As the old proverb says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Considering that physical violence is not the path taken by most people, particularly not peace loving pop stars, the kind of revenge one would expect in the music world would be lyrical. There was perhaps no one more able to verbally eviscerate an adversary than John Lennon. Not only did he do it to great effect, he did it somewhat frequently.
Consider “Sexy Sadie.” John wrote that in response to an alleged but unconfirmed attempt by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to bed a female guest at his ashram. It is not entirely clear why, had the Maharishi actually made such an advance — something which even John’s fellow Beatles never believed — he would have been making a “fool of everyone.” John said of the song:
That was inspired by Maharishi. I wrote it when we had our bags packed and were leaving. It was the last piece I wrote before I left India. I just called him, ‘Sexy Sadie,’ instead of (sings) ‘Maharishi what have you done, you made a fool…’ I was just using the situation to write a song, rather calculatingly but also to express what I felt. I was leaving the Maharishi with a bad taste. You know, it seems that my partings are always not as nice as I’d like them to be.
“Sexy Sadie” was relative tame compared to the “answers” John was to deliver in the 70’s. Flowing out of his “Primal Scream Therapy” stage came “Mother,” the bitter-sweet kiss off to his parents, neither of whom had been particularly devoted. His mother died just as she was coming back into his life. His father had never really been there at all. There’s no doubt his parents deserved to here from him in this way. Still, as a parent this kind of message from a son would be hard to swallow, deserved or not
Mother, you had me but I never had you,
I wanted you but you didn’t want me,
So I got to tell you,
Farther, you left me but I never left you,
I needed you but you didn’t need me,
So I got to tell you,
Next up: Paul McCartney. On the same album in which John asked the rest of the world to imagine a “brotherhood of man” and people “living life in peace,” he shredded to bits his former songwriting partner and once best friend. “How Do You Sleep?” is vicious, and that’s the released version. The anger directed toward Paul during the studio sessions got so bad that George Harrison, no lover of McCartney at the time, had to demand John and Yoko cool out.
One of the major conflicts that split the Beatles was Allen Klein’s involvement as manager. McCartney wanted his inlaws or anyone but Allen Klein and the other three Beatles insisted Klein be their manager. The details of that are interesting and can be found elsewhere. John learned only years later what Paul had been trying to tell them, that Klein was a bad guy. He ended up suing both John and George. In fact, he bought the music company that was suing George for “My Sweet Lord.” What came out of the breakdown between Lennon and Klein was “Steel and Glass,” one of John’s finest solo songs. Interestingly, it sounds a bit like “How Do You Sleep?” and certainly follows that formula.