The opening song on Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 album Ram, ‘Too Many People’ was a barely concealed attack on John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

There were all the bits at the beginning of Ram like ‘Too many people going underground’. Well that was us, Yoko and me. And ‘You took your lucky break’, that was considering we had a lucky break to be with him.

This song was written a year or so after the Beatles breakup, at a time when John 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 a writer, so it was quite veiled. It was the 1970s equivalent of what we might today call a ‘diss track’. Songs like this, where you’re calling someone out on their behaviour, are quite commonplace now, but back then it was a fairly new ‘genre’. The idea of too many people ‘preaching practices’ was definitely aimed at John telling everyone what they ought to do – telling me, for instance, that I ought to go into business with Allen Klein. I just got fed up with being told what to do, so I wrote this song. ‘You took your lucky break and broke it in two’ was me saying basically, ‘You’ve made this break, so good luck with it.’ But it was pretty mild. I didn’t really come out with any savagery, and it’s actually a fairly upbeat song; it doesn’t really sound that vitriolic. If you didn’t know the story, I don’t know that you’d be able to guess at the anger behind its writing.

For many years Paul McCartney refused to admit the extent of the Lennon-goading contained within Ram.

I was looking at my second solo album, Ram, the other day and I remember there was one tiny little reference to John in the whole thing. He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. In one song, I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn’t anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was “You took your lucky break and broke it in two.”
Paul McCartney
Playboy, 1984

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Too Many People

Far from containing “one tiny little reference”, ‘Too Many People’, was an attack intended to cause maximum offence to his former bandmate. The song opens with the words “Piss off,” which McCartney eventually admitted was aimed at Lennon.

Piss off, cake. Like, a piece of cake becomes piss off cake, And it’s nothing, it’s so harmless really, just little digs. But the first line is about ‘too many people preaching practices.’ I felt John and Yoko were telling everyone what to do. And I felt we didn’t need to be told what to do. The whole tenor of the Beatles thing had been, like, each to his own. Freedom. Suddenly it was ‘You should do this.’ It was just a bit the wagging finger, and I was pissed off with it. So that one got to be a thing about them.
Paul McCartney
Mojo, 2001

Lennon’s response was the even more bitter ‘How Do You Sleep?’ on the Imagine album. Mutually-aimed barbs were launched by the two men in the press throughout much of 1971, although the antagonism waned in subsequent years.

‘Too Many People’ was the b-side of the US-only single ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’, released in the US only on 2 August 1971.

Paul McCartney's lyrics for Too Many People

In the studio

McCartney began recording ‘Too Many People’ on 10 November 1970 at Columbia Studios in New York City. The initial track featured him on vocals and acoustic guitar, Hugh McCracken on electric guitar, and Denny Seiwell on drums.

Towards the end of the session McCartney and Seiwell added more percussion, including shaker and cowbell. McCartney also added two electric guitar solos in a single take.

On 28 January 1971 a brass overdub was added at A&R Recording in New York. The precise players are not known, but may have included trumpeters Marvin Stamm, Mel Davis, and Snooky Young, and French horn player Joseph Singer.

Vocals were added on 10 February. McCartney first added lead vocals, which he double and triple tracked before he and Linda McCartney recorded backing vocals to certain lines.

‘Too Many People’ was completed on 18 March 1971. Paul and Linda added two more tracks of backing vocals at Sound Recorders Studio in Hollywood.

Paul also asked studio engineer Eirik Wangberg to bring in a wooden pallet. McCartney jumped on the pallet repeatedly to get a percussive sound, which can be heard in the final 30 seconds of the song.

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