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#askNat – concerning Beatles references in post-Beatles material

This week on #askNat I’m responding to a question from Uwe in Frankfurt, Germany who has this to say:

After The Beatles break-up, the individual Beatles occasionally wrote songs about, or addressed to, their fellow Beatles or the group in general – such as “How Do You Sleep” (John), “Here Today” (Paul), “All Those Years Ago”, “When We Was Fab” (George) and “Liverpool 8” (Ringo). I assume there must be more songs like that – for instance, I seem to remember that Paul wrote an answer to “How Do You Sleep”, but I forgot which one that would have been (maybe “Silly Love Songs?”). Can you enlighten us about those autobiographical songs?

Good question Uwe! A lot of the references you mention however are subject to the listener’s interpretation as to whether they are referring to one or more of the other Beatles or not, but often enough they are unmistakably there. I can name a few that come to mind and discuss them but it certainly won’t be all of them. If anyone else reading has further examples then hopefully they will speak up in the comments and add to the list. The lyrics to any of the songs I mention are easy enough to ‘Google up’ if you’d like to review or have a look.

First of all, the song you refer to that is Paul’s answer to John’s “How Do You Sleep” is the closing track on Wild Life written in the form of a letter to John, aptly titled “Dear Friend.” The lyrics are short and abstract, but the sentiment is Paul’s own proclamation of a truce. One may agree it was Paul’s place to do so, since he began the digs at John with certain lyrics from his earlier Ram album. Paul admits to jabbing John with the lyric in the too many people preaching practices verse of “Too Many People” but there are other lyrics on the album that are arguably digs at John as well and only a casual listening of it can reveal why John took it that way.

I think most Beatles references of this sort probably come from Ringo. Many of Ringo’s songs contain Beatles references right up to his most recent material. The b-side for Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy” single called “Early 1970” is probably the earliest of these with a separate verse for each of The Beatles. This song can be found now on the 2007 hits compilation Photograph: The Very Best Of Ringo. Another of Ringo’s singles, released in 1972 while The Beatles were still at odds over the break-up litigation, called “Back Off Boogaloo” contained the lyric: wake up meathead, don’t pretend that you are dead, get yourself up off the cart – get yourself together now, and give me something tasty, everything you try to do, you know it sure sounds wasted. Many feel that Ringo is referring to the “Paul is dead” hoax here and calling out to him about his recent output in a not-too-complimentary fashion.

In later years Ringo has plenty of references on his Ringo Rama album (2003) to include “Instant Karma” on the track track “Instant Amnesia” (2003) and “Cry Baby Cry” on the track “I Think, Therefore I Rock ‘N’ Roll”. The album also contains his heartfelt song for George Harrison “Never Without You” (written after his death) which has references to George’s Beatles track “Within You Without You” and “All Things Must Pass” as well as plenty of George-like guitar riffs played by Eric Clapton. He also mentions “Yesterday” in the track “Write One For Me” and sings someone’s knockin’ at my door on the track “English Garden.” Hmmm… I wonder what that may be a reference to.

On the Choose Love album Ringo mentions both “The Long And Winding Road” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” in the title track and on Y Not refers to John & Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace on the song “Peace Dream.” On his latest album as of this writing (Ringo 2012), the song “In Liverpool” is an autobiographical account of his early days through meeting up and playing with The Beatles.

The 'solo Beatles' photographed at various times in the mid 1970's

The 'solo Beatles' photographed at various times in the mid 1970's

While I believe George Harrison has fewer of these “Beatle-isms” and references in his songs, there are still a few, though they are often a bit more subtle. Besides “All Those Years Ago” and “When We Was Fab,” one might easily interpret the lyrics in the All Things Must Pass track “Run Of The Mill” as referring to the loss of friendship between The Beatles after the break-up and also the disinterest in using many of George’s compositions on Beatles albums. George’s track from his Extra Texture album “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)” is obviously a sequel to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” His lyric I won’t upset the Apple cart, I only want what I can get from his 1979 self-titled album track “Not Guilty” (written in 1968 originally for the White Album) is a direct reference to The Beatles own Apple Records.

