It’s no secret that Paul McCartney and John Lennon went in different directions as songwriters in the late Beatles years. After 1968, you weren’t going to hear the “fruitiness” of a track like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” or the corniness of a tune like “Honey Pie” coming from John.
Likewise, you wouldn’t hear something as melody-free as “Revolution 9” or as experimental as “What’s the New Mary Jane” out of Paul’s corner. While there were exceptions in the songbooks of Lennon (“Good Night“) and McCartney (“Helter Skelter“), most would agree that was the rule.
After The Beatles parted ways, neither great songwriter had the other to hold him back (or make him better, as it were). So John and Paul were free to do as they liked, and they did just that. And soon enough, fans and critics started taking sides.
Early on, most critics seemed to side with John. When John spoke about his old pal’s work, he didn’t hold back his criticism. After calling McCartney (1970) “rubbish,” John didn’t find much more to like in Ram (1971).
When John first heard ‘Ram,’ he thought it was ‘awful.’
When reading interviews with John and Paul in the early ’70s, it’s important to remember how much pent-up anger and frustration they had at that point. So you might hear a bit of hyperbole — especially from the less-filtered John.
You definitely got that in the 1970 Rolling Stone interview that had John knocking Paul’s solo debut as “light and easy.” Elsewhere, he referred to McCartney as “Engelbert Humperdinck music.” Ram, Paul’s follow-up release, didn’t garner any praise from John, either.
“The first time I heard [Ram] I thought it was awful,” John told New Musical Express early in ’72. “And then the second time, ahem, I fixed the record player a bit and it sounded better.” John cited “3 Legs” and “the intro to ‘Uncle Albert’” as things he liked on the record.
Otherwise, he wasn’t a fan of the the orchestral work he found on Ram. ” I don’t like all this dribblin’ pop-opera jazz,” he said. “I like pop records that are pop records.”
John had the same criticism about ‘Abbey Road.’
If you’ve read many interviews with John, it won’t come as a surprise that he disliked the orchestral swings in Paul’s solo work. After all, John hated the very same thing about Abbey Road.
“I liked the A side,” he told Rolling Stone a few years earlier. “I never liked that sort of pop opera on the other side. I think it’s junk. It was just bits of song thrown together. And I can’t remember what some of it is.”
Of course, there was more for John to dislike than Paul’s musical choices. On “Too Many People,” he found a veiled criticism of his (and Yoko’s) political activities as well as the line, “You took your lucky break and broke it in two,” which was a reference to John’s new life partner.
If you know John, you know he wouldn’t have let such provocations stand. On the Imagine album, he punched back about 20 times harder with “How Do You Sleep?”
Also see: The Beatles Record John Lennon Called His Favorite With the Fab Four
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