People write songs about people. And that naturally includes one's own bandmates.

In some cases, the purpose of writing a song about a bandmate is to make clear feelings of animosity, whether they're justified or not. After all, what better way to get a point across than through the very medium that you once found common ground in. This is more likely once a musician has left a band (ex: George Harrison's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues"), but sometimes occurs while the group is still very much together (Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," for example.)

Which is not to say the intent is always spiteful. In some situations, the gesture is truly meant with kindness — Pink Floyd penned several songs that paid tribute to former member Syd Barrett, a key figure in their development even after his departure.

Below we're taking a look at 28 Songs Written About Bandmates, ex or otherwise.

1. The Beatles, "Not Guilty"
From: Anthology 3 (1996)

Early on in the Beatles' career, George Harrison earned himself the nickname of Quiet One, but that simply wasn't as accurate as many fans were led to believe. Harrison actually had no problem expressing his opinion, especially toward the end of the Fab Four's time together. In 1968, he wrote a song called "Not Guilty" that was inspired by the band's public (and certainly embarrassing) falling out with the Maharishi, plus the launch of Apple Corps. "I won't upset the apple cart," Harrison sings. But the song went unreleased until Harrison finally included it on his 1979 self-titled solo LP, and it appeared again on 1996's Anthology 3.


2. Brian Eno, "Dead Finks Don't Talk"
From: Here Come the Warm Jets (1973)

One of the peculiar things about songwriting is that sometimes you're not fully aware of who or what you're writing about until much later on. Such was the case with Brian Eno's "Dead Finks Don't Talk," a song from his debut solo album. It wasn't until after the track was recorded that his engineer, Chris Thomas, noted that it was very clearly about Eno's former Roxy Music bandmate Bryan Ferry. This was not his intent, and yet it made sense. "So I listened back to it and it obviously was," Eno recalled in 1975. "It was certainly something I hadn't realized. Essentially all these songs have no meaning that I invested in them. Meanings can be generated within their own framework."


3. Buffalo Springfield, "A Child's Claim to Fame"
From: Buffalo Springfield Again (1967)

It took nearly 50 years for Neil Young to figure out that Buffalo Springfield's "A Child's Claim to Fame," penned by Richie Furay, was about him. "We did 'Child’s Claim to Fame' on the reunion tour in 2011," Furay once told Uncut. "We were playing Santa Barbara, there's 5,000 people out there, and Neil stops. 'Hold up, hold up!' he says. 'Richie, did you write this song about me?' That's Neil for you. Yeah, when I wrote it, I was frustrated with the guy, but that's how we communicated with one another."


4. David Crosby, "Cowboy Movie"
From: If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971)

Sometimes, the town just wasn't big enough for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. In his 1971 solo song, "Cowboy Movie," Crosby portrays his bandmates as Western outlaws, battling for the affection of a Native American woman who was based on Rita Coolidge. Both Graham Nash and Stephen Stills fell for Coolidge, leading to an uncomfortable love triangle that wound up with Coolidge leaving Stills for Nash.


5. David Lee Roth, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar and Grill"
From: Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar and Grill (2020)

Yes, David Lee Roth noted upon its 2020 release that "Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bar and Grill" was a tribute to the late Eddie Van Halen, but in a broader sense, the song recounts Van Halen's early days and how meaningful those memories with his former bandmates are to Roth. "I never knew me a better time," he sings, "and I guess I never will." (Decades earlier in 1988, Roth also wrote about fond times in "Damn Good.")


6. Deep Purple, "Smooth Dancer"
From: Who Do We Think We Are (1973)

Many years after the fact, Deep Purple guitarist Jerry Bloom wound up revealing in one of his books that Ian Gillan was writing about his sometimes tense relationship with Ritchie Blackmore in "Smooth Dancer." "You'd better hang on tightly," he sings about someone who dresses in black suede. "You want to rule the world."


7. Elvis Costello, "How to Be Dumb"
From: Mighty Like a Rose (1991)

In 1990, bassist Bruce Thomas released his first book, The Big Wheel, a memoir that did not exactly paint his former boss Elvis Costello in the most flattering light. Many assumed that Costello's scathing 1991 song "How to Be Dumb" was a response to the book, which Costello didn't really deny. "It's sometimes good to let your frustration out and then turn it into something else," he told The Wire in 1991. "To be honest, if there are references to Bruce's book in this song then I wish Bruce could have turned his frustration into something a bit more creative than The Big Wheel, which is a whingeing memoir masquerading very badly as a novel."


8. Fleetwood Mac, "Go Your Own Way"
From: Rumours (1977)

If there was an award for rock album with the most songs written about the band's own interpersonal problems, it would likely be given to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. There's a number of songs penned about Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks' breakup, "Second Hand News," "Go Your Own Way" and "Dreams," each with their own touch of bitterness mixed with longing.


