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#askNat – concerning why John Lennon thought Ram offensive

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).

Ram LP cover, 1971

Ram LP cover, 1971

The lyrical content on Ram that I feel John must have felt was directed at him can be limited to three tracks:

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.

Left: Symbolic photo on back of Ram jacket of copulating beetles, Right: John Lennon parody photo of Ram cover art from post card inset packaged with Imagine LP

Left: Symbolic photo on back of Ram jacket of copulating beetles, Right: John Lennon parody photo of Ram cover art from post card inset packaged with Imagine LP

Extra info:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a designated form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks), but modfied to do both BROW requests and #askNat questions.

2) If you are a Facebook user, you can submit your question right on TheBeatlesRarity FB wall at www.facebook.com/beatlesrarity. If you think about it, try to remember to flag your question with “#askNat”.

3) Similarly, if you are a Google+ user, you can submit your question on TheBeatlesRarity Google+ page at www.gplus.to/beatlesrarity. Google+ supports hashtag searchability so it will be helpful if you preface your question with “#askNat” here too.

4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.

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.

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

21 people think this is FAB!

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  • George says:

    Another nice article. I mentioned this on the Facebook post, but I’ll put it here, too. (The first read through I missed the extras section after the picture which mentions “Dear Friend.”)

    I don’t think it’s any secret that years of drug abuse left John somewhat paranoid in nature. Paul obviously used his emotions following the break-up to write some of these songs. And he admits to some lines being directed to John in the opening track. After that, anyone looking for references to themselves in any song are going to find them. Paul writes in his biography that John thought “the whole album” was about him and Yoko. Obviously, that’s not the case. John said far worse about the Beatles explicitly in interviews in the first place, so I never really understood the hypocrisy of it all. Then, or now.

    I think you missed an important part in the exchange, which is Paul’s song Dear Friend, from Wild Life: The line “Does it really mean so much to you? Are you afraid/a fool, or is it true?” sums up how Paul felt about what John wrote.

    Years later John would recant everything in his Imagine film.

  • Clare Kuehn says:

    Great article with good points! Left a thumbs up (“fab”). However, there may be another reason that George and Ringo both affirmed the “3 legged dog” meant the 3 non-Sir Paul Beatles. (Though lines have many meanings, and your points work as well.) For one thing, the non-Sir Paul Beatles continued to be more in business together. But more than that: http://youcanknowsometimes.blogspot.ca/2013/03/off-topic-new-paul-is-dead-clue-from.html

    By the way, I updated it to refer to your claim about “doodling anything” and put more images. On the other hand, if a person thinks major ear differences make sense under any circumstances other than general injury OR in two persons such differences are isolated to the ear … they are mistaken.

    Luv your posts, though, Nat. Thanks!

  • John Daynes says:

    I think the track which riled John so much was Paul’s Uncle Albert

  • Lennonista says:

    Although I’m a life-long fan, I’ve never spent that much time analyzing the lyrics/messages John and Paul allegedly sent to each other, but I’d like to address Elliott’s point that Paul’s jabs were “artfully shaded, especially when compared to Lennon’s vitriol.” What he calls “artfully shaded,” I call passive-aggressive. And while John was loud and obnoxious, he was, for the most part, direct. However, that being said, BOTH were guilty of bad behavior. Equally so, in my opinion. John usually takes the brunt of fan criticism because he was so over-the-top, but Paul did engage him, after all.

    I know it makes for interesting discussion among Beatleheads, but I have always felt that it’s pointless to say that one of them was right and the other wrong. It was a divorce, after all… no one was at their best. Just like arguments with siblings or significant others… I would hate to be remembered for how I acted in some of those situations. And we can’t forget that John wasn’t around long enough to have shared with us his more sober and mature reflections on all that happened.

    • Happy Nat says:

      Very good points indeed Cara! I was hoping you’d chime in for this one (actually had a strong feeling you would and very glad you did). Thanks…

    • Lou says:

      Lennonista: I’m sorry but I must disagree. John and Paul were NOT equally guilty of bad behavior on the matter of attacking each other in song. The key differences IMO are these:

      1. John’s attacks on Paul were venomous and deeply personal. He publicly demeaned Paul as a person lacking in substance — for example, John’s line about Paul being a “pretty face” who’ll only last a year or two. At no point did Paul take potshots at John’s looks or intellect.

      2. Worse, John went out of his way to publicly demean and ridicule Paul as a songwriter and to attack Paul’s music. At no point did Paul ever do that to John. And that’s what I find most troubling about John’s song. He could have been sharply critical of Paul’s bossiness or controlling nature, but instead he chose to attack Paul as a songwriter and to hurt his reputation. I’m glad Paul never stooped to that level.

      I’m a huge Beatles fan and a huge fan of both Paul and John. But I’m not going to cut John any slack on this front. He did a crappy thing to Paul in trying to damage his reputation as a songwriter. Sometimes its important to call a spade a spade. Just like Paul did his share of crappy things to John (the Northern shares thing). But on this count, John’s behavior was far worse.

  • Joe Bailey says:

    FYI: According to several McCartney sessionography lists I have seen “Dear Friend” was actually recorded during the sessions for “Ram” which means it was recorded before “How Do You Sleep?” was released.

    • Happy Nat says:

      It was written in 1970 before “How Do You Sleep.” There were demos of it from that year and it was recorded professionally by Wings in Sep. 1971 making it’s usage as a response to John serve effectively as a truce.

  • debjorgo says:

    I think Some People Never Know is more of a response to How Do You Sleep.

    “Some people can sleep at night believing that love is a Lie.
    I’m only a person like you, love,
    And who in the world can be right
    All the right time,
    I know I was wrong,
    Make me right, right.

    Only love can stand the test,
    Only you outshine the rest,
    Only fools take second best, and it’s so,
    Some people never know.”

  • challer says:

    Here’s a song I’d like some opinions on: John’s song ‘I Know I Know’ from Mind Games.
    I read an interpretation that it is a friendly, make-up song to Paul: opening chords like ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’, references to ‘Yesterday’ and ‘It’s Getting Better.’

    Anyone hear it this way?

  • Gary Lee says:

    I always heard the line “the horrible sounds of tomato” in Monkberry Moon Delight as “the horrible sounds of Toronto” – bet John did too.

  • Stacia says:

    I’ve even heard people saying “Billly Budapest” in Monkberry Moon Delight is about George.

    I relate more to John as a person, and it took me a long time to come around to Paul’s individual talent, but RAM is what did it for me. I think part of its brilliance is his strong feelings about John and the break-up. Paul wasn’t taking himself as seriously as John those days, and it shows. What a breath of fresh air, even today.

  • carol says:

    Interesting article. I never thought of 3 Legs that way.

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