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.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
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.”
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.
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.
The song was first recorded in Columbia Studios in New York City on 10 November 1970. Overdubs were added in January the following year at A&R Studios in NYC, including some brass during the early part of the song. More overdubs were recorded at Sound Recorders Studios in Los Angeles in March/April 1971.
‘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.
Seriously?, why so much insisting on how vitriolic the song is?. How do you sleep is way more vitriolic and I’m sure John knew that well. Also I don’t think Paul “refused” to admit the digs at John, I don’t remember him being asked. In the Playboy interview in 1984 he actually volunteered the information. And I seem to remember he says the “YOU took your lucky break and broke it in two”, not “Yoko”. I mean in the interview, not just the song.