The final one that I will mention here before turning it over to anyone else who wants to contribute is John Lennon’s 1980 track “Cleanup Time” from Double Fantasy. His the kings is in the…, the queen is in the… lyric structure is a direct reference to his similar lyrics for “Cry Baby Cry” from the White Album.

Thanks for writing in Uwe! Have something to add? Comment here.

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Any of your favorite Beatles-related music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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  • Frank says:

    Hi there,
    at least one more song comes to mind: “Sue Me Sue You Blues” by George. He wrote that one about Klein and Eastman and them Beatles sueing each other.

  • Frank says:

    P.S.: Not officially released but still a tribute to those days: “Return To Pepperland” by Paul. recorded in 1987 its a great song and I wonder why he didn’t put it out by the time.


  • “Here Comes the Moon” – obvious reference to “Here Comes the Sun”, although not quite a musical equal.

  • Happy Nat says:

    Excellent! Keep ’em coming folks!

  • In a similar vein, I’d read somewhere that the ‘meat city’ guitar riff was a response to ‘let me roll it’ (or vice versa). I wonder to what extent that sort of echoing to ‘post beatles’ stuff happened with the guys.

    • GB says:

      That was “Beef Jerky”, not “Meat City”. John copies Paul’s riff exactly. It is a playful thing to do – they were friends at the time.

  • Jerry says:


    One little correction: isn’t “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)” from the Extra Texture album? And also happened to be the last single release by Apple Records? You stated it was from Thirty-Three and 1/3.


  • Marty says:

    “Living in the Material World” by George Harrison has a verse about meeting John and Paul and then getting “Ritchie” on a tour.

  • Pescador says:

    Hi Nat thanks for answering my question. You found quite a lot and as the first comments (thanks to you guys as well) show there are a lot more out there. And I agree with you, a lot of those lyrics are subject to interpretation. One example that I always felt is most probably George singing about John is the line “wah wah – I don’t need your wah wah” because I read in a book about the Get Back/Let It Be sessions that John liked to complain about George’s guitar sound…

  • debjorgo says:

    “I’ve seen religion from Jesus to Paul”, unless you see that as a reference to the apostle Paul, meaning the teachings of Jesus and Paul were worlds apart. But that seems a too little deep into the subject of religion for John to be commenting on.

    I think it was John saying the Beatles were worshipped like a religion.

  • Elliott Marx says:

    I love this thread – but I think everyone has left off my favorite post Beatles Beatles reference – the amazing moment where John asserts, “I don’t believe in Beatles” in the Plastic Ono Band song God. I’m short of breath each and every time I hear that line. Those few syllables capture all that I love about Lennon.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Thanks everyone for your additions! This is great! I was hoping to get some good responses and that’s exactly what’s happened. Of course, there are other Beatle references in John’s song “God” too – I was the walrus, but now I’m John.

  • Jerry says:

    It was eluded to earlier, but “Let Me Roll It” was Paul doing John’s Plastic Ono Band. Also, Paul’s “Friends to Go” is, I believe, about George. “Early 1970” is still my favorite. I can remember making a cassette copy of it so I could try to figure out all the words – “I play the piano if it’s in ‘C'” had me scratching my head for days!

    • FWIR, “friends to go” wasn’t *about* George so much as Paul indicated he felt it in George’s ‘style’ to some degree – the lyric about ‘climbing up a slowly burning rope’ he thought was George-ish.

      Also, my reading of ‘friends to go’ would be more about the Heather situation than anything else.

  • debjorgo says:

    The guitar in Let Me Roll It sounds like the guitar in Cold Turkey, not like anything on Plastic Ono.

    If I’m not mistaken, Paul denies any kind of comparison. He says they just liked the same kind of music, or something to that affect.

    • Jerry says:

      I guess I should have been more specific. I meant early POB type songs, which I’ve heard since a Rolling Stone review back in the day. No specific song – just the early style (such as Cold Turkey). Since I am not one of the Beatles, I can only give my thoughts or opinions of what they may have been saying/singing/playing. I usually just listen to the songs & read the original commentary by Nat, and maybe I should stick to that.

