This time around on #askNat, I’m delving into the observations and question presented by Elliott Marx of Chatsworth, CA who has this to say:
Ram is my favorite Beatles solo album. It is just about perfect. But John Lennon seems to have felt different about the matter. In fact, he had always claimed that the venomous songs directed towards Paul McCartney on Imagine were responses to the nasty things Paul sang to John on Ram.
John was not a master of nuance, but songs like “How Do You Sleep” are so obvious and filled with near-juvenile name calling and spite, as to be beneath him as a poet. The songs on Ram are not at all obvious, and I have begun to think that John was looking for battles where there were none. Almost like Manson completely misinterpreting the White Album.
Could Paul have been so poetic, so subtle that I have missed the attacks? “Dear Boy” and “Ram On” seem gentle and not about any one real person. “Too Many People” seems like a environmental/political statement along the lines of the Kinks’ “Party Line.” I suppose Yoko Ono can be considered too many people when in the studio or at a business meeting, but it seems artfully shaded, especially when compared to Lennon’s vitriol. Other songs like “Back Seat Of My Car” are clearly love songs. “Smile Away” is just foolish playfulness. I still don’t get what John heard that made him so defensive.
How is Ram such an offensive album?
Good question Elliott. I want to start by pointing out that the comments thread of an earlier #askNat post from October 2012 concerning “Beatles references in post-Beatles material” got into some discussion about this and in one of the comments (by Lou) it is pointed out that this little bit of “fueding” between John & Paul may have started earlier than 1971′s Ram album and back at John’s 1970 “Instant Karma” single (bring that post up here). Is that, in fact, where it started? I think that is very possible and it’s easy enough to Google up the lyrics to “Instant Karma” and maybe play the song if you need to review and decide that for yourself.
Elliiott points out that the “venemous songs” on John’s Imagine album were claimed by John to have been responses to Paul’s more subtle attacks by Paul on Ram. Other than the blatantly obvious “How Do You Sleep,” the only other song I pick up on as even possibly being directed at Paul is “Crippled Inside” (more about this below).
The lyrical content on Ram that I feel John must have felt was directed at him can be limited to three tracks:
- “Too Many People” – Paul has admitted to certain lyrics in this song being directed at John. There was the line “Too many people preaching practices, don’t let them tell you what you want to be” as a dig at John & Yoko’s campaigning for peace. There was also the line “You took your lucky break and broke it in two, now what can be done for you, you broke it in two” which could be taken by John as a criticism of his own decision to dump working with Paul and start working with Yoko instead.
- “3 Legs” – There is the line “when I thought that I could call you my friend, but you let me down, put my heart around the bend” has an obvious interpretation from John’s point of view. “My dog he got 3 legs, you’re dog he got none” is a line that could easily be interpreted as Paul saying to John “I’m not up to 100% after the big “break up” but I’m certainly better off than you.” Finally, since Paul uses dogs in this alleged analogy, John’s “Crippled Inside” on the Imagine album may be taken as a response to “3 Legs” since John uses a cat and dog for his own lyrical analogy: “you know that your cat has 9 lives, 9 lives to itself, but you only got one, and a dog’s life ain’t fun.” George Harrison and Ringo Starr both felt that “3 Legs” was meant collectively as John, George and Ringo.
- “Dear Boy” – This song contains the line “I hope you never know dear boy how much you missed” and other somewhat condescending references. Could John have taken these as suggestions from Paul that he had missed out on a lot by deciding not to work with him anymore? Paul later claimed that “Dear Boy” was actually directed to Joseph See, Linda McCartney’s ex-husband, which reviewing the lyrics makes a lot more sense.
Additionally, former director of Apple Corps, Peter Brown, pointed out that Linda McCartney’s photo of two beetles copulating on the back cover of Ram were a symbol of how Paul thought the other Beatles were treating him. Similarly, early editions of John’s Imagine album included a postcard of him pulling on the ears of a pig, meant as a parody of the Ram cover of Paul holding a ram by the horns.
- Paul’s follow up album to Ram, and first “Wings” album Wild Life include a track as the closer called “Dear Friend” with lyrics that suggested a truce between him and John.
- It wasn’t long after the squabbling between them that John admitted that he regretted writing “How Do You Sleep” and points out at the same time that he and Paul are both okay with each other. Although they never worked together again on anything that was officially released, they did play together in 1974 (see more on that here).
I hope that clears it up a little better for you Elliott and thanks again for a good topic. I invite anyone to add anything in the comments section below.
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Here are some links to Amazon to read more or purchase some of the music related to this post:
1) RAM [Special Edition] – 2012 2-CD expanded stereo remaster of original 1971 LP, featuring “Too Many People,” “3 Legs” and “Dear Boy.”
2) Imagine – 2010 remaster of original 1971 LP, featuring “How Do You Sleep” and “Crippled Inside.”
3) Power To The People – The Hits [+Digital Booklet] 2010 remastered hits compilation by John Lennon including “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)”
4) Wings Wild Life – Paul McCartney’s follow up album to Ram and first “Wings” album. Contains the song “Dear Friend” as the album closer.