- From Faith Current: “The Sacred Ordinary: St. Peter’s Church Hall” - May 1, 2023
- A brief (?) hiatus - April 22, 2023
- Something Happened - March 6, 2023
According to commenter @HologramSam and Rolling Stone: Continuing the unbroken string of 58 straight Christmases with more Beatle-crap to buy, it’s just been announced that Paul’s dropping a new book this November. Called, Paul McCartney: The Lyrics, it’s meant to stand in for an autobiography (which I think we already got with Many Years From Now). Sez Paul,
“More often than I can count, I’ve been asked if I would write an autobiography, but the time has never been right. The one thing I’ve always managed to do, whether at home or on the road, is to write new songs,” McCartney said in a statement. “I know that some people, when they get to a certain age, like to go to a diary to recall day-to-day events from the past, but I have no such notebooks. What I do have are my songs, hundreds of them, which I’ve learned serve much the same purpose. And these songs span my entire life.”
Two volumes, 960 pages. I’m gettin’ it.
Here’s the promo video. When I was watching it, I found myself thinking: I know he’s a stranger, but I truly cherish this dude Paul McCartney. I’m glad he’s having a long, productive life—I wish him every good thing—and can’t really imagine my life without him and his buddies in it.
I just sent you an email about this!! Looks like @HologramSam beat me to it!
I’m looking forward to reading this. It sounds like there will be things we hadn’t heard before.
Like you said, I’m so grateful we’ve been blessed by Paul McCartney and his music. And I have to admit, I’m one of the people who buys the “Beatle-crap”.
I’ve already preordered this!
And Michael, I second what you say about McCartney. I know he’s a stranger, but his music has meant a lot to me over the years. When I was a parent of young children, I found it heartening that he’d found a way not only to keep his creative fire burning over time, but also to involve family members in that creativity in various ways. And now that I’m [cough] solidly middle-aged, it’s great to see how much he still loves making music and performing, and that it hasn’t come at the expense of his family relationships.
I acknowledge that he’s done some knuckleheaded things over the years and has released some subpar music. But overall I find him inspiring, and I like thinking of him out there, humming and making up a new tune.
Okay, now that’s out of the way, I am seriously excited for this. I really hope he includes lots and lots of stories about the Wings years and beyond, since those are not-as-well-documented as his Beatles years. I hope he goes beyond the “Jet is about a dog and Little Lamb Dragonfly is about a lamb!” stories, or at least opens up a little and fleshes those things out. And includes the little book he wrote about his life while in jail in 1980. Overall, though, a celebration of his own written words is just fantastic.
I was thinking about memory and reminiscence and the constant examination by fans of his every word in every interview and “but John said this!1! rewriting history!1!!” and “why doesn’t he mention X thing??” and then I think back to my own teenagerhood and 20s. And honestly, I couldn’t tell you a whole heck of a lot of substance about myself; I was too busy having too much fun and fooling around and partying. And I am a quarter century younger than Paul, and was probably a lot less busy than he was, and probably did a considerable amount less partying and drugs than he did. Thankfully he’s left the written record of his interviews and music and creation, so much creation. Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to remind myself to try and take it a little easier on these people we want so much information from.
Though wow, the book’s $100. Looks like I’ll be making a request for a holiday present. ;D Thank you for taking a little space to highlight this from Paul.
It looks to be two volumes in a slipcover — just in case you’re looking for a justification!
Paul long ago said that Jet was about a labrador puppy, but recently he told Niles Rodgers on Deep Hidden Meaning that it was a black pony they had for the kids. Good program, check it out as it gives a glipse as to what we might expect. He thought Linda’s dad was a restrictive, authoritarian figure who was hard to deal with? He threw in ‘Mater’ which he said is Latin for “mother” simply because it was a word he liked. Funny enough, John had two aunts nicknamed Harrie and Mater: https://64.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lw32obJqNC1qhnkvco1_500.jpg
Kristy, I too hope “The Lyrics” includes Paul’s diary he wrote in jail. I read he made copies for all his kids. I would love to read it!
I want to hear what “juicy stuff” he has to say about John, which he told Hunter Davies in the infamous phone conversation of 1981 that he wouldn’t tell as long as either of John’s wives were still alive. What is it that Yoko can’t handle?
So somebody developed software that can re-animate old photo portraits. Even painted portraits and ancient sculpture!
For example, here’s Dickens:
People have animated Beethoven, Napoleon, Rembrandt self-portraits, presidents… and of course, young Paul:
@Michelle – As if she’d care about anything Paul had to say about John. Let’s be honest, there’s only one person Yoko cares about and it’s herself.
I’m so looking forward to this. I’m also really interested in the logistics/practicalities of which songs he includes when it comes to the Lennon-McCartney catalogue.
He’s taken to including something like Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite in his stage show, not as a John song he loves, but as a fully co-written track that he wants to reclaim as such (which I’m completely on board with). So, with that kind of precedent set, does that mean he’ll include the ones we know are all his, plus the ones he co-wrote (potentially with some revelations around others that are considered ‘John songs’ that he’d like to make sure his contributions are recorded for) and then leave out all the purely John ones? It’s strange, but I think of them as so twinned as songwriters that the idea of carving up the catalogue like that makes me a bit sad. I’d almost rather he included all the Lennon-McCartney songs and just put ‘100% written by John’ or whatever under the ones he didn’t touch. I know that doesn’t fit the premise of the book, though. I’m also, in that hypothetical scenario, not sure I agree with him re-defining John’s side of the catalogue in that manner, but I also don’t know how else he does it? I may just be overthinking it.
With this and the Rick Rubin multi-part documentary which looks like it’ll be focusing on the music and production side of things, it seems that Paul’s really thinking about his legacy and trying to make sure his enormous contributions, both to the Beatles, and popular music as a whole are documented and promoted. John was a phenomenal songwriter and a creative genius, but without Paul’s contributions to his songs musically (harmonies, middle eights, bass lines, drum patterns, the list goes on) his songs are poorer, and often – in my opinion – less interesting. I don’t want Paul to take over the Beatles’ musical legacy, and I don’t think it would be accurate if he did, but I still don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for the Beatles’ musicality as a whole. Which is complete madness. He is a once-in-a-century musical talent, and as a massive fan of his, I really want him to push that side of his legacy harder. Every time he’s tried with the songwriting, he’s been slapped down, and I want him to stop giving a shit and lay it all out for consumption and discussion while he’s still alive, and not as part of some posthumous canonisation. I don’t know how possible that is, with the other half of the songwriting catalogue controlled by the Estate, but I just don’t want him to continue to be underrated until he dies.
Ian Leslie wrote a beautiful piece on that broad premise too (don’t know if it was posted here at the time?), which I love: https://ianleslie.substack.com/p/64-reasons-to-celebrate-paul-mccartney
I don’t think there’s any danger of McCartney being overlooked; if anything, John Lennon is in the process of being written out of the Beatles’ story as the lazy, violent drug addict who contributed only half-written ideas that McCartney turned into worthwhile songs, which is simply inaccurate. I think that trend is a reaction to Lennon’s being lionized as the group’s only genius in the 20-25 years after his death and by the mostly male, mostly rock-hero-worshipping journalists who set the tone for how the Beatles would be covered for many years. Obviously that portrayal was equally inaccurate.
Much as I love Paul’s work, I think the reason he gets pushback when he goes into the songwriting credits isn’t too dissimilar to the way people react to Yoko saying John was the Beatles’ only genius. It just doesn’t fit with all the information that’s out there and known to be true. Paul can say whatever he wants, but it’s obvious that songs like “Rain” or “Being From the Benefit of Mr Kite” came primarily from John’s brain from their melodies, their lyrics, their essence, just like it’s obvious that Paul is a musical genius and that John would’ve never come up with “Eleanor Rigby” regardless of what he claimed in that interview.
Paul understandably has a complex about being underrated even after all these years, but the reality is that the price of being reasonably stable and a survivor while being as famous as he seems to be being underrated. The alternative is living under the pressure of being lauded as a Great World Changing Genius your entire life, which doesn’t seem to have been very good for Bob Dylan or Brian Wilson, and was certainly disastrous for John Lennon once he decided that it was the only moniker that could properly apply to him.
That’s a really good point @Michael Bleicher about the crushing weight of an overblown Great Genius reputation. Not healthy.
@Michael B – I hope that’s not true, in terms of John being written out, although I can see the changes in the narrative for sure. I think it’s more about John fans (and if I’m ever pushed to choose, I’m a John Fan, so I’m definitely including myself in this) having to live with a much more realistic version of him than the past 40 years has generally allowed for, and that can feel a bit harsh sometimes. I’m not sure that the view of John as a ‘lazy, violent drug addict’ is inaccurate to the point of being fiction, but I agree more broadly that John gets a rawer deal than he deserves. But I see that as a case for more balance, not less, and I think that people/the press telling McCartney to pipe down about the songwriting credit gives us less balance in the long run, because it deprives us of the other side of the story. We might find it unpalatable or choose to believe John over Paul, but ultimately I think we need both of them to weigh in.
I tend to believe Paul when it comes to songwriting credits. I also believe that Paul has kept admirably low key on some of the higher profile songs that he helped with more than the official story allows for. Mainly, I have always read Paul’s reclaiming of Mr. Kite as being much more about repositioning his partnership with John than it is about the specific song – using his memories of writing a second-tier song to try and push back a bit on the Lennon Remembers narrative. I don’t think he’s lying, and I think those things that make something an ‘obvious’ John or Paul song are just as often mythical as they are factual.
All that said, I completely agree with you on the World Changing Genius thing. I do think his being underrated comes from that ‘nice, normal Paul’ thing and going out of his way not to refer to himself in lofty terms, etc. The fact is though, he is a genius, and he’s also almost 80 so the pressure he would have put on himself 50 years ago with that title is vastly diminished. If there are a few songs that aren’t in the history books accurately, now seems like a good time to correct the records…is my only real point, despite the preceding waffle.
Nikki, I think we can set aside any fear of John Lennon’s being “written out” of the Beatles narrative — in many, many places he’s still seen as the prime mover and main or only genius, and in any case, it’s much too evident how much he contributed to the group. I actually think it’s a good thing that he’s being rescued from the kind of “plaster saint” lionizing that happened in the 1980s. John Lennon should get to be a musical genius AND a human being with strong points and weaknesses like the rest of us.
As for Paul McCartney’s “going out of his way not to refer to himself in lofty terms, etc.,” I think that’s an interesting observation and that his behavior likely has multiple causes. Two I believe are in play are:
1) having been dragged pretty hard by critics over the years and seen as the cause of the Beatles’ breakup by many and
2) having an understanding (conscious or not on his part) that being a genius makes you a target.
If the narrative is turning into John being lazy, I think that’s wrong because he wasn’t lazy at all. He could be unmotived, but definitely not lazy.
However, I will say that I’m happy that the narrative is changing. It was bound to happen and it’s terrible how the media chose to pit John and Paul against each other. With that being said, I can’t just blame them. John was the one that got it started with his interviews in the early 70s. He painted himself as being honest and the genius who was held back by Paul. Paul was the villain and unimportant pr guy. Those labels have stuck to them ever since.
I’ve noticed that it’s mainly people from my generation and younger who are looking at things differently. One thing we’ve noticed is the bullying that happened within the group and with the media. The stuff they did back in those days wouldn’t be acceptable now.
So, it’s good to see the other side instead of the narrative that has been in place for decades.
I agree about John not being “lazy,” @Kir! I get why people say it, because he could certainly fall deeply into unproductivity, but to me that seems more like him being bad at creating structure for himself. No shame in that; it’s a common form of executive dysfunction. When he had a Paul or a Brian or a Jack Douglas defining his schedule and giving him deadlines, he worked extremely hard!
@Annie, I think we need to make a distinction between pre-LSD and post-LSD John. Pre-LSD John worked incredibly hard, was incredibly driven, and so forth. It wasn’t external, and we know this because Pre-LSD John would’ve slugged anybody who told him what to do and when. (I kid, but only just.)
LSD John — say late ’65 to late ’67 — is much less aggressive, but still very productive. He might be writing on Paul’s schedule by the end of this period, but he’s still at the top of his powers, bringing stuff like “I Am The Walrus” “All You Need Is Love” and “Day in the Life” to the sessions.
Post-LSD John — say mid-68 on — has his moments, but is prone to deep brownouts, and that continued pretty much for the rest of his creative life. It wasn’t *Jack Douglas* who made John work with his external deadlines; it was John coming out of depression into a short period of intense creativity, and hiring a bunch of people to enable that, Jack included.
I noticed that as well. Sometimes he needed someone to guide him and then he would decide what he wanted to create.
@Michael G: your points are well taken, and I probably seemed to be giving Paul/Brian/Douglas more…authority? than I meant to. I’m not saying they imposed their will upon him, just that… it helps to have people around who have certain expectations of you, even if at the end of the day you could tell them to bugger off if you wanted. You know? And if they’re your trusted manager or partner-friend all the better, but “store-bought is fine too” as in the case of Douglas and sundry. My main point was that “lazy” is just…really not the right word for John. It’s much more complicated (DRUGS for one thing, as you said), and “lazy” is derogatory in a way that I feel is uncalled for. Tho again, I understand if people sometimes use it as a shorthand!
@Nikki, thanks for the great Ian Leslie link.
I too am a huge Macca fan, and can’t wait to read the book! Enjoyed your comment.
Thanks Tasmin 🙂 I’m really glad you liked the article too. One of my favourite pieces of recent Beatle writing.
Nikki, I appreciate that you don’t think Paul, having missed his chance in the 70s, should confirm John’s attributions or keep his mouth shut.
The truth is unknowable, but if John’s attributions were correct, he wrote more than four times as many songs the Beatles recorded for their first four albums than Paul did. If he was that much more productive, why was he willing to let all of his songs be seen as collaborations in the early days and share royalties 50-50?
While it must be easier to recall your own contributions to someone else’s songs than their contributions to yours, I think John’s desire (need?) to downplay the Lennon-McCartney partnership caused him to dismiss some of Paul’s contributions. That’s not to say I think Paul’s attributions are gold – I have a sneaking suspicion he overcompensated.
Good comment Michael B. I have a question for you. Do you think it’s possible Paul wrote “The Lyrics” in order to put the last, definitive word on who wrote what?
We know after John died, there was a lot of talk about John being the true “genius “ of the Beatles. Paul has been insecure since then, seeing what he called “revisionism” of the Lennon/McCartney partnership. Maybe this is Paul’s way before he dies, to set the record straight.
@Tasmin – I know you didn’t ask me but he did that with “Many Years from Now,” when they went through every song and he described who wrote what, with some percentages — it was slightly cringey and slightly helpful at the same time. I hope he’ll stick to some of his songwriting that’s been underexplored, i.e., less Lennon-McCartney and more McCartney. Though if he has new insights on Beatles songs I’d love to hear those also.
And @Michael B, as far as John being written out, I really don’t think there’s a danger of that. He’s dead and everyone can say whatever they like about him, negative for positive, and at some point in the future the same will be true for Paul. I think it’ll all even out eventually. To parrot a nice point I saw in a post in another fandom, the thing is that for John fans, particularly those who have all along been justified by the media and authorship in thinking that John was 3/4 of the Beatles, the even-ing out of the narrative involves a downgrade for John that is painful for some. But at some point he and Paul will hopefully end up with equal, normal genius that together was indeed world-changing, with a nice 1/3 or so each of credit (sorry, George and Ringo). That’s just my opinion, though.
@Kristy, thanks for your reply. I welcome all input!!
I have “Many Years From Now” and you are right, he did do that there. I don’t know how much deeper he could go in explanation.
Hopefully, like you said, Paul will stay focused on his solo work, and we’ll hear some new information.
I know when he was making “Band On The Run” out of the country, there were some scary incidents, including his master tapes being stolen. It would be great to hear more on that.
Paul has a very strange attitude to his lyrics. Many McCartney fans will tell you – correctly, IMO – that if you line up his songs with what was occurring in his life at the time, it’s perfectly obvious that the lyrics reflect his personal feelings and experiences, with many clever hidden meanings and implications. However he seems to *actively discourage* such readings to the public, sometimes IMO outright lying about the inspiration for a song, or waving it away as something much more glib and vague than it actually is. What’s interesting to me is whether he does this because a) he himself doesn’t like to dwell on it or self analyse (and he has said as much), or b) he knows exactly what they’re about and what he’s doing, but wants to keep the specifics hidden from his audience to avoid spoiling the magic.
To that end, I think this book will either be a HUGE REVELATION or a wholly missed opportunity. I’d like to think it will be him lifting the gate on the multitude of hitherto concealed personal inspirations and feelings contained in these songs. There’s certainly ample ammunition against the (sometimes) unfair charge that he is a lazy lyricist or ‘writes about nothing,’ should he choose to deploy it. However I think it’s equally likely that it will be full of vagaries – ‘this one is about Linda, this one is about my love of the countryside,’ etc. WE KNOW PAUL – stop underselling your artistry! We will have to see.
@ Ben S- This is very true. His songs often tell the story of his life and I like analyzing them. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. I think it’s going to reveal a lot about his life. I remember him saying that music is a way for him to share his feelings and experiences. Since this is going to be his autobiography, I think it’s going to be much more personal. I’m looking forward to the letters and pictures he’s going to show. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about his childhood friends such as Ian James and Ivan.
I think this book will either be a HUGE REVELATION or a wholly missed opportunity.
Agree 100%. We shall see. If nothing else, if he finally admits “Lady Madonna” is about a prostitute I’ll be happy. (Only half joking.)
Ben, I think it’s (a) — McCartney doesn’t like to self-analyze. I also think he doesn’t like to self-reveal, past a certain point. He’s a performer who needs an audience but is also intensely private: an unstable combination. I wrote about this dynamic in a 2013 post (!):
@Nancy Carr- Do you think it’s going to change? He has always struck me as someone who’s private and likes being in control of his image. He talks about his legacy and how he wants to be remembered as being honest. Do you think he’s going to reveal more information, so when he passes away he won’t have to worry about people speaking for him?
I genuinely don’t know.
@Ben, I would also suspect that Paul feels that claiming–or even revealing–the specifics behind his lyrics makes them less universal to others. Paul glories in being a popular artist, as opposed to an autobiographical artist (as John and George were), or a conceptual artist looking to direct the audience (as Yoko is), or hortatory (as John and George were). Paul wants MANY people to enjoy his work–that’s why it’s so tuneful–and realizes that lyrics that aren’t about HIM specifically make that more likely to happen.
“Yesterday” is the song of the last 60 years because the music is beautiful and the lyrics universal, and it doesn’t tell you to do anything–the lyrics don’t force you to think, “Do I agree?” “Imagine” is John’s attempt to make a “Yesterday,” and he succeeded, but only somewhat, because “Imagine” is hortatory. “But wait, aren’t there good religions? But wait, wasn’t John a gazillionaire?” and so forth.
To most people (not readers of this blog) Paul is entirely successful as a popular artist precisely because of these areas of intentional blankness. We McCartneyologists want the inside story; most people do not. If they did, Paul would’ve given it to them, because giving the audience what it wants is exactly his aim. That artistic attitude is looked down upon these days, but it’s a perfectly legitimate way to create.
My comment which you replied to and tied into your response here relates mostly to his solo work. Paul’s Beatles lyrics are pretty much unassailable for a lot of people (having John as an editor undoubtedly helped). Yesterday was actually one of his most introspective songs. Universal, sure. You understand what he’s singing about, and everyone has regret in their lives. When fans are constantly saying about his solo songs, “I have no idea what he’s singing about, but who cares the melody is good” how can the lyrics be universal? We can’t apply them to ourselves if we don’t know what they mean. Apart from that, his solo work often goes back to early Beatles days when they, in Paul’s words, would be singing to someone, perhaps the fans: “I love you” mostly. He’s no stranger to exhortation either. One of his better (meaning I like the song personally) examples is Women and Wives off his latest album.
You said: ‘…the lyrics don’t force you to think, “Do I agree?” “Imagine” is John’s attempt to make a “Yesterday,” and he succeeded, but only somewhat, because “Imagine” is hortatory. “But wait, aren’t there good religions? But wait, wasn’t John a gazillionaire?” and so forth.
Silly Love Songs does that for me. “Nothing wrong with silly love songs? Surely you can make a love song that isn’t silly. Here, There and Everywhere being one example. Great love song. Not at all silly. Love songs don’t have to be silly.”
Hmm, must have typed my email in wrong. Got a distressed face rather than a monster face.
Good comment, thank you!
Audience expectations for rock lyrics changed around the time The Beatles ended–that’s what the whole “singer/songwriter” thing was about; and as I’ve said many times, I think John’s turn towards all-autobiographical, all the time was a conscious attempt to go somewhere he knew Paul wouldn’t, or couldn’t, go. Yes, “Walrus” is autobiographical, but it doesn’t have the one-to-one emotional connection that John became so adept at. Emotion and intimacy is what (all) John’s music delivered after 1970 or so, with a few exceptions. After “Imagine” I don’t think the guy wrote one exceptional, or even exceptionally catchy, melody–as much as I like some of his solo songs.
When I say “universal” I don’t just mean romantic. I mean…sorta general. Like “Getting Better” is sorta general (until John comes in and makes it specific). “Mull of Kintyre” or “Coming Up” or “With a Little Luck” or “Listen To What the Man Said” are all great versions of Paul’s general lyrics. Yes, they’re all quintessentially McCartney, but they don’t reveal anything deep about him as a person, and while there’s emotional content, it’s not particularly intense. I mean, even when John is trying to make a hit (“Whatever Gets You Through the Night”) there’s a definite undercurrent of intense emotion, and the listener intuits that. With Paul, there’s no question that “Coming Up” or “With a Little Luck” express genuine emotions he’s had, but genial optimism simply doesn’t have the drama of “Help!” or “Oh Yoko” or “WGYTTN.”
I’m trying to tease this out, not very well sorry.
Yeah, Paul was better at earworms. But whether that is the hallmark of creativity, I can’t say. I often get commercials stuck in my head. In fact, everything that’s annoying and repetitive gets stuck in my head.
Melody is certainly a form of creativity. Remember the early scene in Amadeus, when Salieri is furious that the melody of Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” is so catchy? Both Lennon and McCartney created some beautiful melodies.
One problem with trying to really define Paul as a lyricist is that he’s simply written too much stuff to do so easily. I agree that a much greater percentage of John’s and George’s work was personal / confessional / intense, but if we look at Paul’s work in terms of “raw numbers” I’m not so sure. To do so requires the analyzer to be conversant in a huge catalogue, some of which is pretty obscure, not just Paul’s “big songs” (which do probably skew toward the general).
In other words it’s easy to say what Paul is, but not so easy to say what he’s not.
Well said, but I think this thread’s hopes that Paul’s new book will “tell the true story” about his songs is a pretty clear indication that Paul has not been as direct or confessional in his work..othwise fans would not be craving it. Just as John used “honesty” as a way to hide, Paul apparently has used fecundity as a way to leave something important unexpressed.
@Annie M It’s easy to say what Paul is, but not so easy to say what he’s not I love how you put this, Annie, and also agree with what you’re saying about the importance of looking at Paul’s whole catalogue. Just off the top of my head, This One and I’ll Follow the Sun seem confessional/.personal/intense to me, and one’s a late ’80s song and one’s one of his first.
This discussion about the universal/particular and the difficulties of categorizing Paul is also reminding me of Martin Shough’s wonderful Truant Boy. He says “Yes, art must connect with the particular to engage us. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes said ‘You must see the universal in your particular, or is is only gossip.’ To fetishize the particular by focusing on a hunt for the ‘real’ Eleanor [Rigby] is itself the pursuit of a sentimental fantasy that has nothing to do with the reality of the art. The paradox is that art must escape the particular to become great, or–and this is in many cases the practical truth–a great concept must generate its own particulars by sheer force of creative cunning. And that is what McCartney did. The reality of the story is that Paul made it up, and he made it well, top-down, not bottom-up, going straight for the universal and only afterwards pulling out of the pie those delicious plumbs of particularity that are its sweetening.”
I also really like how Shough put this: “The sheer breadth and scale of McCartney’s output alienates him. He is a one-man music industry, almost a one-man folk tradition; and just as it is harder to identify with an entire faceless culture than with a single performer, so it is harder to identify with a McCartney than a Lennon, a man whose artistic persona seems more clear-cut and lends itself more readily (if simplistically) to noire mythologizing….[Paul’s] public ordinariness and air of cheerful pragmatism could perhaps be exploited to make him an iconic Everyman, but instead he is stuck with the role of Nowhere Man.
Some acts, by staying true to a narrow style or brand, generate something that acquires over time a patina of ownership and in this way can turn a lack of versatility into a virtue. This can be called ‘playing to one’s strengths.’ But McCartney can ‘fake’ so many different styles and genres that he gives the game away. To which strength should he play? To which self should he be true?
What if one’s true self is as an extraordinarily versatile writer, singer, and musician with a great love of many forms and genres and a career spanning decades of stylistic, social, and technological evolution? Perhaps the inauthentic thing to do in that case would be to wear the phony hair-shirt of specialisation”
Michael, to your comment about McCartney’s giving the audience “the inside story” if that’s what it wanted: I’m not so sure he would. I think drawing boundaries and maintaining some privacy is McCartney’s primary strategy for surviving fame. It’s not that I doubt his impulse to please the audience, it’s that doing so would conflict with an even deeper need.
McCartney is an “autobiographical artist,” but only to a point. I’ve called McCartney the “Dickens of rock” and I think that’s accurate here. There’s a lot of Dickens’ childhood and young adulthood in David Copperfield, but the novel exceeds and overflows the autobiographical. Dickens used his imagination to transmute his experiences to the point that while they remain rooted in his life, it’s folly to reduce any of his works to autobiography.
Relatively few writers create true roman a clefs (“novels with keys”), and a lot of them don’t wear well, both because they’re too rooted in specific historical circumstances and because, in my opinion, the impulse behind such works isn’t conducive to the highest creativity. Thus no one but grad students in English is reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, because 1) hardly anyone cares about the utopian “Brook Farm” experiment the novel is about and 2) Hawthorne’s desire to settle scores got in the way of his fashioning a compelling story and characters.
The best artists — even the most “autobiographical” ones — create works that can’t be reduced to what they are “about.” I think that’s true of both Lennon and McCartney.
Good point, @Nancy.
My main point is this regard is one I’ve made incessantly which is that Paul is an avatar of Old Showbiz (which includes writers like Dickens), and John was one of the first and best practitioners of New Showbiz…where the memoir is much, much more marketable than the novel.
Yes, love the literary analogies, @Nancy!
I think bits of Paul du Noyer’s “Conversations with McCartney” are interesting about songcraft. Paul makes it clear over discussions with du Noyer that he doesn’t share much of the stories behind songs because he doesn’t want to ruin the mystery, and also gives such vague origins because maybe even he can’t immediately boil it down (a la, “that was a dog we had!”):
“Still the PR trouper in him came through and we dutifully did our track-by-track. Reading my transcript back the next day, though, his misgivings remained: “If I listen to the record when I’m going home, a two-hour drive and I’m having a little drink in the car because I’ve finished work, I’m like ‘in a world.’ I see what this song means. But the minute I try and analyse it, it’s, “Well, I wrote this on a boat.” [Mimes apathetic response.] “Yeah?” And it doesn’t make it as big as I think it is. Or as readers think it is when they listen to it.”
“I’m telling them what it is, when actually they might have thought it was something much groovier. It would be like Elvis going, “I just went in the studio and sang and it’s called ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ And you go, “no you didn’t! It’s fucking phenomenal, man!”‘ ”
Like I can see him feeling the whole thing, but there are no words? Or he’s not letting himself emotionally “go there,” maybe. That’s where I hope this book might come in, if he’s let himself see the path of his existence and figure out how he came to the point of writing the songs he did.
As an aside, I’m assuming someone else is driving when he’s having that drink in the car.
Thanks Nancy – a good read and I agree with all your points. What’s interesting to me is the extent to which The Lyrics will test that boundary between public and private. McCartney may not like to self-analyse, but this book, by its very nature, is a statement of analysis – it’s even being marketed as a confirmation that its author is a key twentieth-century poet.
To deliver on this front, McCartney will have to go into more depth about his songwriting than he ever has in an interview – which means lowering his guard, and turning the microscope on his own creativity, considerably more than he is used to doing. I’m intrigued to see how far he is willing/able to go. I think he knows there are deep layers in there that he’s always left hugely ambiguous, and that this, a creative response to his own work, will inform future generations’ readings.
Yes, it’s going to be fascinating to see how deep McCartney is willing to get with this project. I’m hoping he goes beyond the usual anecdotes; we’ll see.
Might I ask what questions about just the lyrics, if one were to have the chance of getting an honest answer, one would pose to Paul?
I am definitely not being snarky here, but am genuinely interested in what one means by hoping that he will reveal more? If I were alloted five questions for an interview I would need to be very careful and would require some guidance as none of that handful stem from the lyrics. Instead, they pertain to other events in the Beatles progression. What am I missing that questions about the lyrics would reveal?
Neal, speaking for myself I don’t so much want McCartney to answer direct questions about the lyrics per se, but to talk in more depth about the circumstances and experiences that surround and inform them. I’d like to understand the context of his creativity better.
What percentage of his songs are about John? Is the obscure line, “Oklahoma was never like this” an allusion to Rodgers and Hammerstein? If so, that’s brilliant. Why not ask him what the lyrics are about? I think that would actually help his case as a lyricist, as opposed to “it’s about nothing” or it’s about [insert animal name here]. Even John said the reason people doubt Paul’s talent as a lyricist is because his songs *seem* non-specific but “if you know the person” you know what he means.
@Michelle, like I just typed, McCartney’s lyrical non-specificity is an artistic choice. Technically, he’s much closer to a Tin Pan Alley lyricist than a contemporary rock musician of the Dylan or Lennon school. John knew this, and rejected it for himself as mere craft–“work songs.”
Contemporary audiences–ironically in large part because of The Beatles–feel alienated by this; more and more they crave intimacy with celebrities, even knowing that it’s somewhat fake. Paul believes that his job is to make music, whereas John consciously delivered the story of his life.
Out of all of them, Paul (and to some degree Ringo) fit most comfortably into Old Showbiz. And luckily so; New Showbiz, whether it’s music or comedy or anything else, has a tendency to kill people.
@Michael, you say New Showbiz “has a tendency to kill people”–does it always? Granted, I don’t know much about other than my own experiences listening to and analyzing singer-songwriters and similar artists. I definitely agree to an extent, but is there no benefit to people from New Showbiz? I personally relate a lot to some of Lennon’s songs, for example, and I know they have provided positive experiences/revelations to others. Or by “people” do you mean the artists themselves? Just curious as to your thoughts.
I meant it is often lethal to the artists themselves.
Old Showbiz offers psychological protection that New Showbiz doesn’t.
Old Showbiz = Steve Martin
New Showbiz = John Belushi
I should clarify that I completely understand McCartney’s perspective (as opposed to say, Lennon’s) on the private/public self–and if I was in McCartney’s shoes, I would probably be just as vague and shadowy. Yet, as someone who deeply values authenticity and honesty, I find Lennon’s way (trying to make the private self the public self as much as possible) commendable. I can definitely see how it would be painful or even detrimental to the artist’s mental health, but is it always that way for every artist who takes that approach? I wonder. I don’t know enough about many musical artists to think of any other examples, except of course super-famous ones like Dylan.
I don’t think John was trying to make his authentically private/personal self public, but only seeming to…which is why he has come on for such rough treatment in recent years.
@Neal- I agree. It would be hard to ask him questions about his lyrics only. I guess I would want to know the meaning of his songs. There’s one question that I would love to ask. This a rough draft of what the question would be, “You write songs based on your life and experiences. It has been referenced by Mark Lewiston that Ian James was your childhood friend since 1954 and Philip Norman stated that he looked like your ‘natural musical partner’. I wanted to know if you have ever addressed this in any of your songs and what caused you to want to form a partnership with John instead of Ian?”.
I never read Norman’s book. In what way was Ian James his natural musical partner? This is new to me. Paul likes to say that John was the first guy who actually took an interest in the fact that he was writing songs.
@Michelle- Here are a few quotes from Philip.
“Out of school hours, his main friend continued to be Ian James. They were both good-looking, and both equally obsessed by their hair and clothes. Among the new records currently on Radio Luxembourg was ‘A White Sport Coat’, by the American country singer Marty Robbins (anglicised into ‘A White Sports Coat’ by Britain’s King Brothers). Paul had searched high and low for such a garment and finally found one in silver-flecked oatmeal, cut in daring Teddy boy ‘drape’ style with a flap on its breast pocket. Ian had a similar Elvis quiff and DA and a similar jacket in pale blue.”He also had access to a guitar just at this moment when the eyes of British boys were becoming riveted to the instrument. His grandfather had been bandmaster to the local Salvation Army in the Dingle and he’d grown up with a Spanish guitar around the house–then considered nothing but a background rhythm-maker. When the skiffle craze arrived, and Paul finally got a guitar of his own, Ian looked like his natural musical partner.”.—(Paul Mccartney: A Life)
“Paul and Ian James were among the first in line to see The Girl Can’t Help It. Afterwards, Ian bought the single of ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ from Currys in Elliott Street, playing it over and over again until he’d worked out its guitar chords and Paul had managed to decipher and write down all its words. ‘After a couple of run-throughs, he got it,’ James remembers. ‘He was Eddie Cochran.’”(Paul Mccartney: A Life)
“On 6 July, the Quarrymen were to play at a garden fete organised by Woolton’s parish church, St Peter’s. Ivan suggested Paul should come along and he’d introduce him to John with a view to his possibly joining the line-up. Paul agreed, but asked Ian James to meet him there, thinking there might be places for both of them in the group–and also for a bit of protection.
He already knew John Lennon by sight; with homes only a quarter of a mile apart, they could hardly miss each other. But until now, the age gap between them had ruled out any socialising. Paul was only just 15 while John was three months shy of 17. Although still at school–just–he looked like a Teddy boy and displayed all the touchy aggression that went with it. ‘This Ted would get on the bus,’ Paul was later to remember. ‘I wouldn’t stare at him too hard in case he hit me.’”—(Paul Mccartney: A Life)
Thanks @Kir for taking the time to post that. Very interesting. Did Ian James stay behind, then, when Paul went to meet the Quarryman and do his ‘impromptu’ audition? Or did he not show up as planned? Paul fairly quickly assessed that the band was John and his expendable mates. If Ian was talented, as it seems he was from the passage you posted, why didn’t Paul ask John if he could join as he did with George (or instead of George – perish the thought). Also, I wonder why Paul and Ian didn’t form a band themselves. Just spitballing, I know you’re probably in the dark about this as much as I am.
@Michelle- He showed up after Paul’s performance/audition. He met John and the other members. He ended going home and Paul decided to hang out with them a little bit longer. I wish I knew the answers to your other questions. I want to know them as well. I find it very interesting how Paul wanted Ian and himself to be in the same band.
Here’s the quote about when Ian arrived:
“Soon afterwards, Ian James turned up and everyone went to a nearby coffee bar. ‘I seem to recall the Quarrymen being told their appearance at the dance that night had been cancelled,’ James says. ‘So I decided to go home.’ The dance appearance wasn’t cancelled, and Paul hung out with the Quarrymen until early evening, getting a first flavour of what hanging out with John could mean. First they went to a pub where no one but the drummer, Colin Hanton, was old enough to be served alcohol and Paul had to lie that he was aged 18 along with the others. Then they received word that some tough Teds from Garston were coming over to Woolton, thirsting for skiffle-players’ blood. Having set out that day to attend a church fete, Paul felt he’d ended up ‘in Mafia land’.”. -(Paul Mccartney: A Life)
So this is Ian James (pic taken by Paul):
Paul certainly seemed to have a type. 🙂
An interesting aside about Ian James: When he was ready to retire in 2006, he contacted Paul to say he’d like to sell his Rex acoustic guitar – the very one Paul learned to play (right-handed) on. Apparently, Paul didn’t own a guitar until shortly after he was asked to join the Quarrymen in July 1957.
Paul had his photo taken playing the guitar, to which a photo was attached of him playing it in 1957. Ian sold the guitar at auction for £330,000.
Oops – I should have said he learned to play it upside down rather than right-handed.
@Laura- That is so sweet! I believe I have seen that picture of Paul with the guitar. I’m not too surprised that he learned to play the guitar upside down. Wasn’t he considered musically gifted as a child?
I remember him saying that. Maybe he just gave the short version or it could be that John was able to understand him more. Norman menioned how they were very close friends and even when George came on the scene, they remained close friends outside of school. Ian was the one who showed Paul the chords and they used to listen to a lot of music together. He’s mentioned a few times in the book. Norman also states in the book that Paul wanted Ian to go with him to the Fete because he thought there could be enough room in the band for both of them. He also wanted him there as protection. That was in the fourth or fifth chapter. I’ll try to find the exact quotes for these statements.
Ah, that makes sense now @Nancy and @Kir in wanting to know the contextual framework surrounding the lyrical production.
I would agree that Paul was/is very much the vaudevillian and I have to admit to a level of frustration in reading voices within the Fandom (not here of course) that discount and ding him for this. At the very least, those with such opinions reveal a lack of even passing familiarity with the great and grand traditions of the English music hall. If they would look at even Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan (and of course many more) they would immediately recognize the bloodlines that yielded Paul McCartney and his style. Thus instead of criticizing Paul, I would think they would/should commend him for both carrying on that tradition and furthering/expanding it with brilliant melodies, hooks, stories, and an audience pleasing performance. What’s not to like for the price of admission?
I also admit to being of two minds about how much more one would wish to know about Paul’s non-public facing life. The one mind says that everyone is entitled, no matter how popular a figure, to a life outside the spotlight. The other says that your life, Mr. Mccartney, has been history changing. Tons of ink have been spilled about you and what you have done and so for history and posterity’s sake please have a 50 hour interview with the leading scholars and writers and bung it all down for the record. Honest, frank, and open to on-the-spot fact checking. Your career, for better or worse, spilled the banks and grew bigger than you and so you “owe” it to the record before the chance is too late.
Alas…I sadly don’t see any of that forthcoming from any of the remaining principle players.
Great discussion going on here!
Paul was/is very much the vaudevillian and I have to admit to a level of frustration in reading voices within the Fandom (not here of course) that discount and ding him for this.
What I find exceptionally strange is the attitude that certain aspects of Paul “cancel out” his other aspects. Yeah, he likes doing stuff you might call “corny” or whatever. He also likes doing … not that? And somehow that versatility is treated as a weakness. Personally I have zero use for many of Paul’s biggest songs — “Live and Let Die” and “My Love” to name a couple — but that doesn’t diminish my ability to enjoy his other work. Quite the contrary! That you can gather a group of McCartney fans and they will all have extremely disparate opinions on which songs are his best and worst (whether “Temporary Secretary” is a hidden gem or a war crime is a debate which never fails to delight) is a huge testament to his artistry.
Even songs I think are ACTUALLY BAD (and there are not a few) don’t detract from my respect and love for the good ones, and I’m puzzled by the attitude that they should.
Agree 100%, @Annie. McCartney’s versatility and fecundity insure plenty of songs that any one fan won’t like. He is a very pure type of artist, following his muse.
Here I come with my modest opinion…. McCartney’s melodies may be more autobiographical than his lyrics, as apparently his most widely used approach to songwriting is composing the music first. In fact, in most of his songs I feel that the melody is the most captivating and revealing part. I imagine him, after living a moving personal experience, composing beautiful music in which he tells the story of what he lives and feels. I don’t know, maybe he hides the truth from us in plain sight, what a smart man! So while we listen to him sing that the pound is sinking, perhaps he actually speaks of his wounded heart or a spiritual longing . Oh I wish a Paul McCartney: The Tunes book (autobiography). Thanks for keeping this wonderful blog running.
I meaned So while we listen to him sing that the pound is sinking, perhaps the melody actually speaks of his wounded heart or a spiritual longing . Thx.
Alejandra, I love this – it’s how I see Paul’s music too. It brings such a lot of depth to his work. He says plenty about himself and how he’s feeling but leaves things open for other people to project themselves into the song as well. I’d like a ‘The Tunes’ version of the books too 🙂
I do think using these books to position McCartney as a poet is him still bending to the external idea that songwriting is only worth anything lasting or meaningful based on its lyrics. The word ‘songwriter’ has been so comprehensively co-opted, the way others here have talked about, to the point that it’s now only about the writing of autobiographical lyrics, and melody is seen as a lesser genius. But I’m a weird piano and music theory geek, and the Beatles’ mad chords and what Ger Tillekens calls their semantic shifts (the way those chords move underneath the lyrics to make you feel all the things) are the things I love most about them.
Something like Penny Lane is a great example of how Paul is a songwriter of pretty much unparalleled ability when it comes to melody and harmony, and there are examples like it throughout his career, where the music says so much more about him than the lyrics do. With Penny Lane the melody climbs upwards while the harmony modulates downwards – it gives a really unusual, weirdly shifting feel to the music. I think it’s an amazing example of Paul’s gift for telling stories with music because it’s all that pouring rain and the blue suburban skies brought to life in the melody and harmony. It takes a great deal of skill, emotional intelligence and creativity to create that kind of landscape with music – he reveals an awful lot about himself without saying a word.
He also writes in mini symphonic phrases a lot, like he hears it all in his head first: the vocal melody of Yesterday is like a string line from a Mozart symphony, it doesn’t repeat on each line like typical rock and roll melodies do, it’s one long phrase from start to finish of each verse and bridge.
He’s an absurdly talented human who I’ve always thought is at his best with melody and harmony, and it’s why I love his music the way I do. It’s not that I don’t think his lyrics are good, it’s that I think the other stuff is better, and sometimes that ‘lightweight melody maker’ beating he took in the 70s seems to loom a bit large in his legend. As they say.
