Paul McCartney has put new perspective on the effect John Lennon had on him as a musician, songwriter and friend, stamping their chemistry as a miracle.
In the latest episode of the “McCartney: A Life in Lyrics” podcast, the Beatles bassist and songwriter said the duo’s efforts transcended any McCartney could have ever made alone.
“Now I’m conscious that I don’t have him, very much,” McCartney said. “And you know, often we’ll sort of refer to, ‘What would John say to this? Is this too soppy? He would’ve said da da da,’ so I’ll change it. But my songs have to reflect me, and you don’t have this opposing element so much. I have to do that myself these days.”
McCartney was matter-of-fact when describing, as a practical matter, what it was like to work with Lennon.
“It was easier, much easier, because there were two minds at work,” McCartney said. “And that interplay was nothing short of miraculous.”
McCartney illustrated the point with a lyric from “Getting Better,” their hit song off 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” their eighth studio album that’s considered by many to be their best.
“One of the good things about writing with John, he would often come in from another angle,” McCartney said. “So if I’m doing a song, ‘It’s getting better all the time,’ John might easily say, ‘It couldn’t get much worse,’ which immediately opens the song right up. That was one of the things I loved about working with him. He could’ve easily said, ‘It’s getting better all the time, yes indeed it is.’”
McCartney recounted how he and Lennon first striking up the idea of working together musically was a potential collaboration the likes of which neither had experienced before. At one point they simply told each other they’d like to see one another’s song work.
“So that was the start of our relationship,” McCartney said. “We decided to get together, normally at my house. And my dad always left his pipe in the drawer.
“So we would take tea, fill the pipe with it and smoke it,” a laughing McCartney added, referring to tea leaves, not cannabis, which would of course come later.
McCartney dropped the podcast revelations a week after the release of the Beatles’ so-called final song, “Then and Now,” and an accompanying 12-minute short film streaming exclusively on Disney+ that tells the backstory of the song, the finishing touches of which were put together in 2022 by McCartney and Ringo Starr (George Harrison died in 2001 but recorded guitar tracks for it before his death). The song was ultimately possible thanks to AI technology that separated a rough track featuring Lennon’s voice and a piano melody.
In the podcast, McCartney reflected on Lennon for the episode focused on lyrics to McCartney’s 1982 solo song, “Here Today,” written and recorded about Lennon’s death not long after he was assassinated in front of his New York City apartment building, in December 1980.
“What about the time that we met/I suppose you could say we were playing hard to get,” a lyric for the song goes.
McCartney explained the story behind another refrain from the song, “‘What about the night we cried?”
“That was a specific incident in Key West,” McCartney said. “There was a hurricane coming in and we had to lay low for a couple of days. So we were in our little motel room, so we got very drunk and cried about how we loved each other or something.”
McCartney called it “basically a memory song, that is a love song to John.”
“It was very moving, very emotional writing this song, because I was just sitting there in this bare room thinking of John and realizing I’d lost him,” McCartney said. “And it was a powerful loss, so to have a conversation with him in a song was some form of solace. Somehow I was with him again.”
The Beatles bassist and frontman for the Wings also recalled his first memory of Lennon.
“He was like this slightly older guy, hair grease, black jacket, sideboards as we called them — sideburns was American,” McCartney said. “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, well he’s a cool guy.’ No idea who he is.”
Listen to the full podcast or other episodes of “McCartney: A Life in Lyrics” here.
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