      • Happy Nat says:

        Your good, Jerry and I appreciate your input very much. Cold Turkey WAS a Plastic Ono single as can be confirmed by the credit on the picture sleeve seen here. I think Deb must have thought you meant the Plastic Ono Band LP.

      • debjorgo says:

        I did think you meant the POB album, Jerry.

        Please don’t let me discourage you from making comments. I love reading what everyone thinks.

    • Chollie says:

      Is it not the identical guitar riffs in Paul’s “Let Me Roll It” and John’s “Beef Jerky”?

  • SCBrain says:

    “Wah Wah” by George is about Paul, who was giving George a headache. The original lyric was “Headache, you’re giving me a headache,” but that isn’t very singable so G changed it to Wah Wah.

  • Peggy Burneka says:

    This isn’t a very nice one, but at the very start of “Too Many People,” Paul sings, “Piss off, hey, hey…” I take it that this was directed to the other three, especially John? I think John definitely picked up on that.

    • Lou says:

      Paul doesn’t sing “Piss off, hey, hey” at the beginning of Too Many People. He sings, “Piece of cake,” which is both a reference to John and Yoko’s silly cake in a bag stunt, and is a bit of wordplay, “Piece of” sounding very much like “Piss off.”

    • Lou says:

      “One may agree it was Paul’s place to do so, since he began the digs at John with certain lyrics from his earlier Ram album.”

      OK, I’ll open that can of worms. I don’t agree with that sentence. Given that John had attacked the Beatles as an entity in Plastic Ono Band, and that some people think Instant Karma is a veiled attack on Paul, and given that John attacked both the band and Paul as a person in his long interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone magazine, it really was John who “started it.” I think John just didn’t like it when Paul used his own album (Ram) to express his own views on the situation.

      People always make excuses for John’s vicious outbursts and applaud his “honesty.” But when Paul expresses his opinion honestly in song — that John “took his lucky break and broke it in two” (which has the benefit of being true) or that John was “preaching practices” (which, lets face it, was also true) — somehow people forget all the nasty things John said first, and Paul gets accused of starting a war of words.

      IMO, John took offense because Paul hit close to home in those few lines. And Paul’s references in Too Many People were so oblique they could have referred to anyone. That’s what’s great about Too Many People. There are no cheap shots about John in that song. It’s a song that stands on its own with a strong message — “Don’t let em tell you what you wanna be.” Good advice for us all. And that’s what’s great about Instant Karma, too. If, in fact, John did write that song about Paul, the lyrics are so veiled that the song can apply to anyone. And it works.

      By contrast, How Do You Sleep is just a hit job. John got vicious and personal and took cheap shot after cheap shot, attacking Paul’s music and song writing and dismissing him as a pretty face. No where on Ram — or in any public interview — did Paul ever criticize John’s music or attack John as a songwriter or dismiss John as an artist. Sadly, music critics and John and Yoko’s allies in the New York media elite used John’s vicious screed as a reason to attack Paul for anything and everything he produced as an artist. It really was a lousy thing for John to do.

      Interesting that it took 40 years — for the reissue of Ram just this year — for the album to get the respect it deserved. It was great to see Pitchfork, AV Club, and many other of today’s music critics (including Rolling Stone, of all places, giving the album 4.5 stars) hail the album’s brilliance. About time.

      /climing off soapbox. :)

      • Feel free to stay on your soapbox as long as you’d like.

      • Pescador says:

        Lou, I think you are absolutely right in your analysis about their running battle, thank you for taking the effort to share it with us…and it is good to know that later on they could reconcile, with Paul being the one who had far more to forgive than John IMHO

  • Peggy Burneka says:

    Yep, you’re right – Paul does start off “Too Many People” singing “piece of cake,” which is then repeated in the first lyrics, “too many reaching for a piece of cake.” (Too bad – I think “piss off” is more fun!) Seriously, Paul did give his jabs much more subtly than John. Emotions were running high during the early ’70s, and many of us read a lot of things into the solo albums, much of which was true. It was a hurtful time to be a Beatles fan, as all of the bickering made me sad. I agree that Ram is a brilliant album, though – it’s always been one of my favorites.