@Nikki: Yes! There absolutely needs to be a text about Paul’s music written by musicians. I so wish Lewisohn would have gotten a musical consultant to write about Paul’s early life. What does it mean when someone with no formal training is writing melodies like “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “When I’m 64,” “World Without Love,” “Suicide,” etc. at age 15/16? Beyond the surface reading of “the kid’s got talent!”, what can this tell us about their personality, internal life, etc?
To say nothing of the musicality of his later work. Why do my eyes water when the horns cut into “Carry that Weight” with the “You Never Give Me Your Money” melody? How does that feel exactly like a sudden flash of guilt in the pit of my stomach?
@Annie M – absolutely. Lewisohn’s approach is such an odd one for me, because he’s a historian (I actually think that’s debatable but that’s a conversation for another time!) writing the ‘definitive biography’ of the world’s biggest rock band and two of the world’s most celebrated songwriters. There’s a big piece of the story missing with just him at the helm.
This is quite a hard thing to get out of my head and explain with enough nuance as I’d like, so apologies if it’s really clumsy, but I think in general John’s talent is easier to understand: clever words, emotional vulnerability, bags of charisma, that gorgeous voice of his. We connect with him so easily, because he expresses himself simply and powerfully and in terms we can all make sense of, because we all have emotions and use words and feel vulnerable.
But Paul’s talent is slightly less easy to understand as a casual observer/armchair psychologist, because that kind of musical ability isn’t commonplace, and I do think he expresses his emotions/feelings through his melodies and arrangements, rather than verbally. So, you sort of feel his emotions rather than watch or listen to them, like what you’re saying about how the horns in Carry That Weight or his melodies give you very specific feelings – but unless you stop and analyse them, you just take them for granted, almost to the point of dismissing them: “yeah, ‘Yesterday’ makes me feel nostalgic and bittersweet and filled with longing but it doesn’t really SAY anything’.
Because of that, I think that musicology + psychology perspective is so vital for understanding Paul. There’s never been much more than a surface read of Paul’s abilities as a songwriter, but there are so many things that point to someone whose ability seems to go far beyond ‘talent’ or ‘a good ear’ and delves into his actual makeup as a human being. It seems to make him think differently – I remember seeing a drawing he’d done that was included with one of his deluxe releases (I think) where he’d put down on paper, in different colours and sections, how he heard the arrangement of a song in his head before he recorded it. It was mindblowing.
I could talk about this kind of stuff for hours: either John’s words and his ability to pull just the right chords underneath them to make your heart ache, or Paul’s otherworldly talent for melody and harmony, and I’m off! They’re so much fun to try and unravel.
@Nikki, I have seen those drawings and agree they are a lovely little window into Paul’s head! I remember also a comment from shortly after Linda’s death, that when he thinks of her she appears in his mind as a “big orange diamond” with millions of facets. Something like that. Color, shape, image, music — these might be more fundamental than words to how Paul relates to the world.
And maybe that’s why he writes so much, and so much that could be called fluff. Most songwriters write about the “big stuff” in their lives; minutiae maybe doesn’t translate into music for them so much. For Paul, maybe EVERYTHING translates into music. Miss my mum? Song. Fall in love? Song. See a weird bird? Song. Stub my toe? Song. Didn’t one of his childhood schoolmates say “Paul McCartney was just as likely to sing to you as talk to you”?
@Annie this: “For Paul, maybe EVERYTHING translates into music. Miss my mum? Song. Fall in love? Song. See a weird bird? Song. Stub my toe? Song.”
That’s really funny and I think that’s exactly it – music does seem to be more natural/fundamental to Paul than ‘just’ (for want of a much less dismissive word there!) having a talent or aptitude for composition/songwriting.
I had absolutely no idea “Penny Lane” was so complex, Nikki. Thanks for illuminating that. I’m going to have to re-listen…it was never one of my favorites, but now it might be. That’s incredible, the way he contrasted the melody and the harmonies, like the sky and the rain. I guess it just shows that I’m not a melodist–at least not nearly to the extent that McCartney is. I would never think to tell a story, even show opposing elements or plot, with music. Words, yes; music, no. (Although now I’m inspired to try!) That’s really amazing.
Yes, he’s indeed brilliant with melody and harmony, but strangely it appears he needs all the facets that go into pop songwriting, including lyrics, to bring that out. I’ve heard his classical music pieces and suddenly his ability to write a good tune disappears. It’s surprising, really. There is nothing at all memorable about them. I’m not knocking him, and of course some people may like his classical music. But to me, while he may be a pop Mozart he can’t hold a candle to Mozart in the classical realm. And that’s okay.
Michelle, absolutely agree about McCartney’s classical compositions: they’re surprisingly disappointing, given his gift for melody elsewhere. He’s definitely a songwriter and not a classical composer.
Some great thoughts in this thread. @Annie – I absolutely agree with you that a *musicological* analysis of Paul’s character, especially relating to his early life, is long overdue. Emotion and expression for him is sublimated into melody. It’s key to building a greater understanding of who he is.
Despite that, I’ve often thought – Paul would never have become the phenomenally successful songwriter he is if there wasn’t *something* special about his lyrics. You just don’t get to that kind of level of popularity and acclaim on music alone. But what the magic is, I can’t say. It’s difficult to analyse.
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer
Let it be
That, if you can divorce it from its context of super-famous songbook-standard universally-recognisable Let It Be-ness, is a rather beautiful set of lines I think. Maybe that’s some of it – McCartney music is so tuneful that it slips in effortlessly and the lyrics go under the radar. The world accepted it – and we continue to accept it – without stopping to take a second look at the words.
I’d never realised until very recently, for instance, that in ‘Penny Lane’ – as @Nikki says, a really inspired marriage of music and words – it is both raining and sunny, summer and winter at the same time. Or that ‘hung me on a line’ in ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ could be a reference to Linda’s photography.
To add to the above – prompted in some oblique way by @Michelle’s point – listening to a podcast episode about the Fireman album Rushes recently made me realise something. When Linda passed away, the three albums Paul made were an album of ambient electronica (with cut-up samples of his and Linda’s voices), an album of instrumental classical pieces, and an album of rock and roll standards and covers (singing songs that he didn’t write). I find that fascinating.
This is the beauty of Paul’s lyric style. It can mean something specific, like his photographer wife hanging his photos to dry in the darkroom… or it can be universal, like a wife rescuing her husband from alcoholism; holding him up to dry out. In Paul’s case, I think it was both.
“Or that ‘hung me on a line’ in ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ could be a reference to Linda’s photography.”
That is a very cool interpretation that never would have occurred to me. It always struck me as something negative (no pun intended) but in a good way (a little negativity with the optimism is a good thing, ask Lennon/McCartney fans) because as Paul said about that line, all of a sudden the verse becomes “dark” or “not pretty”.
I would add that this interpretation of “hung me one a line” could also include the line before–“you pulled me out of time”–because what is a photograph, if not a silver sliver snipped from the stream of time?
Interesting point, @Alejandra. For songwriting melody as story, I think of the sublime “Another Day,” which I often see mocked for its simplicity (and because John thought he was clever when he/Klein mocked it in “How Do You Sleep”): that song uses the music, the tempo of the guitar and bass and vocals, to evoke the emotional story behind the mundane tale told by the lyrics. The bass and guitar lines wax and wane, building to little climaxes of excitement amid the humdrum existence (and he comes, and he stays! But he leaves the next DAYYY!) , the dreaminess of the voices singing “sometimes she feels so sad.” Then it’s back to the daily grind, “every day she takes her morning bath. She wets her hair,” until the next little bit of excitement. I hope I’ve expressed it: not being a musician myself, I can only relate what the music makes me feel.
I don’t know if this qualifies, but I also think of the music in “Silly Love Songs” as being integral to the story of the song. There’s that little bit of “factory/production-line” sound effect going on in the beginning, foreshadowing the “here I go again,” because there he goes again, producing a really memorable melody behind a song about love that’s simple and both tongue-in-cheek and works as an actual love song. It was also an unmitigated hit, pointedly giving his detractors a little jab in the soft bits while giving the world something to sing and enjoy. Plus that bassline–! It’s jaunty and joyful, like the song itself.
I think it likely there are painful places Paul doesn’t want to visit. I believe John knew that about him too. I’m not sure whether we’ll learn much from Paul in his forthcoming book, given his propensity for hedging some of his Beatles songs even. But we can but hope!
The confessional style doesn’t always work for everyone, as many psychiatrists have noted. The oft-quoted advice of putting it all down on paper can act as a dangerous trigger for severely anxious people. Denny Laine made an interesting observation of Paul in saying “when he gets dark, he gets very, very dark” and that he uses his optimism, although genuine, to pull himself back from the edge. I’m not sure whether that is the exact quote but I have stumbled across it a few times.
Emotionally ‘deep’ lyrics- aka the confessional – make me feel slightly cynical if I’m honest, even with songs I love. Post 1970, I can’t help but feel they were pushed by the likes of our friend Jann Wenner, again, and his cohorts to fit the fashionable cultural substrate of the day. That my life story is worse than your life story and I’m going to tell you all about it.
Paul wrote many introspective or
autobiographical songs from the heart. As a Beatle, not only Yesterday, but hurt, angry songs as in I’m Looking Through You and You Won’t See Me; bereft, unhappy songs as in For No One, songs of self-reproach as in Hey Jude, or just plain angry songs as in Helter Skelter (chaos). And the many love songs where he pours out his soul. As for Oh, Darling, everyone is still trying to work that one out, a song he won’t perform live, and it’s more than just the challenging vocals. All written during the days when he under no pressure to do so. And solo, Maybe I’m Amazed, Here Today, I’m Carrying, and others which surely would have received copious radio exposure had Paul died early, to balance out Coming Up or With a Little Luck. But it isn’t his modus operandi, it’s only part of it, however frustrating it may be for his fans. But it’s there. Perhaps less is more sometimes.
Yet this obsession with his music hall songs which make up less than 3% of his canon! Disappointingly, an unexpected display of class prejudice from John with his infamous granny music comments. The roughhouse ted all well and good, but it seems that some of Mimi’s inherent snobbery rubbed off on John, however unwittingly, in his disdain for an entertainment form largely enjoyed by the British working classes.
Is the memoir really what people want today? Perhaps in music, I don’t know, but seeing the enormous success of series such as The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton on Netflix, and anything Sherlock Holmes related, it appears people are hungry for stories that resonate for them both emotionally and intellectually. And not only that, the novels on which they were based have shot up the best-seller charts. That’s why I find Nancy’s essay on Dickensian Paul fascinating, simply because of today’s fascination with the Victorian, Edwardian, and Regency ages given a completely modern twist. Was Paul ahead of his time? The terms old showbiz and new showbiz don’t sit comfortably with me. I would say Paul is other showbiz, which he perhaps shares with others outside his medium of creative expression.
The Old/New Showbiz dichotomy is an artifact of the sixties and is best understood as that. It was how the Beatles and a million other things like them were understood then; it was how The Beatles themselves perceived things.
It is why Paul said that he and John would like to end up writing musicals, and why they never did—-in 1963 someone like Paul still thought in those terms, but by 1966-67 a whole new type of Showbiz dominated. It’s why Lennon had a horror of “ending up in Vegas.” And so forth.
It’s a generational divide, and that’s why “granny music” cut so deep. John was saying to Paul, “You’re a traitor. You’re Old Showbiz. Abd Yoko and I are New Showbiz.”
If you read sources like Esquire in the 60s, or Tom Wolfe, or even Rolling Stone and the underground press, you will get a sense of what I’m referring to. It’s basic to the mindset of artists of that generation, in every medium.
Just a minor correction it was John and Paul that said they wanted to continue to write together for other people/musicals after the Beatles bubble had burst, not just Paul. John also had a liking for sentimental music, wasn’t one of his favourite artists Bing Crosby?
That is correct. John talked about planning to write a musical with Paul in an interview that he did in either 1963 or ’64. Paul likes to mention having learned when he met John that one of his favorite songs was “Little White Lies” and others of that era, which he said was part of his attraction (Paul’s’ word). Probably because on the surface John was a tough guy. In Paul’s liner notes for his Kisses on the Bottom album, he often mentions how he and John liked certain songs that were covered on that jazz standard album. John was also inspired by Disney when he wrote “Do You Want to Know a Secret”. What John and Paul had in common is they liked all types of music.
Thanks for the correction.
Please: when I write a comment, try not to take me strictly literally. That’s the least interesting terms for our discussion. I have been writing and reading and thinking about The Beatles for many decades now; my opinions are not based on one comment in one interview, or “the standard narrative,” or any heavy commitment to this or that mental version of these guys– the Beatles shift in my head constantly. Half the time I’m writing something provocative just to keep interested, or see what you all will say, because the years when I studied Beatle lore like the Talmud are gone and not coming back.
This is the kind of topic where so much data exists that it’s all about interpretation. My interpretation is that at the beginning of the ride, John and Paul thought about a career on Broadway because that’s what “popular songwriters” did in 1963. But within a year, they realize they’re not really just “popular songwriters.” And even by 1965, when John is writing “Help!”–truly the opposite of a Tin Pan Alley tune–both men’s sights are on much greater things.
If you believe that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a similar attachment to the Great American Songbook, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Did Lennon know the songs? Yes, they were the popular music of his boyhood. Do I make much out of the fact that he told an interviewer in 1980 that he was listening to a lot of Bing Crosby? No, not really. Chronologically, Lennon listening to Bing Crosby is like me listening to The Beatles. Nostalgia; comfort food. The thing to take away from “Please, Please Me” being “inspired” by Bing Crosby’s “Please” is that Lennon’s song sounds NOTHING like Bing’s song, and if Lennon hadn’t quoted “Please, lend me your little ears” nobody ever would’ve connected the two.
It’s clear that John’s standards were 50’s Rock and Roll, and the idea of him releasing an LP of romantic standards, as Paul has, feels farfetched given who he was during his truncated life. Maybe when he was 70–but what I’m trying to say is that Paul has always existed quite comfortably in the world of “music”; covering standards, writing classical music. John consciously and almost angrily moved away from that world into one of “art,” and for as long as he was married to Yoko, it’s likely that’s where he would’ve stayed, not only through her influence, but because of his own insecurities about his musicianship (his playing; his voice), and honestly? There’s a hell of a lot more cultural juice in high art than the Great American Songbook. That was so in 1980, and it’s even truer today.
“It’s clear that John’s standards were 50’s Rock and Roll, and the idea of him releasing an LP of romantic standards, as Paul has, feels farfetched given who he was during his truncated life.”
I find that much less farfetched than Bob Dylan covering Frank Sinatra tunes. As for writing classical music, the closest any Beatle came to writing a classical composition for the band was John with Because. And no, it is not Moonlight Sonata played backwards. That was John either self-deprecating again or not explaining it fully. It was just the arpeggios that Yoko played backwards for John. John used the arpeggios in both its ascending order and in reverse descending order, adding original bass notes to break up the arepeggios.
@Michelle, I envy you your faith in John Lennon’s capacity to grow and change and take creative risks. To say that John was the Beatle who came the closest to writing classical music! Wow. That’s a vision of Lennon that I honestly have never encountered before. I hope that he was that confident, and that in love with music. It’s nice to imagine.
@Michelle – I agree that Because isn’t Moonlight Sonata played backwards, although I tend to think that was less John being modest than it was him being a little bit pretentious and/or trying to emphasise what he referred to as Yoko’s classical piano training, but I’m probably just being a bit cynical there!
I’m not sure I agree that of everything in the Beatles’ canon, it’s Because that feels the closest to classical music though – that’s interesting. What makes you say that?
I can’t really imagine John recording an album of romantic standards, I must admit, but he was so mercurial, you never know! I’d have bought it, for sure. I’d probably cringe all the way through it, but that’s what I did with Paul’s too, so seems fair 🙂
Thanks for your response, just adding a little more nuance which from your response is clear only enriches a discussion!
You’re welcome, @Lizzy. I’m writing and designing and editing a ton these days, so this blog gets my most gnomic communication, usually late at night. Plus, you know, my vision of these guys was forged in a pre-Google era, and has all those pluses (a sort of wider view) and minuses (factual errors creeping into my brain as I age).
@Michael, I don’t consider covering old standards taking creative risks. It’s what Rod Stewart, Carly Simon etc. do; it’s actually become a cliché for pop musicians to release an album of such songs. What song of Paul’s would you categorize as full-on classical? And no, I don’t mean in the tradition of modern composers like Bernard Herrmann, as much as I love his film scores.
Okay, first of all, the guy died in 1980 so what he would or wouldn’t have done for the next 40 years is pure speculation. If you gave me a drink and asked me a couple of leading questions, I would surmise that John was as likely to end up in Scientology as playing Live Aid.
But all that taken as read, the Lennon of 1980 was very much not “Rod Stewart or Carly Simon,” and in fact heaped endless scorn on people like that—“go listen to the Rolling Wings.” So that version of lennon seems highly unlikely to have recorded a bunch of standards. As I said, John jettisoned music for art in 1968 and never looked back. The fact that people still adored his music—that the transformation didn’t “stick”—was a source of tension, which is the only reason you quit making music. It’s not a pleasure, it’s a tension. His return to recording in 1980 was specifically not a return to “the game,” and he was very clear about that.
So: my Lennon? No. But I’m guessing. Your Lennon seems very different, in some ways a lot easier to live with and like than mine, and as I say I envy that.
As to your classical question, I have no relevant expertise, so I’m relying on 60 years of conventional wisdom suggesting that Paul was the more natural musician, the one who liked making music more, and the one who relentlessly hovered up high-culture, classical music in particular. Compare the instrumentation of SFF and Penny Lane; to me that’s a pretty indication of each man’s approach to and interest in composition. To me, Yoko’s playing doesn’t enter into it.
As with the commenter who believes Jane Asher is the great undiscovered key to the Beatles’ story—sorry, everybody’s name tends to blur after the first decade—suggesting that *John* was the Beatle who was most influenced by classical music, or most comfortable with it, or who incorporated it most into his work—it’s an interesting theory that flies in the face of 60 years of commentary. Which is not to say it’s wrong, but that it would take a lot to prove correct. But such is the beauty of fandom, I say.
I much prefer his hidden gems to his hits, his sad songs to his happy-go-lucky ones. Never saw what people liked about Live and Let Die. It’s bombastic and unlistenable to me. It works as a Bond theme, but on its own… Silly Love Songs has grown on me over the years, and his talents as an arranger really shine, but there are some parts that I can’t get past (“… and I see it isn’t so, oh no” is cringe). Give me San Ferry Anne on the same album, any day. My Love – eh. The guitar solo by Henry McCullough make that song (which cynically, I suspect was the reason Paul was hesitant to include it). Little Lamb Dragonfly – beautiful and Beatle worthy. Listen to What the Man Said and Let ‘Em In is easy listening, which as a genre I have to admit is my guilty pleasure but not coming from him. I always had a soft spot for With a Little Luck, however.
Funny personal aside regarding Silly Love Songs: When I was kid I had heard that after John died, Paul had written a tribute song to him. I heard Silly Love Songs on the car radio for the first time on the way to being driven to the house where I was babysitting some kids (I was too young to drive, myself). When it got to the “I love you… I love you” refrain, I thought: Is this the tribute song he wrote for John? Looking back that is humorous on a number of levels. First of all, Here Today (the tribute song in question) does include a pivotal “I love you” that Paul says makes him tear up every time he performs the song, and then later “I really loved you…” Secondly, John told his NY photographer Bob Gruen to listen to Silly Love Songs, and pointed out to him that the middle part which includes the “I love you’s” was “meant for me.” Gruen related this story. Not to mention that “silly love songs” was something John liked to say in addition to “granny music” wasn’t it?
Great comments here. I always learn something new!
I am so excited for “The Lyrics” , but I’m tamping down any expectations for some new, earthshaking revelations. I’m just not sure how deep Paul wants to go.
For example, John felt that “Hey Jude” was written for him, and the lyrics suggest it. “You were made to go out and get her” certainly sounds like Paul being supportive of John and Yoko. But Paul has said that was him talking to himself in reference to his budding relationship with Linda.
My point is, would Paul admit it was written with John in mind? I really don’t know.
I’m just forever grateful for the music Paul has made with The Beatles, and solo. His music has brought such joy to me, and at this point in my fandom, I don’t really care about knowing all the deep, dark secrets Paul may have. Or any of the Beatles really.
I’m just grateful I got to see Paul in concert 3 times. I’m not sure he’s going to tour again.
@ Lara, can you elaborate about “Paul hasn’t been able to shut up about Jane for decades”? I’m at a loss to think of examples… He played her way down in Many Years from Now, Paul out of sensitivity toward his wife, who was ill and who’d spent years being compared to her and coming up miles short. (Sorry this comment isn’t in the right spot – there was no “Reply.”)
@ Tasmin, I could have missed it, but like Lara, I don’t recall Paul specifically referring to Linda re “Hey Jude.” I think he could have had her in mind though – he’d saw her in both NY and LA that spring and summer. (My guess is that it has multiple roots.)
@Laura, there is a television
interview Paul gave to Howard Stern and considered inappropriate by several observers. Add to that, Paul has over the years made comments, some veiled, about Jane in women’s magazines, glossy magazines, and the like. While it was unfair of the media to compare Linda with Jane, that hardly made it her fault. Instead of taking it up with the media, Paul took it out on Jane. To be honest, if people love each other that much, who cares what other people think? Perhaps they need approval or something. Honestly, people go on about John’s faults but at times Paul has been a tactless, insensitive idiot where women are concerned, and that includes the hundreds he purports to have slept with.
@Lara, hmmm… I suppose most of us suffer from “where did I read that?” I did think of one put-down of Jane, but (naturally) I don’t recall the source. It was along the lines of describing Linda as the first woman as opposed to girl he’d been involved with. Linda was five years older than Jane (a lot in your 20s) and a mother, but it WAS rude.
I’ve been frustrated in the past when trying to hunt down a particular Howard Stern interview – it seems like I dig up the same few and they’re never the ones referred to. I can give it a shot, but for now, I remain unpersuaded that Paul couldn’t shut up about Jane for decades.
Your mention of Howard Stern made me go back to this clip: https://youtu.be/fs1TYtUjoiI
I am not sure if he mentions Jane Asher in it as frankly I could never stand Howard Stern and usually can’t handle more than a couple of minutes of him…and most often far less than that so I did not watch much of it.
Yet I did revisit this in places just to see how obvious it was that Paul did not want to be there. He had a new single to flog and usually he can do the media circuit on autopilot, but here he seems to be extraordinarily discomfitted–almost as much as he was in the skit he did on SNL with Linda and “Father” Guido Sarducci around 1981 or 82.
I never watched the clips, but I heard he has appeared on Stern’s program at least once in the recent years.
Didn’t he also say that one of his songs was about “nobody in particular” when it was actually established by him at the time to have been about Jane? I think the song And I Love Her. If anyone actively tries to write Jane out of the story, it’s Paul.
Some excellent observations seen in the comments. I find it interesting that when asked to recall a song most people nearly always remember the melody, even the most intricate aspects of it, but often struggle to remember the words. I believe lyrics exist to give resonance to the melody, to provide a sense of time and place and atmosphere. Whether you want lyrics to say something to you is personal choice, but primarily it is the melody, and the voice, a musical instrument in itself, which hits our emotions. Both Paul and John did this extremely well, and at times Paul still does. I’ve often felt swamped by overwhelming sadness listening to Paul’s melodies without understanding why until I read of his predominant use of minor chords in many of his compositions. We often hear references to Mozart or Beethoven, particularly regarding Paul’s melodies, but we forget that Lennon, Dylan, Cohen, et al, are relatively minor poets of the modern age – they are not TS Eliot or WB Yeats. Nor are they Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Wordsworth or Keats. They are certainly not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination. Is this something Paul intuitively understood and wasn’t even going to go there? This from an extremely able boy at the Liverpool Institute, a top streamer at one of the top grammar schools in the North of England in the 50s, and who won several prizes for his essays? John and Paul are masters of the art song, and the pop song, but to write a poem of such complexity as The Wasteland, and set it to music, is as unrealistic as expecting them to write a composition to rival Mozart’s. I do understand the frustration within the fandom in defining Paul as a vaudevillian. Paul is primarily a rock and roller – this is how he sees himself, as did John, and nothing irritates him more than those who brand John the rocker and himself as only a composer of ballads. Yet those very songs come from his soul – which presumably is why so many great soul artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Ray Charles, from Aretha Franklin to Esther Phillips performed such wonderful covers of Paul’s songs.
Re Paul’s ability as a melodist vs a lyricist I personally think a lot of this is relative and we need to be careful not to deal in absolutes which, funnily enough I think John was getting at in his Playboy interview. Paul, broadly speaking, is an incredible lyricist and especially when you look into the context of when a lot of his songs are written, many of them are personal and revealing, his songs just aren’t as autobiographical and revealing as John’s, with a little examination there’s a ton of meaning but because there’s so much investment in painting John and Paul as polar opposites in every aspect of their lives and art, Paul’s lyrical gifts and John’s melodic gifts are minimised so that they can fit neatly into separate opposing boxes.
Who knows how much Paul will reveal in his book, I do think he’ll give us more information than he has to date for two main reasons, firstly there would be no point releasing a book with all this fanfare if the main takeaway was that Yesterday came to him in a dream and secondly because Paul isn’t going to live forever and once he’s dead a lot of these stories will die with him so I’m sure someone as legacy conscious as Paul will want to impart some of those stories before it’s too late (although given a choice I’m taking the Japanese prison memoir). Whatever happens with this book, given all that is due to be released, this year should be a treat!
Well said, @Lizzy95!
I agree with you Lizzy, and like you, I want to see Paul’s diary from his time in jail in Japan!
I actually really love the concept of Paul writing his autobiography through his songs and how they came to fruition. So I’m looking forward to it’s release. I too am interested if he will reveal a little more of himself then the standard stories he’s given for songs in past interviews.
I don’t expect it to be too controversial in regards to the other Beatles as I think it’s all water under the bridge to almost 80 Paul and he ultimately loves John George Ringo and the Beatles as a band.
@Lizzy95 I think the pigeon holing of John and Paul’s talent is something both John in his time and Paul on occasion has rallied against. Also not just when it comes to music but also their personalities, with the assumption that John was the tough cutting member and Paul the sweet mellow member of the group when both have said the others assumed attributes could be just as true of them. (But then again that started from day one with the Cute Beatle Silent Beatle Funny Beatle Smart Beatle labels they were given by the press/fans)
Also to add on to the point of minimising John’s instrumental talents or melodic talent and Paul’s lyrical talent, George and Ringo’s talents also get minimised or overlooked within the group more often then not.
I seem to recall reading an interview or anecdote where John said in his opinion George was the most proficient musician of all four of them and spent the most time trying to master his instrument and learn new techniques. And if the Beatles were a band today I think a greater portion of their catalogue would have been “written by Lennon/McCartney/Harrison” credits, or even more likely “Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Martin”, under current songwriting guidelines/laws.
And my favourite recent Ringo anecdote is a clip I saw in regards to using drum tracks. He talks about how Jeff Lynne tried to keep getting him to use a drum track in the studio before he snapped and told him that he’s “the f@&$ing drum track!” And I also remember in Paul’s google question interview he talked highly of the fact Ringo ability to keep good beat.
I wonder why Ringo got the designation as the Funny Beatle when it was John who was the quickest wit and initiated the most laughter at press conferences and such. Smart and Funny often go hand in hand, hence the term wit. But they had to choose only one for John. Ringo was good for a chuckle here and there, and malapropism. I’d even say George came in 2nd in the comedy stakes. His dry humor was all over Hard Day’s Night. I guess because Ringo was funny *looking* to some people? How about Amiable Beatle, or does that not roll off the tongue of teeny boppers so easily? George had the propensity to ramble endlessly. Quiet Beatle he was not. Maybe they meant Unassuming Beatle? As for the Cute Beatle, they mean sweet or charming right? Because how much would it suck for Paul to be ojectified like that while the others were assigned character traits. In actuality, all four Beatles possessed each of those titles. Even John could be quiet. According to biographer Ray Coleman, John would sometimes become monosyllabic at Kenwood which is probably a symptom of depression.
I’m reminded of a song of Paul’s called “The Other Me” on Pipes of Peace. In it he says he would “rather be the glad one.” An alternate label to the oft used Cute Beatle was the happy-go-lucky Beatle. I think Paul cringes at Cute Beatle. Who is he apologizing to in the song, I wonder. Who did he think was “looking for another me”? Interesting song if you can get past “dustbin lid”.
Nah – the label objectified Paul. And then there was “pretty”…. Although I agree smart and funny go together, I think Paul was the least funny but not the least smart. Such a funny, smart, good-looking group of guys. They were pretty talented too ,0]
Paul has his moments of wit. I thought I read once that John and Paul had the highest IQ’s in the band.
@michelle I remember reading in one of the biographies they got tested when they were in school and there iqs were considered high. But for the life of me I can’t remember which one or what they said the scores were.
Doing a google search multiple sites and forums were saying Johns iq score was 165 and Paul’s 137 Which is in the gifted/superior range. But how accurate that is I’m not sure.
I do remember reading in Tune In and anecdote about how Mimi had a collection of biographies of great British Prime ministers including Winston Churchill and that John had started reading all of them by age 11. Books and sharing poems and writings was another interest both Paul and John shared in the early stages of their friendship. Being voracious readers and writers at young ages probably fostered intelligence.
IQ of 165, wow! Anything over 140 is genius range. IQ of 120-140 is classified “very superior intelligence”. They are/were both brilliant.
Paul mentioned that anecdote about Mimi’s biographical volumes on Winston Churchill and how John read them all. He said something about the fact that he’d never met anyone who’d read Winston Churchill. I think they recognized in each other, more than anything, a uniqueness. I remember reading a story of how John marveled at the fact that Paul had bows on his shoes. He never saw that before and asked Mimi if he could get a pair. She said no. While that’s typical teenage boy stuff, I find it very cute!
Paul’s and George’s scores are from the eleven-plus exam which has a max score of 141, not an IQ test. Understandable people made the mistake, since the eleven-plus isn’t really known outside Britain.
@Leigh Ann – This is absolute nonsense.
For a start, no one with an IQ of 165 would make the stupid mistakes that John made.
Secondly, as others have pointed out, the nearest thing to an IQ Test that any schoolboy in 1950’s England would have taken was the 11 Plus
John passed his 11 Plus, but he obviously didn’t score as highly as Paul, or even George, because Quarry Bank was a second-rate grammar school for boys who just scraped through. The Liverpool Institute was for the academically elite – it was literally the Eton of state schools.
Yes, Mimi would later say that she chose Quarry Bank because of its proximity to Woolton. It’s far more likely however, that John’s 11 Plus score wasn’t high enough for the Institute. Why would someone like Mimi settle for a second rate school if there was a better alternative on offer?
@Elizabeth Per my comment that’s what seemed to be general consensus on what John Lennon scored as an IQ. I won’t claim it’s accurate but it was a score that seemed to be repeated.
But I will say that the idea that some ones IQ is somehow a preventative measure from making stupid mistakes ignores the many many genius or highly intelligent people in history who have been stupid reckless, selfish and sometimes down right evil.
Also Im curious what stupid mistakes John made that the other Beatles didn’t? Taking drugs? Getting arrested with drugs? Being in love with a woman? Wanting to quit the Beatles? Cheating and sleeping around? Engaging in spousal abuse? Not being able to handle his alcohol? Getting taken in by shady gurus ? Those are all things that one or all of the Beatles have been guilty of at one point in their lives to varying degrees. And in some of those things John was even the first one to do it.
@Elizabeth, you may be right, but Mimi said she didn’t want John to go to the Inny because her brother-in-law was a teacher there and she feared John’s inevitable misbehavior would reflect badly on him.
John’s bad rep with parents supposedly caused Ivan Vaughan to be sent to the Inny instead of the close-to-home Quarrybank, and if he’d gone to school with John, he wouldn’t have known Paul to introduce him to John. Perish the thought!
(Reply in wrong place due to no link.)
General consensus from whom, @Leigh Ann? What is your source for this amazing claim that John had a higher IQ than Einstein?
Yes, the other Beatles made plenty of mistakes also. No one said they didn’t, but you were talking about John. Still, if their IQs were so much lower, one might reasonably expect them to make more mistakes than John, not less.
@Laura – I haven’t seen any quotes from Mimi stating that she chose Quarry Bank for John because her brother-in-law taught at the Institute. I don’t believe it though:
1. John at 11 was not that badly behaved at school – there’s nothing to indicate that he was a problem at Dovedale.
2. Turn down a place at the most prestigious grammar school in Liverpool for her precious nephew? I doubt she would have done that even if it had been Julia who worked there.
He didn’t get in, and as the 11 Plus is likely to have been the only IQ test any of them took, John’s IQ was probably not as high as George’s.
It’s quite telling that John failed all his O Levels as well. I mean, he obviously didn’t do any work for them, but you would think he might have scraped a pass in English Language at least, which was an O Level you didn’t have to revise for.
@LeighAnn- John was definitely the most intelligent Beatle, certainly smarter than George. He didn’t get called the Smart Beatle for nothing. Paul was simply more well-behaved.
Fun fact: Albert Einstein flunked out of school. He also failed his entrance exam to a polytechnic school in Zurich. Highly intelligent people tend to be restless and dissatisfied with curriculum. Albert hated the disciplined approach. As for John, there is no proof that he “didn’t score as high” as Paul or George. I think Laura gives a credible explanation as to why Mimi didn’t want John to attend the Institute.
@Elizabeth, I don’t know if there’s a quote from Mimi about the Institute – Lewisohn makes this claim but doesn’t substantiate it. As for misbehavior, again, you may be right. John was into fist fights and petty theft by the age of 10 and had a bad reputation with parents, but did Mimi know that? He doesn’t seem to have been too much of a terror at school, but Lewisohn says he was caned a couple of times during his last spring there.
I do think John was the smartest, but I highly doubt he had an IQ of 165. That’s pretty stratospheric – Einstein’s was 160.
Shoot. I forgot to mention one thing about John’s O levels. Allegedly, when asked to draw something to illustrate transportation, he drew a hunchback. So… a bit of self sabotage, eh? (Makes me smile.)
@Laura – I’m sure there was an element of self-sabotage, but on the other hand, he turn up and sit the exams, which obviously took some effort.
I think Paul was the smartest, actually. If you look at where he started to where he is now, and with everything he’s achieved along the way – not just in art but also in business – I think it’s obvious. It’s interesting that he did so well in his 11 plus; controversial as it was, it did provide an accurate measurement of a child’s intellectual ability/potential.
Not that John wasn’t incredibly bright either – of course he was. But Paul was only three or four marks away from achieving 100% in his 11 plus. If John’s IQ was higher, his score must have been 100%, right? But if that was the case, what was he doing at Quarry Bank, which wasn’t a particularly well regarded school?
And I’m sure that if John had achieved 100% in his 11 plus, Yoko would have made this known. The fact that she hasn’t tells me that Paul’s score was higher.
“If John’s IQ was higher, his score must have been 100%, right?”
No, this doesn’t follow. As Michelle pointed out in an earlier comment, high IQ does not inevitably equal high academic achievement. Intellectually gifted students may not fit into a set curriculum well, and can be impatient if what they’re being asked to do doesn’t fit their interests or level.
I think Lennon was highly gifted and highly affected by early trauma. I think McCartney is very bright and quite resilient, with the resilience being a combination of inborn temperament and familial experience. I don’t see those traits as anything either asked for, or anything they can be praised or blamed for.
@Nancy I also remember reading some where that dyslexic people typically have higher IQs- again I’m not a scientist or doctor so I can’t claim accuracy- but it’s something to do with the fact that their brains think faster or the they use one side of their brain more then the other. But an IQ not necessarily translating to being a brilliant student. Not to mention the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world who are famously college dropouts.
And agree in your assessment of John and Paul. Also unlike other pseudo intellectual musicians I have never really been left with the impression that John or Paul held their intelligence over other people or their fans, or were showy or smug about it. I feel the Beatles were largely inclusive in that respect in that they were happy to be conduit to introduce their fans to more artistic and high intellectual content and high brow culture. I also think they were also as open to and appreciative of low brow culture or popular culture as well.
I also agree with the assessment about self sabotage in Johns education. John was academically in the top tier of his class as a child and that changed around the same age as he would have become more aware of his very messed up familial situation. I think John’s high school performance was more lack of interest and feeling like his curriculum was useless to him, with a good healthy dose of rebelling against authority re his Aunt, then lack of ability. He was a voracious reader and writer his whole life- and didn’t he have a underground newspaper that he use to pass around his classmates mocking his teachers. He also talked a great deal about feeling like he was misunderstood and couldn’t connect with his teachers and even other kids his age.
@Nancy – I understand what you’re saying and I agree that someone can be exceptionally gifted yet underperform at school.
But I was talking specifically about the 11 plus, which was the IQ test Leigh Ann was referring to in her original email (unless the Beatles took IQ tests as adults that she knows about and I don’t).
If Paul was only a few marks off 100% in his 11 plus, but John’s IQ was 30 points higher, and that was the only IQ test that either of them took, then of course John scored 100% on his 11 plus.
To be honest, I doubt whether anyone really knows what any of the Beatles scored on their 11 plus tests nearly 70 years ago. But it is true that the 11 plus was a reliable indicator of a child’s IQ, and it’s also true that Quarry Bank was not a particularly well regarded school. If John’s 11 plus score had indicated that he had an IQ of 165, Mimi would not have sent him there.
“To be honest, I doubt whether anyone really knows what any of the Beatles scored on their 11 plus tests nearly 70 years ago.”
I agree with this — I at least have never seen an edited, published source that lists the precise scores (other than just who in the band passed the 11 plus exam and who didn’t). I also find the “a few points off” / “30 points higher” difficult to parse.
@Elizabeth John Lennon’s dad went to The Liverpool Blue Coat school which actually is considered one of the best and most prestigious schools in Liverpool.
And Alf became by all accounts a man unable to hold down a job who sought financial support by his rich and globally successful son from a second rate not well regarded school.
So what school you go to doesn’t always mean anything significant.
@elizabeth also the 165 score I mentioned was reported to have been an IQ test John took at 16. Again I don’t know who the source for this was/is but it was something that kept cropping up as his reported IQ score when out of curiosity I went to check the Beatles IQ scores after someone in the thread mentioned John and Paul having their highest IQs.
I do recall Phillip Norman or Mark Lewishon mentioning briefly that John was tested and scored highly but unless I went back and read every biography I have I can not recall if they gave an exact score.
In considering John was far more gifted and successful then many people would hope to be it’s all relative anyway.
@Leigh Ann – Blue Coat School was an orphanage when John’s father was sent there – he didn’t get in on merit.
What is your source for this IQ test that John allegedly took at age 16?
16 year old British schoolboys did not take IQ tests in 1956 – they sat O Levels, and John failed all of his.
Anyone with any knowledge of the British education system could tell you this.
@LeighAnn wrote: “He was a voracious reader and writer his whole life- and didn’t he have a underground newspaper that he use to pass around his classmates mocking his teachers.”
The Daily Howl. In addition to lampooning his teachers, it contained poems and drawings. The teachers got hold of it and passed it around the staff room, alternately laughing and thinking up ways to put a stop to John’s insolence. One of his teachers, can’t remember his name offhand (Pobjoy?), said something like, “But c’mon fellas. He’s gifted.”
Paul also mentioned The Daily Howl, in the context of how the Beatles were always more interested in art/creative writing than most rock ‘n roll bands at that time.
Yes, it was Mr. Pobjoy.
Just popping in to clarify that the 11 plus is scored on a curve. 141 isn’t the top score because there are 141 questions or something; the highest scorers are awarded 141 and that’s then used to rank everyone into percentiles. A score of 137 would have put Paul in the top 1% if true.
@Annie M – I’ve never seen any source stating that Paul scored 137 on his 11 plus (the first I heard of that was on this thread), but I have read that his score was exceptionally high. Apparently, he won a prize, which went towards the cost of books and uniform – a small scholarship in other words.
He also won a prize for writing an essay about the Coronation. I don’t agree with Nancy that this points to an academically able child who applied himself. I think this was an exceptional child whose exceptionally high 11 plus score was an accurate reflection of his exceptionally high IQ.
I think there’s an inherent class bias in much of the anti-Paul discourse (in the UK at least, where working class kids from Liverpool council estates are forever sneered at, no matter what they accomplish in life), and I’m glad Lara pointed out that John – raised in a comfortable, middle-class home – had advantages that made him likely to score higher on his 11 plus. That John had access to the complete works of Winston Churchill, speaks more to me about the type of home he lived in than his supposed intellectual precocity. I don’t believe he read them, though I have no doubt that he read Alice in Wonderland and Just William, as most 10 year olds in 1950’s Britain did. This was before most people had a TV, and children read for entertainment.
It goes without saying that John was extremely intelligent, but the statement that he had an IQ of 165 is ridiculous, and totally unsupported by the evidence of the only IQ test we know he took – which gained him a place at a second tier grammar school.
@Lara – I don’t think you can state with any certainty that John’s IQ was higher than George’s. The 11 plus, where George clearly outperformed John, provided an accurate measurement of a child’s IQ. You would need to compare raw scores from tests taken by both as adults to determine which of the two had the higher IQ., but personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turned out to be George.
@Elizabeth, I agree we don’t have a compelling reason to believe any of these reported scores. Just wanted to clarify what the 11-plus is. To be honest tho I’m a little surprised we *don’t* have all the Beatles’ 11-plus scores; seems like the sort of thing any enterprising young journalist would investigate back in the day. I’d rather know that than the Beatles’ shoe sizes or handwriting analyses, for example. Maybe it was considered gauche to draw attention to it?
