Paul McCartney on how he wrote some of his hits

October 6, 2019 • 3:15 pm

As usual, YouTube is a black hole, for when I watch one video, a bunch of other ones “recommended for you” pop up on the right side. And how well they know me! Yesterday this 27-minute video of Paul McCartney appeared, and I had no choice but to click on it.

It’s a fascinating soliloquy by McCartney on how he (with John Lennon, of course) wrote some of the biggest hits of his career,  including mostly Beatles songs but a few solo songs. They include  I Lost My Little Girl, Yesterday, I Saw Her Standing There, And I Love Her, Eleanor Rigby, A Day in the Life, Hey Jude, Helter Skelter, Blackbird, Let It Be, Hi Hi Hi, Here Today, Jet and I Don’t Know.

Since the Beatles are the greatest rock group of all time, and I brook no dissent on this issue, you might enjoy it, too. If you don’t like the Beatles, well, I don’t know what to say. . . .

41 thoughts on “Paul McCartney on how he wrote some of his hits

      1. Yeah the side 2 medley is really something. It’s the end of the Beatles, and to go out like that is fairy tale perfection.

  1. Never really got into knowing much about bands or the personal stuff. Just listened to the songs. I remember going to a drive-in on a motorcycle with another guy to see Hard Days Night. Not really the way to see a movie.

  2. The studio in Nigeria that he mentioned was of course run by Ginger Baker — I can’t imagine two musicians of more dissimilar temperaments!

  3. I’ve been meaning to watch that, also from the AI pushing it into my list.

    This was perfect timing- i needed to listen to Blackbird today. It is a gorgeous piece. It has something of a healing power The descending chromatic in the bass gives such rich territory to explore its expressive sound, just knowing after all those moods that come up, you are going to come right back to that ascending major part. The melody doesn’t work hard at all, it’s just there. Brad Mehldau’s old trio covered it in a mainstream way – nothing wacky ::

    I know I am going off the rails but this song … perfect for that ending Sunday…thank you….

  4. If you don’t like the Beatles, well, I don’t know what to say. . . .

    That you’re an ill-programmed Turing machine?

    1. One perfectly plausible reason is that you’re deaf. Or have sufficiently poor hearing to not give enough of a damn to argue the point.

      Which also answer’s Helen Hollis’ point below.

      I forwarded a comment on something Beatles related yesterday or the day before, but I didn’t consider it important enough to commit to long-term memory (like most things to do with the Beatles ; it’s only repetition that gets them to stick). Ah, here it is – some alternative lyrics for the opening of Elanor Rigby :

      Hannibal Lecter
      Wearing the face that he keeps in a jar by the door
      Who is it for?

      And other contributions in the … uh, same vein :

      Help! I need some bodies.
      Help! Not just any bodies.
      Help! I’m gonna eat someone…

      All the tasty people, where do they all come from?


  5. That video is part of a very interesting Sept., 2018 GQ McCartney interview by Chris Heath as part of McCartney’s Egypt Station album promo. And here it is:
    The Untold Stories of Paul McCartney [not a quick read at around 14,000 words, but well worth if for any music fan!]. I will paste highlights below for the time impoverished!

    P.S. The YT video comment section is littered with “Paul is Dead” conspiritards [he was supposedly replaced by a double in November, 1966]. According to “Google Trends” the number one region for this ‘trend’ is the USA [figures are per capita BTW]. I think this most likely means USians, compared with the RotW, are interested in McCartney/Beatles – more so than the UK for example who are less ‘mythic’ in their Beatles outlook IMO.

    1. In the US, the Beatles were and invasion. I remember listening to their first releases as something you not only heard, but listened to as if it came from outer space. The Brits may have not heard it that way. Part of their appreciation may have been realizing how it was appreciated around the world.

      1. Don’t forget WE had a blues invasion in the ’50s from the USA – Muddy Waters [McKinley Morganfield] visited in 1958 playing amplified electric blues & we loved it [after a few grumbles about electrified blues not being the real blues]. We had been primed by black WWII GIs bringing their music & tons [literally] of records & other media that started to appear in the ports of Glasgow, Liverpool, London & Bristol.

        Morgenfield brought himself in person & Son House & Robert Johnson in spirit [he learned from those two it is claimed – I haven’t checked the facts]. It was a cultural atom bomb going off in a dense island & it sparked much more than just The Beatles in a musical sense. That’s why that band isn’t quite so mythic in the UK – blame Muddy Waters & the many little forest fires he started over here.

        Shortly after that there was the parallel folk infusion & then that shyster Dylan popped up over here & borrowed some tunes. 🙂

        1. I was vaguely aware of that US effect on GB. It probably was pretty Earth shaking at the time and had lasting effects. Echos and reverberations back and forth. Probably, music has created a strong bond across the Atlantic. It’s hard to overestimate how the arts hold the world together.

    2. AS PROMISED: to whet the appetite!


      “Yeah, that’s true. I’m more careful in everything. My dad is a very strong factor in this. He was an ordinary working-class guy, very intelligent, very good with words, but his whole philosophy was to think it out a bit. So that, that turned out to be my sort of way. Whereas John, you’ve got to remember, didn’t have a father. John didn’t even have an uncle. He went to live with the uncle—the uncle died. His dad had run away. So John felt like he was a jinx on the male line, he told me. I had a father. He was always spouting to be tolerant. Moderation. These were words he used a lot, and I think I listened.”

