Paul McCartney admits that he elected to “turn my missiles” on John Lennon while writing songs for his 1971 album Ram, when he perceived that his former Beatles bandmate and friend was being “quite cruel” about him.
Referencing the song Too Many People, while reading from his commentary in his new book The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present on BBC Radio 4’s Inside The Songs, McCartney says: “This song was written a year or so after the Beatles break-up. At the time, John [Lennon] was firing missiles at me with his songs, and one or two of them were quite cruel. I don’t know what he hoped to gain, other than punch me in the face, the whole thing really annoyed me. I decided to turn my missiles on him too, but I’m not really that kind of writer, so it was quite veiled. It was the 1970s equivalent of what might today be called a diss track.”
“An idea of too many people preaching practices, it was definitely aimed at John telling everyone what they ought to do,” McCartney admits.
“I just got fed up being told what to do, so I wrote this song… The first verse and the chorus have pretty much all the anger I could muster, and when I did the vocal on the second line, ‘Too many reaching for a piece of cake,’ I remember singing it as ‘piss off cake,’ which you can hear if you really listen to it.
“Again, I was getting back at John but my heart wasn’t really in it. ‘You’ve made this break so good luck with it,’ it was pretty mild, I didn’t really come out with any savagery.
“It’s actually a fairly upbeat song, it doesn’t really sound that vitriolic. And if you didn’t know the story, I don’t know that you’d be able to guess at the anger behind its writing.
“It was all a bit weird and a bit nasty, and I basically said, ‘Let’s be sensible,’ McCartney reveals. “We had a lot going on for us in The Beatles, and what actually split us up is the business stuff, and that’s pretty pathetic, really. “So let’s just try and be peaceful, let’s maybe give peace a chance…
“Too many people sharing party lines,” says McCartney, quoting from the lyrics, “too many people are grabbing for a slice of cake and a piece of the pie…” The sleeping late thing, whether that was accurate, whether John and Yoko [Ono] actually slept in late or not, I’m not sure.
“The thing is, so much of what they held to be truth was crap. ‘War is over’, well no it isn’t. But I get what [they were] saying, war was over if you want it to be. So if enough people want war to be over, it’ll be over? I’m not sure that’s entirely true but it’s a great sentiment.
“I had been able to accept Yoko in the studio sitting on a blanket in front of my amp,” continues McCartney. “I worked hard to come to terms with that, but then when we broke up and everyone was now flailing around, John turned nasty. I don’t really understand why. Maybe because we grew up in Liverpool where it was always good to get the first punch in the fight.”
Lennonn would later respond to the perceived slights on Ram by penning the thinly-veiled McCartney-dissing How Do You Sleep? on Imagine.
You can hear the full interview with Paul McCartney below.