@Elizabeth- I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t be surprised if George had a higher IQ than John.
Without taking this entirely seriously: I think it’s impossible to rank The Beatles in order of intelligence. In my experience (which is somewhat extensive in this regard) high IQ scores as a child and/or showy educational credentials are both so baggy a metric as to be pretty useless. I’m not even sure what something like IQ measures–in my lived experience it seems very much like a benchmark for a computer chip: “This Mac runs at 3.66 mHz, whereas your old one ran at 2.16.”
To me, several things are very clear:
–all four Beatles are uncommonly intelligent–well above average. I’d guess at least 120 IQ.
–all four Beatles have intelligence that expressed/es itself in slightly different ways;
–all four Beatles’ intelligence worked together in a complementary fashion for the benefit of the group and may be the “magic” that people spoke of; and
–99% of their competition did not have one person of clearly outsized intellect, much less four, much less four working together.
All four are *extremely* articulate. All four are *extremely* charming. Both John and Paul are intelligent in easy-to-spot ways; John’s speed and facility with words, and Paul’s sensitivity to social cues and incredible musical ability scream “high IQ.” George is more subtle, but several things argue for him being as intelligent as John and Paul: his early boredom with the Beatle experience, his extremely inner-directed nature, his “good student” deep research into a difficult and arcane topic (Eastern philosophy/meditation), and his tendencies to form friendships with other very smart people (like the Pythons). All these are characteristics of an uncommonly intelligent person.
With Ringo, I think he learned to hide his smarts, for a lot of reasons, but smart people pick smart friends. So if John, Paul, and George are all above-average in mental ability, I think it’s highly likely that Ringo is, too.
The difference, functionally, between someone with an IQ of 120 (“very superior intelligence”) and someone 140+ (“genius”) is really negligible…except in the instances where it’s obviously not. Out of my Yale class of 1000, there were a handful of people I knew who were clearly at a different processing speed than the rest of us. But–interestingly–those folks did not become rock musicians. They have stayed in academic/legal fields where processing speed is a key metric.
So I would say this: among their peers, all four Beatles were at the very top of intelligence. Would they score as well on IQ tests as one of my Yale ’91 brainiacs? Surely not. But are they, all four of them, more gifted in certain parts of their brain than my Yale pals? Unquestionably. Undeniably. And not simply through practice–they were gifted.
John, Paul, George and Ringo had exactly the right kind of intellects, in great abundance, which they were smart enough to use in concert. When you compare them to the smartest of their peers–people like Townshend or Ray Davies–they strike me as slightly smarter.
A final word: rockers like Brian Eno, who seem to wear their intelligence on their sleeve, or someone with a serious academic credential like Brian May, are clearly very smart. But there is, in my experience, a kind of smarts that expresses through innovation, through seeing something artistically necessary then making it happen, and The Beatles had that in huge abundance. If there had been no Beatles, people like Eno and May would’ve picked entirely different careers. Very smart people follow their own paths; geniuses, even more so.
Michael, good point that there is “a kind of smarts that expresses through innovation, through seeing something artistically necessary then making it happen” and that the Beatles had this so strongly. There’s a practical element to their group intelligence, and they were fortunate to have that element aided by both George Martin and Brian Epstein.
I’m defining “practical” here as “getting meaningful work done.” Not until the advent of Magic Alex and his ilk did the Beatles to some degree float away from this standard. And “work” here absolutely encompasses creative work, and creative work of the most imaginative sort.
In my own experience I’ve known some undeniably high-IQ people who weren’t able to translate their intelligence into that kind of action. To take one example, the PhD program I was in courted a student who was considered brilliant as an undergraduate. I talked to him several times and can testify that he seemed to be a deep and creative thinker. But he left the program because he took an incomplete in every course — he couldn’t or wouldn’t finish a final paper in any of them.
The Beatles achieved what they did because they combined intelligence with an appetite and capability for sustained effort. And that appetite and capability was, until the very end of the 1960s, nurtured by the people closest to them. I think this is one reason that George Martin was such a great fit for the band; his incredible musical talent is obvious, but he also set a strong model of dedication to results. People like Magic Alex modeled the opposite of this — posing without real expertise, grandstanding without real effort.
@Nancy, for me one of the clearest commonalities about really smart people is that they aren’t particularly impressed with “smartness.” They know what it can do, and what it can’t. Credentials, even less. Someone who talks a lot about where they went to school or their awards or whatever is generally not, in my experience, a first-class brain.
So what I think is so interesting about John after psychedelics is how he’s so susceptible to “geniuses”–electronic geniuses like Magic Alex, or artistic geniuses like Yoko, or the therapy geniuses from Maharishi to Janov, or health geniuses like the Macrobiotics guy or magical geniuses like the directional person or the various psychics…Similarly, after the transition to heroin, John becomes markedly less whimsical–compare the guy in Feb ’68 to the guy in Feb ’69. He becomes doctrinaire, which once again isn’t a trait I’ve found in highly intelligent people. There are glimpses of his old whimsy, but it’s really not evident much.
It’s impossible to know, but I really do think all the drugs had an impact on how his brain functioned; if you’re looking for something to reduce your “clock speed,” 18 months of eating acid every day would probably be a great way to do it. That, plus fame, would make anybody stupider.
” . . . one of the clearest commonalities about really smart people is that they aren’t particularly impressed with ‘smartness'”
Thought of this today when I saw that a guy on Twitter had his putative height and IQ in his header!
Agree with you about the probable role of drugs on the rise of people like Magic Alex in the Beatles’ circle. Sad to see.
@Michelle – Why do I think it’s possible that George had a higher IQ than John? Because I don’t think he was anywhere near as stupid as John and Paul thought he was.
I think he was just as arrogant as them – maybe even more so, which is why he did so badly at school. (Just as an aside, I think it’s mind blowing that a kid with his background was prepared to throw away the opportunities that the Institute offered him. It cost money to send kids to grammar school at a time when they were expected/relied upon to earn a wage at age 14, and it was incredibly disrespectful of him to make no effort.) But I don’t see any evidence that he wasn’t as intelligent. He taught himself the guitar and to write songs, same as John and Paul. He was just as quick witted as John.
Why do you think George didn’t have a higher IQ than John? He certainly wasn’t as daft.
@Elizabeth- That’s fair enough, I guess.
I don’t think drugs have an effect on IQ.
@Michelle, my understanding of Ringo’s characterisation as the ‘funny’ Beatle is that, if there was an inherent comedic alien quality to the Scouse accents and moptops, Ringo was the most cartoonish iteration of it. Bashing his drums, shaking his hair, huge rings on his fingers – also noticeably the shortest member. Especially in America, I think Ringo exemplified that ‘otherness’ more than his bandmates.
Good answer! He was a little oddballish, yet he fit in seamlessly.
George had a reputation among professionally funny people (a tough crowd) as being very funny.
@Elizabeth, I don’t see how you can be so sure George outperformed John on the 11 Plus. I suppose you’re basing it on your certainty that, unlike George, John didn’t have the option of going to the Institute. But even if that’s the case, surely the fact that they entered high school in different years would have been a factor.
@Laura – Knowing both schools fairly well (I grew up in Liverpool), I would be amazed if anyone, least of all Mimi, would have chosen Quarry Bank over the Liverpool Institute. It would be like choosing a Ford Fiesta over a Rolls Royce.
It is true that John and George sat their tests two years apart, and yes, it could be that there were 100 boys or so who scored higher than John in 1950, but that George scraped in at number 99 in 1952.
It’s highly highly unlikely however, that the 100 boys who did better than John in 1950 had IQ’s of more than 165. That’s just ridiculous.
@Elizabeth- According to one of my John biographies, Mimi was all to pleased to have John attend a school in the suburbs (Quarry Bank) instead of a city school (the Institute) because then she could keep her eye on the wayward boy, and John was perfectly fine with that because his best buddy was going to Quarry Bank. It says John passed the 11-plus but does not say what his score was. It doesn’t say anything about it not being high enough to qualify for the Institute.
I recently heard that Paul had applied to the Liverpool College of Art, but unlike John did not get accepted. Does anyone know if that’s true?
*too – in other conversations I would have let that slide.
@Elizabeth, I think it’s best to toss the 165 bit out the window – and that’s despite my belief that John was gifted. I bid 145 ,-)
The schools’ reputations being THAT different is news to me despite a ridiculous amount of reading about the Fabs. And the fact that Lewisohn didn’t question Mimi’s decision – or rather that she had a decision to make – is interesting.
I’m one of those who sees a Lennon bias in what Lewisohn chooses to include, and this omission pushes me further in that direction.
@Michelle, I’ve never heard a hint that Paul applied to the art college, but his brother did. Or at least he planned to until he found out the requirements had changed and he needed more O levels.
@Michelle, no Paul never applied for art school. His brother Mike did and was rejected because he did not have the required O levels. That was a new requirement luckily not yet in place when John went
Thanks for clarifying, @Laura and @Jesse. Makes sense that Paul’s brother would be interested in art school.
@Tasmin. Regarding your comments regarding Hey Jude brings up the question of just how honest Paul will be in discussing his lyrics. Hey Jude is not about John nor about a small boy, notwithstanding the fact that Julian may well have inspired it, but about the breakdown in his relationship with Jane Asher. It seems too coincidental that the only time Paul visited Cynthia and Julian after John left them, Cynthia noted how heartbroken Paul was and how he blamed himself for the failure of the relationship. Paul even quipped about how he and Cyn should get married! Yet this is the same visit that Paul repeatedly tells his story of reaching out to Julian? And humming the beginnings of the song? To deliver a song with such raw emotion about another man’s relationship while his own has fallen apart requires a considerable stretch of the imagination to be honest. Paul at the time said it was about himself, which John later realized – about ‘him and his’ to use his words. I guess it’s convenient for Paul to retrospectively use Linda, despite the song being written in July 1968 while attempting to win Jane back, and then wooing Maggie McGivern before settling on Linda, when that relationship didn’t work out either. I think there is something deep in Paul’s psyche that hasn’t fully come to terms with that emotional baggage because it exposes his vulnerability. It doesn’t surprise me that his solo lyrics are non-specific. I think he will be very elusive in his recall.
Lara, I think with many songs — and certainly with “Hey Jude” — the meanings are more “both and” than “either / or.” I think it’s highly likely that “Hey Jude” was inspired by Julian Lennon’s situation at the time, as McCartney has said, and that it also is infused with what was happening between Lennon and McCartney (and Ono) and between McCartney and Linda Eastman. The meaning of the song can’t really be reduced to one thing. In the same way, I think “Two Of Us” is “about” Paul and Linda and also “about” Paul and John.
Cleanth Brooks, a literary critic, wrote about this (regarding poetry) in his 1949 book The Well-Wrought Urn. The best known chapter in it is “The Heresy of Paraphrase,” in which Brooks argues that a good poem cannot be reduced to one “meaning” that can be restated. The poem communicates by means of everything involved in it — meter, rhyme, vocabulary, etc. Great songs, like great poems or stories, support more than one interpretation.
@Tasmin and @Nancy. Fair enough, I agree I should have said in my opinion. I was a young girl at the time the song was released which may have influenced me, as well as the publicity surrounding the end of his relationship with Jane and what was reported in the Beatles Monthly hot off the press in mid 1968. Paul said it was “about me” and, as with John, I tend to go with what is said at the time, rather than what the fandom interpretates several decades later. Tasmin, do you have a source that Paul said it was about Linda? To my knowledge he has never dedicated the song to her at any of his concerts. Because that would be the most obvious thing for him to do in my opinion. Nancy, I’m not disputing at all that the song was inspired by Julian. But isn’t this something that has been discussed elsewhere in this blog – Paul’s empathy? He and Julian were both experiencing loss. At the time John found Yoko, he lost Jane. His best pal wasn’t interested in hanging out with him any more. Why would he even need to write such a song? Just pick up with Linda and get on with his life, which he wasn’t interested in doing until several weeks/months later, no matter how much he and his fans like to embroider the story. I appreciate that the fandom is overprotective of Linda in this otherwise excellent and informative blog and, unlike with Yoko, may prefer to gloss over some of the negative effects she had upon Paul. But their marriages were of the post-Beatles era, not the Beatles era, which presumably is the reason why Beatle blogs exist in the first place. But if this time in Paul’s life upsets people I shall say no more about the matter. While I accept and respect some of the later insights, and agree with many, I also get the impression, not just here, but elsewhere as well, that the memories and perceptions of people who were actually there as events unfolded are considered meh. We annoy you, the inevitable spanner in the works of the fandom’s narrative. Because we were all young, stupidly mesmerized and terribly misguided. And female. Paul hedges around his songs, and he has done so for 50 years. I’ve just accepted it. One thing that is strange though – Jane wrote a novel circa 2000. One eagle eye has pointed out that her protagonist was named Judy. In one scene her husband calls out to her from another room: “Hey Jude”.
@Lara, but why on earth would Jane drop such a hint in one of her books, 30+ years later?
Reminds me of the book ‘Rock Bottom’ by Paul’s former long-term PR man Geoff Baker, which is reportedly about a world famous pop star who is bisexual. I never read it myself, but people seem to think the protaganonist sounds a lot like Paul, as if the whole thing is a blind item. I think Jane was just being facetious.
In the movie ‘Death at a Funeral’, Jane Asher played a woman whose husband was having an affair with another man.
You tell me! I’d say there’s probably plenty of water still under that bridge. Paul hasn’t been able to shut up about Jane for decades. Perhaps her buttons felt pushed enough to make a veiled response. Who knows?
I’m curious. Does Old Showbiz and New Showbiz refer to American Old/New Showbiz or British Old/New Showbiz? Because it seems to me that both John and Paul were still heavily invested in their own rapidly changing British culture in 1967/68, in which they (the Beatles) had spearheaded along with their contemporaries in the arts. Sgt Pepper was primarily psychedelic rather than vaudevillian (the American term) despite the inclusion of When I’m 64 and For the Benefit of Mr Kite (yes, it is a granny song). Once John met Yoko, he perhaps saw himself as New Showbiz by perceiving himself to be American in rejecting his Britishness, something that Paul wasn’t prepared to do. Paul did become an American too of course but the change occurred more slowly, and it’s another story. As a non American, such concepts as Old and New Showbiz are difficult to relate to when the term of reference is American. John certainly didn’t want to end up in Vegas but neither did Paul.
@Lara, it’s late and I’m tired and this is complicated, but I’ll try to explain more. As I’m using it, Old and New Showbiz were definitely the same phenomenon in the US and UK; in fact, one of its hallmarks was a kind of melding of US and UK pop culture into one single “Western” anti-Communist culture, especially in music and comedy. Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve called this culture “mid-Atlantic,” using a phrase I once read in a Tom Wolfe essay written in the late-60s.
From 1963-1989, US and UK audiences shared much more than they had. My American mother and aunts loved Dylan and The Beatles and Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards; they wore English fashion and American; they dug English artists and filmmakers, and American ones. One of the hallmarks to me of the New Showbiz is a melding–is Stanley Kubrick American? Yes, but he lived and worked in England, and a film like “A Clockwork Orange” doesn’t feel American to me, much less “Barry Lyndon.” Is Monty Python English? Without doubt; but then there’s Gilliam, and Python’s massive popularity over here suggests that certainly by 1973 or so, even comedy–that most parochial of tastes–was “mid-Atlantic.” (As was Barry Trotter, much to my surprise, written in an American form, in my American voice. My metier is New Showbiz, which died but I kept doing it; The American Bystander is much closer in feel to something like The Oldie than any American magazine.)
In the Old Showbiz, the flow is really one way–from the US and Hollywood to the UK. In the egalitarian, open, much faster-moving New Showbiz, there are plenty of English stars, drawing on English traditions to the delight of the world. There are even European and Asian elements; Kurosawa is New Showbiz, Bergman too. The Nouvelle Vague, and Fellini.
Whether it’s Godard shooting “Breathless” on the streets of Paris or The Beatles coming out of nowhere to set London ablaze (and then make a faux-verite film), New Showbiz is primarily a relationship to the mechanism of showbiz as it existed prior to 1963 or so–who got famous, how, and what did they do after that? Even athletes like Muhammad Ali are aspects of the New Showbiz. New Showbiz people are often younger than stars of an earlier generation; people who got famous playing by their own rules; unfiltered, authentic, not under the control of a studio; outspoken and political. They are often ironic towards their own stardom.
It can be seen most clearly in a new relationship towards the fans. An intimacy which is terribly powerful and, if proven false, inspires a vicious reaction in fans. Nobody ever gave a shit whether Paul Anka or Doris Day or Sir John Gielgud was a “phony”–but Dylan was harassed by Weberman, and Lennon was murdered by Chapman, and Hinckley shot Reagan to impress, of all people, Jodie Foster. Nor, to my knowledge, did Pat Boone or Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant develop massive drug habits to cope with the insane demands of more, more–more intimacy, more realness, more access.
In Britain, you can see the New Showbiz emerging in The Beatles; Michael Caine; the Pop artists; Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton; David Bailey and the other fashion photographers; Joe Orton.
The Beatles were definitely New Showbiz in that they were Northerners with no musical training who came to the capitol and set it on its ear. They were authentic, ironic, impossibly young, irreverent, classless, with French suits and German haircuts, and brought a kind of glamor that was new to UK rock and roll. And while they initially had dreams of slotting into what existed before (writing musicals) really within a year of stardom they realize that what is happening to them is much bigger and more interesting–Lennon’s writing books that are being accepted by the UK’s literary scene; within five years, he’s going to have a play at The National Theatre. Paul’s horizons immediately expand beyond Tin Pan Alley–the guy could’ve easily become the next Gershwin or Cole Porter, but doesn’t even think of that. He becomes a patron of the arts, hangs out in “Blow-Up,” helps found The International Times. All this is so different than popular musicians of the previous generation. What were Artie Shaw’s or Benny Goodman’s political views? Who knows? Were they hanging out with, and funneling money to, avant-garde writers and artists? Of course not. If Charlie Parker had written a book of doggerel, it wouldn’t have been reviewed, much less heralded.
All this is new, nourished by a different, more intimate relationship with their fans.
There are some precursors, mostly in America: Marlon Brando; Elvis of course; Andy Warhol. And precursors in foreign film–I’d say that “Breathless” as well as Fellini’s double masterpieces of “La Dolce Vita” and “8 1/2” are definitely harbingers of New Showbiz, which often has a verite aspect, and is highly (almost morbidly) self-aware.
To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the New Showbiz is how it is aware of, and uses, the forms of the past. The entire point of psychedelia, for example, was how it was vaudevillian–how it repurposed Victorian and Edwardian styles in an ironic way, commenting on Empire and nationalism. Not for nothing did “Oh! What a Lovely War” become a phenomenon. When Victor Moscoso or Pushpin Studios uses Art Deco in their posters, or somebody walked out of Biba on Carnaby Street in a military jacket, or indeed The Beatles posed on Sgt. Pepper in the satin outfits of a military band, it’s all commentary. Paul’s use of older musical forms is fundamentally New Showbiz in its appropriation of them. Unlike contemporary media, which uses technology to assert that it is something never before seen, New Showbiz is obsessed with the past. Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band is deeply New Showbiz, not only in its subject matter and approach, but in its forging of an intimacy between singer and audience as a result.
New Showbiz faded away around the end of the Cold War, and has been replaced by something that is much less interesting to me. New Showbiz at its best combined the craft of the Old Showbiz with a verve and egalitarianism and commitment to authenticity that I found and find thrilling. What we have now, whether it’s art or music or literature or film/TV, is creative work interested mostly in conventional metrics of success, as defined by corporate culture. It’s good because it’s big which means that it’s got to be good, right? The creative fields are being driven mostly by technology. But sometimes something comes through, and when it does, it feels an awful lot like New Showbiz to me — Hamilton, for example.
I’m reminded of the Babette Rosmond book on Robert Benchley (“His Life And Good Times”). In the late 1930s Benchley had his own radio show (Melody and Madness), and Artie Shaw was his musical headliner. During rehearsals, the young Shaw was constantly trying to engage Benchley in conversations about social justice and left wing politics. Benchley, who was cynical by that time from his own unsuccessful attempts at political activism twenty years earlier (testifying at the Sacco & Vanzetti trial, for example), politely insisted he wasn’t interested.
Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman were both outspoken about their progressive views, but their opinions never traveled beyond occasional interviews in obscure jazz magazines. They certainly did their best to racially integrate the music business. The mainstream press didn’t hang on every word of theirs (it was old showbiz) the way it amplified every idea of John & Paul (new showbiz). As a result, Shaw’s and Goodman’s views weren’t widely known.
RIGHT.You’ve got this, 100%.
In the Old Showbiz, entertainers and their work were packaged by the label, by their managers, by the sponsors.
In the New Showbiz, entertainers realized that the more they showed their fans, the more power they had. And audiences WANTED to know their heroes.
I really appreciate you clarifying this, Michael. I definitely understand these concepts a bit more than before. “[The] more power they showed their fans, the more power they had”–I’m going to remember that.
One more thought on Old versus New showbiz:
I remember many years ago seeing a big, full color photo of Louie Armstrong on the cover of Life Magazine. One of those big closeups of just his grinning face. I was probably about nine or ten years old. What I immediately noticed were how red his eyes were. I mean, really red.
I didn’t know what it meant. It was just something I saw, and then filed away in my memory.
It wasn’t until decades later that I read Mr. Armstrong enjoyed smoking cannabis every day.
Old showbiz, Louie was NOT going to advocate for cannabis smoking to the editors of Life Magazine. He wasn’t going to tell Life about the benefits of reefer on his mood, blood pressure and creativity. He wasn’t going to turn his interview into a discussion on racist drug laws.
New showbiz, the reporter would have noticed the red eyes and turned the interview into a conversation about those issues.
Old showbiz, they ask a few questions about Hello Dolly, snap the picture, and there’s Mr. Armstrong, silent but high on the cover of Life Magazine.
This reminds me of when John and Paul were both interviewed by Maureen Cleeve in the Evening Standard in 1966. Whereas John’s infamous statement on the Beatles being more popular than Jesus sent shockwaves around the world, Paul’s criticism of racial discrimination and segregation in the United States went largely ignored. It appeared that any attack on religion was deemed far more important than basic human rights, at least in conservative Christian America, and fuelled by New Showbiz in giving the comments far more attention than they deserved.
The danger of taking things out of context. The funny thing is, John had far more harsh words for Christianity in that interview than comparing the Beatles to Jesus, and THAT went largely ignored. Also, I hope Paul was unable to ignore the discrimination and segregation in his own country.
And the benefits of Old Showbiz was that Louie could smoke to his hearts’ content without having a Paul-takes-LSD confrontation. But the disadvantage is a certain distance from the performer.
I appreciate your response, but I take issue with this;
“Hey Jude is not about John nor about a small boy, notwithstanding the fact that Julian may well have inspired it, but about the breakdown in his relationship with Jane Asher.”
I think you should have prefaced this by saying “In my opinion”. You don’t know what you alleged to be fact. We all have our theories about what songs may mean, but they are just theories.
This discussion made me think of a quote by Lennon about the song “I Am The Walrus” :
“‘Walrus’ is just saying a dream – the words don’t mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions and it’s ridiculous… What does it really mean, ‘I am the eggman’? It could have been the pudding basin for all I care. It’s not that serious.“
There doesn’t have to be a deep meaning in every song. I think John got frustrated by that, and hence his comment regarding Walrus.
Certainly, “Yellow Submarine”, “All Together Now”, are just fun, playful songs by Paul, with no deeper meaning. It will be interesting to read what he says.
Nancy, just one more thing though about Cleanth Brooks. John’s songs were clearly about himself and not open to interpretation. Does this mean Brooks would not consider John’s songs to be good? Resonate, identify with, yes certainly, particularly with rhyme and meter, etc. as described, but with his lyrics? I think not.
I’m not at all doing justice to Brooks’ full argument, Lara. One of the things I take Brooks to be saying is that it’s a mistake to believe we can fully restate what a work of art expresses. A song, for example, can’t be completely captured in other terms.
And in the same way, even works that are clearly rooted in the creator’s experiences can communicate more than those experiences — or not, if the work isn’t strong enough. I don’t doubt that “Don’t Let Me Down” is directly inspired by John’s relationship with Ono, but it goes beyond that, at least to my ears. Whereas “Oh Yoko” to me does not.
I didn’t express myself well about “Hey Jude”: I was trying to say that I think it’s multiply inspired and draws on the whole emotional context of Paul’s life at the time. Makes sense that Jane Asher would be part of that mix.
I don’t mean to be overprotective of Linda McCartney: she certainly has her flaws and weaknesses. Like Yoko, she got dragged hard in the post-Beatles era, so perhaps I’m not as objective as I should be when it comes to her.
Nancy, I think at the end of the day, Brooks’ theory on the artistic process, though important, is still his theory only. New Criticism is only but one branch in the field of literary criticism, as my university studies and my own reading have taught me. Nancy and Michelle, regarding interpretations. Ambiguous lyrics or non-specific lyrics, irrespective of who wrote them, are way more open to interpretation. Isn’t that a given? It also seems to me that emotionally invested Beatles fans want ‘right’ interpretations of their songs not ‘wrong’ interpretations. One example is Blackbird. We know Paul wrote it with race relations in mind. He takes pains to remind everyone at his concerts. And he’s right – there is documented evidence of it in 1968, the year he wrote it. To others, at its most simplistic, it’s just about a little blackbird in the garden with a broken wing. But too many others it’s nah, McCartney is lying, he just makes it up as he goes along to be cool. Its a view that is pervasive. It could be the majority view in the future for all we know. Who has ownership of intent – the writer or his interpreters? After all, there is no reference in the song that it’s ‘about’ race any more than Nowhere Man is ‘about’ John.
I think it’s a case of being careful for what you wish for. Hey Jude – it seems firmly established in urban legend for being about Julian/John and Yoko/Linda, because that’s the way Beatles fans, or perhaps I should say post-Beatles fans, want it. There is no further room for other interpretations, as I have found out. For me, Paul’s up and coming book on his lyrics seems redundant. Will it be about how he wants his songs to be interpreted? Exactly how autobiographical will they really be, and will artistic integrity be maintained? To my knowledge, I don’t know of any other artist who has explained their work in this way. Perhaps Paul should let it be. Nancy, I didn’t intend it personally regarding the overprotection of Linda. It was a general observation. But I think it should be remembered that both Yoko and Linda were adult women in their 30s when they chose to be part of their husbands’ careers. They were not the only ones dragged hard, something that is overlooked. Abuse is abuse and psychologically damaging. I don’t think it matters whether it was in the media or being followed by a group of kids hurling hateful epithets at the personal level. That’s hard on a very young person.
Lara, agreed that Brooks’ theory is his perspective only — that’s why I referred to his “argument.” The aspect of his analysis that I find most useful is his insistence that an artistic work can’t ultimately be restated or captured. A case in point for me is the long ending of “Hey Jude.” “Na, na na na na na na” sounds like nonsense, but sung as it is, against the song’s musical background and coming at the end of that song, it evokes a great deal of emotion that I think is hard to express fully in words.
I don’t think I follow what you mean when you ask if “artistic integrity” will be maintained in McCartney’s forthcoming book if he discusses his own interpretations of his work. I think he has every right to talk about what the songs mean to him; that’s one perspective to take into account, and it needn’t foreclose other interpretations of the works. And people who aren’t interested in his thoughts don’t need to read the book.
Just because songs are clearly about someone, include the songwriter himself, doesn’t mean they are not open to interpretation. Nowhere Man and Strawberry Fields are open to intepretation. One of John’s favorite Paul songs was Fixing a Hole which is about Paul himself but is apparently metaphorical.
Michelle, you expressed this point better than I did.
Michael, I appreciate your explanation, although perhaps at cross purposes. Growing up in the sixties I was more than exposed to both American and British popular culture, and witnessed the transition first hand from old to new showbiz, if it is easier to label it as such. But transitions are exactly that – we transit back and forward from old to new and back again, and back again once more. This is just getting too difficult for me to explain. Perhaps I should have worded it better. Everything you mentioned was just part of my normal growing up universe, an exciting, but sometimes scary, and often mundane universe. The Beatles – whether they dressed in Pierre Cardin suits or Pepper military outfits – are history now, of course, but it wasn’t history to me then because I was living it at the time. We read Time magazine or Rolling Stone magazine or Private Eye or whatever, certainly, and were very aware of the difference between the old and the new, but consciously thinking in terms of old showbiz or new showbiz?No, because everyday life doesn’t really work like that. I don’t think the Beatles thought like that either, including Paul; they were too fluid and malleable. That was part of their appeal – they just did what appealed to them at any given moment.
Well, @Lara, since you’re of that generation, if you ever want to know the difference between Old and New Showbiz, think back to you and your friends. What you liked was likely New Showbiz in flavor; and what you found old, or corny, or too slow, or false, that would be Old Showbiz.
So you WERE thinking in terms of New and Old Showbiz, you just weren’t using those words. And the Beatles were the same way. Creators and audience were making it together, and the “it” they were making has certain definable characteristics, certain tendencies, certain relationships with the past, present, and future.
Once you see it, you see it everywhere.
Rubber Soul is New Showbiz. It’s personal, idiosyncratic, and a departure from Help! Old Showbiz is music-as-product.
Yesterday and Today is Old Showbiz. It’s a compilation put together without the Beatles input, by Capitol looking to squeeze out a few more bucks.
The butcher cover is New Showbiz. It’s the Beatles’ personal statement about their work being dismembered, or Vietnam, taken by an artsy photographer who was a friend.
The replacement cover is Old Showbiz. It’s a publicity still selected by Capitol.
Revolver is New Showbiz…
I may have been a kid but I wasn’t thick. I was capable of telling the difference between old and new, thanks. Loved both too. Yesterday and Today was never released in my country so not much point me comparing it to Rubber Soul. I knew who Robert Whitaker was. The Vietnam War was on television and in the newspapers every single day. The butchery there was infinitely more shocking than a piece of meat on Ringo’s lap.
@Lara, I wasn’t suggesting you were thick. I was suggesting that what I’m referring to as “Old Showbiz and New Showbiz” was a sort of collaboration leading to a fundamental shift in pop culture. The people of your generation, by their preferences, selected certain artists and cultural products and rejected others; and the producers of culture were rewarded for making certain choices, and not rewarded for making others. And in this feedback loop there came about art with a bunch of characteristics that were different than what came before, and artists that were very different as well.
This was remarked upon incessantly at the time, in the popular press.
My speaking of specifics like Yesterday and Today—a clumsy repackaging undertaken by a bunch of executives in their 40s; very different and indeed miles away from the authentic work that the Beatles were doing—-was an attempt to demonstrate in a simple fashion what I was trying to get across. If the concept doesn’t resonate, fair enough; but it’s not my concept, so I’m not going to explain it further. It’s pretty standard in the historical understanding of the Sixties.
Nancy, my comments regarding Paul’s forthcoming book on his lyrics were part of the overall discussion generated by the original post. Some have reacted positively to the news, others like myself have been more circumspect. Isn’t debate about that? The na na na coda in Hey Jude is very emotional. But why is it emotional? First reviews of the song described it as cathartic because its context was recognized – that of a man bruised by the breakup of a close long-term relationship with a woman. And why Elvis Costello, in sharing a list of his favorite Beatles songs, said precisely the same thing. And why I keep saying the song would not have been written otherwise. To my knowledge McCartney hasn’t corrected Costello, who, as I’m sure you’re aware, co-wrote many of the songs on Flowers in the Dirt. He knows Paul McCartney very well, but we don’t, none of us have even met the man. Asher was not somewhere in the mix, as you state, I believe she was the major ingredient. Whether great songs or art depend on context is a moot point. This song’s lyrics may have fifty interpretations, but the emotions that underpin them involve loss and distress and where does a person go from that point. To me, that makes the song timeless and universal – loss happens to people, it always has done and it always will. But when people try to CHANGE that meaning to say it was about Julian (again, it doesn’t mean he didn’t inspire it) or about John and Yoko, or try to drag the McLennon thing into it, the song loses its power in my opinion because that sense of loss has been minimized. For some reason, today many young or casual Beatles fans, or even non-Beatle fans, find the coda either to be a charming singalong at best, or annoying or subjected to jokes at worst. If Paul wants it that way, in its public expression at least, that’s up to him.
Lara, I just don’t see the “Hey Jude” case as so clear-cut. McCartney has consistently said that the song was inspired by Julian Lennon’s situation. I think that’s compatible with it’s also drawing on McCartney’s feelings about his breakup with Jane Asher and with the song as a whole being about “loss and distress and where does a person go from that point.”
And I certainly think it’s reasonable for people to have different reactions to McCartney’s forthcoming book.
@Lara, I looked for that list by Costello. I found this one by Rolling Stone, with an short essay by Costello at the beginning. The list itself and the texts for each song, where the possible connection of Hey Jude to the breakup with Jane is mentioned, are not written by Costello.
My two cents about John’s labeling Paul’s songs as grannies (although he wrote some “grannies” himself like: ‘Mean Mr Mustard’,’Crippled Inside’, ‘Oh Yoko’).
I think John started to get anxious when ‘Yesterday’, a song Paul wrote seemingly “effortlessly in his sleep”, became not just a fan favorite, but a public favorite, narrowing the gap in musical taste between the older and younger crowd . People coming together, bridging generations…without being instructed to. That’s quite a feat. A noble, commendable, yet unintended consequence for one simple tune with universal appeal. As all their songs were credited as Lennon first, McCartney last, the general public may not have known or cared who wrote what, they just loved the song. But John knew. And HE cared. Then ‘Michelle’, another Paul song, which John contributed the middle: “I love you! I love you! I love you!” won Grammy Song Of The Year. It was a success for The Beatles, but jealous guy John felt it was a Paul victory and now he was beginning to keep a mental score between himself and Paul in their “friendly” rivalry.
I think John became “shook” (shivering inside) when music critics of ALL music genres, praised the skies for masterpiece ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Somewhere I read a review that gushed “Where rock music meets art. Genius!” High praise indeed. At that time, nothing on the radio sounded like it. It wasn’t psychedelic pop, or rock, or rock & roll. Oh but it sure was something amazing, haunting, and beautiful to me as a child with eclectic musical tastes. Paul wrote it with a little help from George and Ringo while John reportedly sulked at “not being asked directly by Paul” for help. Then later, embarrassingly he claimed credit for writing most of it thanks to “Mr. Buttinskyandwrong”, Allen Klein.
I think it qualifies as Paul’s most famous “granny song” if we judge it by John’s standards of what is “granny”, meaning “deliberately not rock & roll”. Note his apparent irritation with Paul’s ability to empathize and “makeup experiences he hadn’t lived and create a variety of human characters from his imagination, seemingly with ease, a definite clue to his genius IMO) as opposed to John’s preference to write more autobiographically, yet struggle many times in his attempt. The “tortured” genius trope, although John had genius too, he was filled with self-doubt especially comparing and measuring himself against workohlic Paul, who produced an abundance of material, even whole songs that just needed polishing. Paul was on fire and beginning to hit his decades-long stride. In ‘Lennon Remembers’, I think angry John decided to lash out at Paul’s post Beatles hit songs as grannies. ‘Another Day’ (granny!) ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ (granny!). I think John wanted the world to believe that Paul would “never be as good without John” and Lennon fanboy Wenner made sure to spread the word, make it the tiresome (and UNTRUE) trope it became. I think John feared that Paul didn’t need him as a partner and that the world would agree. But I think John mostly feared that Paul didn’t WANT him as a partner anymore so he’d reject Paul first. John claimed that one could listen to ‘Hey Jude’, infer and hear between the lines “Hey John devilish me doesn’t wanna, but now that you’re with Yoko, I’ll step aside because when you pair with someone romantically (nevermind artist Cynthia or actress Jane) you gotta be a creative partner with that someone…ONLY. Oh, John…was that the drugs talking, or were you saving face much?
During the lockdown, I’ve had a chance to listen to (over and over again) Paul’s post Beatles catalog and have fallen in love with so much of what 70s rock music critics, Beatle bookwriters, and many Beatle fans (especially Lennon fans) have derided as shallow, lightweight, silly saccarine,”inconsequential, monumentally irrevelent”, etc.. WTF! Who are these people who don’t write music themselves but trash McCartney’s music? Jann Wenner bots?
Not just the hits which are great, but the big and little hidden gems in solo, Wings, collabos with Costello, and Lynne, and with the McCartney band. Some stuff I didn’t like at first, but give them another listen or two or three and…oh Lord have mercy! My eyes and ears have been opened. Maybe the old guard music critics just didn’t get McCartney’s music because as one music producer that worked with Paul had said: “Paul makes music for the future.” I think he was right because most of Paul’s post Beatle songs I have been listening to during the pandemic, songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s that I hadn’t listened to back then. I bought them as a mature adult and listen to now in the 21st century and so many are as fresh sounding today, not dated (although I like dated music from my childhood into young adulthood). Anyway my two cents worth.
IMO, Paul McCartney’s genius in music is very rare top tier.
Paul’s music is transformative, but unfortunately not enough for some listeners to let go of their anger and bitterness.
@Water Falls, I always understood John’s granny music comments referred to those from the music hall tradition, such as When I’m 64 and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. If he meant love songs, a contradiction in terms anyway, as most love songs resonate with the young in the main, then the term would apply not only to many of John’s songs, but to all love songs in general. More worryingly, some people just like to call any Paul song they don’t like granny music. If so, then it would appear that Lennon’s sabotage of McCartney’s reputation has cut wide and deep.
@Water Falls, I really agree with your last point that Paul ‘makes music for the future.’ I think it’s clear to many fans, critics and casual listeners now that post-Beatles McCartney is ‘best viewed in hindsight.’ We can look at his entire oeuvre now, see what he was trying to do, understand how each album is a reaction to the next or borne of a personal situation. At the time, it was much easier to characterise a Wild Life, McCartney II or Broad Street as baffling or disappointing, and the critics always took that easier route. I’m not saying these are perfect albums, but these days they can be more fairly appraised as parts of the artistic whole. Sonically and production-wise, apart from maybe the late ’80s and early ’90s material, his music has aged very well indeed.
I think Paul himself has been aware of this for a while. He KNOWS he’s good. With his list of hits, and having been faced with rapt sellout audiences in every decade of his life, he knows he’s created a diverse and interesting enough body of work that people will forever comb back and discover the hidden gems, and I think he’s used it as a confidence booster against criticism for a while. I’m not sure what year it’s from, but I’ve heard a snippet where he says ‘I will outlive – OUTLAST my critics.’ And as early as 1984, when being dragged over the hot coals over the poor reception to Broad Street in a live TV interview, his pre-packaged defence is ‘critics called Sgt Pepper worst album of the year and She Loves You worst record of the year, and Van Gogh never sold a picture.’ Doesn’t make Broad Street any better of a movie, and the point doesn’t really land because he makes it sound so snippy… but I understand what he’s getting at.
To tie the above back to the topic at hand, I’m hoping that The Lyrics will be Paul himself undergoing that process of revision, discovery and re-evaluation.
I’d *love* to hear about the much-maligned ‘Bip Bop,’ for example. Paul has sheepishly admitted to it not being one of his better songs. Yet it’s on the personally-selected Pure McCartney best-of compilation! Why? It’s these small, concealed yet symbolic artistic choices that I would really love Paul to open up about – this is just one example, but they are everywhere in his life and work.
News for Paul: He wrote far worse songs than Bip Bop. Anyway, regardless of the dated sound of Press to Play, it actually features some of his finest lyrics. The standout is However Absurd, which is criminally overlooked. Quite poetic, and ripe for interpretation. I hope he covers it in his new book. As someone on YouTube once said, it’s Paul at his Lennon best! Reminds me of Walrus at the end, and boy am I the only one who thinks his voice sounds reminiscent of John’s on the line “Everything is under the sun…”?
No you are not the only one to notice the tone of Paul’s voice on that line!! It struck me powerfully the very first time I heard it. As for the song, personally I think many of the lyrics strain a bit, tho “custom-made dinosaurs” is great and musically the swirly outro featuring Paul’s voice experiencing a nervous breakdown is excellent. There’s another example of Paul suddenly sounding like John in one of his Wings songs, I *think* “Little Lamb Dragonfly” (a personal favorite) but I’m not sure… I’ll have to go listen.
@Water Falls, you make a great point about John’s, ummmm, complicated feelings about Paul’s individual successes within the Beatles. For someone with such a deep terror of abandonment, it must have stressed him on some level that Paul-led songs tended to win more awards and sales. And that’s important context for John’s PR attack on Paul in ’70-’71, which seems like “punching down” from our perspective of knowing that Paul was having a breakdown at the time and John would later be canonized. But in ’71 the “punching down” dynamic wasn’t really there — certainly not in John’s mind. Of course he was working to create that dynamic, and he largely succeeded, which sucks, but John had every reason at the time to think Paul was essentially indestructible.
I read this excerpt from George Martin recently: “I went to America for a time and on returning [November 21st] realised we needed a love theme for the centre of [The Family Way], something wistful. I told Paul and he said he’d compose something. I waited, but nothing materialised, and finally I had to go round to Paul’s house and literally stand there until he’d composed something. John was visiting and advised a bit, but Paul created the tune and played it to me on guitar. I listened and wrote it down. It is a fragile, yet compelling, melody. I arranged it for woodwinds and strings and we called it ‘Love In The Open Air’. It’s quite haunting.”
I’d had no idea that Paul wrote the song on demand, in a matter of hours, which John saw happen in real time. And then it won an Ivor Novello award. One more reason to worry he needed Paul more than Paul needed him.
People like to attribute this to John being jealous of Paul, but I see it a different way based on how Paul later described writing the Family Way. John was hurt by the fact that Paul didn’t want to compose something with him. I think John felt a bond with Paul that he assumed Paul shared with him, and he was mistaken. John was always the most sensitive Beatle, Paul the most oblivious.
