Behind the Beef: How The Beatles Breakup Caused a John Lennon/Paul McCartney Clash

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

We had 10 years of The Beatles. From 1960 to 1970, the four musicians released 13 studio albums, and they gained so much international popularity that the band stopped performing live for fans in 1966. 

With this unimaginable amount of fame and scrutiny, the band succumbed to bitter disagreements and disputes amongst themselves. Ultimately, Lennon was the first to leave the band on September 20, 1969, and The Beatles officially announced their breakup in 1970. And, to add insult to injury, the legendary former songwriting partners, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, were in the throes of a heated feud at the time of the band breakup.

So, without further ado, read below for an overview of the feud between Lennon and McCartney. 

John Lennon Speaks Out 

In 1971, Lennon gave a lengthy tell-all interview about The Beatles, Yoko Ono, his solo music, and more to Rolling Stone. And while he revealed several behind-the-scenes stories about his former band, he also gave his two cents on his former bandmates. When asked about George Harrison’s solo album, All Things Must Pass, Lennon stated, “I think it’s all right,” and that “it’s better than Paul’s [album titled ‘McCartney’].” 

“I thought Paul’s was rubbish,” he continued. 

Lennon’s jaded perspective of the former Beatles more than likely stemmed from the final years that The Beatles had together. When asked what he thought of The Beatles’ 1970 documentary film titled Let It Be, Lennon revealed more of his thoughts about McCartney. 

“I felt sad, you know. Also, I felt . . . that film was set up by Paul for Paul. That is one of the main reasons the Beatles ended. I can’t speak for George, but I pretty damn well know we got fed up of being sidemen for Paul,” he said.

No beating around the bush there.

And as far as his thoughts on how his former band members regarded his second wife, Yoko One, Lennon felt pretty strongly about that, too. “Ringo was all right, so was Maureen [Cox], but the other two really gave it to us. I’ll never forgive them, I don’t care what fuckin’ shit about Hare Krishna and God and Paul with his ‘Well, I’ve changed my mind.’ I can’t forgive ’em for that, really. Although I can’t help still loving them either.” 

Paul McCartney Speaks Out 

In his 2021 book, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, McCartney told his side of the story. 

“When we broke up and everyone was now flailing around, John turned nasty,” McCartney wrote. “I don’t really understand why. Maybe because we grew up in Liverpool, where it was always good to get in the first punch of a fight.”

McCartney continued to point out Lennon’s outbursts post-Beatles in The Lyrics: “John 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 punching 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,” he said. “It was the 1970s equivalent of what we might today call a ‘diss track.’ Songs like this, where you’re calling someone out on their behavior, are quite commonplace now, but back then it was a fairly new ‘genre.'”

The “Diss Tracks”

And here come the “diss tracks” that were traded between Lennon and McCartney. They are rather tame compared to today’s diss tracks, but for The Beatles, this was unheard of. 

First was Lennon’s song “God,” which was released in December 1970. Lennon made several “I don’t believe in” statements, including not believing in “Jesus,” “Yoga,” and even “Elvis.” Lennon also sang, I don’t believe in Beatles, before singing, I just believe in me/ Yoko and me/ That’s reality/ Dream is over.

In response, McCartney attempted to tell Lennon to just cool it in his song 1971 song “Too Many People.” Too many waiting for that lucky break, McCartney sings on the track, That was your first mistake/ You took your lucky break and broke it in two/ Now what can be done for you?

“[That] was me saying basically, ‘You’ve made this break, so good luck with it.’ But it was pretty mild,” McCartney wrote after the fact. “It was all a bit weird and a bit nasty, and I was basically saying, ‘Let’s be sensible. We had a lot going for us in the Beatles, and what actually split us up is the business stuff, and that’s pretty pathetic really, so let’s try and be peaceful. Let’s maybe give peace a chance.'”

And then, the most pointed of them all, came Lennon’s song “How Do You Sleep?” which was recorded with Ono’s Plastic Ono Band. 

The only thing you done was yesterday/ And since you’ve gone you’re just another day, Lennon sings in reference to the McCartney penned hit “Yesterday.” He was essentially telling McCarnty that the only notable thing that the latter did was write “Yesterday.” 

“I had to work very hard not to take it too seriously, but at the back of my mind I was thinking: ‘Wait a minute, All I ever did was “Yesterday”? I suppose that’s a funny pun, but all I ever did was “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lady Madonna”….fuck you, John,'” McCartney wrote.

Resolution

Thankfully, Lennon and McCartney buried the hatchet before Lennon’s untimely death. McCartney had released his song “Dear Friend” as an open letter to Lennon, and several years later, noticed that the two slowly came back to their friendship after they both became fathers. 

“We had even more in common, and we’d often talk about being parents,” McCartney wrote about rekindling his friendship with Lennon. 

“I was very glad of how we got along in those last few years, that I had some really good times with him before he was murdered,” he writes. “[L]uckily, our last meeting was very friendly. We talked about how to bake bread.” 

Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images

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