“This song was written a year or so after the Beatles break-up,” McCartney explained during an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Inside the Songs, reciting his thoughts as captured in his new book The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present. “At the time, John [Lennon] 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. It was the 1970s equivalent of what might today be called a diss track.”
Indeed, “Too Many People” — which was featured on McCartney’s 1971 LP Ram — found the rocker criticizing his famous former writing partner.
“The idea of too many people preaching practices, it was definitely aimed at John telling everyone what they ought to do,” McCartney admitted. “I just got fed up being told what to do, so I wrote this song… The first verse and the chorus have pretty much all the anger I could muster, and when I did the vocal on the second line, ‘Too many reaching for a piece of cake,’ I remember singing it as ‘piss off cake,’ which you can hear if you really listen to it.”
McCartney also skewered Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, on the track. The lyric “You took your lucky break and broke it in two” reportedly started life as “Yoko took your lucky break and broke it in two” before being changed. Again, it was the couple’s perceived preachiness that irked McCartney.
“The thing is, so much of what they held to be truth was crap,” Macca opined. “’War is over’, well no it isn’t. But I get what [they were] saying, war was over if you want it to be. So if enough people want war to be over, it’ll be over? I’m not sure that’s entirely true but it’s a great sentiment.”
“I had been able to accept Yoko in the studio sitting on a blanket in front of my amp,” McCartney continued. “I worked hard to come to terms with that, but then when we broke up and everyone was now flailing around, John turned nasty. I don’t really understand why. Maybe because we grew up in Liverpool where it was always good to get in the first punch in the fight.”
Looking back, McCartney noted his rivalry with Lennon following the Beatles’ breakup was “a bit weird and a bit nasty,” adding that his “heart wasn’t really in it” when it came to the diss track.
“It’s actually a fairly upbeat song, it doesn’t really sound that vitriolic,” the rocker explained of “Too Many People.” “If you didn’t know the story, I don’t know that you’d be able to guess at the anger behind its writing.”
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