What awards did Paul-led songs win? A couple Grandma Awards and an Ivor Novello award for a forgettable piece of music? The best part of Michelle was the middle eight IMO, which John contributed. It gave an otherwise lazy ballad some weight.
@Michelle I’m not saying John was jealous, exactly, more that Paul getting more official, quantifiable accolades probably triggered John’s insecurities and fear of abandonment. Even if John didn’t care about Grammys etc (not convinced of that but it’s possible) he would have worried PAUL did, and might leave/reject him because of it, either actually or emotionally.
I agree John was probably hurt about The Family Way, but did he really expect Paul to twiddle his thumbs for months and months while he was away making a movie? If so that was an unfair and also INSANE expectation. Especially because i assume there was a deadline for the score? It’s not like Paul made an album without him, and apparently Paul put a pin in writing the score, at a critical juncture no less, to hang out with John when he got back from Spain. To the point George Martin had to come play dad, lol.
Both “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” received accolades, and I think most anyone in John’s place would have been at least a little jealous.
I agree that John was easily hurt and that Paul could be oblivious, but… is it necessary to diss Paul’s music?
John never dissed Yesterday or Eleanor Rigby. He’s on record saying he liked those songs (especially Rigby). He just got irritated when people thought he wrote Yesterday. I think it’s funny actually, and probably more of an irritant for Paul that everyone assumed John wrote it. Also, John and Paul both had their fingerprints in everything the other wrote. John came up with the title Yesterday, from what I understand. Or at least he suggested a one-word title for the song, as opposed to Scrambled Eggs. With a title like that, Paul must have been inspired to write the lyrics. Paul never won a Grammy as a solo artist. That tells you something. I don’t care about Grammy’s, myself. I doubt that John did.
@Laura- I also would add Let It Be to that list.
@Michelle, I actually meant no need for you to diss Paul’s music, not John. I was referring to comments on Michelle and Family Way. There have been some rude comments about John in this discussion, so I can see where you might have been irked.
@Laura, sorry for misreading that. And sorry for not acknowledging that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” We should all realize that liking certain songs is a matter of taste. Yes, Hello Goodbye was given the A-side. Doesn’t make I Am the Walrus a throwaway track.
@Michelle, I appreciate your nod to “two wrongs…” As for any misreading, I wasn’t clear.
Re John’s sensitivity… yeah he had that sometimes infuriating brand of sensitivity where HE’S allowed to say whatever cruel and unfair thing he wants at any given moment and then expect to be forgiven, meanwhile taking outsized offense at any real or perceived slight against himself and holding onto it FOR YEARS. I’m not terribly sympathetic to that, tbh.
This probably arose from childhood abandonment; Paul called it his armor. Hurt the ones you love before they can hurt you, so to speak. I can sympathize with people who have trauma in their background. Paul could take it because he didn’t have that.
I can easily sympathize with someone who lashes out due to trauma, or who has a persecution complex due to trauma. But when someone does both of those things, constantly, their entire life, sometimes in the same breath, with no apparent awareness of this insane double standard, my eye starts to get twitchy. And I’m not sure if “sensitive” is quite the right word for them.
Nicely said, @Annie M. John didn’t see Paul as weak — why else did he need to gather his gang to counter Paul, i.e., get Yoko and Ringo and George on his side? And even with all of them against him, Paul trumped them with his lawsuit, and additionally was proven right about Klein in the end. Also, he made way more hit records in the 70s. Sometimes I sympathize with John in this sense, that in their eternal partnership/competition, the points he scored were never quite enough to win the game they’d begun in the beginning, of being most successful as rock star. I always found it telling that John kind of excused himself from the “selling records” game and for a while took on the “artiste” and “activist” personas, changing the game into something he could conceivably win at. (I saw Michael G in another thread, maybe? recently say that John remade himself as an icon/Christ figure, which, yeah, he really did try, didn’t he?)
John freely admitted his jealousy, i.e., there’s Jealous Guy, right there. And the scribbling on the picture of Paul, writing a word-bubble above his head with “I’m always right?” There’s some bitterness and jealousy right there.
In another forum there was discussion of a paragraph in Tune In that clearly shows Mark Lewisohn’s bias — I’ll only share the last sentence here, because it’s apropos to the point I want to make. “Paul’s other strengths were his great talent, his burning ambition and his high self-regard … and when John felt them becoming overbearing he’d pull him down a peg or two, as only he could.”
Now bless ML’s heart (not really), he’s getting his digs in at Paul, which is par for the course. But what really bothers me is that he tries to paint John’s nasty jealousy and pisstaking as some kind of public service. I mean, why would someone feel the need to take their partner/friend down a peg or two? Because that someone is insecure and for some reason feels that makes them look better. Though apparently it works on people like ML? Anyway, I think of all the times John was asked by reporters about his wonderful songs Yesterday and Michelle and Eleanor Rigby, and things like the performance of Yesterday in Blackpool, where Paul sings and John shouts out loud to everyone that that was utter CRAP? Why would you do that to your bandmate and songwriting partner, when they score a win and you are sharing the glory? Because of insecurity and jealousy.
“Jealous Guy” being about Paul is pure conjecture. John never said it was about Paul. ‘Trying to catch your eyes’? Please…
Paul has said John told him Jealous Guy was about/for him. I’d love to know more about that conversation between them, honestly. Here’s one instance of Paul saying it; not sure if there are more (this is from Paul’s 1985 Playboy interview):
“It was a weird time. The people who were managing us were whispering in our ears and trying to turn us against each other and it became like a feuding family. In the end, I think John had some tough breaks. He used to say, ‘Everyone is on the McCartney bandwagon.’ He wrote ‘I’m Just A Jealous Guy’, and he said that the song was about me. So I think it was just some kind of jealousy. I had to try and forgive John because I sort of knew where he was coming from…”
Re-reading this, I do find it interesting that Paul is the one having to forgive John for being hurt and jealous. It places Paul in the position of knowing that any strike back at John is striking someone who’s already wounded. I think that’s a big part of his high-road approach to the slagging-off wars, which was respectable of him but put him at a disadvantage in the cock-rock press.
As for Britney being a better artist, er, no? But she was better at being younger and connected to the zeitgeist and at selling music in the 2000s, like the Beatles in the 60s and Paul in the 70s. If Paul and Britney were in a mutual competition, and the metric was number of songs sold in the 2000s, then Britney probably won. But I don’t think Paul would ever honestly compete with Britney, and he’d certainly win in longevity. Now, was there a competition between Paul and John for A-sides/hit records and radio play all through their partnership and even into the 70s? It seems a little more likely, given what others around them have said. In that case, since Wings is pretty much a huge part of the soundtrack of the 70s, then I’d say Paul was pretty successful.
I agree with those who said the interviewer should have followed up on Paul’s claim that John told him Jealous Guy was about him. I mean, to say that John wrote a love song to him – an apologetic love song – is quite a revelatory piece of information. ‘I was afraid you might not love me anymore’ – who says that to a friend/collaborator? He doesn’t say ‘you might not need me anymore’ he says ‘love me’. Paul turns it into an envy thing, maybe because he felt that was the only way to reveal the song was about him, without planting ideas in people’s heads. ‘Dreaming of the past, heart beating fast’, etc. does not scream envy of someone’s success. Donny Hathaway, who covered the song, must have read it as being the kind of jealousy/possessiveness we think of with romantic partners, as he adds at the end, “I don’t want nobody looking at you.” I agree with LeighAnn that the song might not be directed at anyone in particular, but a composite of people he’s hurt. I don’t think, however, that the fact it’s on the same album as How Do You Sleep is proof that it’s not about Paul. That’s how complex their relationship was. I just never saw where John stated who it was about. Probably not Yoko specifically, either.
@Michelle- Sometimes I feel the interviewers don’t really know what kind of questions to ask him or anyone who knew the Beatles. They can ask a million and one questions on why John and Paul hated each other, but barely any on them repairing their friendship. I don’t believe anyone has ever asked Richard Skinner about his comment on Paul and John planning to meet up in Dec, but pushing it back to Jan. To me, that would be something important to ask him about. I remember an interview Joe Hagan gave and he said that he was able to get a lot of info from Paul because he asked him questions that no one had bothered to ask him.
@Kir, this “people think John and Paul hated each other” meme is just CONSTANT among a certain type of internet-educated fan. Who in any position of authority thinks that? The Anthology doesn’t say that; Spitz et al don’t say that. Among the media, who is saying John and Paul HATED each other?
Sure, they had a terrible public dustup from May 1970 to 1972 or so, but even by 1974 they were back to seeing each other socially. There was a limit on their friendship until The Beatles were dissolved, but the moment that happened, they were positively chummy. Paul helped John and Yoko get back together; by 1975, there were tentative talks of them recording together down in New Orleans, until John got back with Yoko and decided to retire. And of course Paul was coming over to hang out with John in 1976, and there were plans to meet in 1980. That’s the story that I have heard consistently from the mid-70s, in the mainstream press and in the main biographies.
John slagged Paul in “Lennon Remembers”; Wenner was all too willing to jump on that bandwagon; and after 1980, people were heartbroken about John and thought Paul was a lightweight in comparison. These are all unfair opinions perhaps, but there was never a united media front on “John and Paul hating each other” as a standard reading of the Beatles or solo story. Yet I hear it all the time in these comments, usually with some anger. Who is saying “John and Paul weren’t friends” or “John and Paul hated each other”? They obviously were, and obviously loved each other; both man said so fairly constantly. They competed, compared, were jealous–as you would expect two friends in their situation to be.
Why do you think today’s fans labor under the misapprehension that animosity between J/P is a mainstream view? In the texts that make up the Standard Narrative, it’s not.
@Michael G- I shouldn’t have used the word hate. You’re correct, I haven’t seen any written material from them stating that they hated each other.
It’s kind of hard to explain why fans believe it’s considered mainstream, but I’ll try my best to explain it. I see it more with older male fans than with women and younger fans. From what I’ve seen, those who are around my age and younger tend to think there was more hatred on John’s side towards Paul. I think this stems from comments they made about each other and how their relationship has been depicted in movies and interviews, especially in Lennon Remembers. Also, when John died, May Pang talked about how Paul wouldn’t believe her when she stated that John loved him. One guy also said that Paul called and asked him what did John think of him.
Another example would be the interview with Paul and Linda in Nov 1980. The interviewer mentioned how John seemed resentful of him and Paul responded by saying that he tended not to say anything because every time he did, John would get upset about it. When it comes to Paul, I see his interview with Hunter Davies being brought up a lot. When I read it, it did seem as if he held some kind of resentment towards John. Since it wasn’t even supposed to be posted, it came across to others as being sneaky, especially after his “It’s a drag” comment.
These are just a few of the reasons why I believe people think these views are mainstream. Hopefully, I explained it well enough.
For me personally, I think they were best friends, but sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that. I say this because of something that John said that I think was inexcusable, in my opinion. In 1971, John wrote a reply to Richard Williams and asked him what was libel about saying Paul was camp. From the looks of it, his camp comment was cut out before they published his statement and he wanted to know why. They must have explained it to him, but no one can find the letter. We only have his response to it. I would expect something like this from a stranger, but not a best friend. Trying to out or start rumors about someone’s sexuality because you’re angry with them is very low. I believe the comment was aimed at his sexuality since Richard didn’t want to risk a potential lawsuit and I can’t think of any other reason as to why they would consider his comment to be defamatory and refuse to publish it. Not to mention we’re talking about the 70s in the United States and I can’t see Paul being able to walk away from that one unscathed. Maybe there’s more to it, but that’s my takeaway from the situation. I know they were fighting with each other during this time, but there are just some lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
I’m just happy that they were able to become friends again before John’s untimely death.
Thank you, @Kir.
I suspect that much of the discourse on The Beatles in message boards comes from fans who are using some aspect of the band/its members/its story to define themselves. There is a level of mono-focus on one aspect, and an emotional attachment to it, that is peculiar given the fact that these were all strangers living 50 years ago.
I could see John saying Paul was camp, in 1971, without it being a comment on Paul’s sexuality. Judy Garland is and was camp, but that doesn’t mean she was lesbian. I could also see him being advised not to say it, given precedent like Liberace. Sontag’s essay “On Camp” is worth a read if you’re interested in the culture of that time.
@Michael Gerber When ever I read fans dissecting, or I partake myself in discussions, about who hated who or who was the best Beatle or Beatle vs Beatle I always get this fleeting image that John and George lived to be as old as Ringo/Paul that the four of them would all be sitting around reminiscing about the good old days and marvelling people still intensely care about them 50 years later. Sort of like “While you guys (internet social media the universe) figure it all out come meet us all at the pub and let us know the answer!”
It’s a testament to their talent and impact that they become so much bigger then the sum of their parts to the world, culture, fans etc that they still inspire so much passion even with younger fans.
But I truly think in terms of their personal relationships, had John and George not died, things like song writing credits or who was the leader or the best Beatle or old grievances would not have matter to 80 year old John or 78 year old George anymore. Certainly not as much as it matter to the fans.
Paul and George has a beautiful relationship before he died. The story of Paul holding his hand and letting him die at his home so the press wouldn’t know is incredibly touching. And Paul and Ringo have a great friendship now.
It’s just John died before he truly reached the mellowed out with age phase where you realise your to old and tired to have the same hangs ups you had as a young man.
I think this is right.
I also think that the conflict-generator that is social media has a lot to do with this. 99% of the people who love The Beatles wouldn’t spend a moment debating who had the higher IQ, John or Paul. I find it rather depressing, an example of how time online breaks your brain.
@Michael G- I think that’s it as well. They want to live vicariously through them and they try to shape them to fit their own personalities.
Thanks! I’ll check the essay out. I looked up Liberace and I can see why Richard wouldn’t have wanted John’s comment out there. Since Paul and John both used Melody Maker to make statements, he probably didn’t want to be stuck in the middle if things took a turn for the worst. The risk was just too great for him, even if John didn’t mean it that way.
@Kir, can you link to this incident? I’d like to read more about it.
@Michael… Dictionary definitions of ‘camp’ have included this one: “banality, mediocrity, artifice, ostentation, etc. so extreme as to amuse or have a perversely sophisticated appeal”.
Isn’t it sort of poignant how this definition seems to apply to both “Some Time In New York City” AND “Give My Regards to Broad Street”? It’s almost like… like… they… were more alike than different! (Good God.)
@Velvet Hand, I think a lot of early 70s “the Revolution is nigh” activism could rightly be called camp. In the same way that totalitarian art (whether right or left) has an element of camp. So STINYC definitely qualifies; I’ve never seen “Broad Street” so I can’t comment on that. It seemed painfully misguided at the time, a project ten years in the making that shouldn’t have been made.
@Michael G- Here’s the link. The note is at the bottom of the page.
Fascinating, thank you!
In light of Liberace v. Daily Mirror, I think the lawyers were right on this; the case seems directly analogous (Michael B., what do you think?). And I think John was intentionally calling Paul’s masculinity into question, his “pretty face.”
Just btw, I don’t think I agree with the esteemed @amoralto (who surely, surely knows more about The Beatles than I do) that were we to read personal letters between John and Paul ca. 1971 that they would be less filled with vitriol. I think @amoralto is right in that the MM back-and-forth was conducted with the public front-of-mind; they surely do not reflect the totality of John’s or Paul’s opinions of the other. But having been myself in successful creative and business partnerships with strong personalities, I don’t think we should assume that the rancor was mostly, or even in part, a put-on. I think it was genuine, from both men. I actually think it was probably necessary.
John and Paul had been through a LOT together and separately by 1971; and they were zero-sum adversaries, in court and commercially. At that time, for lots of understandable reasons, they saw each other as adversaries. Each was the only person in their industry–Dylan included–who they could consider a peer. And their relationship had changed from close, intimate collaboration to (apparently) disdain, at least on Lennon’s part. (Interesting to note that Paul never criticizes John’s music in the same way; he might say that John and Yoko were know-it-allish, but whereas John directly attacks Paul’s stuff, Paul doesn’t do the same.) Also–and this is something I talk about endlessly on this blog, because fans just don’t pay enough attention to it–these guys were absolute thoroughbreds who loved to do what they did, and did it exquisitely well. You don’t get that way–you don’t win any races–without being massively confident, massively competitive, and utterly convinced of your own artistic approach. So when John is vicious towards Paul, it’s real. And when Paul needles John from behind his “Mr. Nice Guy” image, that’s real, too.
Great success in a popular art requires–and rewards–a certain kind of personal overbearingness; if someone from The Onion starts talking to me about how to write parody, I smile, knowing that I’ve sold more books, and believing (wrongly) that my personal talent and “artistic correctness” is the reason why. John, ca. 1971, believes he is artistically correct; he absolutely believes that he’s a genius, that he was the engine of The Beatles’ success, that Paul was just a pretty face producing pop treacle, and so forth. He HAS to believe all that to go forward with confidence, especially in light of his earlier success. And Paul, conversely, needs to feel that John and Yoko are kooks who took their lucky break and broke it in two, if he is to go forward with confidence. For them to become friends again, John and Paul would first have to realize that the 70s were not the 60s, solo life was going to be a lesser level of success, and their court battles had to be settled. And as soon as that all happened–by about 1974 or so–they’re friendly again.
Re. Broad Street: Haven’t seen the movie myself either, I’m sorry to say, but have heard the LP.
In interviews at the time, did Paul comment on why he’d felt the need to re-record some of his greatest Beatles songs AND credit them to ‘McCartney-Lennon’ there just a few years after John died?
In any case, I feel that GMRtBS the album has its fair share of banal/mediocre moments, plus a lot of unnecessary artifice/ostentation (that 7-minute orchestral ‘coda’ to Eleanor Rigby! That gatefold sleeve with pics from the film where Paul and the band are dressed as Venusians… or was it Victorians?).
But is it camper than ‘The Luck of the Irish’ and ‘Angela’? Maybe not!
I’ve seen the movie and can confirm that it’s bad. “Broad Street,” both album and film, feel to me like a combo of midlife crisis and acting out about the ego blows McCartney sustained at the height of John’s lionization in the 1980s. A great example of the kind of thing that happens when no one around you can tell you “no, this is a bad idea” and get through.
I do have affection for “No More Lonely Nights,” however. Nice covers of that song by the Airborne Toxic Event, the Merrymakers, and John Pizzarelli. I’ll see myself out . . . .
@Michael G- That’s an interesting point you made about them viewing each other negatively in order to maintain their own confidence. I’ve never thought of it like that, but I can see it.
Thank you Nancy 🙂
I agree that ‘No More Lonely Nights’ is a pulchritudinous tune (in fact the way Paul sings the accapella opening can make me tear up). That only applies to the ‘ballad’ version though – the other one at the end of the record is a bit too “ha! You liked that nice love song earlier? Here’s a misconceived ‘dance’ remake to make you forget all about that” for me. Much of the rest of the album displays a similar attitude – “been fond of ‘Yesterday’ for 20 years? Have this pointless rehash!”
Britney Spears had way more hit records than Paul in the ’90s and 2000s. Is she the better artist, in your opinion?
Funnily enough @Michelle, it’s the ‘trying to catch your eye’ line that makes the *strongest* case for me that the song is to Paul. It makes me think of the way they would make brief eye contact for reassurance across the mic or when in the spotlight – when that line of mutually understood, unconditional support and communication faltered, that was when the ‘jealousy’ started. If we’re to believe the popular wisdom that something irreversibly damaging went down between John and Paul in India, I think its significant that the song is a reworked ‘India song’ (Child of Nature). That’s just a personal feeling on my part though.
First, nobody talked about being the “better artist” – whatever that means – but only being more successful, and that’s undisputable: Paul in the 70s was more successful than the other three ex-Beatles put together. Second, are you really comparing the 90s and 2000s music scene to the 70s’ one? It doesn’t make any sense…
Paul has said in an interview in the 80s that John told him Jelous Guy was about him. It was a one-time thing and nobody ever asked him again, so I guess you can either believe Paul or not. But there are many other quotes from both John and Paul (and even Yoko) that confirm that John felt threatened by Paul’s success, so I don’t know why you are trying to deny it.
Better artist, to me, means longevity (of the music, not the artist), how much that artist influences others’ work, etc.
@BenS – that’s an interesting take. If John was feeling jealous, it wasn’t over “Yesterday” being played over the loudspeakers at the ashram. If Jealous Guy is about Paul, it has nothing to do with music sales or A-sides.
@Kristy- I agree. While I do think John loved Paul, he was definitely jealous of him. I guess you can say he had a love/hate relationship with him. I remember Eric Griffiths stated that John had mentioned that they should create another group without Paul. Eric said John stated this because he thought Paul would upset the band’s dynamics. I believe John even said as much in Lennon Remembers. He wasn’t sure if he wanted Paul in the group for that reason. I think John tried his best to overcome it and was really happy that Paul chose to team up with him.
@Michelle- People say that Jealous Guy was written for Paul, because Paul said it was in his Playgirl interview. They probably wrote a lot of songs for each other that we don’t know about. Alice Cooper also said they fought each other by writing songs. He mentioned that Instant Karma was one of them.
“I was trying to catch your eye- thought that you was trying to hide”
“I was feeling insecure you might not love me anymore”
“I didn’t mean to make you cry”
Lines like that just don’t seem to apply to Paul and Johns relationship at the time and especially given it was on the same record as How do you sleep?
I think it gives Paul comfort to have some connection to Jealous Guy and I don’t begrudge that of him since he was the one who lost on of his mates and a significant partner and presence in his life.
And I don’t dismiss entirely that Jealous Guy might have some reflection on his relationship with Paul.
I have always interpreted it more as a big mea culpa on Johns personal flaws in general then specifically addressed to any one person.
@LeighAnn- I see what you’re saying. I can also see it being about his own flaws. I’m not sure how the first quote would fit them, but I can see it with the second and third quotes. “I was feeling insecure you might not love me anymore” could be John talking about how he thought Paul wouldn’t want to continue the partnership if he found something or someone else to take his place. The “I didn’t mean to make you cry” could be talking about how devastated Paul was when John said he wanted a divorce. Mal Evans said that he took Paul home and he cried his eyes out. I’m pretty sure word would’ve gotten back to John about this.
What makes me think this song was for Paul is him saying, not that he believed it was, but that John said it was. That’s a big claim for him to make if he wasn’t sure. He may have proof of it, but might not want to share it. I wish someone would ask him about this. I know their relationship was very rocky around this time, but I believe they were probably still talking to each other during the early 70s. I say this because of John’s comments in his interview with Mike Douglas in 1972.
‘I always found it telling that John kind of excused himself from the “selling records” game.’
I think John lost his competitiveness around the time of his LSD-driven ego death. It happens to people in all fields. I don’t think he cared to be in the rat race anymore. He grew tired of “writing little ditties to order” which he already proved quite capable of doing. I don’t think it’s because he was a lesser talent or because he was discouraged by Paul.
I honestly think the whole John is jealous thing is over blown.
A lot of the harsher things John said were in the aftermath of the break up when feeling were at their rawest and they were going through legal, financial and personal upheaval.
It was certainly not how he felt at the end. In some of his last interviews he talked more warmly of the Beatles and of Paul. When he did that breakdown of the Beatles tracks he largely gave credit to Paul where it was due, when asked in an interview about which Beatles song would have the most lasting impact he picked Hey Jude (which spot on Lennon) and when he performed with Elton he picked a song Paul wrote and publicly acknowledged it as Paul’s over performing one of his own Beatles hits or Imagine like Elton requested. He also seemed quite proud in his last interviews when he talked about choosing Paul as his partner – despite knowing it meant giving up his leader of the band position.
He mellowed and likely would have kept mellowing had he lived. Phillip Norman said in an interview that one of the things he learnt after doing a biography on both John and Paul was the common element he discovered they shared was an ability to be profoundly hurt by the other for the slightest of slights and an insecurity and dissatisfaction in their own work that kept them striving to do better.
The wild card though is interestingly since streaming came into play George Harrison songs both in the Beatles and as a solo artist reportedly out-stream other Beatles hits and Paul and Johns solo hits in respective categories. He’s also reportedly considered the more popular talented Beatle with millennials and GenY crowd. So in 10-20 years who knows how accepted narratives will change?
@Michelle, good point. They are great songs. I meant John’s post-Beatles songs, which I didn’t make clear, sorry, but which I believe John himself was quite specific about, and which made them less open to wider interpretation than perhaps Paul’s songs.
Fair enough. To me, ambiguity is not a requirement or indicative of good lyrics. Good imagery is enough to suffice. Stuff like “absolute elsewhere in the stones of your mind” and “millions of mind guerillas/putting their soul power to the karmic wheel” doesn’t sound like something people would say in everyday conversation.
@Michelle. Yes, Paul was critical of how Jamaican and Pakistani immigrants were treated in Britain, actually. And even earlier than 1966 too. But I guess if you didn’t live there you wouldn’t know that. By the way, are you aware of the association between Enoch Powell and Get Back?
@Lara, does it have to do with the original lyric of Get Back: “Meanwhile back at home, too many Pakistanis living in a council flat”? Forgot about that, kudos to Paul and thanks for pointing that out.
@Michelle. My comments were meant to follow on from Hologram Sam’s comments on Louis Armstrong within the context of what was being discussed. The direct reply didn’t work for some reason. No, it wasn’t ignored at the time. Everything that John said in that interview was razed over with a fine tooth comb, which is precisely why the attempts to humiliate him had a negative psychological effect on him in my opinion. It hardly caused a ripple in the UK. Most people had no problem with what John said.
@Michael, I realise there was a fundamental shift in pop culture. I was there. And I knew all about the marketing to ‘my generation’ and packaging and new and different artists, and all the other elephants in the room. I said it was difficult for me to explain. Best to agree to disagree about how you want to apply your terms to John and Paul.
I feel that your last reply to Michael was quite snippy. In fact, you have been quite snippy and defensive throughout this thread. You certainly have a right to express your opinion, but you seem to take things personally, and I feel you are being disrespectful.
This isn’t politics; it’s Beatles. It’s supposed to be fun, not a battle of whose right or wrong.
If you want to fixate on Jane Asher, fine, but just because others don’t, doesn’t mean we are
@Tasmin, snippiness works both ways. Fixation? A strange word to use in a blog about the Beatles.
Appropriate for one where people think about the Beatles a little too much.
@Jesse. That’s not the list I was referring to. I think I read it in Mojo or Uncut or one of the other British music magazines.
A reminder to everyone that these comments are about meant to be about the exchange of perspectives and that respectful conversation is our goal. “Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend” has never seemed truer to me. We can disagree, and we can disagree strongly, while being civil to one another.
Speaking personally, I’ve become aware of just how worn down I feel from the last year. I value this blog as a means of exploration and connection, and I’d really like for everyone of good will to feel welcome here. If we can all do our best, when writing comments, to imagine that we are speaking face to face to the other person, that might help us create a stronger community.
May I say a few words here. I do appreciate that this is your blog and the hard work that goes in to maintaining it. I see too that readers are encouraged to participate in mature discourse as befits adults.
But please, nobody likes to feel almost bullied out of their views because they contradict or challenge the narrative of modern fandom, irrespective of what is under discussion. I think anyone would be surprised to have their opinions refuted with such intensity as I have found here. Is it really that important? To be accused of fanaticism by self-appointed police officers is not helpful. We all know that millions of words have been expressed in attempting to explain the Beatles story up until April 1970. Because some of us do not wish to minimize or diminish major players in that story, and in doing so, met with sarcasm and ridicule only diminishes the Beatles themselves in my opinion. The story happened and we can’t make it unhappen. It’s what made it enjoyable and interesting. And as for the songs – let’s face it. Both John and Paul had said themselves at various points: “they’re just bloody songs”.
Lara, speaking for myself, it’s not my intent to bully you or anyone else out of their opinions. And I agree with you that Jane Asher doesn’t consistently get the attention she deserves in the Beatles story — I think that’s true of the women in the story in general, and one of the reasons I dislike a lot of the “McLennon” narrative.
There are going to be different judgments about how much weight to assign different aspects of the story, and that’s where I think we are with the interpretation of “Hey Jude.” I agree that McCartney’s breakup with Jane Asher is part of the song, but I think the song draws on and expresses more than that relationship. McCartney’s own account, early on, of the genesis of the song bears out the importance of Julian Lennon’s situation to the story, and the fact that the Beatles were headed to a breakup factors in as well.
You have every right to maintain your own opinion, others have the right to maintain theirs, and we all need to speak respectfully to one another. And you’re right to point out that in the end “they’re just bloody songs” and not worth any of us getting in a wrestling match about.
@Nancy ” I think that’s true of the women in the story in general, and one of the reasons I dislike a lot of the “McLennon” narrative.” Yes! I absolutely agree, and there is the same thing in a lot of fanfiction, not necesserily having to do with the Beatles: “Just kick those women out and let us fantasize of these guys together”. That may be fine and I personally find the image of John and Paul as lovers very appealing sensually (although I would never take it too seriously and would never try to convince myself that what I imagine is even remotely close to the facts or truth) , but in all those “McLennons” and similar stories in other fandoms there is sometimes a weird and very unpleasant streak of misogyny, which I really don’t like. And it usually comes from women (at least in the fanfiction world) which makes it even more unpleasant.
I’ve found that narratives that show John in a negative light are worthy of discussion on here, and the rest are not. If an old, accepted narrative fits their opinions it can’t be debunked. I didn’t think you were snippy at all, rather that others were being condescending. Linda was a wonderful lady, but she has attained the mythical status that everyone is trying to reverse when it comes to John, who actually attained legendary status during his lifetime.
Michelle, would you consider writing a guest post? Serious offer.
“But please, nobody likes to feel almost bullied out of their views because they contradict or challenge the narrative of modern fandom, irrespective of what is under discussion.”
I decided to say something to you because I feel that was exactly what you were doing!
You have very strong views and you challenged those who disagreed with you. That’s fine, but not when it gets disrespectful.
I don’t have a concrete “narrative” of what happened with the Beatles. I love this blog because it challenges the so-called narratives.
I agree with Nancy, that we should try and be respectful to one another. I too am worn down. As Ringo says, “Peace and Love” to all.
@Tasmin, consider your use of the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘we’. We all may strongly disagree on matters, myself included, I accept that, but I believe people should speak for themselves, not others. Nobody likes a mob mentality and I’m sure you don’t either. Links to other sources of information are very useful. But to get to the point where one actually receives links to what’s been discussed may also feel like an attempt to prove or imply untruthfulness on behalf of that person. It may be unintentional, I understand that, but in my opinion it is more polite to request a source. Nancy, this is not about Jane Asher. Perhaps I should have made myself more clear. She tends to be more involved in discussions involving either Paul alone, or both John and Paul. And I think we all know what we mean by that. This particular thread is about Paul’s lyrics and I would expect her name to arise. It is also about Cynthia Lennon. It’s about all of them, but I’ve noticed George and Ringo do not tend to be discussed in detail in this blog. If certain interpretations of McCartney’s song, Hey Jude, for example, are to be made, then consider the gross insensitivity displayed towards Cynthia by some Beatle fans. I’m not prepared to go any further with that one.
@Laura & Lara,
I’ve been looking for where I found Paul saying “Hey Jude” was about himself and Linda.
In “Many Years From Now”, Barry Miles writes about Johns thinking it was about him and Yoko, and includes Johns quotes in Playboy. Then Miles writes, “This is an attractive reading of the lyrics even though Paul had disagreed and said that the song was more about himself”. He was thinking of Johns divorce, and all the changes in their lives.
Somewhere I must have inserted Linda in there, as she was around then. I apologize, I swore I read that, but my memory is not what it used to be!
I am not sure if this is one of the references you recall in which Paul said Hey Jude was about him, but it seems to be taken by some known Beatles commentors as valid. Here, starting at the 2:03.30 mark and for just a couple of minutes, Robert Rodriguez from SATB mentions Paul saying it was about him.
@Tasmin, no worries – I suffer from the same “where did I read that / when did I read that / did I read that? syndrome.
The school test referred to was the Eleven Plus exam taken by British children to decide what secondary school education suited them scholastically i.e. grammar schools (John, Paul and George) or secondary moderns (Ringo) as they were known then. The exam itself was made up of IQ type questions and questions testing academic skills and knowledge acquired by the child to that point. For streaming purposes the ceiling score was set at 140. John and George, and possibly Ringo, would probably have been eleven or nearly eleven, at the time of sitting; Paul, ten. George’s score was 117 and Paul’s 137 but John and Ringo’s 11+ scores are not known. The IQ test taken by John at sixteen doesn’t seem to be substantiated anywhere, as there appears to be no source for some reason. I’m not sure why he would need to be tested at that age, or what test was used, the Stanford-Binnet or the Wechsler, or others, all of which vary in their statistical scoring. The adult IQ test is taken from 17 years onwards. The 11+ has always been controversial though. Some counties in the UK still use it but others have discarded it because of the cultural, social, and class inequities perceived. And in the cases of poor child health, which Ringo suffered from.
I don’t know if others here have read the biography on McCartney by Chris Salewicz, but it’s an interesting read on Paul’s years at the Liverpool Institute. Peter Sissons, who went on to become a top broadcaster at the BBC, was in the same class as Paul and described him as phenomenally bright. Paul was asked to do his O levels in Latin and Spanish a year early but likely factors such as the death of his mother, rock and roll, and other teenage stuff got in the way. He was quietly rebellious in his own way; when asked to do an essay on Stephen Spender, Paul turned in an essay on the history of the Bodley Head publishing company. Paul said himself in the official Davies’ biography that when he found out what his dad expected of him, he deliberately stopped himself from doing well. Why, I don’t know. Who knows, fear of failure? I think he had as many self-doubts as John, but he’s more of a stoic, rather than having innate resilience in my opinion. Yet all of this stuff about Paul tends to be underplayed in Beatles lore, whereas John’s school life and behavior has been well scrutinized. Paul was awarded prizes in art, work regarded to be highly creative and idiosyncratic by his teachers. His love of Chaucer possibly influenced his later lyrics. Salewicz also seemed to be much more sympathetic than other biographers on the trauma of Mary’s death on Paul. I don’t buy the idea that John was smarter than Paul, or vice versa, as I believe intelligence is more complex than that. Nevertheless, @Elizabeth John would have scored much higher than George in the 11+, with due respects to George, and more likely to range 135-140 I’d say. On the other hand, if John’s score was so exceptional I think Mimi would have been seriously pressured to send John to the Liverpool Institute, where perhaps he may have been more challenged. I don’t buy either Mimi’s reasons for not sending him there. Or that Ivan Vaughan’s parents sent him to the Inny because of John. Ivan was a brilliant boy who excelled in the classics. The Institute was considered so prestigious, that wealthy Liverpool families paid for their sons to attend, as Salewicz pointed out. John was certainly more articulate and outspoken, he appeared less naive than the others, but I think it shouldn’t be forgotten that John had the advantage of a middle class upbringing as well. I’ve found no evidence myself that John was tested at 16 and scored 165. Einstein’s IQ was never tested, ditto Leonardo da Vinci, Churchill, and others. They are myths, they’ve been debunked, speculations only, using methods of IQ testing at its most rudimentary stage. I suspect somebody has tried to do the same thing with Lennon. But it’s without doubt they were highly gifted and intelligent people. It’s true that highly intelligent people aren’t always successful in life, due to certain circumstances, but success is also down to hard work and motivation, plus intelligence. What do they say? Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% sweat? That could be another myth though. As far as John and Paul’s schooling were concerned, their birth months may have been a factor. A June birthday would have meant Paul would have been one of the youngest in his class; an October birthday would have meant John would be one of the oldest in his class. That may have been part of his problem: that the curriculum just wasn’t challenging enough for his chronological or mental age. And John sure as heck would have been better off without Pete Shotten at his side.
@ Lara- I think biographers tend to undermine Paul’s childhood accomplishments because it shows that a lot of what they previously said and wrote about him was incorrect. He’s not this shallow, cunning, and vain man that they want him to be. They probably think that only one of them could be brilliant and deep, but that’s not the case at all. Both of them were very intelligent and insightful in their own ways.
I think they’re trying to emphasize the difference between two rather similar characters, John and Paul. What began as journalistic shorthand perhaps hardened into a public image that was not fair to either man.
@Lara: “What do they say? Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% sweat?”
You’re right about John’s difficulty in articulating what he wanted in the studio…Martin talked about how he was perhaps the most impractical man that he’s known, Geoff Emrick remarked about how difficult it was for him and the other techs to understand what Lennon wanted. John Lennon himself remarked about how he functioned in the studio by saying things like “Can we take this song and Be Bop A Lula-it a bit?” granted in that example a producer would probably know what he wants but in other situations what he wanted could be a great challenge to decipher
I think George Martin said in regards to John in the studio that nothing produced in the studio was ever as beautiful as how it sounded or John imagined it in his head.
I think it’s a mixture of John lacking the technical skills to articulate what he wanted, plus the fact that the Beatles were trying to push music to places it had never been before and had ideas that sometimes the studios weren’t traditionally equipped for, with an added element of Johns insecurity and dissatisfaction.
When you listen to songs like Strawberry Fields or Tomorrow Never Knows or Benefit of Mr Kite or A Day in the Life I can imagine songs like that would have been difficult for the studio crew to see the vision the Beatles were seeing at first when it was something that had never really been done before in that setting.
when he found out what his dad expected of him, he deliberately stopped himself from doing well. Why, I don’t know. Who knows, fear of failure?
I find this aspect of Paul fascinating and wish Davies had followed up and asked why, whether he did this in other subjects, etc. I think I remember Paul once saying that it wasn’t cool to be too much of a “college pudding” and I assume Latin was the puddingest subject of all so maybe it was just that. Or maybe it was that he didn’t want to take on another expectation of success (having already proven himself gifted in the main subjects; Latin was kinda “optional” so I can understand why he might be like “no thanks, I’ve got enough on my plate here”). Or maybe he was acting out some buried resentments against his father.
I agree the Salewicz bio has a lot of really interesting info on Paul’s childhood and adolescence that, frustratingly, doesn’t find its way much into other texts. Paul’s childhood achievements and the expectations teachers had of him are so important to understanding the Jim v John dynamic, and Paul’s unrelenting drive to make the band succeed. He risked more than the others in letting music eclipse his schoolwork, so he had an added incentive to “make good.”
All this talk about intelligence tests and such, made me think of the EQ; Emotional Quotient.
“Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.”
That’s probably another reason John struggled, as his childhood trauma resulted in him having a low EQ.
I think someone wrote about EQ here in the past.
Beatle-era Paul has very high levels of EQ…not uncommon for someone who grew up mollifying difficult people/keeping everybody together, up and positive.
Sometimes I really agree with this @Michael but then I remember he apparently didn’t realize when he was being overbearing and stepping on other people’s egos.
Maybe Paul’s usual diplomacy/self-control work against him sometimes, like… people assume if he is acting hurtfully he *must* be doing it on purpose.
@Annie M., if you take Paul’s life in the aggregate, he’s very socially adroit and effective.
We must remember that when Paul was thought to be “overbearing” within the group, he was doing a lot for at least two increasingly checked-out bandmates in Lennon and Harrison. He was also sometimes taking cocaine, which reportedly does exactly that. And also, the people who were reporting that Paul was “overbearing” were themselves possessed of TITANIC egos. When the John Lennon of 1970 calls Paul “a control freak,” I take that with a huge grain of salt.
Paul’s navigated the Beatles experience the best of the four, and that has called for a lot of a certain kind of hard-to-define but definitely there emotional/social intelligence.
Also: he kept the group functioning and productive for around 18 months, during which they recorded two of their most important albums, and that was a management coup impossible to duplicate.
I agree with your view of Paul in aggregate.
That said, John and George aren’t the only ones who complain of him being overbearing and impatient to the point of insensitivity — far from it! And George didnt just say “eh, bossy”; he said “Paul ruined me as a guitarist” which yes is manifestly hyperbolic, but those hurt feelings were genuine and deep I think.
Of course someone can have a high EQ nevertheless peppered through with blind spots — just as we can scratch our heads over how such a smart guy could make some of the more spectacularly stupid decisions John made.
Again, I think maybe Paul’s emptional blunders seem so glaring because they are in contrast with his overall pattern of tact and sheer emotional *control*. “I’ve literally seen Paul not bat an eye at having a sugar bowl poured on his head, so if he snipes at me for flubbing a take it must be On Purpose with Malice Aforethought.” Heck, I think fans and writers fall into this trap. Sometimes Paul just puts his foot in his mouth, nothing to do with sneaky ulterior PR motives.
Of course, another thing we have to keep in mind is that, after treating Paul so badly during the breakup, John and George were sort of stuck with a need to publicly justify that treatment, and a good way to do that was to portray Paul as so insufferable that he *deserved* it. I’m not saying there wasn’t a lot of truth, especially emotional truth and especially George’s case, in what they said. But as always it’s worth keeping image pressure in mind.
@Annie M., in this regard I think of Prince. Paul McCartney is a Prince-level musical genius; his comfort with melody, his facility with instruments, his immediate grasp of the studio AS an instrument. His obsession with making music.
So when we hear John or George or anybody else call Paul “overbearing,” we also have to remember that Paul’s spending his time in a band with guys who–while geniuses–are not MUSICAL geniuses. That has to cause a lot of friction, especially after Paul’s reached his full flood after Revolver. (And starts dabbling in cocaine. That’s part of this, too.)
In 1968, during the White Album sessions, Paul called up Bill Evans, the jazz pianist whose trio was playing Ronnie Scott’s. The Trio came over to Abbey Road and they jammed a bit, which is now being released as an album. No other Beatle would’ve thought to do this, nor did any other Beatle have anything like the understanding of, and facility with, music to be able to keep up with topflight jazz musicians like Evans, DeJohnette and Gomez. Yes, John, Paul, and George were all musicians, but Paul’s a totally different kind of talent than those other two.
