Paul McCartney and John Lennon were once great collaborators and close friends but their relationship took a turn for the worst in the lead-up to and aftermath of The Beatles breaking up in 1970. Lennon was first to leave the group in 1969 but the public was not aware of the acrimonious split until McCartney announced his departure the following year and addressed the band’s separation. He said: “Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don’t really know.”
It was widely reported at the time that Lennon struggled to collaborate with his former bandmates in the later years of The Beatles’ run. His relationship with Yoko Ono was also blamed as one of the catalysts for the band’s growing frustration with Lennon. A Rolling Stone article quotes an exchange between the band members after McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison attempted to push back against Lennon insistence on bringing Ono to their band meetings. Lennon allegedly told the group: “Yoko only wants to be accepted. She wants to be one of us.” Starr replied: “She’s not a Beatle, John, and she never will be.” But Lennon shut him down: “Yoko is part of me now. We’re John and Yoko, we’re together.”
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono speak at a press conference, March 2, 1973, in New York.
In a 1997 biography titled Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, McCartney reflected on the contentious relationship he had with Lennon after the band split. The “Too Many People” singer told Miles he continued to reach out to Lennon in the years after the split but was rebutted.
“I would ring him when I went to New York and he would say, ‘Yeah, what d’you want?’ ‘I just thought we might meet?’ ‘Yeah, what the f*** d’you want, man?’ I used actually to have some very frightening phone calls,” McCartney said, per the book. “Thank God they’re not in my life anymore. I went through a period when I would be so nervous to ring him and so insecure in myself that I actually felt like I was in the wrong. It was all very acrimonious and bitter.”
Lennon was not subtle about his feud with McCartney in the early 70s. He frequently dissed him in interviews and wrote songs like “How Do You Sleep?” about his former writing partner. However, McCartney says the resentment was not one sided. “[A]nother time I called him and it was ‘Yeah? Yeah? Whadda ya want?’ He suddenly started to sound American,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh, f*** off, Kojak,’ and slammed the phone down; we were having those kind of times, it was bad news.”
John Lennon, left,and Paul McCartney at a press conference on May 15, 1968.
That said, their heated business calls eventually simmered and the two found a way to at least be civil again. McCartney also reflected on how, in certain situations, Lennon would break his tough exterior and remind him of their long friendship. “John and I were arguing about something and I was getting fairly heated,” McCartney recalled of one particular battle. “John just pulled his glasses down his nose and looked over the top and said, ‘It’s only me,’ and then put them back again. Just a moment. I think that was very symptomatic of our whole relationship: John would let the barrier down and you’d get a couple of moments of deep reality, then he was defensive again.”
In his own 2021 memoir, McCartney reflected on how he and Lennon repaired their friendship. “At first, after the breakup of the Beatles, we had no contact, but there were various things we needed to talk about,” wrote McCartney. “Our relationship was a bit fraught sometimes because we were discussing business, and we would sometimes insult each other on the phone. But gradually we got past that, and if I was in New York I would ring up and say, ‘Do you fancy a cup of tea?’” He also noted that they were able to find common ground through their strikingly similar personal lives after they both had kids around the same time. “We had even more in common, and we’d often talk about being parents.”
Ultimately, by the time Lennon died, their feud was a thing of the past, a resolution that McCartney is grateful for. “I was very glad of how we got along in those last few years, that I had some really good times with him before he was murdered,” McCartney wrote. “Without question, it would have been the worst thing in the world for me, had he been killed, when we still had a bad relationship. I would’ve thought, Oh, I should’ve, I should’ve, I should’ve… It would have been a big guilt trip for me. But luckily, our last meeting was very friendly. We talked about how to bake bread.”
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