9. George Harrison, "Sue Me, Sue You Blues"
From: Living in the Material World (1973)

Like Fleetwood Mac above, George Harrison did not stop at one song about his bandmates. Perhaps the most pointed one arrived in 1973, "Sue Me, Sue You Blues," which was inspired by the ongoing legal issues plaguing the former Beatles at the time — including Paul McCartney's lawsuit against Apple Corps — a reality Harrison was clearly tired of being involved in. Years later in 1988, Harrison took another retrospective look at things with "When We Was Fab."


10. Graham Nash, "Wind on the Water"
From: Graham Nash David Crosby (1975)

Technically, Graham Nash David Crosby is a collaborative album, but "Frozen Smiles" was penned by Nash, and interestingly enough, it wasn't about Crosby, but their other bandmate Stephen Stills. "We were laughing a lot of the time," Nash explained to UCR in 2022, "but there was something about Stephen's smile that wasn't quite right, and he'd been taking an enormous amount of drugs. And I wrote this song 'Frozen Smiles' to my friend Stephen."


11. Jethro Tull, "A Song for Jeffrey"
From: This Was (1968)

It sort of doesn't get more direct than Jethro Tull's "A Song for Jeffrey," written for Ian Anderson's friend and future Jethro Tull bassist Jeffrey Hammond. A year later, Anderson penned another song focusing on Hammond, who wouldn't end up joining the band until 1971, "Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square."


12. John Lennon, "How Do You Sleep?"
From: Imagine (1971)

George Harrison was hardly the only ex-Beatle examining his past in the early '70s. John Lennon left little to the imagination with "How Do You Sleep?" a song that took direct aim at McCartney — "You live with straights who tell you, you was king." Their relationship would not begin to heal until around 1974.


13. Keith Richards, "You Don't Move Me"
From: Talk Is Cheap (1988)

Yes, the Rolling Stones are still together after over 60 years of being a rock band, but that definitely doesn't mean that've seen eye to eye the entire time. There was a tense period in the '80s when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger did not get along, to put it mildly, and it came across in Richards' 1988 solo song "You Don't Move Me" — "Why do you think you got no friends / You drove them around the bend." Richards told The New York Times that year that the song was "not just about him," but certainly didn't deny it applying to Jagger, and in fact explained that drummer Steve Jordan had told him "When in doubt, write about Mick." (It has never been confirmed, but subsequent solo songs from Jagger like "Kow Tow" and "Shoot Your Mouth Off" were speculated to be a response to Richards.)


14. The Kinks, "Two Sisters"
From: Something Else by the Kinks (1967)

If there's one thing the Kinks were skilled at, it was creating characters in their songs that seemed to jump to life. In "Two Sisters" though, Ray Davies simply reversed he and his brother Dave's genders and came up with a song about themselves. "Dave made up for both of us, he was the youthful, fun-loving one," Ray would later explain. "'Two Sisters' is quite accurate, in the sense that one had all the freedoms — one brother stays in, and the other goes out and has fun. And one resents the other for the ability to do it. But in the end, look what I've got..."


15. Led Zeppelin, "Royal Orleans"
From: Presence (1976)

What happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans. Unless you're Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant decides to write some lyrics about your escapades there, which is what happened with "Royal Orleans," a song that he wrote after his bandmate John Paul Jones fell asleep with a drag queen known as Whiskers. "He was a bit homophobic in those days," Jones later said in 2001. "I think it's just 'cause [Plant and John Bonham] had a sheltered upbringing as lads."


16. Lindsey Buckingham, "Wrong"
From: Out of the Cradle (1992)

Obviously, Lindsey Buckingham felt it important to get straight to the point with a title like "Wrong." The subject in question was Mick Fleetwood's first memoir My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac, released in 1990, which Buckingham evidently felt was characteristic of the drummer's self-promotional style. "I didn't have a lot of respect," Buckingham told Stereogum in 2018. "I mean, I understood that it was out of a certain neediness, but at the same time as much as I loved Mick...I couldn't love that part of him."


17. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "That Smell"
From: Street Survivors (1977)

Everyone knows that the rockstar lifestyle can be one of excess, but sometimes even your own bandmates feel the need to warn you (and themselves, too) that it's not all fun and games. Lynyrd Skynyrd's "That Smell" was essentially a cautionary song written about the dangerous influence of drugs and alcohol on the band — there's even a line about the oak tree that Gary Rossington smashed his car into one night in Florida.


18. The Mamas and the Papas, "Look Through My Window"
From: The Mamas and the Papas Deliver (1967)

John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas were married in 1962, but two years later went through a period of separation. At that time, John believed Michelle to be living in California, but as it turned out, she was actually residing just a few blocks away from him in New York City. (The couple divorced in 1969.)