Now, 99.9999% of the people reading this blog are much closer to John, George, or Ringo–people who could probably, under the right circumstances, create some really wonderful music. But we are not like Paul or Prince or Brian Wilson or Stevie Wonder…all of whom eventually left their old bands and became solo acts, because whether you’re working with John Lennon or Wendy Melvoin or (horrors) Mike Love, it gets super-frustrating to constantly have to be explaining, directing, compromising over what you hear in your head. I can’t blame those guys–even if I prefer The Beatles to Paul’s solo work, or The Revolution to every Prince album but Sign O’ The Times.
I’m sure it was unpleasant for George to work with Paul after 1966 or so, but in Paul’s defense, George stops being interested in making Beatle music. He gets interested in Hindu mysticism; John gets interested in Yoko; but Paul is still the same guy he was in 1964 in that he lives to make music. This is why it’s so unfair for Lennon to talk about being a sideman for Paul; it’s not Paul’s fault that John got bored, and it’s not Paul’s fault John grew insecure. Paul was surely insecure about areas where John was more gifted.
Far from being a monster, I think Paul was actually very good at dealing with the frustrations that he must’ve felt every time he went into the studio. Do I think he always acted nicely? No. But all things considered, I think he showed high EQ even there.
Paul didn’t leave the Beatles. And John did his own directing and explaining in the studio; he just had a harder time articulating what was in his head. He would paint pictures of what he wanted rather than use technical jargon. Must have been more frustrating for him than Paul.
I don’t get the “musical genius” label for Prince. I mean, I’m not a musicologist or anything. All I know is Little Red Corvette is about the only song I like from him as far as melody is concerned. I don’t even want to know what Brian Wilson did solo. I think John was a musical genius.
@Michael Gerber, that session sounded intriguing, but it apperas to be a hoax. The only publicity for it is a review on a jazz music site dated April 1, 2021. And the record label given for the release is called April First Records.
Oh no! Say it ain’t so! 🙂
LOL, well there goes that theory. Paul didn’t think to do it either, it turns out. John didn’t have an understanding of music? He had incredible discernment and understanding when it came to music. I think it was during his guest DJ spot in 1974 when he explained how ELO’s “Showdown” is a combination of “Lightning Strikes Again” by Lou Christie and “I Heard It Through The Grape Vine” by Marvin Gaye. He knew what he was talking about. There are plenty of other examples. Just as John wouldn’t have given Paul the time of day if he were “rubbish”, Paul wouldn’t have been drawn to John if he didn’t know anything about music. George and Ringo understood music as well. What a weird statement.
@Michelle, it seems like you’re often fighting an argument that wasn’t made, which must be a bit disheartening. In this instance, no-one said John knew nothing about, or didn’t understand, music. It’s just that they’re different kinds of talents – understanding that one song combines elements of a couple of others is very different to hearing entire orchestral arrangements in your head, seeing them in blocks of colour and then – without any formal training – being able to sing them to classical musicians or enter them into a computer in order to get them scored.
That IS different. And, as Michael says, a far less common talent than the ones John, George and Ringo possessed, and so likely to cause friction in a band. If the story that Michael was talking about was just an April Fool’s thing, the point still stands. Paul always looked for ways to make more music, he sought people out and found ways to create music with them, and he is a multi-instrumentalist who seems to be able to adapt to whoever he’s playing with, regardless of the instrument he’s picked up or the type of music he’s playing. He also experiments effortlessly with form and genre, he learns anything new almost instantly and I’m almost certain he has absolute pitch, although I can’t find any definitive answer on that! None of those things are true of John, no matter how great he was.
It’s something I was talking about with Annie a bit further up, but because of how uncommon his particular talent is, it means that Paul’s “genius” is never adequately explained when people write about him. You need someone who also has his sort of musical brain to write a book and tell us about it all to truly understand how rare and strangely magical-seeming someone with Paul’s (or Prince’s – great comparison) kind of talent is.
Not liking Prince’s music except Little Red Corvette is about our preferences really, not his ability – he was and is commonly recognised as a musical genius, regardless of whether we like his music. Paul is one too. In my firm opinion, John wasn’t, despite a real talent and passion for music, and his amazing voice. Acknowledging Paul’s incredible talent as a musician doesn’t diminish John in my mind, because his “genius” just lay elsewhere. I’m quite glad of that, because I think otherwise the Beatles would have been a very different and far less accessible band, if they existed at all.
@Nikki, thank you for saying all this because it was something I was too disheartened to address. You have no idea how frustrating it is after starting this blog, writing hundreds of posts and thousands of comments, to have someone characterize my opinion as “John Lennon had no musical talent.” As a professional communicator it made me despair at the possibility of communication.
John and Paul were basically mirror-versions of each other in an interesting way. John was a very good musician and an excellent singer; but more than that, John was a genius — GENIUS — at communicating via mass-media. He could transmit his personal inner thoughts in a way that forged an intimate connection between himself and the individual audience member. Because of the time and place he was born, he used pop music.
Paul, on the other hand, is a very good communicator and an excellent singer; but a GENIUS musician. He would’ve been a pop musician regardless of time and place.
What Lennon fans react to about Lennon’s work isn’t usually the melody or the gorgeousness of the arrangement or the sonic world that is created (except when Lennon’s songs are joint efforts between him and Paul and George Martin, all using the studio-as-instrument; and even then, there’s a kind of impatience from John, a “you guys figure it out”).
What McCartney fans react to about McCartney’s work isn’t the raw emotional honestly/personal connection. It is the music. (PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT “HERE TODAY”, COMMENTERS. There’s a lot going on with that song, given the precise time it was released and as such it’s different from what John did.)
This is why they were such good complimentary pieces to each other, and why it’s utterly foolish to try to say one is “better” or “smarter” than the other.
John will always be more comprehensible to writers because they, like John, deal in communication. The best ones, like John, have the gift of writing something personal that goes out over the wires to the world and somehow feels personal to individual strangers.
Paul will always get a bit of raw deal because what he does is non-verbal, and cannot be captured easily via words or images. And anybody who truly understands Paul’s gift via their own experience is, like Paul, a musician first. Have you ever read writing by Stevie Wonder or Prince? Have you ever listened to Brian Wilson talk? They are not going to be able to explain.
So I think it’s necessary, and probably even important, to keep this in mind when talking about John, and Paul, and JohnandPaul.
Lennon is a strange case regarding intelligence…you wouldn’t figure someone as smart as him would be as naive, trusting, susceptible to fads/schemes etc as he was. What I always keep in mind is that Johns life was chaotic start to finish. Paul had a tragedy, George had stability, Ringo dealt with illness…but the 3 of them knew they were loved, wanted, protected, supported and had normalcy. They understood that they came from run of the mill folks and were nothing special….not sure John ever felt that. He was a lost soul from day 1 in a way and never felt fully comfortable and that he belonged anywhere and with anyone. Why are these things happening to me? Why can’t I have a loving mom and dad like most everyone else…his whole life to him as it unfolded seemed almost magical.
Of course add drugs and fame and then you have the decisions that he made…abandoning Cynthia (who loved him unconditionally) Yoko etc
George could be weird too, plenty of examples, but he was far more grounded and emotionally mature than John. Plus he developed a lot of hobbies…Indian Music & culture, gardening, auto racing, constructive pursuits that he developed expertise in. John not so much (I know he was taking an interest in sailing before his death) but he just didn’t strike me as a guy who wanted to learn how to do new, different, challenging things
John crafted better songs than George, he was more talented than him in that respect. In every other aspect of life, I think George comes out ahead.
@Dave, always factor in Lennon’s drug use. George used too, and to the degree he used–say, coke in the 70s–his life was chaotic and lonely, like John’s. His work deteriorated, like John’s; he was a “lost soul” like John. It was only after George cleaned up that he was able to live a life of familial stability with Olivia and Dhani.
The key to Lennon isn’t that his mother abandoned him; lots of mothers do that, sadly. It was WHY Julia was like that (addiction), which John inherited. What appears to us as a lack of ballast, an increasingly frenzied search for something REAL, is simply a refusal to change the obvious thing: change the unhealthy relationship to [several things], and address the mental and emotional issues that caused you to develop that habit in the first place.
Recovery works; I’ve seen it. It might have worked with John, eventually, but probably not until he was really down and out. Lotta self-will in that guy, for some pretty obvious reasons. Here’s a quick discussion of “self-will” which may be THE concept when looking at poor dear John.
@Michael G- Wonderfully stated. This is why I’m not surprised about Paul using his music to tell his life story in his upcoming autobiography. John and Paul expressed themselves differently. I believe this is why they worked so well together and is why they still hold the record for best-selling duo.
@Michael G- I also wanted to add that his melodies are intriguing and as you stated, it’s not something that can be easily explained, but it can be felt.
Yea you’re right I think with George because he was a more private person, less bombastic and controversial as John, the quiet Beatle etc I may have glossed over his own 70’s crises. The mountains of cocaine, followed by fasting…prayer…yoga, cleaning up, followed by sex/philandering, followed by more cocaine.
@Michael – I can definitely understand that being frustrating.
I wrote another (equally rambling) comment out about 10 minutes ago and I think it disappeared into the ether, so apologies if this comes through twice!
The gist of it was: I agree with what you set out in your comment, and the ‘genius in different but complimentary areas, of equal importance, and equally brilliant’ approach to John and Paul is my only real stance on the Beatles. The rest I have ideas about, but I also think the Beatles shift between light and shade (in terms of both the mood of their story, and our understanding of it) with every new anecdote or opinion.
Also, I spend most days doing one of two things: writing (my job, which I love) or playing a musical instrument for pleasure/unparalleled frustration. I have tried so many times over the years to combine these two things that I’m hopefully halfway decent at (enough to make myself understood in either medium, at least), and I have found it pretty much impossible. That mirror concept you describe is, of all the unbelievable things about the Beatles, still the thing that comes out on top for me in terms of ‘how in the world did that happen?’. That John was a genius communicator and Paul was a genius musician, and on top of that both of them could also do the other thing not just well, but often brilliantly, is only something to be celebrated, as far as I’m concerned.
When the argument turns into who was better than/smarter than/more of a genius than the other, or when we believe that the only way for them to be equal is if they are both great at all the same things (which is not, in my experience, how life generally works), I think everyone loses and we’ve all missed the point.
I think we can add Ringo to the mix there along with John/George thinking Paul was overbearing/a control freak. A few years ago on Howard Stern, Ringo mentioned how he’d be hanging out with John, in the Garden (drugs likely involved) and the phone would ring and the two of them would immediately wince. “It’s him, we could tell from the ring, he wants to work!” I think sometime around maybe 1966 George/John/Ringo had already come to a Paul is too controlling consensus .
Though he did go on to say we have Paul to thank for the volume of material we ended up putting out, but Ringo seemed to be more in the George/John camp then Paul’s
Dave, I have also heard that antidote by Ringo. I have The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM, and they have played Ringo saying that.
However, Ringo didn’t say Paul was being controlling in the bit I listened to. He said he was a workaholic. He also said their last 3 albums would never have been made without Paul’s urging, and he was grateful for that.
I think there’s a difference between “controlling” and a workaholic. I didn’t get the sense, and Ringo didn’t state, he felt controlled by Paul.
Perhaps Paul at 20 had sacrificed more than the others to pursue music. He’d put his chances of an academic career on hold and was probably mindful of his father’s expectations. If they’d worked so hard to get to the Decca auditions, all of them must have felt at the crossroads after they failed. But Paul’s song, Like Dreamers Do, then became instrumental in securing the Beatles their recording contract. I’m not sure of all the details but Ardmore and Beechwood Publishers wanted the publishing rights to the song to give to another artist. The idea was rejected by EMI, which led to the signing (or assigning) to George Martin. Paul had seemed anxious for A&B to consider him if the Beatles went belly up in the first few months. Maybe it’s easy for him to be labeled as controlling, and for sure he was a workaholic, but I wonder if consciously or unconsciously he thought the other three were riding on his back? Considering the large number of songs Paul had written and given away at this stage, honestly I’ve found it odd that Paul seemed to step back and let John dominate on their first two albums.
@Lara I wonder if a lot of those early Paul songs seemed too “ballad-y” for what their vision of The Beatles was at the time? “A World Without Love,” “Like Dreamers Do,” “I’ll Follow the Sun” (not given away but held back til the 4th album). Even “Yesterday” was not a shoo-in to go on Help!. I think maybe George Martin went to bat for it? Like Paul himself said, “We were a bit embarrassed of it. We were supposed to be a rock and roll band.” Maybe that applied to some of his other early compositions.
@lara I would love to understand this issue better. Why did the power dynamic shift in the band in 62/63? Because according to people in Liverpool, John and Paul were both dominant forces in the band when they returned from Hamburg. There wasn’t a clear leader—according to a number of witnesses in Liverpool and in Hamburg. John seems to have been the more dominant personality off stage, Paul more dominant on stage. And Paul was writing a lot of music. So how and why did the tables turn in ’62/’63? Why did John become the dominant writer at that time? Was it age? Was it John’s relationship with Brian? Was it the types of songs Paul was writing?
@Nancy, as both George and Paul attended the Liverpool Institute, it’s possible that their 11+ scores are known because the Institute kept records? Some schools do perhaps, others don’t. I believe it’s a valid topic to discuss, as again it plays into the tiresome “Lennon was the one and only genius in the Beatles” trope. He was the smart one, the wittiest, the one with the deep and meaningful songs, et cetera, et cetera. So it becomes “yeah, his IQ was 165! We were right all along!” And such views start to extend beyond a few excitable fans into the mainstream. Firstly, there seems to be confusion whether it was achieved at 11 or 16, or whether it even exists at all. There is no documented proof of it to my knowledge. The way I see it, Paul, in addition to his academic abilities, was already writing his own songs at 14, long before John and George. He was gifted. And witty, a master of the sotto voce. Beyond the press conferences and interviews, insiders and friends found him outrageously funny. John and Paul matched each other for smarts and just about everything else in my opinion. It’s why they became such brilliant collaborators from their late teens onwards.
Paul, in addition to his academic abilities, was already writing his own songs at 14… He was gifted.
The One Sweet Dream podcast recently posted an interview with Chris Salewicz himself, and this is his central thesis. I’m paraphrasing here but he says something like “You don’t spend hours composing songs at 14 because you’re a mercenary or a ‘workman.’ You do that because you’re an *artist.*”
Super-right. Paul’s gift and curse is that he does hard things seemingly effortlessly. That is a peculiarly heavy burden.
Paul himself said to Bob Costas that John was the quickest wit and there was “no doubt about that.” It doesn’t mean he was the only genius in the band. It’s not a trope to say he was the wittiest and it’s not putting Paul down. Paul wasn’t without a sense of humor. They all had it. In fact, it was one of the reasons that they never gelled with Pete Best. As John said (rather cruelly, but you know… the truth hurts), besides being a not-so-good drummer he wasn’t quick, and all the Beatles were quick.
Michael G has said this before here and I agree; John and Paul had more in common than not. There was a reason they clicked upon meeting. They both were intelligent, quick witted, ambitious. To me, it doesn’t matter who was brighter or quicker. What matters is that the Beatles would not have existed had John and Paul never met.
Knowing a lot of really bright people, the one thing they all have in common is that they would only partner with someone whom they felt was at their same intellectual/talent level. The clearest evidence of J/P/G/R being all at the same level is that they were able to tolerate each other and work together well from 1957-69. And for the first ten years of that, they were together constantly. Anybody who wasn’t “bright,” or even “bright in the same-ish ways,” would be replaced.
Your statement “Yes, John, Paul, and George were all musicians, but Paul’s a totally different kind of talent than those other two” led me think again what, if anything, can be used as an adequate definition of genius.
We, collectively and conversationally, frequently bandy the term about as we talk about certain artists, scientists, innovators, etc. When it comes to the Beatles, we, almost by default, label all four of them as geniuses but is that always accurate? Their collective effort certainly was genius, but were all the components genius or just one or two that, in turn, lit the fire?
You make a sound argument for Paul being a first among equals at the very least and most likely something much more. I have always hewn to the idea that a genius is someone who can take existing, and often quite disparate strands, in a field and while looking over the horizon can make something completely new, creative, useful, and the like out of them.
Einstein, as we know, was a master of using thought experiments to question what might happen if given certain conditions such as the lightning striking as two railway cars pass each other. All the while he was, figuratively, peering over the horizon as to what could be done, what questions needed to be asked, and what mental models could be employed to figure it out.
McCartney seemed to be the same way in that he was always peering over the horizon. He took what he had at hand and added other elements into the mix—such as you mention his concept of using the studio itself as an instrument.
Perhaps I get a little too fixated on this “looking over the horizon” type of thing as it has to be linked with the creation of something—whether that be an idea or music or a painting, but McCartney certainly was looking at places few others were and he intuitively recognized that by folding so many ideas into the mix was the way to move forward. The story of him inviting Bill Evans over is a perfect example of that.
Maybe genius does not have a working definition, but McCartney certainly exhibited all the characteristics of what we would consider to be one. He was, quite simply, moving an art form forward as no one (or very few) of his generation could.
I think of the thought experiment of bringing J.S. Bach back to life and explaining to him what electricity and an electric guitar are and then showing him a clip of the White Stripes playing Seven Nation Army in concert. I have a feeling after 15 seconds he would say “I see what they are doing there.” I think Paul had that same upper-level of thinking to recognize everything around him as being something he could use to create…at least in the Beatles era. Prince did the same by linking bringing technical expertise with a recognition of new possibilities.
I really enjoy these thoughts, @Neal, and dont have anything to add other than a take on “genius” which speaks to the significance of innovation:
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
A few years ago I read a comment by a European sports writer who wished that he, for a measly 10 minutes, could see the pitch (field) the way the great soccer star Lionel Messi does.
His point was that while the rest of us see a big field with lots of defenders, Messi would see opportunity. The same goes for Michael Jordon or the baseball legend Ted Williams who could look at a high and inside fastball and see it as something he could work with.
I have often wondered about how that writer’s desire for 10 minutes for a sports hero easily slots into any number of other human endeavors. What was Neils Bohr “seeing” when he was wrestling with ideas about quantum mechanics? What was van Gogh “seeing” when he looked at a landscape? Obviously something no one else was seeing/grasping/feeling in the same way.
You know where I am going with this…what were JL and Paul “seeing/hearing” as they lived their lives? Obviously they perceived things far differently than most of the rest of humanity and it leaves us to wonder just what kind of target that they saw that no one else could? I think of the legions of extraordinarily session musicians, instrumentalists, and others who never jotted out a memorably melody and yet this guys did it with machine like precision and regularity.
…and what it would be like, for that aforementioned measly 10 minutes to be able to see what they did? Or would we even understand it? Wittgenstein famously said that even if your dog could talk you still wouldn’t understand it. I feel that maybe it is like this with Lennon/McCartney. We might not be able to understand those 10 minutes as we (I speak for myself here) don’t have the framework or talents to understand that level of creativity.
@Michael – (sorry, I’m not able to reply to the post I want to reply to so this is in a weird place) – Paul McCartney played music with Bill Evans?!?!?! As a huge fan of both, I had absolutely no idea about this, where did you read it?
Ahh…. @Michael, I KNEW something was up ;D
What a crummy April fool’s gag! I mean at least include a link to a “sneak peek track” that turns out to be rickroll or something. Weak effort!!!
On the subject of cool collaborations that never were, does everyone know about the telegram Jimi Hendrix/Miles Davis sent Paul in ’69 about coming and playing with them? But Paul never got it!! I comfort myself about this tragedy with the thought that maybe it was fate stepping in, that maybe if Paul had been hanging out with Jimi at that time he’d have ended up joining the 27 Club, too.
@Annie, I think the only way Paul would’ve joined the 27 Club was by accident. Collaboration would’ve energized him.
I’ve said before that I think John was a candidate in mid-’68, and Yoko probably saved his life.
I’m of a naturally dark turn of mind, but I think a lot of those rock deaths are fishy — whether it’s Sam Cooke, or Jimi Hendrix, or Jim Morrison, or Brian Jones (or Brian Epstein for that matter). Death by misadventure is certainly the most likely conclusion, but we should always keep in mind that all these men (and Janis) were huge moneymakers, businesses really, often “managed” by really questionable people. In the case of Cooke, for example, it was none other than Allen Klein. Plus, not only were they getting terrible medical care, as rich and famous people often do, they were dealing with a straight society that expected them to die sordid deaths. It is difficult to be a 27-year-old and suffer from exhaustion, as Hendrix was–that requires long-term mistreatment of one’s body, and competent management and/or medical care should’ve stepped in well before then.
So if you come at these deaths from that angle, “just another junkie OD’ing” seems rather too convenient.
Agreed, it would definitely have been an accident. Taken a pill from Jimi that was a lot stronger than whatever he was used to, maybe a couple more drinks to “keep up” than he would’ve usually downed, and hey presto. I agree collaboration energizes him, but so does fatherhood and he still had to drag himself through a deep depression when Mary was a little baby. To the point that he once thought he was going to suffocate in his own pillow because he couldnt summon the energy/coordination/wilpower to roll over (unclear whether this was from “hitting the substances” or from extreme depressive torpor). I read a recent quote from him indicating his drug consumption was greater than typically supposed or reported — something like “I’ve seen my soul get up and walk across the floor a few times.”
All that said I think in general his father’s “moderation” maxim served him well. But it only takes once. And anyway it’s a hypothetical I use primarily to take the sting out of the cruel, cruel fact Paul never got that telegram.
@Annie M, that telegram is one of history’s great ‘what ifs.’ Sometimes I spin Davis’ 1970 Jack Johnson LP and suspend my disbelief to pretend it’s that trio I’m hearing.
This is an excellent idea, @Ben S. I’m going to try it sometime 🙂
Do! John McLaughlin’s guitar style isn’t an exact fit for Hendrix’s, but the bass playing is funky, melodic and prominent in a way that could be described as McCartneyish if you squint your ears, and ‘Right Off’ is the closest Miles ever got to straight up rock and roll. One can only assume this is the kind of music he had in mind when he sent Paul that telegram.
Richard Feynman, genius Nobel physicist in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics, had an IQ of 125. Sylvester Stallone has an IQ of 160. We can try and work that one out. As one wry educator pointed out, past the score of 140, people become geniuses at answering IQ type questions, nothing else. It’s meaningless, and presumably the reason why the term has been dropped from modern IQ testing. I’ve heard of many super-high IQ scorers leading very successful lives as scientists, writers, artists, in business and education, etc. They may even be notable. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are exceptional amongst their peers, and more often than not, they aren’t. It was that exceptionality, outstandingly so, that put the Beatles head and shoulders above others. Genius can’t be measured. Superior intelligence fosters it, undoubtedly, but a higher score is often just superfluous to requirements. And I wonder if Einstein’s ‘estimated’ IQ was closer to Feynman’s than to Rowan Atkinson’s 178. Perhaps we expected too little from Mr Bean!
Wow! Great discussion here today. I love this blog because it’s seems to attract people who are very articulate and are able to express exactly how I feel in their writing.
I’m not a writer, just a middle aged woman from Idaho who loves the Beatles! Thanks to all for the great discussion!
You’re always welcome, @Tasmin.
I believe personal or emotional connection to music is highly subjective myself. Those who say they’re able to personally connect to John’s songs but not to Paul’s make the assumption that just because they can’t, then nobody else can either. And likely vice versa. Individual brains are wired differently; their emotional and psychological experiences throughout life vary. I think it was someone in the Davies biography or the Beatles Monthly, I can’t remember, who described Paul as a visual thinker. I think that’s true. Paul was/is a visual thinker; John a verbal thinker. But they were still only tendencies. Different tendencies in their approach to music, neither of which preclude emotional power and personal experience. There won’t be a true evaluation of either of them until Paul dies in my opinion. That John was this, but Paul was that, is only the tip of the iceberg.
This, 100%!! :
“When the argument turns into who was better than/smarter than/more of a genius than the other, or when we believe that the only way for them to be equal is if they are both great at all the same things (which is not, in my experience, how life generally works), I think everyone loses and we’ve all missed the point.”
@Annie M, possibly the songs were ballad oriented, but I’m not sure why they wouldn’t fit their vision at the time. After all, PS I Love You, All I’ve Got to Do, A Taste of Honey, Devil in Her Heart and others also fall into that category. Like Dreamers Do is quite upbeat if you’ve heard the Applejacks version. Then there’s From A Window, I’ll Keep You Satisfied, and John’s Bad To Me. They have that distinct Beatley/Merseyside sound in 1962/63 and I don’t know why they’d pass them over for some so so cover versions of other songs and a couple of subpar Lennon/McCartney efforts. Paul said he doesn’t like Like Dreamers Do, which is strange because it’s a strong, well-written early song. Kim Bennett saw the potential in it. I just wonder if there was some contention over it, that’s all, as there was for Yesterday. Paul fully intended Yesterday to be played by the band; it was George Martin who proposed that it would sound better from Paul alone with a string quartet. The others refused to let Paul perform Yesterday on their first few tour dates in the UK in 1965. I think a lot of the band’s later discord goes back to this time, if not before.
I’d forgotten all about “From a Window” and “I’ll Keep You Satisfied.” I want an index of all Beatle-written, elsewhom-recorded songs and their date of composition, plz. I need to know all the things.
If those songs were written earlier in Paul’s life, perhaps he had a temporal bias against them and assumed that his most recent work must be better? Whether true or not.
I don’t think it’s odd or unfair for them to drop “Yesterday” from their set list. It’s a great song but it’s not a BAND song, so it’s visually awkward for the others to scoot out of the way, not to mention any resulting bruised feelings or very much unwanted-by-all “Paul going solo???” rumors.
As for discord surrounding Paul’s standing out, the thing that comes first to my mind is a press conference where George says “Eleanor Rigby was Paul on his own, the rest of us just sat around drinking tea.” I feel a little frisson of tension watching that, which may or may not really be there. And I can’t tell whether George is being straight, or if he’s thinking about the fact that he suggested one of the “lonely people” lines (either the “aaah look at…” or the “where do they all come from” bit, I forget which) and kind of privately grumbling about Paul getting all the credit when in fact he did get input from the others.
Also, remember what Beatle concerts were like in 1965-66. They were high-energy affairs. “Yesterday,” for all its brilliance, might have felt too slow and ruminative for a concert–to Paul included.
It’s helpful and interesting to model the internal emotional/intellectual lives of the guys, but with every passing moment we’re getting further and further from those people in that time in that place. So the tools with with we model–our own lives and thoughts–grow duller and more inaccurate.
Yep, another reason among many.
The odd thing about George’s ER comment is that none of them played instruments on it and he and John did backing vocals. At the time, was Paul given sole credit for the song by critics and such?
@Laura, perhaps I should have been clearer as I meant the lyrics. At the time critics didn’t give Paul sole credit for the song. I’ve never heard of that. It’s widely known as a Paul song just as there are John songs and George songs.
@Annie M, it’s not known whether George did actually contribute much to Eleanor Rigby. From what I’ve read Paul had already composed the melody, the chorus, and the first verses, but was looking for help for the last verse. Whether George suggested something and it was rejected perhaps may have accounted for his churlishness. Paul offered Yesterday to Chris Farlowe, who turned it down. Whether he offered the song from his own volition or whether he felt pressured, I don’t know. Perhaps it may have been better for the band if Farlowe had accepted it. Although presumably the same reasoning would also apply: Yesterday was given away because it didn’t meet the vision or wasn’t the right fit at the time. The whole of Beatles history would then be turned on it’s head. Yesterday WAS ground breaking: introspective lyrics starkly delivered accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and a string quartet. It was an approach that no rock and roll band had attempted up until then. That’s not to confuse it with orchestrated pop songs, there were plenty of those around. Whether it was Paul solo is neither here nor there, as serious world attention was brought to the Beatles as a band, surely a positive not a negative for them. Neither did it exempt the talents of the others, in particular, John. Yet, when Paul did finally perform Yesterday live, I perceived subtle mockery from the others. John thanking Ringo at the end, and George presenting flowers to Paul, the ‘star’. Yet nobody was more committed to the band itself than Paul. That makes him the control freak – he probably was, but there are always two sides to any story. Was he bullied by the others? John could be abusive towards him and I get the impression that George and Ringo fell in behind John a little too easily. In truth, they all had their insufferable moments, but I genuinely like to think they all worked together as a band unless I’ve been wrong all these years. Cover versions of Beatles songs were rarely as good as their own in my opinion. The bare bones of songs were given away to others; the Beatles took the same bare bones and turned them into magic.
“[John] was annoyed ’cause I didn’t say that he’d written one line of this song “Taxman.” But I also didn’t say how I wrote two lines of ‘Come Together’ or three lines of ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ you know? I wasn’t getting into any of that. I think, in the balance, I would have had more things to be niggled with him about than he would have had with me!” –George in a 1987 interview
For whatever that’s worth! I tend to believe him, as he truly seemed not to be a credit-grabber. Something is niggling at me that he or someone else said the specific lines he contributed were the “lonely people” refrain.
Anyhoo, something important to keep in mind is that in the ’60s the public and critics only had a fraction of the specific who-did-what knowledge than we have today. And no one including the Beatles themselves probably had any reason to think that decades later researchers and fans would be combing through their work and publishing detailed info about it.
But the *Beatles* knew that info. I imagine George had more than a few “wicked guitar solo on ‘Taxman,’ dude!” conversations and of course we all know about John having to fend off plaudits for ‘Yesterday’ forever.
So it’s definitely true that publicly all Beatles benefitted equally from their respective individual contributions, but internally and interpersonally it was probably more complicated, especially as time went on.
@Annie M– “I imagine George had more than a few “wicked guitar solo on ‘Taxman,’ dude!” conversations…”
That’s funny, because I was just reading a George Harrison biography, by Graeme Thomson, and there’s one part I’ve bookmarked where more than one musician recounts meeting George years later and telling him how much they loved X guitar part in X Beatles song and him saying, “Oh, that was Paul.” Repeatedly, until they give up and stop trying to compliment him. Yikes! How humiliating for everyone involved.
@Kristy eeeeeek yeah that’s extremely awkward. George was an incorrigible prankster tho, I wouldn’t put it past him to just keep saying “that was Paul” to everything, even if it wasn’t. Hopefully it was that…. Btw has anyone else read about his prank on Phil Collins?? Absolutely diabolical!!
George was such a prankster that whenever you’d wish him happy birthday on February 24th, he’d say it was the 25th, and vice-versa. Teasing a fan like that feels like his sense of humor to me.
I think it might have been happier for all around if George were pulling a leg, but unfortunately the text doesn’t seem to be pointing that way. ‘His friend and fellow guitarist Peter Frampton recalls hanging out with Harrison in New York in 1971. “I said, ‘Can I put on some Beatles tracks and ask you about them?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ I’d put on ‘Paperback Writer’ and say, ‘I love the guitar on that’, and he’d say, ‘Oh, that’s Paul.’ I put all these other tracks on … ‘Oh, that’s Paul.’ I was embarrassed. I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he said, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’ He was very sweet about it, but it wasn’t until that particular moment that I realised he was stifled.’
Leon Russell is the other musician quoted. I have heard the Phil Collins story, though! That took some planning. Very Pythonesque.
Poor George. Love his guitar work on the Imagine album, though. That slide guitar!
@Kristy: Oh dear. Yeah, it doesn’t seem to be the case that George was joking.
Frampton says this is evidence George was “stifled” and yes, that’s fair, but…if those guitar parts stood out specially to him then isn’t it good that Paul played them? It’s like what Michael Gerber is saying above about Paul being overbearing. It’s not entirely fair for fans to say “wow, isn’t it amazing how finely detailed and perfectly-realized Beatles music is” in one breath and in the next say “geez, why did Paul have to be so detail-obsessed and perfectionistic, he shoulda chilled out.” I say it’s not fair for *us* to say that, but as for George and Ringo (and maybe John?), they might have traded a certain percentage of money and acclaim for a gentler work environment. To them it might look like Paul was willing to sacrifice their personal relationship in order to realize his creative vision, and it’s fair for them to be hurt by that.
@Annie M — I didn’t copypaste the entire page, but Frampton did go on to note that as for being stifled, it must have been hard for George to try and improve on what the songwriter had already decided they wanted in their song. So there’s sympathy on both sides, but nicely put, how Paul is a perfectionist and that can definitely affect working/friend relationships — but the Beatles would not be remembered for their perfectionism if they, including George Martin, hadn’t insisted on the exact right takes. 🙂
Also, I see what you’re saying about the fake-bouquet performance, but it to me seems like a pretty standard self-deprecating “dear god please nobody think we take ourselves this seriously” little gag. Very British, very Beatley. Paul might have been GLAD to have that little release valve. *I* would be.
Yesterday was part of the Beatles’ set list for one of their tours. They performed it with the full band. Ringo’s drums, John & George’s guitars. It didn’t sound bad!
Here’s a link to youtube video:
I personally don’t buy Paul’s line about being embarrassed by Yesterday as a song, I think what it represented was more embarrassing or problematic for the band and most of all John.
Paul is the same man that happily sang A Taste of Honey and Till There Was You on their first two albums, but Yesterday is the embarrassing song?
I think it’s the fact that it was a solo Paul song in every sense of the word that caused issues in the group and lead to the song eventually being dropped from their live sets. Apparently there were rumours circling around at the time that Paul was going to leave the group (which may explain why Brian squashed the idea of Yesterday being released as a single in the UK) so would be interesting to learn more about that, especially since those rumours may have preceded Yesterday but may need to wait for Lewisohn to release his next book in 2050 to get the story there.
Obviously the song’s massive success would have been a problem for the group, they were a band but here was a solo Paul song lighting the world on fire, it’s no wonder the song seemed to follow John in particular even after the break up (e.g. see HDYS and some accounts of the writing of Imagine).
I think what it represented was more embarrassing or problematic for the band and most of all John.
I agree this is probably closer to what Paul means by “we were embarrassed about it”. Embarrassing as in interpersonally awkward, and an uncomfortable rattling of the Lennon-McCartney status quo.
@Annie and Lizzy, there was an op-ed article that I read somewhere that talked about the ‘Lovecraftian Horror of Yesterday’, and I always thought that was such an apt way of describing it. In the same vein, the hosts of Screw It, We’re Just Going to Talk About The Beatles also once did an episode where they were talking about Yesterday as the quintessential Paul song because of how melodic and unusual it is but one of the panel says something to the effect of ‘also, the fact that Paul just woke up with it all in his head is the most Paul thing ever, and I can imagine pissed John off no end.’
I really agree with you both about it being a key issue for John and Paul in particular, for all the reasons you’ve outlined, and because of that Lovecraftian Horror thing – Paul suddenly turned their songwriting partnership into a thing where one of them receives divine inspiration and the other one doesn’t. It doesn’t feel equal or partnership-y any more. And then he goes and records it all on his own too. I think Paul could have handled that a lot better/more sensitively if he wasnt, you know, 12 at the time – but I also think it was going to happen some time. If it wasn’t Yesterday, it would have just been another song, another time. That was always on the cards for Lennon/McCartney in my opinion.
Someone pointed out the melodic similarity of the beginning of Yesterday and the beginning of Do You Want to Know a Secret? I thought that was someone having a laugh, but I brought up both songs on my computer and played the first line of each, in succession, and there is a similarity. Maybe that’s what allegedly “pissed John off to no end” but he let it slide? And maybe that is why Paul needed a lot of convincing that the melody was an original one?
Here’s another example of how the autobiographical depth of Paul’s lyrics is sometimes hiding in plain sight.
Paul on the Let It Be dream: ‘Shortly after [the dream] I got together with Linda, which was the saving of me. And it was as if my mum had sent her, you could almost say.’
From ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five’:
‘Oh, my mama said a time would come
when I would find myself in love with you
I didn’t think, I never dreamed,
That I would be around to see it all come true…’
When Paul performed Yesterday live the audience of screaming kids hushed themselves to a stand still to listen. That was another first. But within a year they’d all got sick of touring anyway.
It’s true that the further we get away from the actual dates of these recordings the harder it is to know who did or contributed what. I do remember George Martin in the 1968 ed. of the Davies biography complimenting Paul on the lyrics of ER. I’m sure he knew the odd word here and there had been thrown in by the others; after working with them since 1962 he’d have known that was standard practice. Perhaps George did think of “Ahh all the lonely people”. But why claim credit? The melody of the chorus had been composed, the significant words “all the lonely people” already in the verse, and repeated. I’ve read comments from fans (not on this blog) that suggested that certain lines in Eleanor Rigby could only have been written by John or George. That bouncy, shallow, poppy Paul would have been totally incapable of writing lyrics of such depth and meaning. I tend to side with those who find this sort of thing annoying. It’s petty and silly. Eleanor Rigby is pretty much Paul’s song in concept and execution. Neither John nor George gave a toss about lonely priests and middle-aged women. Unfortunately, George’s memory or recall is no more reliable than John or Paul’s. I doubt he contributed much to Come Together either; the song is so distinctively John. Nor do I think John’s irritation with George was totally unreasonable. While he and Paul had their differences in recall of their own songs, both of them helped George a great deal in establishing him as a songwriter. This may run against popular opinion but I don’t think this was expected of them in their job decription. It was Lennon and McCartney who were contracted as the songwriters for the band, not Harrison. If this is about Paul McCartney: the lyrics, I’d hate it if Paul’s supposedly autobiographical book turns into a credit bun fight, and with cries of revisionism against him from the first page. It would miss the point in my opinion.
@Lara, I have to agree with you that the ’empath’ quality of Eleanor Rigby is very Paul, and I don’t doubt his sole authorship. Nonetheless I can see why the doubt arises; ER, to me, feels like an outlier in his songbook, something that was also noted by the musicologist Alan Pollack. I don’t think, lyrically, he ever scaled such poetic heights again. As ‘character songs’ go, She’s Leaving Home is similarly rich emotionally but far more prosaic; Lady Madonna, Another Day etc strike me as considerably more slight, though not bad lyrics by any stretch. Referring to John’s comment that Paul has a tendency to ‘avoid the problem’ lyrically, I can see that being the case with many of these latter songs, but Eleanor Rigby is the complete package, and I think John knew it. Paul has spoken about the difference between lyrics where he ‘sweats it,’ and those where he chooses not to; perhaps, having ‘opened the door’ to this third-person style of writing with Eleanor Rigby, that was enough for him.
I think that was exactly George’s point tho. I assume John was pissy that George didn’t tell the world John wrote “declare the pennies on your eyes” in I Me Mine, and George is calling that out as petty, especially since it’s not like John went about scrupulously recounting all minor contributions from other people to his own songs (far from it).
People are constantly pointing out the melodic similarity of Yesterday to just about everything under the sun. Logically then, its 1001 hugely varying comparisons must all sound the same. Why is there such desperation to invalidate Yesterday? Let’s cut down the tall poppy. If any similarity exists, it would have been obvious 55 years ago.
Ben S, but did any of them scale the lyrical heights of certain types of songs afterwards? Was there a Strawberry Fields or I am the Walrus later from John? Paul, John and George all had other creative influences that existed outside of the band, and I think it would be a mistake to think any lyrical or musical suggestions only came from each other. On top of that, their personal circumstances and individual lifestyles changed considerably after 1968. I’m not sure about comparing ER with SLH; in the end it’s personal preference as with everything.
Pollack is not the only musicologist who has studied the Beatles. This is where I believe it gets stuck between a rock and a hard place – is one a musical expert or a literary expert?
It’s difficult to compare songs, as most artists, not only the Beatles, have a window of 10-20 years where they reach their creative peak.
@Lara, I’d say that creative peaks are even shorter than that. Five years, maybe?
Mine lasted from right before breakfast, June 12, 1987 to just after dinner that same day.
@Lara: I was attempting to make an enquiry into the topic at hand (‘Paul McCartney: The Lyrics’) rather than compare Beatles. But to answer your first question, if we’re to use your example of pre- and post-’68, *yes*! I see ‘Strawberry Fields’ in ‘#9 Dream’, I see ‘I Am The Walrus’ in ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ and ‘Come Together,’ I see ‘Help!’ in ‘Mother’ and ‘Look at Me,’ I see ‘All You Need is Love’ in ‘Instant Karma.’ There is a thematic and tonal consistency there. Whereas I look at ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ and whatever it is about that song, I never *quite* see it appear again in the McCartney songbook. That’s not necessarily an assessment of quality (I adore ‘She’s Leaving Home’, and ‘Another Day’, and ‘Magneto and Titanium Man’, and almost any other of Paul’s ‘character songs’ you care to name); but an assessment of *artistic style*, and how it recurs in a body of work.
I think it’s the starkness, bordering on austerity, of ER that really sets it apart in Paul’s catalogue. Even tho it’s a character song, for me it’s more similar to “For No One” or “Growing Up Falling Down” or even “The Note You Never Wrote” than his other character songs, even ones that end unhappily like “Mr Bellamy” or “Mistress and Maid” or “That Day Is Done.” But even those have a warmer hue than ER because they don’t have that unrelenting, deliberate dispassion. I agree ER might be the high water mark of Paul’s poetic imagery, but “outlier” is too strong IMO. For example I think “weary carriage horses stand in single file / Someone at a crowded bus stop wears a friendly smile / Touching nerves that no one’s heard from in a while / Pages from the same old file” and “Feel the choir in the thunder / Every ladder leads to heaven” and “Sweating cobwebs, under contract, in a cellar, on TV” and “Playing guitar on an empty stage / Counting the bars of an iron cage” are equally or near-equally good imagery, but those don’t HURT like ER. I think that hurt is what Paul didn’t care to explore again; the total lack of hope, the coldness of the narrative voice. “It just hits different,” as the kids say.
@Annie Love how you put this about both ER’s “unrelenting, deliberate dispassion” that isn’t really in other character songs (just thinking of 1882, which also ends unhappily but is the opposite of dispassionate) as well as the strength of the imagery in songs like Why So Blue, Sing the Changes, That Was Me, Once Upon a Long Ago, etc.