  • Hi Nat, thanks for tending an excellent website (I have it on my favs bar!). I have been collecting beatles for 30+ years, and obtained a 5 trk Apple George Harrison Acetate that was originally Kenny Everett’s (and have had it since the 80’s). One of the tracks on it is My Sweet Lord and it runs to 4mins 46secs. I have been looking for infomation in regards to apple acetates and different versions of this song, but have yet to find wether this 4:46 version has been bootleged..
    This version has a 32 sec acoustic intro with a different lead guitar over the top of it, which I don’t think was ever released. Can you shed any light? :)
    Thanks in advance

    • Happy Nat says:

      Hi Steve. Thanks for the kind words on the site! Glad to have you around. The more collectors we have on board, the better! I am going to send you an email response to your question since it is getting off the subject of the thread. Will do that now…

  • Elliott Marx says:

    The first two verses of George’s Cockamamie Business are related to Beatles era events.

    Bust my back on the Levy – broke my strings on the BBC
    Found my chops on Eel Pie Island – paid my dues at the Marquee
    Slagged off by the N.M.E. – lost my stash and my virginity
    In this Cockamamie Business

    Got my face on Ed Sullivan – broke my heart on the Soul Train
    Introduced to Bad Company – lost cells down at Brain Drain
    And before I could mend – lost the missus, missed the girlfriend
    In this Cockamamie Business

  • Michael Whelan says:

    John always thought Paul’s line “we believe that we can’t be wrong” from RAM’s “Back Seat of My Car” was directed at he and Yoko..

    I always thought that there were several lines from Red Rose Speedway’s “Little Lamb/Dragonfly”, written during RAM that were directed at John. Some examples:

    Since You’ve Gone I never know, I go on miss you so
    Dragonfly, you’ve been away too long, how did two rights make a wrong?
    In my heart, feel the pain, keeps coming back again..
    Dragonfly, the years ahead will show, how little we really know

    Beautiful song, one of McCartney’s more under rated….

    Great thread..thanks to all, Michael

  • Lennonista says:

    There’s also John’s much-rumored-about demo Now and Then, which mostly seems to be about Yoko, but with the lyric “now and then I miss you” and the words “for Paul” allegedly written on the cassette cover, one does wonder. Personally I think “for Paul” was most likely written in case the two ever got together to write again (wishful thinking on my part, I know), but we’ll never know for sure, will we? The “now and then I miss you” is especially eerie when you consider that alleged story in which the last words John ever said to Paul were, “Think about me every now and then, old friend.” Now, if Paul would just do a weekly Q&A like Yoko (lol), then I could ask him if that story was true!

  • josefpraks says:

    I would like to share following “intra-Beatles” reference – it can be found on George´s 33&1/3 album and it is titled “See Yourself” – George himself explains in his “I Me Mine” book – the song being reference to Paul´s “coming out” with LSD trip …

    See Yourself

    It’s easier to tell a lie than it is to tell the truth
    It’s easier to kill a fly than it is to turn it loose
    It’s easier to criticize somebody else
    Than to see yourself

    It’s easier to give a sigh and be like all the rest
    Who stand around and crucify you while you do your best
    It’s easier to see the books upon the shelf
    Than to see yourself

    It’s easier to hurt someone and make them cry
    Than it is to dry their eyes
    I got tired of fooling around with other people’s lies
    Rather I’d find someone that’s true

    It’s easier to say you won’t than it is to feel you can
    It’s easier to drag your feet than it is to be a man
    It’s easier to look at someone eles’s wealth
    Than to see yourself

  • Erika says:

    Great list! I think Paul really dives into this subject to this day. The ones I think of on the top of my head are Here Today, which he always talks about as a conversation he never had with John. That was Me, off Memory Almost Full, has lots of references to the early Beatle days. And most recently, the song Early Days off his most recent album New is a reminiscence of John and Paul when they first knew each other. I’m sure there are more since Paul returns to this subject quite often.

  • Steve C says:

    In The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After The Break-Up 1970-2001, Keith Badman says Boogaloo was a nickname of Paul McCartney. I have never seen this substantiated anywhere else. But if you listen to the song in this context, it seems to fit. I know the Marc Bolan story, but these are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

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