure resentment. For Paul McCartney, a musician who had been more isolated by the break-up than most, the songs about his former band seemed to all revolve around one man — John Lennon.
George Harrison wrote ‘Run of the Mill,’ ‘Wah-Wah’ and ‘Before We Were Fab’ as ‘tributes’ to his former bandmates — most of them focusing on their giant egos. Ringo too dropped in the odd song about his pals, ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ and ‘Early 1970’ being the choice cuts. Of course, Lennon was never shy about throwing a barb or two and his song ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is certainly the most aggressive reference to the band, or at least, Paul McCartney, but even that song was written in response to a Macca original.
Below, we’re taking a look at Paul McCartney’s songs for John Lennon. Some were cantankerous, others utterly devoted. Some are ambiguous, and others sharpened and polished just for John. No matter the context, all of the songs are charged with the emotional weight that can only come with an unbreakable bond, a brotherly friendship and a relationship that knows no bounds.
The songs Paul McCartney wrote about John Lennon:
We thought’s we’d start with a controversial entry. ‘Hey Jude’ is certainly one of the most adored Beatles songs of all time. It is rich with hope and comfort, something McCartney claimed he instilled in the song because of its intended recipient — Julian Lennon. His father and mother were enduring a messy divorce as John Lennon continued to pursue the life of a rock star. ‘Hey Jude’ was written as a security blanket for the young Julian.
Whether it was just the mind of John Lennon running away with himself or indeed he truly believed it, Lennon had a different theory on the song’s intended recipient: “He [Paul] said it was written about Julian, my child. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian. He was driving over to say hi to Julian. He’d been like an uncle to him. You know, Paul was always good with kids. And so he came up with ‘Hey Jude’.”
He continued: “But I always heard it as a song to me. If you think about it… Yoko’s just come into the picture. He’s saying, ‘Hey, Jude – hey, John.’ I know I’m sounding like one of those fans who reads things into it, but you can hear it as a song to me. The words ‘go out and get her’—subconsciously he was saying, Go ahead, leave me. On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, ‘Bless you.’ The devil in him didn’t like it at all because he didn’t want to lose his partner.”
‘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. The song was composed during the group’s fractious end 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 first song about The Beatles since The Beatles broke up, McCartney used his opportunity to highlight the band’s difficulties and the particular struggles he had with Lennon.
‘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.
Ram had another surprise up its sleeve as well. The album is arguably one of Paul McCartney’s greatest, including The Beatles, and its because it offers up a mercurial musician at his most vulnerable. Let there be no doubt, in 1971, McCartney was very vulnerable indeed. Largely seen as the reason the band broke up, he and Linda McCartney escaped London to avoid the situation’s intensity. Macca let that tension boil over on a couple of Ram tracks.
There is more than enough content here to suggest that this song is more keenly aimed at the entirety of the band. After all, each member of the group had seemingly fallen out with McCartney at one point or another. 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 together. 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 ‘Three 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’s feet.
Though McCartney’s first two solo efforts had been drenched in The Beatles’ fraught tension and the explosive resentment of McCartney, the first Wings album also pointed back at the Fab Four. ‘Dear Friend’ is perhaps the most obviously written about Lennon on our list.
Lennon had found some success with the Plastic Ono Band, and it seemed as though McCartney was keen to meet him there and developed his own band in Wings. Their first record Wild Life, would be bursting with a brand new sound but one song was speaking about the same old pal.
Previous outings may have seen Macca taking shots at his old mate, but this was the first olive branch sent across the airwaves. Like speaking to an ex only when you’ve found a new partner, McCartney is telling Lennon that he would like to patch things up because they have both moved on.
‘Let Me Roll It’
Written in response to ‘Cold Turkey’, ‘Let Me Roll It’ is a clear song written for, if not about, John Lennon. While Lennon’s song was staunch and defiantly brutal about relinquishing drugs, Macca’s was intended as a slight jibe towards that motif. But it didn’t land well with critics.
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. At the time, journalists 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.”
‘Silly Love Songs’
Following John Lennon’s return to the abstract wilderness of fatherhood, a return that saw him take a break from making music, he and McCartney managed to patch things up and again begin a friendship. The dup saw each other quite regularly and even nearly reunited the band one night in New York City. During this brief respite, McCartney managed to find a little bit of bitterness to write and record ‘Silly Love Song’.
The duo had been talking about their difference 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 therefore 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 writing a song about his friend once more.
“What’s wrong with that?” asks McCartney in the song, showing his defiance at Lennon’s labelling. He’s right to.. 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.
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.