Also agree about it being similar to For No One and Growing Up Falling Down…and maybe also I’ll Follow the Sun? That one has always seemed sad but matter of fact to me.
Thanks @Elly and re: “I’ll Follow the Sun” I don’t see it as sad, more like passive aggressive as hell! “Poor thing, someday you’ll realize I was god’s gift, but too bad for you because I’m moving on to greener pastures *melodic whistling*” like??? Wow, fuck you very much, too! The fact it’s so goddamn pretty only makes it worse, lol. Almost worse than “Another Girl” even.
@Annie Ahhh! Missing a reply button! “I’m moving on to greener pastures *melodic whistling*”” cracked me up! I’d never thought of it that way but can definitely see it. I always picture young Paul singing this to himself in front of a mirror as a pick me up/pep talk after an unrequited love situation–like in a letter you don’t send where you say “You don’t know what you’re missing, but I’m going to find someone who *does* appreciate that I’m all that.” “Another Girl,” though–“I don’t take what I don’t want”? That’s…pretty cutting! I’ll be curious to see more about what Paul says about that one. I think he’s defended it from charges that it’s “filler” before, but afaik he hasn’t said much about the inspiration for the lyrics?
Another dark, imagery-driven lyric of Paul’s I’d like to hear more about is ‘House of Wax.’ I’d always thought of it as stemming from the emotional chaos of the Mills divorce, but I’ve heard it more recently described as a ‘9/11 song,’ which is a very interesting take.
“House of Wax” is a good one. I don’t think it’s about an event that happened some six years earlier, especially since Paul already addressed 9/11 in song contemporaneously (and was railed for being jingoistic), but who knows. “Poets scattering” after lightning hits the house of wax, confusion all around, with incomplete remainders of the future, and women on the battleground almost makes me think of the Beatles breakup. What is the answer to it all, buried deep below a thousand layers? Another one that is open to interpretation is the “The Lovers that Never Were”. Interesting lyrics. Mostly, I’d like to know how much of that is Paul as opposed to Elvis Costello. I always get the impression (probably wrong, only because it’s not what you’d expect) that Paul mostly wrote the lyrics in their partnership and Elvis took care of the rest, simply because to my ears, with the exception of My Brave Face, their collaborations are devoid of any discernible melody. When Paul had John as a partner, his songs were distinctly Paul. But his songs with Costello sound decidedly unlike Paul.
Well said. I just want to mention that “She’s Leaving Home” was, as Paul’s ‘Blackbird Singing’ book indicates, written with John. According to Wikipedia and the Beatles Bible, Paul wrote the verses and John wrote the chorus with its long sustained notes (“sheeeee… is leeeaving…”), the sustained notes of the song’s ending, and the answering melody lines (“we struggled all our lives to get by…”, etc.). Or as George Martin put it, the part of the old couple was John’s: “He was looking at the misused old people and also the conflict between them and the young girl. Originally, it was undoubtedly Paul’s song, but John contributed quite a bit in a way with the answering chorus.”
@Michael G, you are probably right. Five years say, and an undulating plateau either side! It’s amazing what the Beatles packed into their five – from She Loves You to Abbey Road – what a journey.
Yes, that’s what I always think; the breadth and growth from 1962-1969 is astounding, and it’s particularly fast between 1964-1968. And all with immense publicity and commercial pressure. Nothing else like it in the history of group creative endeavor.
@Ben S, I’m not sure I see it that way, but isn’t that the beauty of the Beatles music? We can pore endlessly over their songs and each of us hear something different or personal to us at different times. For me, it’s why their music has that indefinable quality, a freshness, or magic if you like, almost 60 years later. I greatly respect musicologists such as Pollack, but I recall the early musicologist, Wilfred Meyers, describe She’s Leaving Home as a work of “adolescent genius” in his book Twilight of the Gods. Another view, another day. I don’t believe Eleanor Rigby is a character study in the same way that Paperback Writer or Lady Madonna and others are. There seems to be a personal connection for Paul to Liverpool somehow (wasn’t one of his mother’s brothers a priest?), and to graveyards where his mother lies in an unmarked grave. It could be linked back to Yesterday or even Things We Said Today, on the surface a love song, but like the other two has themes of distance, of time and space, of wondering and waiting: why she had to go, if you have to go, waits by the door. .. I think She’s Leaving Home has these elements too, but it’s not so personal. Then again I could be talking through the top my head. It’s strange that a headstone for an Eleanor Rigby actually exists in St Peter’s church and that Paul sort of clams up about it. Perhaps he has an affinity with the underground – he used to sunbathe on grave stones after school, and while he fears (or feared) flying, he is intrigued by deep dark caves in their watery isolation. I’m not that interested in connecting Paul’s solo work with what he wrote earlier, mainly because he chose themes of family life and domesticity, deliberately so, as in his own words, he felt intimidated and annoyed by John and Yoko’s expectations to write political or ‘deep’ intellectual songs. Paul’s songs, and John’s, were very cohesive within the Beatles. It’s a body of work that stands on it’s own. There are a couple of clunkers here and there, but what the heck.0
It’s interesting you suggest a Liverpool/familial connection in “She’s Leaving” @Lara because Mary McCartney was an actual teenage runaway! Her home life was apparently so awful she left at 15 I believe, and never reconciled with her father even though they lived in the same city the rest of their lives. Did Paul know this? Did it consciously inspire the song? There’s one question I’d love an answer to.
@Annie m, you gave me both a heart attack and a good laugh this morning, picturing Mary McCartney running away forever (I hardly think she’s ever left! Doesn’t she work at MPL?). I think it was “Melanie Coe.”
Aaaaand then instantly after I hit send I realized you meant Mary “MOHIN” McCartney. Ha, too early in the morning for me. 😀
Haha! Yes, mother Mary. I’d forgotten about the Melanie Coe connection tho, so thanks for the reminder! But I still have to think the reason it caught Paul’s eye had something to do with his mum.
George did eventually admit that he could be horrible towards Paul though. Only George knows what he meant by that, and he is no longer around to explain. But there must of been some reason why he fessed up. I don’t think we will know the full story of the Beatles until Paul and Ringo die. There is always something that crawls out of the woodwork, even years later. @Annie M, I was referring to ER possibly having Liverpool connections, but good spotting with SLH, I hadn’t thought of that.
Do you happen to recall what it is George said or where you read it, @Lara? The only thing I know of like that is this quote:
“Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass — You know his faults — Then let his foibles pass. Old Victorian Proverb. I’m sure there’s enough about me that pisses him off, but I think we have now grown old enough to realize that we’re both pretty damn cute!”
@Lara – Did George really say that? I haven’t seen any source for it, but I must admit, I’d think more of him if that was true. I think both George and John treated Paul abysmally, and I’m not surprised that he didn’t work with either of them again after the Beatles broke up. We can speculate that John and Paul might have worked together again had John not been killed, but we don’t really know the truth of that. We do know that George and Paul couldn’t work with each other, and most people are quick to point the finger of blame at Paul for that, but I’m not so sure.
I think Paul was an easy target for the others to bully in the early days. I mentioned in a previous comment that I think there’s a class bias in much of the anti-Paul discourse, and maybe you have to be British and working class to recognise that. But it’s obvious to me at least that ‘friends’ like Klaus Voorman held the working class values that had been instilled in Paul by his father in utter contempt. They sneered at him, and John and George sneered with them.
John had no use for those values either, of course, and George was naturally arrogant – he just didn’t give a shit – which obviously impressed Klaus and Astrid, who were desperate to be seen as ‘cool’.
I’m sure there was a part of Paul that never forgave John and George for ganging up against him with people who (at the core) despised him for who he was and for the values he held that they didn’t understand. John and most certainly George DID understand those values, even if they rejected them. It couldn’t have been easy to forgive – and then of course there was more of the same (only much much worse) when Yoko came along.
I have no doubt that Paul was difficult to work with – most perfectionists are, and the stakes were really, really high. But God, they were horrible to him, and I don’t really see much evidence that he was horrible to them.
Elizabeth, I do think there’s evidence that Paul behaved poorly toward John and George. I can only imagine McCartney’s perfectionist tendencies turned up to 11 by cocaine, which he was evidently using at least some of the time during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.
The most accurate take on the group’s dynamics is, I think, that it was a dysfunctional family structure, something that Michael has explored in depth on this site. The balance shifted over time, and as key buffers were lost or stepped back (Brian Epstein and George Martin) and the money and fame got more pronounced, the intensity amped up.
@Nancy – Paul was difficult to work with. He was insensitive and he didn’t consider how his actions might impact and cause hurt to other people.
He wasn’t a bully, and he didn’t look down on anyone he perceived to be socially inferior. In fact, he made a conscious effort to hold on to his working class values. He even sent his kids to state schools, which was virtually unheard of for someone as wealthy as him, even in the 70s.
On the other hand, John was a bully, and he made a comment about Paul’s Liverpool family in an interview where he was asked what he thought of Paul’s TV show. He said he was embarrassed by the scenes in which Paul’s family were filmed singing in a pub; that they made him squirm.
What he meant was, he was embarrassed by Paul’s family. Paul wasn’t, or he wouldn’t have put them in his film. But John was, and you have to wonder to what extent he was also embarrassed of Paul – especially as he joined in when the ‘Exis’ sneered at Paul for being ‘too nice’. I wouldn’t be surprised if that pub scene wasn’t filmed as an act of defiance – to send a message that this was where he came from and who he was, and to stick two fingers up to the likes of Yoko and the ‘Exis’ for looking down on him.
No, Paul might have been more mindful of John’s feelings and George’s ego, but it’s just not the same at all.
@Elizabeth- Do you happen to know where I can see that interview with John? I knew there was a class issue with how the Exis treated Paul, but I thought it had improved as they got to know him. George was also from the working class and they loved him. Maybe it was a mixture of class along with something else as to why the Exis didn’t like Paul?
@Kir- In one of the books I have, there is a quote from Astrid where she says, “Paul was always so neat and clean and the girls loved that. But we all thought John and Stuart had more style.” I don’t think the Exis *disliked* Paul. Where did that come from? Wasn’t he friendly with Astrid, Klaus and Jurgen?
I also never heard that story that Elizabeth tells about John being embarrassed at Paul’s family on TV. Do you have the source for that? @Michael talks about being wary of gossip, yet quick to call John a snob based on what appears to be gossip (I know he didn’t form his opinion based on just that, but still genuine quotes are appreciated). Paul was also attracted to the upper/middle class. In fact, it’s one of the things that appealed to him about John (“He had a cousin who was a dentist!” “I never met anyone who had a relative named Harriet.” “His was Aunt Mimi, while ours were all called Auntie.” “One of his relatives worked for the BBC!” “They had pedigree Siamese cats at home” etc.) but, “Not that I was a social climber, mind! I’m just attracted to intelligent and talented (middle class?) people.” There are quotes in both the Anthology and Many Years From Now where Paul talks about being drawn to the world that John and his relatives came from. Found one of the quotes I cited, if anyone is interested (some of this made me think of Mrs. Doubtfire haha): https://pizzaandfairytales.tumblr.com/post/2134514006/i-dont-even-have-words-for-this-youll-just-have
@Kir – It’s quite difficult to explain the intricacies of the English class system, but basically Paul was brought up to be polite, respectful and decent. These values would have been instilled in George as well, but George was arrogant and a bit spoilt (he was the baby of his family, and they probably indulged him), and he made a conscious effort to reject those values. We know that because of the way he acted at school. The Liverpool Institute offered a ticket to a much better life for kids like George and Paul. This was time when social mobility was actually possible for the lucky few, of whom George was one, and he threw his chance away and had no regrets about doing so. Arrogant, immature and over-indulged by his doting parents who let him do it.
The ‘Exis’ were equally immature (in my opinion) and were probably impressed by George’s arrogance. On the other hand, there is nothing more distasteful to the middle classes than a working class person who they perceive to be trying too hard to be ‘nice’. The middle class have no use for people who are nice, but 18 year old Paul would not have known that.
Like I say, it’s hard to explain, but I’ll give you an example. Working class kids are brought up to say, ‘pardon?’ where middle class kids are brought up to say, ‘what?’. When I was about 18, I had a summer job working as a nanny for a family in London. One of the kids said, ‘What?’, and I pulled him up on it (he was a rude little shit). His mother overheard, and she said to me right in front of the kid, ‘My son does not say pardon to anyone’. Lesson learned.
My point is, 18 year old Paul had been taught to be nice; he would not have known that politeness to the ‘Exis’ was deference to sneered at – he hadn’t learnt those codes.
I can’t remember the source for John’s quote about Paul’s Liverpool family. It was an interview from the early 70s – just after Paul’s TV show, but before the lost weekend. I’m sure you will find it if you search for it on Google.
@Elizabeth, I’ve seen/heard a few people over the last couple of years (on podcasts, social media) express second-hand embarrassment at Paul for having his family in that portion of the James Paul McCartney TV special. Now, there are portions of that special that might be cringey but the family-in-the-pub scene isn’t one of those at all. It’s kind of cute and everyone looks great, IMO. The scene where Jim gives Paul money was left there for some kind of interest or as some kind commentary on Jim and Paul and their relationship and the Liverpudlian mindset. But I would be interested in seeing that interview with John, also — now I wonder if a lot of the sneering at that scene I’ve encountered in the wild is trickle-down sneering?
I always got the idea that John was fond of Paul’s family, Jim and Mike in particular– and vice-versa. In fact, I had gotten the idea that EVERYONE was fond of Paul’s family.
@Michelle-I remember Mark Lewisohn stated that everyone hated Paul while they were in Hamburg. I don’t think he was friends with them. Maybe later on in life, but Astrid said she was never close to him. They all seemed to prefer Stu, John, and George. I think they probably got along more post Beatles, but I’m not sure.
Thanks for the link. I just wanted to add that you’re right about Paul being attracted to the middle and upper classes. However, I believe, the difference is that people from the working class are looked down upon for not being part of a higher social class. This can cause them to become social climbers in order to move away from the stigma that comes with being lower class.
@Elizabeth- Thanks for giving that example. Do you know if Paul and George would have been treated differently by their teachers and peers while at the Liverpool Institute?
@Elizabeth, not being English or of that generation I don’t have a feel for the class dynamics, but I think John ADORED the idea of being upper class, and got a wife who fed that snobbery, then moved to a country where (he thought) if you were rich, you were upper class. Mimi, it seems, was a snob; and John, it seems, was a snob too.
@Michael – the English class system is so complicated, it’s impossible to explain, but yes, John would have felt that he was more deserving of being upper class, even though he would never have quite fit in.
Ironically, in Britain at least, Paul would have fitted in much better among the upper classes (probably does). They are brought up by nannies, and therefore have a closer affinity to the working classes. That’s why the Queen gets on so well with her dresser, who is the daughter of a Liverpool docker.
However, John would never have admitted this, as he was too image-conscious (as all the middle classes are) and he liked to pretend that he was working class like Paul, when in reality, he looked down on Paul.
That’s the thing about the middle classes – they are embarrassed that they have never had to struggle so pretend they have, while all the time thinking they are better than the people they claim to be and aspiring to join the upper classes, who have far more in common with the working classes!
@Elizabeth – it’s SO complicated! And maddening too, or always has been to me.
The difficult thing with John has always been the straddle between lower and middle class. He gets a lot of stick for the Working Class Hero thing, and that song and his relationship to it is complex, but I don’t think he was entirely one or the other. His upbringing from 5 or so onwards was firmly middle class in terms of economic status and all the trimmings, but that had a weird undercurrent in itself – isn’t there a claim that Mimi got the house through squatter’s rights?
And then there’s the other, far more traumatic, side of John’s life, the “broken home”, absent father, “unwell/unfit” mother (social services involved, children out of wedlock etc etc), living in sin, etc that was very much seen then as the hallmarks of being lower class. Paul talks about “where’s ya Dad then?” being a taunt that John would have thrown at him by people in their age group. I don’t think John’s upbringing is as cut-and-dried middle class as it has been painted as in latter years, because the class thing isn’t ever just about money and status. I think John felt like an outsider most of his life, and so probably identified far more with the working class in lots of ways.
I’ve never thought he looked down on Paul, pre-Yoko. And maybe I’m misunderstanding something fundamental, but I always thought that when he did give off that vibe in later years, it was more about art and counterculture than it was about class and status. Could definitely be wrong there – I’m British and have a relatively good grasp on the class stuff, but I’m not an expert by any means and am a different generation to the Beatles.
@Nikki – I totally agree that John was shaped more by his early childhood trauma than the economic and social class he was born into. My youngest son is adopted, so I have personal experience of dealing with a child traumatised by early life events, and I know my son will be forever affected by those events no matter how stable the rest of his life is, just as John’s was.
However, I think it is clear from what we know about the extended family (the holidays in Edinburgh, the uncle who worked as a dentist, the older cousin who became a doctor) that the Stanley’s were solidly middle class. Their middle-class values would have been instilled in John, just as Jim’s working class values were instilled in Paul.
Which isn’t to say that John didn’t like Paul’s family – of course he did, as Kristy pointed out – or that Mimi couldn’t have made friends with the other Beatle parents (according to a book I read recently, written by a fan who exchanged letters with Mimi over several years, Mimi ADORED Ringo’s mum). You can like someone and still feel superior to them.
I think John did look down on Paul, and that his willingness to gang up on him with Stuart and the Exis, and his comment about Paul’s family is proof of that. I also think that he considered Stuart and Yoko to be superior to Paul (obviously not musically, but socially and intellectually), and that Paul knew it and it made him insecure and defensive.
It’s just my opinion, mind you, and I’m a different generation too, but close enough to have been raised with the same values by parents of the same generation, and in the same place.
Relatedly, the One Sweet Dream podcast recently reported a fascinating new (to me at lease) story in the Paul/George dynamic. Disclaimer their source is Ronnie Schneider, Allen Klein’s nephew. Haven’t double checked it, no idea if it’s in a book somewhere or what? But anyway, according to OSD Schneider says that George once told him about an acid trip Paul and George took together. Paul’s trip turned bad, he started hallucinating he was falling down a well and he ended up clinging to a wall for dear life. George tried to talk him down, telling him it would be okay and offering to hold his hand. Paul was too frightened, he kept hanging onto the wall and wouldn’t take George’s hand. Now here’s the twist: This made George angry, so angry that according to Schneider George said he felt like punching Paul for it.
So, that’s weird. Assuming the the story is true, it’s still third hand so we’re obviously left with lots of questions. Was George’s anger limited to the context of his own trip, or did he remain angry about it after they’d sobered up? And if he remained angry afterward, did he ever realize that was an unfair reaction, or did he still think that anger was justified at the time he told Schneider about it?
Any which way, this story is rich with implications about the emotional makeup of the George/Paul relationship. Trust issues, intimacy issues, communication issues. It makes my head spin, tbh. If Paul remembers it, did he resent George afterward too? “This is why I didn’t want to take it in the first place, because it scared me, and now you’re mad at me for being scared?”
Whoa, waitasec — don’t use a story told to *Allen Klein’s nephew* about a supposed LSD trip between George and Paul to ascertain ANYTHING about George and Paul’s relationship. That’s crazy. Look to what George said about Paul, and vice-versa.
Is it likely that George would tell Allen Klein’s nephew about a drug trip? No.
Is it likely that George would reveal anything truly personal about his relationship with Paul to Allen Klein’s nephew? No.
Do we have any evidence that this happened, except for Allen Klein’s nephew saying, “George told me…”? No.
If it DID happen, is it certain that Allen Klein’s nephew would remember it accurately nearly 50 years later? Maybe, but maybe not.
Is it likely that one event, never spoken of by the principals, and never mentioned until now, be any kind of “hidden key” to a much-dissected relationship? No.
That’s purest gossip, and it’s why the quality of Beatle discussion has gone down as the number of “let’s shoot the shit about The Beatles” podcasts have gone up. It’s people taking a distant source with definite biases at face value, and using one story as a leaping-off point to make conclusions. It’s cafeteria gossip, which has its place and is great fun, but it should be treated as such.
Ok, delete if you like!
Not necessary — in general, more speech is better than deletion.
It may be 100% on the square; the point is to read my reaction. “This guy had this reaction to that.”
Well then I guess I’ll reiterate the disclaimer, of course, this is unsubstantiated and third hand (fourth hand now) and from a specific source whose credibility can and should be evaluated by all. S’pose i should have emphasized that more.
I’m not saying it’s a Rosetta stone, even if true. Just ruminating that “IF this, then that might explain X or indicate Y or overturn Z.” The greatest value of this has less to do with the new info (or “info”) itself and more to do with the opportunity to re-churn my existing ideas and maybe get some more ice cream outta them.
“No. That’s purest gossip, and it’s why the quality of Beatle discussion has gone down as the number of “let’s shoot the shit about The Beatles” podcasts have gone up.”
Having had my toe in the waters of the Beatle podcast market for just the past year, it became immediately obvious that not only is there that strong undercurrent that you referred to of hosts and readers/listeners/commentors deciding that one of the four Beatles is the one who is their lord and leige and whom they will defend against all commers–even to the point of getting snippy. At such times one begs for William Shattner to give his “move out of your parents basement SNL skit speech.
I have even noticed lately Mark Lewisohn (whilst as a guest and a few other hosts tending toward stridency in their advocacy that the Beatles were the sine qua non of creative forces in the 20th century and that listeners should (seemingly) let all else in life be given second place at best. ….well….ok. i find this tone to be pushy and not suggestive in an educative or informative spirit.
Sure they are compelling and fascinating and endlessly entertaining, but when those levels of insistence and stridency color the discussions they are not only too intense, but they slip yet further away from an actual examination of the context and the truth.
In other words, I have been surprised at the vitriol on one side and , on the other, a near authoritarian diktat as to how the Beatles should remain a 24/7 center of reverence, pilgrimage, and obloquy.
If my observations are accurate it means that you and Nancy do indeed have a challenging task in moderating.
Am I far off on this? Something I am missing?
” . . . not only is there that strong undercurrent that you referred to of hosts and readers/listeners/commenters deciding that one of the four Beatles is the one who is their lord and liege and whom they will defend against all comers”
made me laugh and envision the Beatles in a Medieval Times style tournament. It really does get that ridiculous.
As to moderating, we don’t have that many trolls, compared to some other sites (though Michael gets them worse than I do). It helps that we require people’s email addresses and that we trash comments that are abusive. But it IS a drag that the internet feels like a force that can sink almost any conversation into snippy bickering. I think it’s a testament to the “charge” the Beatles still possess that they provoke such strident commentary, pro and con.
@Neil Schier: I’m gen-X and I’ve definitely noticed that people younger than I am employ a good deal of hyperbole in their arguments. It’s kind of rubbed off on me, and I have to actively fight it. My eyelid sometimes twitches when I see or hear the word “literally,” because it’s become so ubiquitous. I think the partisan-ness of our culture has shaped that, too. That said, I really enjoy AKOM and One Sweet Dream because they’re changing a lot of the base perceptions of Beatles discussion, or at least offering new perspectives. They do a lot of research and I’m thankful for it, because they’re providing me with enjoyment.
I’ve always thought Will Shatner’s basement speech was such a nasty piece of work. He was mocking his own fans’ enjoyment of his artistic product. Being passionate about things that are fun and don’t ultimately matter is a great escape. Nerds came in for a bad rap there for a while, but I work two jobs and take care of my family and dog and friends and if I want to immerse myself in popular culture and participate in discussion of it, I’d prefer not to be sneered at by those who create it.
*Correction: I meant SNL skit rather than speech, but same effect!
I agree, Michael. Though as a Paul fan I should be on board with the thesis of the One Sweet Dream and Another Kind of Mind podcasts, I find them so uninterested in evenhandedness that it becomes difficult to take seriously, citing dubious sources left and right as long as they fit the argument. (In no way a dig at you, @Annie – I found that acid trip discussion intriguing as well, regardless of where it was from.)
The recent episode on the revealing and candid 1986 McCartney interview with Chris Salewicz was treated like a sort of sacred text, because it’s the One Candid Interview Paul Ever Did… to the extent of cleaning up the audio, playing some sections twice?! While I agree in principle with the points it’s being used to make (Paul is an artist, people haven’t considered Paul’s feelings as often, Paul’s work deserves more serious study), the existence of that interview doesn’t make it the truth in and of itself. Like Nancy said earlier in this thread, there is plenty of evidence that Paul can be an unselfaware, slave driving asshole sometimes, and the other Beatles, after touring, were burnt out. Exhausted. They needed a break and they needed someone who would listen to their feelings, not reject all criticism and forge on ahead without them if they didn’t turn up.
In that Salewicz interview, when I hear Paul say ‘hey, when we make a record I think its pretty cool to turn up to the studio!’ on the one hand, sure, good on you, Paul, for defending yourself – we fans all want more Beatle music! But also, George is sitting at home having missed yet another session. This is your oldest friend, Paul. Did you ever *call him*? Did you ever stop to think why?
On the other hand, Ben, Paul had been at school with George, and knew that he was a lazy, unreliable sod who didn’t turn up for lessons even then.
Maybe George was exhausted. Or maybe he didn’t like being told what to do and just couldn’t be bothered turning up.
You have to look at the larger picture. George had always been like this.
@Elizabeth – looking at the larger picture is exactly what I’m trying to do, and it means putting biases aside and examining where hurt and distance come from.
Maybe George was a ‘lazy, unreliable sod’ (though it’s the first I’ve heard him described that way), but comparing School Pupil George and Beatle George strikes me as a false dichotomy given his demonstrable commitment to the band for nearly ten years at that point, even when he was being made to play third fiddle. We know George wasn’t academic – but he *did* love music and wanted to play in a band more than anything. I don’t think it’s fair to equate his behaviour in those two contexts.
The assertion that George ‘didn’t like being told what to do’ also assumes that Paul had an objective right to tell him what to do, which I’m not entirely comfortable with. Making music with your friends shouldn’t be like school. It shouldn’t be like being dictated to, it shouldn’t make you feel stifled or devalued. There should be earnest attempts to communicate, sensitivity to others’ hurt, willingness to confront issues. No doubt *all* of the Beatles were enormously guilty of failings in this area, but it’s clear that the stress and trauma made Paul push harder, while deep down what John, George and Ringo probably needed was to retreat and regroup. That unstoppable drive of Paul’s is certainly a characteristic of the capital-A Artist, and Paul *is* one. While we get him back on that pedestal though, let’s not lose sight of the distance it clearly created between him and his bandmates.
Has any Beatles podcast been as picked apart as OSD/AKOM have? I feel like people are way way harder on them than your standard narrative, sneering at Paul, Lennon Is God, “jean jacket” podcast. I wonder why…
Hey Sally, what would you consider to be the “standard narrative, sneering at Paul, Lennon is God, ‘jean jacket’ podcasts? I don’t listen to any Beatles podcasts so I’m looking for guidance.
@Ben – I don’t mean to put Paul on a pedestal. I don’t disagree that he had faults – who doesn’t? – but I also don’t see how it was his job to make George feel good about himself.
The others didn’t have the same work ethic as Paul. That’s fine, except they were in a band together, but one of them was doing most of the work.
On balance, I would say that Paul
had more to be pissed off about than George or John. Unlike them, he didn’t have time to worry about bruised egos – he was too busy keeping the ship afloat.
@Ben S Regarding Paul’s work ethic and drive to get back into the studio when everyone was burnt out, I’ve seen it suggested elsewhere that the Beatles were actually under pressure to produce as much as possible given the mess their finances were found to be in after Brian died. From what I understand, they didn’t have time to take a lot of time off to grieve/recover. I believe that Paul also tried to lose himself in work as a coping mechanism and wanted to find ways to keep them all together as a group, but I think their need to make money was also a major factor in a quick return to work. If anyone has more resources on this I’d love to see.
About AKOM/OSD, those pods, like many others, have a point of view. I enjoy listening and also appreciate that the hosts are very clear about what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it. If people don’t like the hosts’ approach to John and Paul’s partnership, the breakup of the group, or their takes on Ringo, Linda, and Yoko, they don’t have to listen. But the fact that they’ve had guests like Chris Salewicz, Joshua Wolf Shenk, and Chris O’Dell indicates to me that people who write about and/or were part of the Beatles’ circle find their perspective worth engaging with as well.
If the Beatles were a band today under the way current song credits work almost all their catalogue would have had both George’s names alongside Paul and Johns so I don’t believe George’s contributions should be devalued. He wasn’t a session guitarist who played from a sheet of music given to him.
And an article that came out on George’s 75th birthday said that since rise of streaming, George’s Beatles contributions out stream some of the considered Beatles classics like Yesterday Hey Jude Let It Be Come Together All you need is love etc.
And it’s funny the other day I decided randomly to listen to the Let it Be album all the way through, to be honest it’s never been my fave, and I have grown a new appreciation for ‘I me mine’. It’s a song I never really paid attention too so I didn’t realise what a great rock track it is. Plus I think it’s probably a very poignant reflection on the bands personal and professional relationships at the time.
@Michael Gerber, I’m not Sally, whom you asked, and I usually listen to podcasts with women and nope out of those that get too “lol Paul amirite,” but some I’ve heard seem to involve Richard Buskin. He used to co-host Something About the Beatles, and I think in the past some people liked the opposing perspectives of Robert Rodriguez and Buskin with his Paul-hate, but I couldn’t take it myself and only listen to the newer episodes of SATB, which are excellent. His episodes with Erin Torkelson Weber, whom you’ve said used to comment here, are outstanding. 🙂
(Though there was one episode where Robert had Ray Connolly on as well as Jude Southerland Kessler to talk about John, and while Ray Connolly was great to listen to, Kessler said some things I found appalling and which the other podcasters seemed taken aback by as well. I mostly remember her saying that Paul waited until Cynthia was pregnant and John was focused on cherchez la femme, his attention on the woman, the golden-haired angel who was going to take all his pain away, that kind of thing, whereupon Paul “swooped in” to take control of the band and get rid of Pete Best. )
Fabcast can get kind of jean-jackety– they like to talk about Paul the ultimate PR man and things like that– but the hosts are knowledegable about the music business, they’re dynamic and hyperbolic, I’ve learned a lot about Beatles-contemporary music and Beatles solo music from them, and I’ll forgive them a lot for the time they subjected Mark Lewisohn to a lengthy screed on how awesome Paul McCartney was for writing “Silly Love Songs.” If they don’t like things, they sure say it, though, sometimes cruelly.
A good thing I’ll say for AKOM/One Sweet Dream is that they have a thesis they’re working towards, and they have the timelines and contemporary interviews to back up their suppositions and deductions, even if their deductions may not be 100% truth. And some of the pushback against them that I’ve seen elsewhere has a certain … tinge to it. One person on another group compared them to an old-timey “gossipy women” skit.
Excellent, @Kristy, thank you.
I am generally uninterested in the Beatle Opinion Industrial Complex, which is why I’m largely stepping away from this blog. We’ve spoken about Jude Kessler before on HD, and I am infinitesimally appalled at her elevation from writer of perfectly serviceable fan-fic to authority (I just wrote a comment unpacking some of why that appalls me); but that reaction has little to do with her personally or the quality of her writing. I’m sure she’s a fine person. I simply think we’re seeing a new group of gatekeepers being installed, ones based on algorithms and downloads and while I don’t much like the old methods, I think one could at least see the biases and flaws in that system enough to read against them.
I don’t trust popularity. I’ve been popular and unpopular, and in our culture popularity, like wealth, seems to confer a kind of dangerous divinity. After my experience with “Were John and Paul Lovers?” I actively avoid doing things to make this blog more popular, because I think its utility–such as it has any–comes from its obscurity. I would never, ever suggest we do an HD podcast, or video series, or anything like that. While I support what Erin does 100%, stuff like “Something About the Beatles” makes me break out in hives. Why?
The best way I can put it is this: if you’re past a certain age, time you spend thinking about The Beatles likely comes at the expense of necessary thinking about your own self and life. Fandom is, after a certain age, a kind of avoidance. Fans know this, and that’s why they can get so terribly invested in their opinions. John being a genius, or Paul being slighted, becomes very important because the time formulating that opinion has cost you something real.
So if I think that, why am I up at 1:12 am PDT typing it? A good question. 🙂 I’d like to think it’s because I like Beatles fans and want them to awaken. Or maybe I’m avoiding something. Could be!
Michael, just want to say (again) that what I most dislike — and fear — about some of the Beatles fandom landscape is closely allied to what is happening in the larger media landscape. Specifically, people offering their preferred narratives as the Truth, even when evidence is lacking or contradictory. In this dynamic, emotional needs seem to trump all else.
Jude Sutherland Kessler is a great example. I’ve written before about why her claim that her books-long narrative of John Lennon’s life is nonfiction is highly, highly problematic. It’s the same issue we saw repeatedly in the “Lovers” thread, only with published books and convention appearances, and done by someone whose education makes clear that she knows enough about history to know better. Her books include invented dialogue, invented internal thoughts of actual people, and silent choices about which version of a contested story to tell. That’s a historical novel, not a nonfiction narrative. That doesn’t make it wrong to create or bad to consume. But mislabeling it and by extension making it easier for people to mistake fiction for nonfiction? That’s deadly to critical thinking, in my opinion.
But that said, is fandom necessarily “a kind of avoidance”? I’m not sure. That it very often can be seems clear. But sometimes fandom can also be about self-discovery and building community, even after the young adult years.
@Nancy, I’d like to think that fandom builds community and allows self-discovery, but that depends on the individual fan. There’s something about the digital world that too often weaponizes fandom, and raises up people like Kessler, who is at the very least less thoughtful than she should be.
I don’t want to be too hard on her, she’s just doing what she likes to do and others like it too. But she is clearly serving her own emotional needs without admitting to that–“I’m making up a story about a stranger that makes me feel good.” And her claims of nonfiction strike me as either self-delusion and/or a commercial gambit. If something is said to be truth, then you don’t have to acknowledge that it’s satisfying an emotional need.
I’m sorry–just realizing I hit send on my last reply too soon! The part about AKOM/OSD was a general comment and not directed at Ben S, and I listed out Ringo, Linda, and Yoko because they have specific episodes devoted to them, though the podcasts’ approach to all of them is based around the timeline, as Nikki has said, in addition to applying emotional intelligence and careful readings of the music, interviews, and biographies.
I don’t see their approach as a rejection of other ways of analyzing or discussing the Beatles as such. To me, it’s kind of like how historians have different ways of analyzing and writing about history. While the AKOM/OSD hosts have their timeline/emotional intelligence approach, others may choose to look at the Beatles more in the context of other groups and the ’60s period, and so on. It seems pretty common for people in the same field to split off into different lanes, even if those lanes meet in certain places (and it’s also pretty common for lively debates about the different approaches to take place from time to time 🙂 )
“Emotional intelligence” takes on historical subjects are appealing to fans, because they are a power-grab. They allow fans to determine the narrative, instead of writers/documentarians/other gatekeepers. But the more popular the takes become, the more suspicious you should be; in this day and age, popularity works the algorithm so popularity builds popularity, and you get a new “standard narrative.” We know Jann Wenner’s biases; do we know some fan’s? How could we, unless they tell us? (see below)
Popular or not, the takes are only as illuminating as the analyzers are wise.
People are very complicated, and it’s very hard to figure them out. It is standard practice, for example, for therapists to decline to diagnose a person who is not their client. The more you know about people, especially non-standard people in non-standard situations, the more cautious you must be.
To analyze the emotional interplay between four rich, super-famous Sixties rockstars awash in drugs and sex, you MUST learn a great deal about the nature and impact of fame, sex, wealth, and drug use on interpersonal relationships. That would be a baseline for any podcast I’d be interested in. Are they doing that?
If you don’t do that, you’re basically starting from the assumption that “the Beatles were like me and my friends are now,” and I simply don’t think that’s true. Their lives weren’t anything like a normal person’s life in 1965, much less in 2021. And if the analyzers are contemporary women under the age of 75, you’ve got a different gender experience AND a different temporal one. And if the analyzers are American rather than British, you’ve got a different cultural experience, as well. The conclusions then are based on a sort of squishy idea that “people are the same no matter who, no matter when, no matter what” and…is that really so?
So, in an effort to get some certainty, we go to chronology. Chronology is a great tool, but it can be misleading, because not every event is catalogued–what you choose to put on a timeline creates a narrative. Proximity implies causality, and causality may not exist. It may…or it may not. That’s where judgment comes in.
There’s also the non-trivial matter of possibly gainsaying the people themselves, and not only is that a questionable exercise (“I know Paul’s motivations better than Paul did”) it also turns these actual human beings into fan-fic you’re writing. We’ve spoken about this before on the site, in re: McLennon basically turning everybody into liars, and writing out the women in John’s and Paul’s lives.
But I get it, speculation is fun, especially in the absence of any new Beatle content. We’ve done it a ton here for over a decade. But I would caution anybody about taking the conclusions too seriously; it’s barstool conversation.
Harmless, right? Well, in 2008 I would’ve said absolutely. But today we are living in a time where digitally shared, omnipresent, constant, empowered barstool conversation–about politics, sports, life, culture and everything else–has overwhelmed the “standard narratives” in all those realms. This has led to some new truths, but also a lot of new falsehoods. It has transferred some power away from one set of gatekeepers and given it to another. The person with the publishing house has been replaced by the person with the podcast, and because people only have a limited amount of time and money, “just start your own podcast!” isn’t really a sensible solution.
There still has to be some gatekeeping, and because it’s not going to be applied from the outside, I think it has to be internal, methodological.
The only way to do “emotional intelligence” responsibly is to know oneself as deeply as possible, first; and then to reveal oneself as much as possible in the analysis. In this way, you “show your sources,” and the listener/reader can decide. For example, when I talk about the Beatles concordance with the alcoholic family pattern, I’m drawing on my own lived experience with those patterns, and saying, “When I see them interact, this reminds me of that. And here’s specifically what, and here’s specifically why.”
The problem here is that it’s not safe for women to reveal themselves on the internet, and I get that. But I don’t see how one elevates the discourse–gives it some validity other than “I just feel that.” “I just feel that Paul was slighted” or “I just feel that people give John too much credit” — these are perfectly valid opinions, but they’re not any more valid than “I just feel that Thor could beat up Hulk. I mean, Thor’s a god.” Nothing so wrong with that talk, but nothing particularly right about it either.
@ Sally I don’t doubt that the OSD/AKOM crew would be picked apart less if they had penises.
@Michael, The point you’re making here: “Chronology is a great tool, but it can be misleading, because not every event is catalogued–what you choose to put on a timeline creates a narrative. Proximity implies causality, and causality may not exist. It may…or it may not. That’s where judgment comes in.” is one that the AKOM/OSD podcast hosts agree with and have also made. Diana suggested in the “Battle For Northern Songs” episode that many Beatle authors, in discussing the breakup, “look for something tangible Paul did even if John’s upset about things we don’t know about.”
A lot of what they’re doing in the pods is questioning established claims by pointing out, like you have, that there are issues with looking at an effect and pinning it definitively on something/someone when there may have been other things going on. They use the timeline to do a variety of things, from looking at aspects that may have been underexplored by bio authors in terms of “other things that were going on,” like how John and Paul lost Northern Songs officially the day before the divorce meeting, to debunking the idea that John “wasn’t interested” in the Beatles anymore and that’s why he quit. A lot of what they’re doing is questioning established claims by looking at the assumptions behind them and using interviews/other aspects of the historical record that are glossed over or left out to present alternative readings or readings that add layers to existing claims.
I see their emotional intelligence as being kind of like Lewisohn and other authors explaining that John may have done things like mockingly imitating people with physical disabilities because he was horrified by what had happened to them/worried about how he himself would cope with having these disabilities (I think I’m getting that explanation right?). These authors have reasons for making that claim, just as the pod hosts draw on what the Beatles and their circle said/did as well as past events to make their own claims–they just apply this type of reading to events/Beatle people who may not have received those kinds of reading or consideration from bio authors before. It’s not “My friends and I would respond to this in x way, so therefore the Beatles…”
@Elly, that’s very interesting, but as a disabled person (cerebral palsy) I have a reaction to your last paragraph.
Abled people mocking disabled people isn’t necessarily “because [you are] horrified by what had happened to them/worried about how [you] would cope with having these disabilities.” In fact, in my (somewhat extensive) experience, that’s a level of thoughtfulness or even cognition that is certainly *not present* in the moment, and usually not even present in retrospect. That’s a rationale people apply ex post facto.
Whether it’s 1964 or today, people make fun of people with disabilities because they think they can, and because humor (another area where I have some experience) relies on a shared perception of the normal. It is normal for people to be able to walk, therefore not being able to walk is abnormal, therefore notable/surprising/fodder for humor. And if the group is also powerless? Game on.
So this is a perfect example of how we, all of us, center our own experience when imagining the biases/motivations/etc of others. Lewisohn and others, being decent people living in our contemporary age, look for a rationale for John’s behavior based on THEIR mental map…which is not John’s, circa 1964. And they wish to LIKE John, so they create a rationale that allows them to continue to do so.
Here’s what I learned reading about the JFK assassination: the bigger the pile of data, the more your narrative depends on story-making. So (for example) if you do a podcast (or a blog like this one) designed to challenge the standard narrative, you’re going to make stories that fit that worldview/raison d’etre. Whether this is necessary or not.
I couldn’t hope to have an opinion about any of these podcasts without listening to them and examining the source material myself. I do believe that “the standard narrative” is fundamentally accurate, because a lot of people have done a lot of work on it over a lot of years, with plenty of primary source, using pretty standard historical/journalistic tools. And in most cases there isn’t a pressing reason for a journalist or historian to wrench the narrative. When there IS a pressing reason, it’s because certain information is unpalatable to fans–such as Lennon’s appalling behavior towards the disabled, which was probably closer to defining them as non-human than “oh gee, it would really be terrible to be ‘a spastic,’ so I’m going to deal with my understandable anxiety with humor.” That part of the standard narrative is most likely bullshit.