19. Paul and Linda McCartney, "Too Many People"
From: Ram (1971)

"Too Many People" was reportedly the song that inspired Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" and it's not difficult to see why with lines like "too many people preaching practices." "I felt John and Yoko [Ono] were telling everyone what to do," McCartney explained to Mojo in 2001. "And I felt we didn't need to be told what to do. The whole tenor of the Beatles thing had been, like, to each 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."


20. Pearl Jam, "Glorified G"
From: Vs. (1993)

To be clear, Pearl Jam's "Glorified G" is less about a specific bandmate as it is about the conversation that said bandmate happened to inspire. One day, while at work on their 1993 album Vs., drummer Dave Abbruzzese mentioned that he'd recently bought two guns, which prompted a conversation that Eddie Vedder managed to turn into an entire song. "I never felt offended or took any offense to the words because I thought it was cool that Eddie was able to take that conversation, and I admired the fact that it was a real creative way to pen a lyric, to take notes of a conversation we were all having about something," Abbruzzese told Songfacts in 2023. "And then he turned it into an anthem to the anti-gun, in a weird way. It was tongue-in-cheek, kind of making fun of gun ownership."


21. Pink Floyd, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"
From: Wish You Were Here (1975)

Syd Barrett was only a member of Pink Floyd for three years, but his presence and vision while in the band arguably affected them for the rest of their existence. After Barrett's departure in 1968, Pink Floyd penned the epic, nine-part composition "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" for Barrett — "You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon." (The album's title track has also been interpreted as a tribute to Barrett.)


22. R.E.M., "Get Up"
From: Green (1988)

There's always that one member of a band who could not be on time to save their life. In R.E.M., that was apparently Mike Mills. Mills would regularly sleep late during sessions for 1988's Green, so Michael Stipe did what any bandmate would do and wrote a song about it.


23. Ringo Starr, "Early 1970"
From: 1971 Single

If you thought we forgot about the fourth Beatle on this list, think again. Ringo Starr also wrote about his former bandmates in "Early 1970," describing McCartney's idyllic farm life, Lennon's "laying in bed" and Harrison as a "long-haired, cross-legged guitar picker." "I keep looking around and thinking where are they? What are they doing? When will they come back and talk to me?" Starr explained to Look magazine in 1970.


24. The Rolling Stones, "Shine a Light"
From: Exile on Main St. (1972)

The sad thing about the Rolling Stones' "Shine a Light" was that its subject, Brian Jones, was very much still alive when it was written, but dead by the time it was released in 1972. The earliest versions of the song were written in 1968, before Jones was let go from the band, and though the lyrics would be reworked after his death, the same theme remained. It's hard to watch a friend slip through the cracks — "couldn't seem to get a line on you."


25. Sammy Hagar, "Little White Lie"
From: Marching to Mars (1997)

It's understandable that in the year following his departure (or possible firing, depending on whose side of the story you're listening to), from Van Halen, Sammy Hagar would still be wrestling with how it all went down. He wrote a lot about these feelings on 1997's Marching to Mars in songs like "Little White Lie," which Hagar penned after he was made aware that Alex and Eddie Van Halen were "talking trash" about him on MTV.


26. Simon and Garfunkel, "The Only Living Boy in New York"
From: Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)

If you don't know your Simon & Garfunkel history, you may miss the references Paul Simon makes in "The Only Living Boy in New York," which begins with a line about a man named Tom getting on a flight to Mexico. This is a reference to when the duo went by Tom and Jerry (Tom being Art Garfunkel) and to Garfunkel's trip south of the border to act in the 1970 film Catch-22. Simon drew more inspiration from his collaborator on "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright," which was originally intended to be written about the famous architect, but wound up more of a veiled song about Garfunkel, who had once studied architecture.


27. Supertramp, "Casual Conversations"
From: Breakfast in America (1979)

As they worked on what would become their biggest-selling album, the members of Supertramp were sometimes struggling to get along. Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies' strained relationship was perhaps no better illustrated than in "Casual Conversations," which talks about one person making the other feel so small "until there's nothing left at all." "That song, for me, is deeply personal," Davies told Melody Maker in 1979. "It can obviously relate to people, as well as boy-girl. I suppose it's me and Roger to a degree; me not being able to communicate with him, wanting to get out at times."


28. Tears for Fears, "Fish Out of Water"
From: Elemental (1993)

Tears for Fears split up in 1991, but two years after that, Roland Orzabal would release Elemental under the Tears for Fears name. A track titled "Fish Out of Water" very clearly pointed to his frustration with Curt Smith: "You ain't a clue who or what you are." "I thought it was quite amusing," Smith later said. "That was a song obviously written out of anger. I'd left the band, he was pissed off, and fair enough." (Smith himself would write a response with his solo track "Sun King" in 1997.)

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Gallery Credit: Matthew Wilkening

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