And the reason I can recognize that–while still loving John Lennon and respecting his work–is because I’m disabled. Now that I’ve told you that, you can read this comment for bias, which is why I told you it up top. The makers of podcasts (and blogs like this one) are loaded with bias, but don’t have layers of editors, fact-checkers and lawyers engaging with their material; it just goes from them to you unfiltered, and while that’s fun, it’s not necessarily more accurate than the standard narrative, and probably less so. And unless they’re super-transparent like I just was, you can’t listen to their podcasts for bias; one, they might not know themselves well enough to realize they are biased in a certain way, and two, they may not feel safe revealing that kind of personal info, especially if they are female on the internet. Beatles fandom hasn’t had a Gamergate or the kind of harassment female comics fans get, but that’s because the group has been broken up since 1970, and a good portion of the fandom isn’t online. That portion that is, displays the same attack/defend fierceness as comics and gaming.
The hosts of AKOM/OSD challenge, among other things, the accepted notion that Paul was devastated about the Beatles breakup. Does anyone believe that this is false or exaggerated? To me, the best source is the primary source, in this case Paul himself, who revealed that he fell into a deep depression after the Beatles broke up (and this was news to a lot of people, not a long held narrative that needed debunking).
@Michelle, I don’t see that AKOM/OSD challenges the notion that Paul was devastated by the breakup.
I think their take is that Paul could have kept the Beatles afloat if he’d been willing to, for example, welcome Yoko to record with them, pretty much as a member of the group. But for Paul, such a group would no longer have been the Beatles.
Someone else jump in if I’m mucking up this so-called explanation!
Thank you for your reply! You’ve made me see how Lewisohn and other bio authors (as well as all the rest of us!) may be closer to “If my friend did this, this could be why” than I had thought. Great point also about how having a lot of data can mean using it to tell the story you want to tell–in this case, maybe using evidence of other things John had said or drawn about disability to come up with a story about his actions that allowed these authors to continue to like John.
I think, though, that as you’ve said (and Erin Weber has also demonstrated), “the standard narrative” has had various agendas over the years and has prioritized looking at The Beatles in certain ways, which means, as you’ve described, picking out some information to fit whatever story they wanted to tell (i.e,John left the Beatles because he was bored or George had totally checked out of the Beatles by ’66 if not earlier). What I see people on various podcasts (as well as this blog) as doing is looking at how what’s left out or underexplored challenges some of those narratives. I don’t mean they necessarily challenge them in a radical way that overturns everything past authors have said, but that they challenge them in a way that makes a difference nonetheless. For example, Mikal Gilmore and the AKOM/OSD pods agree that John’s intention wasn’t to break up the Beatles. However, their ideas about what John may have been trying to achieve are a bit different in ways that have ramifications for how we understand how John and Paul collaborated and shared power.
In other cases, a blogger, podcaster, or aspiring biographer might want to look at stories that aren’t really told in most of the standard biographies–like (and this is just a total hypothetical and I’m not making a case that this is actually really important or secretly over here writing Mike McCartney: The True Key to Understanding the Beatles :))– how Mike McCartney’s presence for a lot of the Beatles story and his relationships with the band members may have had an effect on how they operated/how we see them and their relationships to one another. For example, would sharing that Mike visited John on his own when he was in NYC make people who think John hated Paul wonder if John would make time for Paul’s little brother if he couldn’t stand him (of course he might have, but it would possibly be a question)? Mike also corresponded with Stu. What, if anything, does that mean? I don’t mean this as a totally serious example (Mike’s Thank U Very Much just happens to be in my line of sight at the moment), but I can see legitimate reasons why people might want to add nuance to existing stories or provide a different perspective (no matter how slightly different) to what we get in the biographies.
I completely agree that a responsible approach is to be aware of one’s own biases and interests when doing so and to make oneself aware of what needs to be known in order to come up with a thesis that’s as accurate as possible. I’m an American woman in the year 2021. Does this mean I can’t make a compelling argument about what’s going on in The Iliad because I wasn’t part of the original audience? No. It does mean that I need to be aware of what I need to know so that I don’t apply a 2021 lens inappropriately. If I’ve done so and have given my audience enough logical reasons and sound evidence to explain my argument, then there’s no reason people shouldn’t engage and maybe be persuaded, even if my argument ends up challenging what past scholars have already published. Of course there can also be pushback (what counts as compelling evidence can be different for different folks even in the same field) and dialogue and potential revisions down the line. But I think that type of discussion is worth having and could lead to interesting places.
@ Michelle and @Laura I agree with Laura, I don’t think AKOM/OSD dismiss (or will dismiss) Paul’s depression after the breakup. They seem very commited to acknowledge the primary sources and their feelings, so that would be totally against their premises. They do however challenge the opinion that, since he was depressed and has spoken openly about it, Paul was i) powerless and passive (or at best only reactive) during the breakup; and ii) desperate for the Beatles to keep going at all costs.
I think i) is an opinion mainly expressed by Doggett in YNGYM (or at least that’s how I read his comments) and ii) is very common among fans.
I think they do a good job to prove that Paul was instead:
– very well aware of their problems and openly discussing the possible “divorce” since January ’69;
– somehow disillusioned with the others and their friendship since the “liberty bell” meeting in May ’69;
– pro-active in trying to find solutions and motivate the others to play together until september ’69;
– demanding quality and real commitment from the other members;
– not willing to accept compromise solutions and power plays (like the 4-4-4 album, John’s trial separation, Klein, Yoko, etc.).
Thanks for explaining AKOM’s position, Iris. Elly reminded me of what I read in a RS mag from the ’80s, that Mike McCartney hung out with John in NYC sometime during the ’70s. I was a pre-teen when reading that and already a Beatles fan, and the first thought that came to my head was, “When Paul heard about that he must have been jealous.” LOL, all gut feelings at that time. Didn’t do any research or read biographies until later. I knew that John and Paul went their separate ways, and intuitively knew that Paul was trying to reach out to John somehow.
This is interesting, Michael. I think I agree in general, but I also love ‘shoot the shit’ Beatles podcasts and I don’t necessarily think the level of Beatle discussion has gone down across the board because of them, although I do see what you’re saying about critical analysis.
I find the podcast that Annie mentions simultaneously great and almost completely intolerable. It’s great because they do a lot of source triangulation stuff and they pay really close attention to the timeline, which I’m always really interested in. But it’s also an echo-chamber where I find they ignore the things that I know lots of us have talked about on here and that many of us think are really important to trying to understand the Beatle dynamic – unprocessed grief, addiction, the trauma of that level of fame – in order to labour their particular point.
So where they’re snorting with laughter at John declaring he’s Jesus or getting his dick out on an album cover – I’m thinking that I’ve seen people do similar wild and weird things under the influence and it’s not particularly funny, often scary for those around them, and usually indicative of deep and difficult issues. It’s a bit jarring.
A few podcasts at the moment have taken to dismissing all previous interpretation and work that has been done to tell the Beatles’ story, and I wonder if that’s something of what you’re getting at here and in the other discussion about monoculture and Wenner? The idea that the emotional/interpersonal focus is important and has been missing previously, but it’s like it exists in a vacuum now, and is considered the *only* thing of importance, with all the previous generation’s of-the-time contextualisation, evidence and analysis being dismissed.
@Lara, would you by chance happen to remember where George said that? I’d love to see it. I’ve been trying to learn more about George lately, and I was starting to wonder if he’d ever walked back some of his bitterest statements.
@Kristy, I may have seen it in Pattie Boyd’s biography, but I can’t be sure. George behaved badly towards Pattie and he apologized to her as well. They all behaved badly towards the women in their lives, but I found something particularly discomforting about some of the things George did. I do remember the actual word George used was “shitty”. That he could also be shitty to Paul.
I think it was Derek Taylor or George Martin, or someone, who said the Beatles had never moved normally through the last stages of adolescence. From 1963, at 20-22, their unprecedented fame, adulation, wealth, and drug-taking prevented this. They developed musically and intellectually of course, but not psychologically, and this was still evident at the time of their breakup and for quite a while afterwards.
That’s also a rule-of-thumb in 12 step circles: Whenever addiction starts, maturing stops.
Kia, it’s interesting about class issues and how George was accepted by the Exis and not Paul. In her biography, Marianne Faithfull, said a little middle/upper class coterie was formed in London circles during the mid sixties that included herself, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and a few like people. Later she said she felt ashamed at excluding Paul. George and Ringo were excluded as well, but they didn’t care. I think a lot of it was to do with Paul being so keen and eager with his wide-eyed enthusiasm. He was still seen as a kid from the sticks and a bit nerdy.
That’s interesting. I was under the impression she and Paul were friendly. He did date her nanny lol. I wonder how that group butted up against the Indica books/gallery crowd Paul was running with?
@Sally, they were all friendly as individuals and certainly liked each other. Faithfull was trying to express their awe of Bob Dylan when he visited London, whom they likely saw as as an intellectual amongst their midst. It was something that he possibly instigated, either consciously or unconsciously. In retrospect, I expect Marianne recognized it as nothing more than the intellectual pretensions of youth. I do recall though, that relations between the Beatles and Dylan were a little strained, or at least awkward, around about this time. The Indica set were quite different, I believe, and possibly more fluid in their approach to class.
I don’t know why people have this notion that Bob Dylan is/was an intellectual. If he was, he sure didn’t want to leave that impression, what with his faux Okie routine. He also liked to distance himself from his middle class roots, and dropped out of college after one year. Listen to an interview of his once, particular during his head-scratching “gospel” period. He sounds dumber than a box of rocks. But cynical as hell, so he probably isn’t as dumb as he wants us to believe. This is one artist whose work I admire (generally), but who I don’t particular care for personally.
Not a Dylan super-fan, but from the outside both his lyrical content and his relationship to fame — and his friendship with Lennon and Harrison — suggest that Bob’s a pretty smart fellow. That’s just my guess, YMMV.
Sort of topic adjacent but a few months ago I watched the full clip on YouTube of Bob Dylan and John Lennon driving around London and it was hilariously awkward. It definitely gave me the never meet your hero vibes on Johns behalf lol.
@Lara- I agree, it’s very interesting. I wish there was more information on what Paul and George thought about being included or excluded from the Exis.
Did Marianne say if the exclusion of Paul was intentional or unintentional?
Sorry, should say Kir! The horrors of predictive text!
You proded me to think of artists and performers who have, sadly, ended up sneering at those who follow their art form. Yes they have followers, but they also have those who follow what they create vice just the performer himself/herself.
This sneering against the latter group is particularly disappointing as the viewer or hearer is making an investiture in something beyond the mere persona of the artist and, therefore, you would expect merits a bit more respect.
I am sure we could compile a long list of performers who went through this stage with some of them never having come out the other side. Why this disconnect arises probably has many causes but it does smack, to me at least, of an acquired air of sophistication against those who are not perceived as keeping step.
Perhaps I over-egged my comment on finding some of the podcasts being a bit high-handed. It is actually just a remark that I noticed here or there when the enthusiasm for the topic becomes a bit of “how cannot everyone share the same ardor that I have?” We probably all do this and so maybe I am reacting too strongly to what is merely part and parcel of a free-flowing discussion.
I will have to politely disagree with Shattner’s skit though I thought it a clever send-up but one that was not meant maliciously…certainly not with the reputed Buddy Rich level of venom. I guess I would have to know if Shattner made any subsequent derogatory remarks? If so, then I can understand the criticism.
Either way, we live in an age of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to being a fan–one that allows us to engage at any level we wish and I find that to be a great thing. All the more so when I read the descriptions here of how tightly info used to be controlled, much to our detriment, by the likes of Jan Wenner et al.
Hello. I can’t reply to you for some reason, so I’m posting here.
The ones that immediately come to mind are Fabcast, Nothing Is Real and Something About The Beatles when Richard Buskin was still cohost. Admittedly Nothing Is Real’s group on Facebook may be influencing my opinion about the pod itself. I haven’t listened to the Winter Of Discontent pod but I have heard it is similar.
I also might be fresh off seeing a wave of vitriol for OSD on various platforms and am feeling defensive. I enjoy their podcast and they always give me a new perspective to ponder.
Thanks for asking.
Hey @Sally. Seeing as I’m the one who brought up OSD/AKOM in the first place, I’d like to row back and say that – again, as a big Paul fan – I do enjoy the podcast, value their perspective and have listened to every episode. As it’s been said above, their focus on the nuances of the timeline are fascinating and they get superb guests. I’d certainly hate for my criticism to be characterised as ‘vitriol.’ I just get frustrated when they get carried away with the narrative and the dubious sources start coming out.
It’s interesting that you mention Nothing Is Real – that strikes me as a very even-handed podcast. One host is a Paul fan and the other a George fan and they occasionally gently butt heads, but it’s more part of the ‘schtick’ than an attempt to promote any particular narrative. They’ve done feature episodes on every Beatle, they’ve been critical of Philip Norman’s take on Paul and trashed his most recent bio, and I’ve certainly not heard any ‘Lennon is God’ style stuff from them. They’re ‘Team Beatles’ as far as I can see.
Hi Ben S- didn’t mean to categorize you in with the vitriol, my apologies. But I can’t help but think No one would blink at some of these things from a male podcaster (See: the breathless tones in which Mark L is usually discussed by the typical Beatles podcast host… or one of the fabcast guys comparing Tune In to the Torah! talk about treating something as a holy text!!)
I also feel that the descriptor of “gossipy” (Ben S, I don’t think you in particular said this) that I keep seeing is a little sexist. If they are gossipy, so is every Beatles podcast, or at least 75% of them, yet I’ve never seen that leveled at any other. I guess if we’re debating whether beatles podcasts should exist at all is one thing… but somehow that discussion only comes up when OSD does?
Re: NIR, like I said before my opinion might be influenced by their large and active podcast group and I’m just lumping them in with my perception of the opinions of their fans, which might not be fair of me.
And again, I do think I’m feeling defensive, because of all the criticism I’ve seen elsewhere, and bringing it here, which isn’t totally fair either, so again, my apologies. I think I had a reaction of- here, too?! lol.
@Richard right! thank you.
I can probably get away with saying this as a woman, but… women are gossipy. As someone who has worked in an office with both men and women, most of the gossip comes from my female coworkers. Not mean-spirited gossip, just chatty. Men just don’t gossip all that much in the workplace, and I find it easier to get my work done around them. I’ve always been a feminist so don’t get me wrong. That’s just been my observation.
I have to disagree. Men are just as gossipy. My husband owns a business, and the men there do just as much gossiping as the women.
In my life, I’ve been surprised at how much men like to gab.
I really enjoy both AKOM and OSD especially because the hosts are women, they became Beatles’ fans as adolescents after watching Anthology, and their younger perspective helps to identify weak spots in the standard telling of the breakup period.
But if their detractors call them gossipy, that strikes me as bit sexist. Just wait, someone, if they haven’t already, will probably call them bossy, emotional, uppity, or hysterical. The authors of Beatles books, reviews, magazine stories and podcasts have been mostly men, so some probably feel it’s their club and don’t like uppity women questioning the assumptions (not facts) they’ve relied on for decades.
Very good! Thank you, @Sally!
Ben S, I do think Elizabeth may have a point about George not liking being told what to do. And I think he was probably spoiled by his family – he was the youngest of four siblings, two of which were several years older. He was doted on by his parents, and in the same way, the Exis took him under their wing and mollycoddled him for the same reasons. He was the youngest, seventeen, a virgin, and undoubtedly naive about much in life. But the other three Beatles didn’t treat him that way; once the hurricane of Beatlemania was underway, they had to look after each other but they had to look after number one as well. There was no special treatment in that rough and tumble world. Could it be that George suddenly found himself outside his comfort zone? I find their birth orders interesting in itself: John and Ringo were effectively only children, Paul the eldest of two, and George the youngest of four. The other point I’d like to make about George is something Pete Best observed about him in his biography. That after one heavy night in Hamburg, George vomited on the floor of their living quarters and when asked by the owner to clean up he refused. And refused and refused. I won’t describe the weeks that followed because it’s too disgusting. Was there an element of recalcitrance in George’s make up? That when reasonably asked something of him he put his foot down? Did this frustrate Paul? So much has been written and analyzed about John and Paul that lacks the contextualization of George and Ringo in their relationship. Was George really that committed to the band? By his own admission, George discovered the yogis and mantras in his very first acid trip and that was way back in 1965. He’d found something bigger than the Beatles and had already made plans to visit India. That was his choice. George sitting at home missing yet another session?Quite frankly, as someone astutely pointed out on another site, that if George were in another band he’d be fired. But that would have been unthinkable, because the Beatles were THE BEATLES and as Neal Schier remarked, would become “the center 24/7 of reverence and pilgrimage” 50 years later. I don’t like Paul being put on a pedestal any more than I do the others. We know his faults have been given the fine toothcomb treatment. That from Paul fans he was the one and only talent in the band and the best musician since Mozart is idiotic. But I do notice they are less likely to use qualifiers, and it’s the qualifiers that are damaging. The usual suspects: Paul was a great musician, BUT John was the true artist, George’s songs were deep, UNLIKE Paul who wrote commercial pop, WHEREAS Paul may have been a brilliant bassist, John and George had the best chord progressions. Because that is the sort of blind worship I don’t understand. It’s putting talents into categories. Beatle A is allowed to be this but Beatle C isn’t because that’s unfair to Beatles B and D. And God forbid that Beatle D has all of them! It’s rubbish and I just don’t see the same coming from McCartney’s followers. That in pushing him they don’t feel the same need to invalidate or undermine the abilities of the others in such specific terms. I do see a lot of character bashing of John today, but not actually of his music. Over the course of several decades, Paul has been subject to both. It’s easy to dismiss this as crude internet chatter, but this stuff sticks. If there is no serious discussion in examining the personalities of the four members of the band as a collective in rectifying this, then where do you go?
Re the Exis “hating” Paul or everyone “hating” Paul in Hamburg, if I remember Tune In correctly, Lewisohn’s source for this was Stu so given the relationship he had with Paul, I think his bias needs to be taken into account and that statement needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, it’s more likely he was speaking for himself rather than everyone.
Having said that though, the Exis were closest to Stu of all the Beatles given his relationship with Astrid and how artistic he was, so again, given how strained his relationship was with Paul it makes total sense that this would exclude him somewhat, not sure what class has to do with any of that, George was the lowest class (until Ringo) and the Exis loved him and later on also loved Ringo so I think it was their loyalty to Stu mainly and how they perceived Paul as fake for being so nice that meant he wasn’t as close with them.
As far as podcasts go each and every one has its biases. I listened to tons of Fabcast episodes and you’d be forgiven for thinking that John was the Messiah based on the way they talk about him, from what I remember they weren’t horrible about Paul, quite respectful of his talents, but they definitely saw him as a John acolyte. OSD/AKOM’s stated aim is to provide a fresh perspective on the Beatles story with a focus on the John/Paul dynamic principally. They’ve admitted their Paul bias from the onset and their aim to push back at some of the tropes held within the wider fandom, do I support all of their takes, no, but the level of research they do including book excerpts and rare interview clips is incredible so a lot of what they do say is supported and it’s always welcome to have more young female perspectives in the discourse as that’s a great way to get a better understanding of the group and how they operated,then ultimately disintegrated.
@Lizzy95 – Yes, Astrid and Klaus ‘loved’ George, but you can love someone and look down on them at the same time. They treated him like a mascot. Funny how he hated being patronised by everyone else, but didn’t mind being called ‘little George’ by them.
Look – they were kids, so I don’t think it’s fair to be too critical about how they acted then. They took themselves very seriously, as all teenagers do. It’s just that most people grow up, look back at themselves as teenagers and cringe. But they never have – they take themselves as seriously now as they did then, with no self-awareness at all. They perceived Paul as ‘fake’ because he was ‘nice’ and polite, which he had been taught to be. George wasn’t nice or polite, which they respected – because they were daft kids, who took themselves too seriously.
@Kir – No one at the Institute would have been bothered about class. It was a school for the intellectually elite – many of the boys would have been worse off than George and Paul, but they were judged on academic ability not economic or social status. I imagine George had a hard time there, but that would have been because of his poor academic performance and lack of effort. He had the ability to be there or he wouldn’t have got in (he must have been in the top 10% or so of boys who sat the 11+ that year), but school, or that school at least, obviously wasn’t for him.
@Elizabeth Yes, imo also the Exis age gap is very significant: Astrid and Klaus were 2 years older than John and Stuart and 4/5 years older than Paul and George! From 17/18 to 22 there is a HUGE difference – from teenagers to twenty-somethings, from last years of secondary school to graduate school or similar… So I can definetly see the Exis loving rebellious-but-innocent and eager-to-follow-rebellious-leaders 17 yo George as their mascot, and being wary around ambitious and hard-working 18 yo Paul, who had just completed his sixth form at a good grammar school, had enough power within the group to be equal to John and to boss Stuart around despite the age gap, and had a positive attitude and ‘niceness’ at odds with their views.
Also agree that they were all young, smart kids who took themselves seriously as every young, smart kid all over the world, but while we have many quotes from adult Paul (and similarly, even if a little less, from John and George) looking back with a healthy dose of self-mockery, we lack the same from the Exis – I hope mainly because their interviews are 1 to 1000 compared to the Beatles’! I am sure that if Stuart had lived to an old age he would have cringed and laughed at his James Dean pose.
@Iris – Were the ‘Exis’ in their 20s? I didn’t know that – I thought they were the same age as John and Stuart.
I take back what I said then; they don’t have the excuse of being daft kids after all. How pathetic, 22/23 year old college graduates sneering at an 18 year kid, living away from home for the first time in a strange country, for being too ‘nice’. And then years later, announcing to the world who they liked best in order of preference (like anyone cares) – and people taking it seriously, like it’s some failing of Paul’s that these over-privileged, over-educated posers didn’t like him. I bet he didn’t like them much either.
To clarify, it wasn’t the Exis who listed their favorites in order of preference, it was Paul. And he seemed to take it seriously, because while he said he could understand why John would be ahead of him, he was slightly miffed that George would be ahead of him (gee thanks, says George).
@ Elizabeth Astrid and Klaus both were born in 1938 (Jurgen in 1939). I try to be more understanding 🙂 at 22 they were still pretty naive and their privileged lifes so far probably contributed to that. The scouser lads, with their tragic family stories and struggles with poverty, were probably more “experienced” in real life even if not yet “mature”. Also, I think that the Exis+Stuart vs Paul story is sometimes overstated – I am thinking of Lewisohn, who seems to take every chance to make Paul look like a loser and uses specific quotes fit for purpose. Yes, there was some friction between Paul and Stuart, and Astrid being his girlfriend led her to be less close to Paul, but they were also friends playing together everyday, not constantly fighting or sneering, so I guess there were also times when they all got along. In spring 1963 (less than 3 years after their first meeting) Astrid and Klaus invited Paul, George and Ringo to Tenerife and there are nice pictures of Astrid and Paul together. They seem to have maintened a friendly – if not close – reletionship ever after.
@Michelle Lewisohn quotes Astrid saying “In order, I liked Stuart, John, George, Pete and Paul… Paul was so ‘nice’ you couldn’t get close. He was like a diplomat: everything had to be nice and calm. I never had a close relationship with Paul like I had with John and George.” but it’s not clear when and where the quote is from (did he interview Astrid for the book?) I seem to remeber other quotes (maybe from Hunter Davies?) in which Astrid basically says that it was stupid of her not too trust people because they were too nice, and stressing other positive traits of Paul.
@Iris – I think I’d be a lot less critical if there had been some acknowledgement over the years from Astrid and Klaus that they were nowhere near as worldly and insightful at age 22 as they thought they were. Sadly, neither of them have ever seemed to gain the self-awareness that generally comes with maturity to realise this. (I have no problem with the third ‘Exi’, Jurgen, as he has generally been more circumspect when asked to provide a comment.)
Of course, it could be that biographers have misrepresented Astrid and Klaus over the years, but it’s hard to believe that anyone would fail to be aware that listing their favourites in order of preference some 50 years later would create controversy. More to the point however, I think that comment (if not misrepresented) was designed to hurt, which is pretty horrible.
Why would it create controversy to list their favorite Beatles (if indeed they did – thought it was Paul who ranked everyone in their eyes)? They were, first and foremost, fans of the band. Among their first fans in Hamburg. That’s what fans of the Beatles do. If they had named Paul first or second favorite, would this be as hurtful to you?
@Michelle – As you know, they were talking about who they liked personally, not who their favourite band members were.
Why would it hurt me? I wasn’t there.
It was obviously a dig at Paul, but to be honest, it was such a juvenile comment that he probably just rolled his eyes at the absurdity of the fact that the oh so sophisticated ‘Exis’ never did quite grow up.
Bit like Yoko, really, and I’ve noticed that Voorman is very like her in his demeanour. I don’t know what that says about people born into privilege. Nothing flattering for sure.
@Elizabeth- Thank you. I’m glad that the school was there for everyone regardless of class.
I agree that the Exis, who according to Paul in MYFN ranked their fondness in this order – Stu, John, George, Paul and Pete – did not form their opinion based on class. As for poscasts, it seems they are graded on how they treat Paul; the quality of the topics/discussion seems secondary. Thanks for the Fabcast recommendation, however inadvertent. If they aren’t horrible to Paul, that’s good enough for me. If they have a John bias, so what? OSD/AKOM are upfront about their Paul bias and people don’t have a problem with that.
@Leigh Ann, you make a good point, but if the Beatles were a band today they would also have to spend a good deal of time touring in order to make a living. The way of consuming music has changed vastly; the days when musicians could earn millions or even thousands through shifting millions of units through record sales have long gone. As far as song credits go, wouldn’t Ringo also have to be included? And John, Paul, and Ringo credited to George’s songs? It’s difficult to know whether it’s more democratic or not.
To go back to the topic of Paul’s lyrics, I have always wondered what Paul thought of the fact that TLC kind of ripped off his lines in Waterfalls and they didn’t get in to legal strife with that considering there has been some stupid court cases that have penalised song writers for less. (For instance Mick Jagger and Keith Richards getting song writing credits for bitter sweet symphony simply because verve used in their opinion slightly more of a sample they paid to use. I’m sorry to the Stones but I consider that an unfair travesty. And wasn’t Allen Klein behind all that to?)
Also FYI I love TLC’s Waterfalls, so it’s not a diss on them at all. It’s a song in my opinion that never sounds dated when ever I hear it. And I think TLC are highly underrated in paving the way for the likes of Destiny’s Child/Beyoncé, Rhianna etc. But I heard it again today, and it does me wonder why Paul or his label did get the lawyers out once that became a huge hit.
Seeing as Paul is someone who consistenly strives to be relevant, one possible reason he didn’t take TLC to court is because he was flattered.
Well, he did take the trouble to point it out in at least one interview with the implication he was a bit miffed:
AVC: Are there any songs of yours that you think deserved to be bigger than they were?
PM: There’s quite a few, actually. I like… There’s one called “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” which I think’s really cool. One called “Waterfalls,” I think is nice. In fact, somebody had a hit, a few years ago, using the first line, “Don’t go jumping waterfalls / Please stick to the lake…” And then they go off into another song. It’s like, “Excuse me?”
AVC: TLC ripped off Paul McCartney? I had no idea!
PM: I think so.
LeighAnn, I think Paul didn’t pursue a Waterfalls lawsuit because of the optics. Tt would have looked bad for an older White dude to sue three young Black women. He was aware of the song though, and it bothered him somewhat:
I agree with you, I also love TLC. I actually prefer their Waterfalls to Paul’s. And I remember the heartbreaking documentary about Lisa “Left Eye” and how devastating her death was to the group.
True. Especially since so much of the Beatles earlier career benefitted off predominantly black music/musicians.
I too prefer TLC Waterfalls. Paul’s version is really pretty and a good melody but it’s a little too romantic for my tastes.
Also on copyright I’ve tried a couple of times but I still can’t hear He’s So Fine in My Sweet Lord lol.
The level of discourse on, or who gets to gatekeep, four 20-year-old men who formed a rock and roll group in the sixties has reached the point of absurdity. Paul and Ringo are still alive. I seriously wonder how much respect there is for their humanity, for their wives, for their children. If Paul in particular reads any of this stuff, I can hardly blame him for thinking wtf? I’m no longer comfortable with it.
@Michael, I totally agree with this:
“The best way I can put it is this: if you’re past a certain age, time you spend thinking about The Beatles likely comes at the expense of necessary thinking about your own self and life. Fandom is, after a certain age, a kind of avoidance.“
I am 57, and having been a Beatle fan since 17-18, I have read and studied them for a long time. At this point, I just want to listen to them, and enjoy them. I’m not interested in the “why’s “ as much as I used to be.
I follow this blog, which I have for a few years now, and The Beatles Channel, which has some great interviews and programs.
Like you said, I think when fandom becomes almost an obsession, it’s not healthy. The Beatles for me, are joy, and listening to them uplifts me. Too much analysis dampens that joy. I think that’s a result of age and hopefully, wisdom.
At the end of the day any type of fandom will always progress be it the Beatles or anything else. This blog, podcasts, social media and God knows what in the future will continue to host Beatles discourse long after Paul, Ringo, their contemporaries and all of us are gone.
Whether anyone likes a certain form of discourse doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. If Fabcast is your podcast, great, if not, who cares. If AKOM is for you, great, if not, don’t listen. Everyone’s fandom experience and personal bias is just that, personal, there’s never going to be a one size fit all approach for everyone so the more the merrier I say (as long as the discussion is informed and not mean-spirited)!
Can’t reply, again so replying here, hopefully you see this.
@Laura – Agreed that they aren’t denying Paul’s depression- I do think they’re questioning that if every time Paul was bearded he was severely depressed, as has been extrapolated by certain parts of the fandom. It seems people have taken the severe depression idea and really run with it- maybe this is not your “fandom experience” Michelle, and that’s fair.
I think they’re also questioning that if Paul was as desperately clinging to keeping the Beatles together as is usually assumed, why would he be denying John left and right, which is a great question, IMO!
Thanks. Sally, what do you mean he was denying John?
Rejecting Klein, Cold Turkey, the 4-4-4 idea, etc.
Well, that’s how much he despised Klein, and cared about the band. He risked further alienating John. Cold Turkey was about heroin addiction – Paul was image conscious when it came to the Beatles. Doesn’t mean he didn’t like the song or anything like that (some hear echos of Cold Turkey in Paul’s song Let Me Roll It). What is the 4-4-4 idea?
The 4-4-4 idea is from a September 1969 meeting about 10 days before the divorce meeting. John’s assistant tape-recorded it for Ringo, who was absent. The assistant first described it in a book ages ago, but last year Lewisohn positioned it as “changing everything.” Bits of it have been heard by insiders, but none of it is available.
John said they should drop the myth of Lennon-McCartney, and that in the future each of the three songwriters would have four tracks per album (hence 4-4-4). Ringo could have one or two if he wished. John said he wanted to do this because he was no longer up to fighting to get his songs on albums. Paul said that rather than having had to fight, sometimes John hadn’t written many songs. John also said Paul should give any songs the others didn’t like to other Apple recording artists, but there was no mention of restrictions on John’s or George’s songs.
Apparently Paul was pretty low-key – Lewisohn said he sounded stoned, but he did have a 10-day-old baby at home. Dissing George in the process, Paul mildly objected to the even split of tracks. Perhaps he foresaw Yoko’s participation on John’s tracks and an end product that would no longer seem like the Beatles to him. George didn’t jump on the 4-4-4 idea as John probably expected he would. Instead, the meeting devolved into an argument between John and George over John’s lack of participation in George’s songs in the past and nothing was settled.
AKOM/OSD also proposes that John wanted to end the Lennon-McCartney “myth” because he was hurt that “Cold Turkey” had recently been rejected as a Beatles single. However, John wanted to record and release it immediately (which he did), so the obstacle may have simply been that they already had a single slated from the soon-to-be-released Abbey Road. If he was told they didn’t want to release a song about heroin withdrawal, John never said so.
“Apparently Paul was pretty low-key – Lewisohn said he sounded stoned, but he did have a 10-day-old baby at home.”
Now THIS made me crack up! When my first child was born I found out that it is in fact possible to fall asleep standing up.
Is it John’s idea that the Beatles made another album give 4 songs credited to Paul 4 to John and 4 to George? Essentially making George an equal. I think there was a tape recording of a Apple meeting where John was trying to push that.
What would be some amusing songs for Paul to reminisce about in this book?
I’d like to hear about ‘Ode to a Koala Bear.’ The songwriter and comedian Tim Minchin, an Australian, mentioned that song in a recent interview with Paul, and Paul just looked at him blankly. If it was because he couldn’t remember ever writing or recording such a song, or because he remembered but doesn’t want to engage, I don’t know.
She’s My Baby: “Like gravy, down to the last drop – I keep moppin’ it up, moppin’ it up.”
London Town: “Crawling down the pavement on a Sunday afternoon, I was arrested by a rozzer wearing a pink balloon about his foot. Toot, toot, toot, toot.”
C Moon: “Bobby lived with Patty, but they never told her daddy what their love was all about. She could tell a number that he thought of, but she never was the type to let it out.”
The Note You Never Wrote: “After all, I’m sure you know the Mayor of Baltimore is here. After days now he can finally appear, now at last he’s here.”
Spirits of Ancient Egypt: “You’re my baby – I know you know. You could sell an elevator to Geronimo.”
Old Siam Sir: “In a village in old East Ham, Sir, she met a fellow who made her reel. Took her rushes to show his mam, Sir, met his dad at the wedding meal.”
I’m sure there’s a lot more stuff like this in later songs but I don’t know them that well.
@Velvet Hand wrote:
She’s My Baby: “Like gravy, down to the last drop – I keep moppin’ it up, moppin’ it up.”
Arrow Through Me: “It could have been a finer fling, flying in a righter (writer?) direction.”
Live and Let Die: “In this ever changing world in which we live in.” I thought Paul excelled in English class. Wouldn’t it be more grammatically correct to say, “In this ever changing world in which we’re livin” without messing with the metre of the line? He needs an editor.
Write Away: “You need love, write a letter, you need love write away. Get it down, you’ll feel better, send it now, write away. Hey Cinderella, did you need that other fella? On the wrong side of midnight your defences slipped away.” Nice nod to In His Own Write.
Er. The lyrics to Live and Let Die are, “But if this ever-changing world in which we’re living makes you give in and cry.”
I’ll go by what the lyrics say on his official site, “world in which we live in”: https://www.paulmccartney.com/albums/songs/live-and-let-die
Paul himself on livin vs live in
“It’s kind of ambivalent, isn’t it?… Um… I think it’s ‘in which we’re living.’” He starts to sing to himself: “‘In this ever changing world….’ It’s funny. There’s too many ‘ins.’ I’m not sure. I’d have to have actually look [sic]. I don’t think about the lyric when I sing it. I think it’s ‘in which we’re living.’ ‘In which we’re living.’ Or it could be ‘in which we live in.’ And that’s kind of, sort of, wronger but cuter. That’s kind of interesting.”
I think he worries about this stuff way less then we do 🙂
@Michelle, the lyrics on the web site are certainly in need of an editor. As for Paul, his grammar has always seemed pretty solid to me.
Hah! Just so. At first I suspected a troll web editor at MPL, but now I suspect a troll-in-chief.
“McCartney ultimately thinks the phrase is “we’re living” (the version given in Pop Fiction), though he regards “live in” as “wronger but cuter.””
The blog where I got that quote from is fun, by the way, but I like grammar: https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/12/lyric.html
I’m with you on She’s My Baby, but on Live and Let Die, he could be singing “world in which we’re livin’.” Do you mean the nod to In His Own Write is “write away”? (Paul came up with the book title.)
Yes, the double meaning of in his own right/write and write/right away. Thought I heard he came up with the title for John’s book as well. One of the stories was also “written in conjugal” – haha – with Paul.
Very early, unreleased Lennon-McCartney track: I Don’t Know (Johnny, Johnny). Maybe he can clue us in on what exactly they’re singing. People have attempt transcripts.
Well, according to The Deep, Dark Hallways of The Internet, it’s:
Paul: Well now, Johnny Johnny, oh Johnny Johnny, Oh Johnny Johnny, Johnny Johnny, Johnny Johnny, oh lord, Johnny boy.
How we gonna tell ‘em? Why don’t we go and keep on home?
Well, well, Johnny, my boy.
Why don’t we go and tell ‘em what we’re after? Johnny, ooooh Johnny Johnny boy, tell them the message of ours.
Oh, Johnny, well, you got me, will you be my boy? Hey, take it, John. Ha!
John: Oh little boy, packing my shoes, as if I’m not gonna lose you.
That’s right, hon. I’m gonna see my sister soon.
She don’t see me, I don’t know really what I’m gonna do. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Well!
Paul: Well, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny
When I call you Johnny boy
Well Johnny John, oooh Johnny, when I’m calling you
Well, I don’t know what I’m gonna tell ’em. That’s why I’m asking my best boy.
Will you tell me, will you tell me?
John: Well I’ll tell the fellas that I’d travel with you
Oh when you pull I shouldn’t be back, be back this time. I don’t know if that’s good.
Paul: I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I tell my father ya want me, Johnny.
John: I love you, Paul! Aaaaahh
Paul: You think you’d better leave, you think you follow me. Aaah Ah, we better leave right now. I’m gonna leave.
John: If we just walked out of town, it won’t let nobody down.
Both: Well, we’re gonna leave together, get out of town, leave together.
Paul: Won’t let you down. Get out, get out. Oh, oh, oh, oh, John x10, oh
John: I don’t know x6, know, know, know, know
Well, I’ll just survive. Turn your head from somebody else’s kiss. I’m gonna leave, I’m leaving with you. Yeah, someday x4
Paul: Well, I’ll tell ya (John: Yeeaaaaah)
Well, I’ll tell ya, you’re all I want, you’re all I want, you’re all I want
Let’s go get out of town. Aaah, oooooh, oh, we gotta move far, far away from this old town.
Move on over, leave. We’re going over, across the stream.
No one will know who we are, are. We gotta go away. We’re gonna go far away. Well, we’re gonna go far away. x2
John: Well, go, go, go, go. Oooooh
Both: Hey, hey, hey x10
John: I’m gonna leave. We’re gonna leave that town
Both: We’re gonna leeeeave
Paul: *laughs adorably*
Did they ad-lib this then? 🙂
Nice, thank you for typing that up. Thought I read somewhere that Paul played this song at a sound check once, fairly recently.
You’re welcome, but it really was more of a copy/paste job!
I thought Johnny, Johnny had been sorted out years ago. It’s a pastiche.
“Dustbin lid” has also been explained a hundred times over in the Steve Hoffman forums. It’s something that forever rolls up like a bad penny, such as wrongly attributing John to “Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles” shtick. Live and let die: IF the world in which we’re livin’/live in seems to depends on the individual ear and Paul’s accent. But most grammarians agree that what is correct in written English may lack naturalism in spoken English.
Personally, what can I excuse grammatically in song, I can’t forgive Paul’s eye-watering misuse of the pronoun in “me and John, me and Linda”, an unfortunate habit the ever impressionable McCartney picked up from Lennon’s “me ‘n Yoko”. Paul used to speak beautifully when he was a Beatle, they all did. Why they started speaking like four-year-olds, I don’t really know.
The thing that bugs me is when people try to sound smart/educated when they say, “So-and-so and I” when it should be “and me.” (e.g., “They escorted my sister and I to the wedding.” Of course, grammar in writing is more important than grammer in casual speaking.
“Dustbin lid” = trash can lid? Or is it British slang for something? Not sure why people make a big deal about that one.
Jasper Carrott, the English comedian, is the one who said, “Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.” Yes, it’s something that’s been wrongly attributed to John, sometimes to illustrate his cruel sarcasm. Carrott said this in the early ’80s after John was gone.
“But if their detractors call them gossipy, that strikes me as bit sexist. Just wait, someone, if they haven’t already, will probably call them bossy, emotional, uppity, or hysterical. The authors of Beatles books, reviews, magazine stories and podcasts have been mostly men, so some probably feel it’s their club and don’t like uppity women questioning the assumptions (not facts) they’ve relied on for decades.”
I certainly would hope that in 2021 Beatles fans would welcome these additional podcasts without resorting to the stock misogyny of years past. However, I do feel that honest critique should be accommodated. SHMBO and I listened to one of the AKOM casts as we were driving along and after a few minutes she asked me “Why the anger?” it was exactly what I was thinking at the time as it did seem quite strident to me.
So to be fair, I gave it a couple more tries. I can’t give you the exact number, but in one episode I counted nearly forty uses of F-u-c-k. Am I prudish? No. Do I care if someone is male, female, or from the galaxy Xolox? No, I really don’t, but it was all way too intense for me.
I am just one of 7 billion on the planet so mine is just one of 7 billion opinions and YMMV. Their podcast is getting a lot of traction and is widely quoted. I respect the work, insight, and research that goes behind these presentations and I wish them continued success.
Again, I don’t condone anyone using scurrilous or vituperative language to take cheap shots at them. I only ask that not everyone will quite appreciate the format–at least not with kids or grandkids in the car!
@Bill M: It was only a matter of time before they got that kind of pushback.
@Neal Schier: honest critique should be accommodated, but as you noted, YMMV and maybe that pod is just not to everyone’s taste. Personally, I found their audible disgust– anger– with the published authorship and old guard critics validating and empowering from the very first episode. First hearing AKOM was liberating. (I often feel the same way about HD.) Now, whether they’re biased a certain way or whether their conclusions are right or not, they do make an effort to document their work and share quotes and clips — as you noted, to do the work and research. 🙂 So they might not be to everyone’s taste but they are definitely speaking my language.
Literally: the language they use is the same language my friends and I use whatever their gender, f-bombs and all. I’ve shouted a few expletives at my Kindle, computer or TV as I’ve watched or read dudes making the same old disproven Beatles arguments or turning every discussion of every album into a John vs. Paul duel to the death. I do think the AKOM pod does have an Explicit warning. If anyone wishes not to hear broad language and extreme emotional reactions, then let me warn that Fabcast does the same, only with male voices.
Anyway, I approve wholeheartedly that the women hosts chose not to over-censor or compromise themselves or their positions to please everyone.
“Screw It We’re Just Gonna Talk About The Beatles” is another very swear-heavy podcast. I mean, the beatles are just not really a PG discussion topic, full stop. I enjoy “Screw It”‘s upbeat outlook and humor. Plus they have episode titles like “But Who Is the 20th Beatle?”. I also enjoy AKOM’s hot-bloodedness. Sometimes I agree with their interpretations, sometimes I don’t. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Along with his autobiography Paul is going to be giving a 6 part interview to Rick Rubin for a Hulu documentary
This link breakdown what each episode is about in the Paul documentary.
It sounds good. And hopefully Rick Rubin will be a more interesting and refreshing interviewer then the standard interviewers who ask Paul the same old questions he’s been asked the last 50 years
A complete list of the songs that Paul discusses in Lyrics:
Just finding this. I don’t know if my eyes are deceiving me but it doesn’t seem like there are as many Beatles songs on the list as I thought there would be. It seems like there are more of his solo or wing hits but I guess it’s proof that his career and legacy isn’t solely defined by the decade being a Beatle.
The only song that gave me pause was Please Please Me. I thought John wrote that song himself?
A Hard Day’s Night and Ticket to Ride are included as well.
Paul picking a lot of songs from his solo years is a good thing! We already know much of the background for his Beatles work.
House of Wax is in there, nice! It’s kind of surprising to me that he includes so many songs from his much-derided Press to Play album but only one song from the critically acclaimed (for its lyrics, no less) Chaos and Creation – and it’s not Riding to Vanity Fair, unfortunately. One song that made me scratch my head a little for its inclusion is Dress Me Up as a Robber, from Tug of War. Odd one.
I don’t doubt that Chaos and Creation is underrepresented simply because it’d be difficult for him to say much about those songs without bringing up Heather Mills, which he generally avoids for Beatrice’s sake.
I did have a little side eye at A Hard Days Night considering in Barry Miles book Paul said that was all John’s song and he couldn’t clearly remember if he maybe helped on the middle 8.
I guess we will have to wait and see what contributions those songs have in the book.
Good point, Richard.
LeighAnn, I get the impression that this isn’t a straight-on lyrics book, but an account of his memories during the making of the songs. Perhaps he including some of John’s songs because he has interesting things to tell about the circumstances surrounding and/or sessions them.
session *for* them. fingers not working this morning.
This isn’t a reply to anyone in particular. I couldn’t find the general comment to click on. I really hope this book isn’t going to turn into another saga over who wrote what. Beatrice is nearly eighteen, an adult. Paul protects her in other ways by not publicly speaking about her, or her mother. If Paul is going to avoid or rewrite anything emotionally uncomfortable or painful, during the Beatles and his solo career, then I’m not sure what it is that he wants to achieve or be remembered for. An artist or the world’s most loved family man? Chaos and Creation is widely considered one of Paul’s best late career albums. If he concentrates on his lesser works, his legacy may not mean a great deal to music listeners outside the Beatle fandom.
Lara, I think it will be very interesting to see what McCartney does and doesn’t say in this book, but I doubt this book will do much to affect his legacy one way or the other. That’s going to stand or fall with the music itself, and listeners’ ongoing experiences of it.
The music should stand on its own, and for me, that’s the whole point. But I also think that listeners’ experiences are affected by opinions, hence the whole granny music debacle, for example. Anything remotely misguided, fawning, derogatory or untruthful uttered by any Beatle, ex or otherwise, travels a long way. A lot of it seems set in stone, even 50 years later.
On the BBC breaking news web page,
Paul is yet again declaring he didn’t break up the Beatles. Now making headline news everywhere, because, according to the received wisdom of the BBC, all this has been unknown to Beatle fans and scholars for the last fifty years. I’m still trying to work out whether it’s Paul, the media, or fans and scholars who are obsessed with this, but if it is Paul then I think he needs some sort of serious psychiatric help.
I feel a bit disappointed that the lyrics are going to be reviewed in alphabetical order, I think that a less orthodox and more casual approach would have been better for the book. I would like McCartney to approach the songs not with specific order but like a journey or connected in a way… I dont know, just not as a catalog. Any way still interested.
So not sure if others here have seen this to but why is Paul telling the “Blame John for breaking up the Beatles” story in a recent interview getting sooo much traction from the media?! I mean it’s not the first time Paul has told this story, tons of biographers have told this story and John never claimed otherwise. But seriously I have seen so many different media articles pop up on my news feed about Paul’s quote as if it’s brand new life changing information lol
I surmise that it’s the closest they can get to clickbait from that interview — and that there are a lot of younger people who don’t know much about the Beatles for whom this is new / surprising information.
The headline in the Guardian was, “It was John who wanted a divorce”. This is old news. Paul reinterated this fact because he was asked about his decision to go solo, as if that is what he really wanted at the time which he insists wasn’t the case. He goes on to state that John wanted to break loose from society and always was looking to break loose, starting with his Aunt Mimi who was repressive LOL.
On 11 November the New Yorker published a 10,000 word article about and with Paul. About the only thing I didn’t know was a tidbit regarding one of Gene Krupa’s last gigs. Yes, Gene Krupa…
I’m looking forward to the release of Peter Jackson’s film just like everyone else and many eagerly await the book about the lyrics, but there are some very obvious and wide-net PR efforts surrounding all things Paul at the moment.
I suspect that Paul doesn’t agree to do interviews with out a pre approved list of questions and without going into it knowing what stories he is going to tell.
That’s why it’s a shame John and George aren’t here because they always sort of balanced out that show business pr aspect of the Beatles.
I’m not sure why the “John broke up the Beatles” story is so important to Paul. I’d get it if say John had been going around blaming Paul but he always owned up to asking for a “divorce”. The only problem he had was that Paul got to announce it before he did.
It’s interesting; everyone now knows that it was John who ended the Beatles, but at the time people assumed Paul was 100% to blame. I remember the movie ‘Apollo 13’. The aircraft was launched in April 1970, and there is a brief scene with the young daughter of the Tom Hanks character who was distraught over the Beatles breakup and shouted, “I hate Paul!” It made me laugh but this is what he had to deal with, when the truth was he most wanted the band to continue. But what else are people going to think when he is the one who publicly announces it, stating that he doesn’t foresee a time when the band would get back together or Lennon/McCartney would be an active partnership again. That was the first time people heard that the Beatles broke up, not in a boardroom meeting.
I’d add (to this whole conversation, not just replying to Michelle’s point) that McCartney keeps being asked about the Beatles’ breakup because it’s the thing most likely to ignite strong feeling (and increase engagement with the article). It’s about clicks and subscriptions.
I think “Why did the Beatles break up, and whose fault was it?” is right up there with “The Beatles or the Stones?” as one of those hardy perennials that people can argue about for decades, because of the emotional investment people have in the answers.
It’s why Rolling Stone just sent a tweet with the header “In a new interview, Paul McCartney compares the Beatles to the Rolling Stones: “They’re a blues cover band.”
It’s where the $ is.
@Leigh Ann, I think both George and John had PR campaigns of their own, I don’t think we need to worry about that. Personally, if my partner told me he wanted a divorce and told me to shut up about it, that it was HIS announcement, I’d tell him to get on his bike. There have been new/younger fans since 1970 and in a few years time Paul won’t be around to set his story straight for the latest crop of fans. By then, the esteemed BBC and their like will have to do the hard graft by doing some actual research rather than baiting hypersensitive Paul into a stupid and pointless reaction. Does it matter which one was the main instigator? They had their reasons and had nothing to be ashamed about.
It was Allen Klein who told them to keep quiet about it, as he was in the process of finalizing some business deals surrounding the band.
The Times printed some excerpts from the book and it looks really promising. It does read like an autobiography, and while he trots out his usual takes on some songs, he gives new insight to others which I found interesting. He doesn’t shy away from talking about Jane. And of course he talks a lot about John. Not surprisingly, the excerpts they showed focused heavily on his Beatles songs.
Okay, I saw some fuller excerpts of the book and realize that I’m definitely not going to think one way about it. I’ll post the one that made me chuckle:
Please Please Me
We wrote with two guitars, John and I. The joy of that was that I was left-handed while he was right-handed, so I was looking in a mirror and he was looking in a mirror.
We would always tune up, have a ciggie, drink a cup of tea, start playing some stuff, look for an idea. Normally, one or the other of us would arrive with a fragment of a song. Please Please Me was a John idea. John liked the double meaning of “please”. Yeah, “please” is, you know, pretty please. “Please have intercourse with me. So, pretty please, have intercourse with me, I beg you to have intercourse with me.” He liked that, and I liked that he liked that. This was the kind of thing we’d see in each other, the kind of thing in which we were matched up. We were in sync.
I always thought Please Please Me was about oral sex, at least that was my takeaway from the lyrics themselves: “I do all the pleasing with you… You don’t need me to show the way girl” etc. It reminds me of the Clinton-era debate about whether oral sex is actually sex, or akin to intercourse. Maybe Paul falls on the side of yes – to the latter? I would have just gone with the less awkward and more general “have sex”. What John actually liked was the double use of the world “please/pleas” from Bing Crosby: “Please lend your little ears to my pleas.”
His explanation for Too Many People contains the same kind of weak sauce self-excusing that John made for How Do You Sleep in the mid-70s/1980, but with none of the self-deprecation. His heart wasn’t in it. Oh ya? It’s the best song on the album IMO. Because of the music, certainly, but also because he sounds like he means it (would it be so effective otherwise?), and angry Paul is interesting (authentic?) Paul. He can’t possibly have only one side to himself, right? He could have left it at that, and it would be of a nice piece with John’s “the song was really about myself” – which, you know, could mean it reflects on himself so not altogether untrue. But John wrote those kinds of songs, not him. To support that claim, he implies that How Do You Sleep came out before Too Many People, which is verifiably untrue and does not help ward off charges of revisionism. He wrote it because, you know, John wrote nasty songs about him – with HDYS being the only example he gives. What else are less informed fans going to think? Would it be so bad to mention the real inspiration for the song – namely John’s 1970 RS interview? Is it because starting a fight on a permanent piece of plastic is worse than in an old rag of a “newspaper” that will be thrown away and forgotten except for Wenner who had it framed? I hate this part of the John/Paul discourse, and wish the song had been left out, but he seems to want to carry on the fight, calling John dogmatic (“his truth was the only truth”) and mocking War is Over (If You Want It). It’s just a catchy slogan, not anything to make a fuss about. I was hoping this wouldn’t be an agenda book. I still hope that.
He says that I Want to Hold Your Hand isn’t about Jane, though it was “certainly written when I was with her.” It never occurred to me that it was about Jane, partly because he co-wrote it with John but mostly because the lyrics don’t sound like they are about a specific person.
I’ll hang up and listen to what others here have to say about the book. I wasn’t going to shell out that kind of money unless the proceeds were going to an animal charity. Any interesting/enlightening/controversial bits will undoubtedly make its way onto the net.
Ugh. It’s been 50 years and John got shot in the back 5 times….time to move on Paul!
Too bad there can’t be more nuanced discussion of these snippets. The fact that John was shot does not mean that Paul can never tell his story … considering the repeated requests to tell his story and the fact that his own life is now history. I believe Paul is asked about John Lennon in every interview he does, and even if he’s not necessarily asked about John, he’ll bring John up. It was only within the last few years that Howard Stern challenged Paul to discuss the whole TMP/HDYS story yet again, and then Sean Lennon did the same thing last year during John’s 80th birth date celebration. Just because someone doesn’t like Paul’s answers doesn’t mean he’s not going to keep answering when he feels like it. Now whether he has the story 100% straight every time like every Beatles fan? I suspect the answer is a no.
It wasn’t an interview. It’s from his book. Here is Paul reading the passage for ‘Too Many People’:
He says that all of them were hurt during that period, but “John being John” he was the one who would write a hurtful song. He just can’t own up to the fact that John was hurt by this song, which Paul calls “mild” (veiled is not synonymous with mild IMO), and it’s not the only song on the album that John said he took exception to. Maybe it’s too painful to accept because John was killed, and the guilt would be too great. I’m sure that if the situation were reversed, and Paul had been the one killed, John would feel terribly guilty for HDYS. Neverthless, “Paul being Paul” he couldn’t resist taking credit for writing one of the first diss tracks. 🙂
Anyway, I won’t comment on this further. People can come to their own conclusions. Anyone reading the book who isn’t aware and is interested can do the research. There are 9 other audio clips at the link which are quite good.
I mean Sexy Sadie came before Too Many People and that was a diss on Maharishi.
Of course, Sexy Sadie is a famous one. And there is one of my favorites, Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” which is more veiled than anything that Paul did because I doubt that anyone, save for the target of his vitriol, knows who it’s about. And the list of people that “You’re So Vain” could be about was pretty long, although that came out in 1972. Diss tracks go back a long way actually, with the first known one being “Yankee Doodle” in 1754!
@kirsty I think it’s in the New Yorker piece by David Remnick promoting both the lyrics and get back the author of the piece mentions that Paul seems intent on re-litigating the past, which is exactly how I feel.
I get that right after John died Paul felt that John was being martyr at his owns legacy’s expense but at this point I think his legacy is more then intact and there’s just no point trying to get the final word on events that happened 50 years ago where one half is dead.
It’s annoying to me when journalists/writers focus so much on the drama of HDYS/TMP which was a couple of bitchy childish songs written by people who regretted them afterwards.
I respect that this is Paul’s quasi autobiography and I can even respect that historically this is a pivotal song in that it spurned John to write HDYS, but if your going to include at least do whitewash your own involvement into – “it was all John’s fault, he started it’s! I’m the nice one.” That’s fine 10 maybe 20 years later….but after 50 it’s a little time to love on bro!
*time to move on
I think there’s a toxic feedback loop at work with the whole Lennon/McCartney blame game: it’s what journalists ask about, it’s where the “juice” is, and that keeps reopening the subject. That this thread has now focused on the issue is just one more example of the way that it tends to dwarf other considerations.
Relitigating the Lennon/McCartney friendship/animosity and the band’s breakup are where the emotional investment is for fans. As long as that’s true, we’re going to keep seeing more of this kind of thing. I wish McCartney would deal with the issue differently, but I also think he’s more damaged than he seems.
@nancy I’ve always gotten the impression that during the period where John and Paul were back on speaking terms that they both just avoided speaking about their issues for the sake of maintaining a friendship and keeping amicable/avoiding fights.
And maybe that’s why Paul remains so fixated on certain things with John, because he never got closure. I don’t know.
It’s just perplexing to me because he has 5 children, he’s married to an attractive younger Heiress, he’s had two successful bands and a successful solo career. His last two albums went to number one on the Billboard charts. He’s been knighted by the Queen. He sells out stadiums and I would say he’s probably the most popular Beatle with millennials and Gen Y, so he’s legacy is guaranteed. Who is he trying to fight with or convince? Because John’s not here.
LeighAnn, my honest answer is that I don’t feel I can know McCartney’s psychology around this fully. What I can say, as an observer, is that being asked repeatedly for decades about his relationship with/fights with Lennon — and having it be a subject fans are focused on– has to have had effects on him. That’s what I meant when I said I think he’s more damaged than he seems.
And going along with that, he’s also from a generation and a class where processing hurtful/difficult events in a healthy way wasn’t modeled or supported, to put it mildly. I’m not saying that gives him an out, just remarking that he grew up in a time and situation where putting on a brave face and shoving down hard feelings was more the norm than not.
Just wrote that, and now I’m thinking how much it’s no accident that he co-wrote a song called “My Brave Face”! McCartney’s songs about people in pain have always read to me as being about him as well (I did a post about this years ago).
I’ve also said, years ago and probably multiple times, that I believe the stories McCartney tells about Lennon offer him a way to acknowledge difficult emotions while also holding them at a remove. The way he introduces “Here Today” and plays it live at every concert I’ve seen of his (8, I think) reinforces this for me.
@LeighAnn said: “I’ve always gotten the impression that during the period where John and Paul were back on speaking terms that they both just avoided speaking about their issues for the sake of maintaining a friendship and keeping amicable/avoiding fights.”
Paul has said as much, except he used what I presume was the umbrella term Apple. Just don’t bring up Apple, he said, and they had a warm conversation. I get the feeling a lot of touchy subjects were avoided, not just business.
The New Yorker piece by Remnick – ‘Paul McCartney Doesn’t Really Want to Stop the Show’ was a great read, I thought. Some good quotes from Paul in there.
Speaking of RS, Rob Sheffield just wrote a great piece on “Don’t Let Me Down” as one of the songs included on the new Let It Be box set that is a companion piece to the Get Back film. According to Sheffield, the box set also illustrates less animosity/more harmony than was originally thought to have surrounded the band during this time. Here is the article: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/beatles-dont-let-me-down-let-it-be-box-set-1244101/
@Nancy, I agree with you that Paul is a lot more damaged than he appears, quite possibly just as damaged as John. @Leigh Ann and @Michelle, wouldn’t Plastic Ono Band have been very hurtful to Paul? The song God in particular where John dismisses the Beatles and sings that he believes only in John and Yoko. The Beatles – the band where Paul put every inch of his heart and soul into. Personally, I think the song was cruel. That John followed up with the explanation of his lyrics in Lennon Remembers only served to put the knife in. However the media and fans interpret POB, I’m pretty sure Paul has interpreted it quite differently and very personally, much more so than George or Ringo. After years of close collaboration and friendship, he may have felt he meant nothing to John. He’d put any prospective career on the line to continue with the Beatles at John’s urging. Perhaps he felt betrayed.
An attack on Paul for feeling John was being martyred is unfair. It should be remembered that Paul was upset during a private conversation with Hunter Davies, in which Davies later made public without Paul’s knowledge or consent.
Paul does need to put this thing to rest, but the media and the fandom do little to help him. It’s unprecedented, not just in show business, for a man nearing 80 to have been simultaneously worshipped and vilified, so analyzed and discussed since he was twenty. How can anyone like that be remotely normal?
That’s a fair point. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand how a situation is perceived at the time it’s happening. In hindsight, it looks like John was exorcising his demons and Arthur Janov and his teachings were the impetus for that. I mean, he discarded two of his biggest heroes in Elvis and Dylan in that song. To me it wasn’t the real John. And I think Paul’s return missiles as he called them weren’t the real him.
Ugggggh. The excerpts of this book are everything I was hoping the book would not be. A day in the life is so brilliant because it was John and Paul putting two of their songs together to create one track and then elevating it still in the production (which BOTH of them were involved in along with George Martin). He simply doesn’t need to retroactively claim the whole thing was his idea to prove how amazing he is. As I said above his legacy is already guaranteed.
This is the frustrating thing about Paul to me personally. His amazing in his own right. He doesn’t need to minimise the other Beatles and their talent and contributions to prove that. I felt in McCartney 123 he also took a lot more credit for While my guitar gently weeps then I dare he would have done if George was alive. (Especially since both Paul and John didn’t take that song seriously till Eric Clapton came to the studio).
It’s just baffling to me and it only encourages the fandom to debate who the real genius is when the truth is without either John Paul Ringo George the Beatles wouldn’t be the Beatles. Again Ugh!
You know what I would like to read about A day in the life? I would like to know the story of how Paul and John decided to put two random unfinished songs together, Id like to hear how long it took and the work involved in getting the song to the point that it did. I’d like to hear the BTS tidbits or interesting stories about the recording that maybe haven’t been told before. I’d like to know how he and John felt about the song after it was recorded.
This is interesting and engaging content to me and why I was excited about this book because I thought I would learn things about the process behind the songs I didn’t know before and gain new appreciation for songs I hadn’t paid enough attention to. Not question if Paul is a reliable narrator or not.
It’s disappointing that the story behind A Day in the Life is basically the equivalent of- It was my idea, not John. He said it’s about Tara – who was my friend anyway- when really it’s about some imaginary politician I made up.
Especially when it goes against what he’s previously said and what others who were their have said. I’m not trying to attack Paul I’m genuinely disappointed. I guess I find this type of revisionism disappointing in the same way others find the John and Yoko where the most in love couple ever revisionism on this blog
I’m not sure why Tara would have had to be a good friend of John’s for him to write a verse about him. Heck, Paul writes songs about people that never existed. To me the lyric sounds like someone detached from the situation, not at all the words of a close friend but that of an observer.
I don’t think he has to be. That was probably a slightly sarcastic comment on my end about the fact that Paul when talking about A day in the life always mentions that Tara was HIS friend. To be fair from what I’ve read I don’t think John was particularly close to Tara.
I also agree with you about the lyrics sounding detached which is probably to @matt ‘s point that John was basically taking random unrelated events and stories he had read in the newspaper and connecting them into one coherent song.
The media are being very tiresome towards McCartney at the moment, particularly execrables like the Daily Mail et al and their faithful followers. Which is why I have so many reservations about Paul’s upcoming book. Paul says he wrote the line (which he did and acknowledged by John) ‘he blew his mind out in a car…” Translated headline: Paul McCartney says he wrote A Day in the Life, not John Lennon. Eh? The BBC’s John Wilson states to Paul ‘you brought the lawsuit to break up the Beatles’. Translated headline: Paul McCartney insists he had nothing to do with the Beatles breakup, it was all Lennon. He said nothing of the sort. Paul being ASKED who was better, the Beatles or the Stones (like whose mother was better, yours or your best friend’s?) Translated headline: Paul McCartney says the Stones were nothing but a blues cover band. Cue outrage and hysteria. Paul may be evasive at times, defensive about his love life, or misremember because he’s human like the rest of us, but to take everything he says so ruthlessly out of context is just sad. The media knows how to press Paul’s buttons and it’s disappointing that he still rises to the bait.
@Michelle That is completely shameless. I don’t believe for a second McCartney wrote any more than the middle eight in that song. Piecing together songs from newspapers and tidbits of daily life was absolutely characteristic of Lennon, and the verses in this song are redolent of his style, and not Paul’s.
@Leigh Ann. He said that specific line was about Tara NOT the whole song. That Paul has confused the origin of what the line was about is eons away from saying the song was his idea. He didn’t. Why not read the whole book first before jumping to conclusions?
I noticed that the “Paul says he wrote A Day in the Life not John!” article was published in both NME, Telegraph (UK) The Times (UK)and all three publications have removed the article. So either Paul didn’t like the headlines or Sean (who I think is now in charge of the Lennon estate) objected but someone must have made a legal complaint as that’s usually what’s required to get an article pulled from online.
Not necessarily — pulling an online article down and giving it a new headline is a matter of seconds. There was likely a simple phone call saying that Paul or the Estate didn’t like it, and wouldn’t give future access unless it was changed.
Celebrities have the whip-hand over publications today.
I bought the kindle book. Nothing about who wrote which line at all. Paul only talks about the cultural influence on the song (and the album) and how they recorded it.
“ THE INFLUENCE OF RADIO ON THE BEATLES SIMPLY CAN’T be overstated.”
“ The other big influence on Sgt. Pepper, which is certainly very much to the fore in ‘A Day in the Life’, is that at that time I’d been listening to a lot of avant-garde stuff.”
“ So I talked to George Martin, who was arranging the orchestra. In the same way that choreographer Merce Cunningham would say, ‘Pull them across the stage on a rope,’ my instruction here was for everybody in the orchestra to start on the lowest note on their instrument and go to the highest note on their instrument.”
I thought the book is supposed to focus on the lyrics. I mean, when your editor compares you to greats like Shakespeare and Joyce, it’s the words not the ochestra that should invite discussion.
Paul apparently says in the book, “John never had anything like my interest in literature.” Really?? John was always known to be an avid reader. He was called the Literary Beatle at one point. Books were his passion.
Why even bring John up? He could of just wrote “I had a great interest in literature.” Full stop. If he’s not trying to diminish John to raise his own standing as the brilliant one then why bring John up?
Like I hate when fans try to pull one up as a genius at the others expense when really they were both brilliant. But seems like Paul to some extent has brought into the arguments I guess.
This was a huge fight on tumblr just yesterday over this non-event excerpt. I assume it’s here now to cause more strife on HD? Maybe read the book for context and then worry about it or discuss it with a bit more background, is my suggestion.
** Under ‘The End’, for the record
The way I see it is they were contracted in 1962 as Lennon/McCartney or McCartney/Lennon or whatever. That was the whole point – to collaborate. What are contracts actually for, may I ask? THEY were the collaborators, George and Ringo were expected to contribute, which they did brilliantly. George did not enter into such an agreement. In his words he wasn’t interested in songwriting so why should the other two be expected to help him later? Why do fans love to play the guilt card? What a huge fuss made of the Beatles. Fifty years of recriminations and accusations and blame laying . No wonder McCartney has a few screws loose. I’m surprised he hasn’t ended up in a mental institution.
Love of reading and literature are not always the same thing. I think what Paul means is standard English Literature as in Shakespeare and Chaucer and the like. John said he hated Shakespeare. He preferred politics and philosophy. But I agree, Paul could have perhaps expressed himself more clearly. I also think he can be very tongue in cheek verbally, which doesn’t translate very well to the written word. He is his own worst enemy at times.
But John didn’t just read books (he read all kinds); he wrote them as well including one that received the Foyles Literary Award. He even gave Paul a co-writing credit on one of the stories. The statement just seems hilarious to me. Almost as funny as when Paul said he was into politics before John because he met Bertrand Russell in the mid-60s. Paul’s editor perhaps should have highlighted the fact that he contemplated a degree in literature when he was a schoolboy, with the goal of being a teacher of literature. That would make a little more sense without it seeming to diminish John’s love of literature. The fact is, none of the Beatles had degrees in literature. And it’s okay to hate Shakespeare.
I made no judgement on liking or disliking Shakespeare. I’d have been quite happy if Paul had stopped talking about John Lennon 30 years ago and become his own man. But I’m sure people would still have complained. There were other influential people close to Paul during his time as a Beatle who he’s predictably evaded in his book. It’s rather sad but I’m sure it will be a great success.
Wow. So much animosity here! I just got my copies of “The Lyrics” and I don’t feel Paul was re-litigating the past.
In fact, he doesn’t say he wrote “A Day In the Life” at all! I don’t know where that came from.
I really don’t get all the criticism here. The books are pretty much what I expected. Most of the stories we’ve all heard, but there are some new tidbits.
What I found interesting is, Heather Mills is nowhere to be found. I understand that completely, but it’s like she never existed. Which I’m sure Paul wishes. (Except for his daughter Beatrice)
It’s not only as if Heather Mills never existed but the songs about her never existed, which in a way is a form of revisionism. But it’s his choice and he only included a segment of his work anyway.
I wanted to add that he could have included any songs about Heather without mentioning her. Indeed, the entry for Silly Love Songs is all about John’s rough childhood. Other excerpts I read on Amazon didn’t talk about the lyrics or the subject of the song at all.
I don’t see any animosity. Everything little thing about John and his failings gets dissected here. In comparison the criticism of Paul and his new book is incredibly minor.
I agree, LeighAnn. Animosity toward whom? It’s just a healthy dose of skepticism. We’re getting just one Beatle’s opinion on everything. If Ringo could share his point of view once in a while that would be great. Oh, he did years ago, saying that Paul wanted to be known as the one who did it all in the Beatles. I can understand why he doesn’t want to rock the boat any further. It’s not in his nature.
This is a book written by Paul about HIS lyrics. It’s not a Beatle book. You don’t need Ringo’s opinion about it
If you haven’t read the books, it’s Paul discussion of how he came up with a song, inspiration for the song, etc…
He shares stories about his life.
It kind of is a Beatle book because John is discussed. I didn’t read the books and don’t plan to spend $60-100 on them, especially after reading a review in the New York Times. It was generally favorable but questioned the “rough” treatment of John. The review noted that in addition to calling John “stupid” and an “idiot” and denying that he had an interest in literature while comparing his own work to Shakespeare, Paul asserts that John’s cynicism and biting humor was the result of being raised in a broken home rather than any kind of thought process on his part. Paul wants to be known as the cerebral Beatle in addition to the melodic Beatle and the cute Beatle. It’s really sad that he has to do this.
Michelle, I don’t think it’s reasonable to pass final judgment on a book without reading it. Perhaps you could borrow it from a library? As for the cost, I work in publishing and can confirm that it must have been a very expensive book to make. Two volumes, a slipcover, high-quality gloss paper, four-color printing, and plenty of photos don’t come cheap.
I haven’t finished reading the book, but I’ll say that so far there are plenty of references to John that acknowledge his brilliance and Paul’s gratitude for getting to work with him. For example, I think this portion of what he says in reference to “Please Please Me” is spot-on: “That was one of the great things about working in collaboration. I could bring something in that John would spot needed alteration. He would bring something in that I would spot needed alteration. Then, if neither of us spotted the problem, George Martin would. That collaboration made the Beatles a lucky little group to be in.”
About John’s cynicism, this is from the piece about “Ticket To Ride” (not sure if it’s the part you’re referencing): “His life had been tougher, and he had to develop a harder shell than I did. He was quite a cynical guy but, as they say, with a heart of gold. A big softy, but his shield was hard. So that was very good for the two of us. Opposites attract. I could calm him down, and he could fire me up.”
I know how to spell library… honest. I wasn’t one of those kids who had to learn the mantra: “There are blueberries and there are strawberries, but there is no such thing as a liberry.” That’s what I get for being extra careful with the word “exquisite”.
Thanks @Nancy. Yes, some of his comments from the book including the ones you posted here are pure gold. I would definitely consider borrowing it from a libary. And the price it cost to make these books is obvious. Judging from what I’ve seen online, they’re exquisitely put together and are a work of art really, with many rare photos.
I feel like some people here have fallen into the old Paul VS John crap. Paul writes something in the “Lyrics” and it’s interpreted as a pot shot at John. I did not get that reading the books.
Paul was telling his story, his truth. What I got from some of the stories, was a man who loved his fellow Beatles, and was incredibly hurt by John. John, after his parents (whom he dedicates the books to, along with Nancy), was the most important person in his life. So, of course he’s going to talk about him, especially when discussing his songs, many of which, were written with John.
Does Paul have unresolved feelings towards John? Probably, but that wasn’t the focus of the books. I think some Beatle people are guilty of perpetuating the John VS Paul storyline, as well as the MSM.
I loved the books, and it’s too bad people can’t just enjoy it for what it is.
Well, he did call John an idiot in the intro. Sometimes. Which, aren’t we all sometimes? I found that a bit condescending, how even though he was younger than John, he often had to talk sense into him. I give him credit for being honest about his mixed feelings about John. And what’s this about Paul being the one to have to tell John that a line he came up with was already done before, like in West Side Story. Does he mean “There’s a Place”? LOL. Amazon has a preview available now. What is MSM?
MSM is main stream media.
I preordered the “Lyrics” and have read through most of it.
Regarding Heather Mills, I saw Paul in concert while he was married to her, and he dedicated a song to her. I don’t remember which it was. But you’re right, the songs he wrote about her were not in the book. But, I don’t blame him. Lots of great pics though of Jane Asher, Linda and Nancy.
LeighAnn, you and others have every right to dissect Paul and John. Personally, the Beatles for me, are joy, and peace. Listening to them makes me happy. Dissecting and analyzing them does not.
Im 57, and have been a Beatle fan for 30+ years. I guess I’m just over that phase.
@Michelle, I also read that review by David Hajdu at The NY Times. It was ONE review. I’ve read several others that were mostly positive.
I agree with Nancy that it isn’t reasonable to criticize a book you haven’t read. It also lessens the strength of any points you are trying to make.
I’m not judging, but how can anyone be a true Beatle fan and not buy this book?? This is a major piece of Beatle history, and should be in every fans library.
Tasmin, I have to disagree with the idea that every Beatles fan needs this book. I think it’s perfectly valid to say, in essence, “Nope, not for me” and pass by. What I don’t think is reasonable is passing judgment on something you haven’t read/listened to/watched.
One reason I love the Beatles is that their music encompasses so much — such diverse emotions, ideas, and styles. I think there’s room for us all in the Beatles tent, whether we get super excited about this McCartney lyrics book, the new “Imagine” box set, the George Harrison “Early Takes” recordings, or Ringo’s latest show. The band was composed of four such distinct personalities that it’s not surprising fans have favorites and not-so-favorites.
You are right Nancy. After I hit “post comment”, I knew I was going to hear from someone.
I don’t mean to question Michelle’s or anyone’s love of the Beatles. Personally, I just don’t get not wanting this book, but I understand what you are saying.
Tasmin, really hope my comment came across as constructive and respectful— to you, to Michelle, and to everyone reading.
After being part of HD for 11 years, the thing I hope for most in the Beatles fan community is mutual regard and good will. It’s often a dark world these days and I believe we are united by more than divides us.
I read somewhere that Paul detests being described as cute. From memory, the label The Cute Beatle originated with Jann Wenner and his sheep at Rolling Stone, along with their condescending use of ‘Paulie’ and the description of his music as muzak. Attempts to minimize him were and still are commonplace. The label objectifys McCartney’s looks in a way the labels for the others don’t – they are smart, spiritual, and funny. They are all stupid and I wish people would stop using them.
I think he was labeled that during the height of Beatlemania but can’t say for sure. I know he cringed at that label, and even more so now. While he must have enjoyed being the favorite of a lot of the girls because of his cuteness, what good does that do him now? So he wants to play down the fact that he was known as the Cute One and emphasize his intellect because that is what makes a person immortal in the pages of history. But there has never been a question that his songs do that for him, or that he has great intellect. It’s unnecessary to compare himself to John, or say he was more into literature than him. It confirms what I’ve always felt, that John and Paul both had/have major insecurities. It makes me smile when Paul tells the story of how John once anxiously said to him that he wasn’t sure he would be remembered when he’s gone, and how Paul had to remind him of his greatness. It’s funny how we sometimes can’t take our own advice.
Nancy, you have always been respectful. I have been reading this blog for at least 6 – 7 years, and have never seen you be anything but respectful and constructive.
I agree with you about it being a dark world these days. I think that’s part of the reason people are still loving and listening to The Beatles. They are the epitome of love. They sought to bring peace and love to the world through their music.
*objectifies! I can’t spell late at night. I can’t recall Paul being labeled the cute one during Beatlemania or in the teen literature at time. At least not in Britain. My point refers to The Cute One used in a way that is derogatory. And his objection isn’t recent; it was way, way before Linda died. While I’m at it, I hate it when McCartney is called Macca. I find it cheap and familiar. I’ve never heard Paul refer to himself as that, not any of his wives, the other three Beatles, George Martin, managers, or any friend or associate. Even if passable in jest, it’s disrespectful when Lennon and/or McCartney’s music is seriously discussed or debated. Lennon is Lennon and McCartney becomes Macca. Seriously? No other musician seems to be treated this way. Now the MacDonald’s franchise is being referred to as Maccas.
I’m a bad late-night speller too. I don’t like “Macca” either. I did hear John use it affectionately to him once during a recording session outtake that may have been included on the Anthology. It’s nice when used that way, but not in a serious discussion about the music. You mentioned “Paulie”. There’s an interview of John from 1973 where Elliot Mintz brought up “Paulie” and John said, “I object to that Paulie business. It’s Paul!” But of course, Paul refers to him as Johnny sometimes.
I think “Macca” is unfortunate as well. However, I’ve seen McCartney shirts, etc. with “Macca” on them at his shows, so maybe it doesn’t bother him.
As a follow-up to other points made on this thread, what I’d really like to read is a bio of the Beatles written from a trauma-informed perspective. Basically, someone who sees the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences and resulting trauma and can write sympathetically about all four of them, and how the intense success they experienced interacted with the behaviors they adopted as a result of those childhood experiences. Extra points if the person could have the kind of knowledge of alcoholic family dynamics that Michael G. has mentioned before, because that’s so relevant too.
There’s also this:
You’re right, it was an outtake of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”:
Sorry; one more link. Here’s Paul talking about the Macca nickname. I agree that it could be perceived as overly familiar when used by people who don’t know him, but that doesn’t seem to be one of the things that bothers him.
Isn’t it a old Liverpool thing?
That’s what he says in the video, yeah.
“The Lyrics” is #1 on the NYTimes best seller list.
Worth every penny!
I’m so blown away by this fantastic news, it really is very exciting. I’ve also been really touched by the lovely feedback I’ve had this week from those who have seen the book. A massive thank you to everyone who helped put The Lyrics together… Love Paul x
It’s been reported that this picture is in Paul’s Lyrics book. Is that Paul in the picture, taken by Linda through the car window? If so, wow.
Oops, the link takes you to the website where I saw the picture. It’s there if you scroll down a little. It was also posted on Reddit. But some people who have the book say that it doesn’t indicate that the man at the newsstand is, in fact, Paul. It looks like it could be him, but may be someone else?
I’m not sure if this is Paul reading a passage from his book or just him talking about Here Today but it’s the sweetest saddest thing.
Paul puts his name first for Ticket to Ride. Why would he do that? John said Paul’s only contribution to that one was how Ringo played the drums, and Paul himself said rather begrudgingly, “Give him 60%” in his Many Years From Now book. So that begs the question. Why is his name first in his Lyrics book? Unlike A Hard Day’s Night for example? Typo?
Also, did he choose 154 songs because of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets?
Golden Earth Girl is clearly about Linda, but in the Lyrics book Paul also gives a nod to Yoko. Interesting. Can someone who has read the book tell me more about it? Did the song Julia, which was partly inspired by Yoko in addition to John’s mom, inspire Golden Earth Girl?
I love this thread!
I think Paul really enjoys leaving room for the listener to interpret songs. If he gives a definitive meaning–a right answer–that shuts down the participation of the audience. I haven’t had a chance to read The Lyrics yet, but I suspect it will be more context of when things are written than clarifying intended meanings.
I also want to point out his penchant for choosing lyrics that can be misheard. Someone above mentioned “oh Darling”. If you listen carefully around the 1:42 second mark he definitely says “oh Johnny”. The first “oh darling” is very clearly enunciated, the second is a bit blurry in a rock’n’roll way, and the third isn’t actually “oh darling” at all, but he’s led you to mishear it as that.
I think “riding to Vanity Fair” is about the public letters John wrote, and Paul is actually singing “writing” rather than “riding”. But he likes it ambiguous, and other fans may read that song completely differently! I think it’s a gift, tbh.
He’s not always so successful with this though. “Fuh you” was a terrible misjudgment imo, because no-one was ever going to interpret it as “for you”, and it just made him sound oddly prudish.
I should have waited till I finished reading the thread before saying I loved it. It got into some weeds in the middle there, didn’t it!
The first half is great though 🙂
Ahaha a lot of that is me, I’m sure. Paul does that quite often, apparently says something different from what’s on the written page. The Polygon/Body Gun syndrome. In the song One More Kiss off of Red Rose Speedway, he generally sings, “I didn’t think you’d take it bad” but at one point it sounds like he says, “I didn’t think HE’d take it bad.” And with the song Getting Closer, one of my all-time favorite Paul tracks, I always heard it as “Why did you need him?” But when I looked up the lyrics it read, “Why DO you need him?” It still sounds like “Why did you need him” to me. The plea “When will you see me?” later in the song suggests that he’s addressing someone who doesn’t, in fact, need him anymore. That’s another thing, he occasionally switches from third person to second person (And I Love Her, Dear Friend) and third person to first person, as in Getting Closer. And forget about gender pronouns, they’re interchangeable. I think he did the double meaning thing a lot on RAM which rankled John. It might be what prompted John to write the double entendre, “The sound you make is Muzak to my ears”… and does John say, in Crippled Inside, that “You can comb your hair and look quite cute” or “You can comb your hair and look like you”? It can go either way, and intentionally IMO making fun of Paul the “Cute” Beatle and his ambiguous lyrics. I also wondered why it seemed noteworthy to John that the lyrics weren’t included on the RAM album, when not every album has lyrics on the sleeve. He apparently thought it was disingenuous of Paul, as he tried to explain to people that How Do You Sleep was a response.
I just listened to One More Kiss again, which I hadn’t in a long time. He actually says the “I didn’t think [you’d/he’d] take it bad” line once. It sounds like “he’d” but it’s disguised in a high pitch country & western cadence. There is also the line, “I didn’t mean to hurt you” which is a famous line from Jealous Guy which Paul said that John told him was written with him in mind. Then there is Yoko’s playful “Kiss Kiss Kiss, just one kiss kiss will do” from Double Fantasy. Yoko seems to be having fun with the John & Paul games. At the end of I’m Moving On she sings, “Moving oooooooooooon” (1:48) in the same exact note as the one held at the end of Paul’s “Some People Never Know” (5:24). Play those parts one after the other and you’ll see what I mean. By the way, am I the only one who hears Paul doing an impression of John’s singing starting at around 2:15 in Power Cut? I like Red Rose Speedway. Fun album.
From the Lyrics book: I think this song, ‘Dear Friend’, also helped. I would imagine he heard it. I think he listened to my records when they came out, but he never responded directly to me. That was not his way. We were guys; it wasn’t like a boy and girl. In those days you didn’t release much emotion with each other.”
Never responded directly? So he was communicating with John via his records that they should warrant a response? He could have said, “He never gave me his opinion of them” if that’s what he meant. And you wonder why the McClennonite community exists.
The “he’d” in One More Kiss is a great example of what I’m talking about. Plausibly deniable, but one you hear it it’s clear.
I’m really enjoying Red Rose Speedway at the moment.