      So, to take an extreme example, is it really true that John tried to convince you that you should both do trepanning?

      He nods. “John was a kooky cat. We’d all read about it—you know, this is the ’60s. The ‘ancient art of trepanning,’ which lent a little bit of validity to it, because ancient must be good. And all you’d have to do is just bore a little hole in your skull and it lets the pressure off—well, that sounds very sensible. ‘But look, John, you try it and let me know how it goes.'”

      But was he sitting there really seriously saying: ‘We should do this’?

      “Yeah, but this is the good thing about John and I — I’d say no. And he knew me well enough that if I said no, I meant no, and I’m not frightened of being uncool to say no. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say, ‘You’re fucking crazy,’ because I didn’t need to say that. But, no, I’m not gonna trepan, thank you very much. It’s just not something I would like to do.”


      at one point today, even though I also never ask about this, I will suddenly find that I am listening to McCartney agitate about his angst around the circumstances of the Beatles’ split—still, it seems, a tender issue: “One of the sadnesses for me when the Beatles broke up, the only way to save the business side of it was me suing the Beatles, so that was like a total heartache. And the residue was that I was to blame. I was ‘the one who broke the Beatles up.’ And so I spent quite a bit of time—you know, still doing it—to sort of say: ‘No, I didn’t. John wanted Yoko, so he said we’re leaving the Beatles.…’ But because of that suing incident, the word got out that I was the baddie. And the worst thing was: I kind of bought into it. My psyche sort of said, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no… Yes!… No, you weren’t.…You were!’ I really wasn’t, but if everyone thinks you were, then maybe you were.”

      MY NOTE: I don’t believe any of this, or more accurately it’s a partially true story only – the main problem was to do with the music mogul Allen Klein. READ HERE IF INTERESTED. McCartney is like everybody else reflecting on the dim & distant past – oversimplification is the order of the day & there’s an image to be burnished too [McCartney has not said a lot of bad things about his bandmates that he could have said & about himself too – he’s more honest than most old geezers I think, but he does ‘edit’ the past – don’t we all]


      “There weren’t really orgies, to my knowledge. There were sexual encounters of the celestial kind, and there were groupies. The nearest it got… See, this is my experience, because I’m just not into orgies. I don’t want anyone else there, personally. It ruins it! I would think—I’ve never actually done it. Didn’t appeal to me, the idea. There was once when we were in Vegas where the tour guy, a fixer, said, ‘You’re going to Vegas, guys—you want a hooker?’ We were all, ‘Yeah!’ And I requested two. And I had them, and it was a wonderful experience. But that’s the closest I ever came to an orgy. See, the thing is, in the next room I think the guys might have ordered something else off the menu. So that would figure if John was saying, yeah, it was all bacchanalian. I think John was a little more that way, because thinking back, I remember there was someone in a club that he’d met, and they’d gone back to the house because the wife fancied John, wanted to have sex with him, so that happened, and John discovered the husband was watching. That was called ‘kinky’ in those days.”

      And was he okay with that?

      “Yeah, he was fine. So I think maybe John experienced a bit more of that than I did. Tell you the truth, I just didn’t fancy it, that kind of thing. Someone else’s wife? I definitely wouldn’t want the husband to know. You know, that seems sensible to me. Am I too sensible? I don’t know. Mine wasn’t particularly crazy but it was a lot of fun. And there was a lot of it. So that was good enough for me.”


      Though there is a song on McCartney’s new album called “Despite Repeated Warnings” that is inspired by Trump’s listen-to-no-one-else recklessness, it may actually be Putin into whom McCartney has the greater insight. In 2003, McCartney was invited to do a concert in Red Square; as he’d long wanted to sing “Back in the U.S.S.R.” in Russia, he accepted. He was also, at that time, heavily involved alongside his second wife in the campaign to ban land mines, and they saw an opportunity.

      “We were going—probably naively, now I think back—to actually ask Vladimir Putin if he would ban land mines,” McCartney recalls. They asked for, and were granted, a meeting.29 “So we met him at the Kremlin, which was sort of exciting—you feel like you’re in a novel, a big Russian general leading you through to Putin’s inner quarters. We chatted — he had a translator, though we were later told he can perfectly well understand English.” Their request regarding the abolition of land mines was politely rebuffed: “He sort of said something like ‘The borders of Russia are vast and we need some.'”


      34. During one of those Beverly Hills Hotel ingredient-pool sessions, McCartney had told [Kanye] West the story of how he wrote “Let It Be” following a dream in which his late mother told him these words, and West, who had suffered his similar loss only recently, had said he wanted to write a song about his mother and, there and then, had started singing some of what became “Only One” over McCartney’s piano melody—McCartney’s playing that afternoon is the actual version you hear on the finished record.


      “He might have. I don’t remember. But I wouldn’t listen to him. I don’t listen to people.”

      To illustrate this point, McCartney proceeds to tell me that he recently used Auto-Tune on a song—one that’s not even on his new album—and how he worried for a moment about it. “Because I know people are going to go, ‘Oh no! Paul McCartney’s on bloody Auto-Tune! What have things come to?’… At the back of my mind I’ve got Elvis Costello saying, ‘Fucking hell, Paul!'” But then he considered it some more, and what he thought was: “You know what? If we’d had this in the Beatles, we’d have been—John, particularly—would be so all over it. All his freaking records would be…”

      McCartney demonstrates a version of how he’d imagine a modern-day John Lennon singing in an extreme Auto-Tune warble, and then he gets out his iPhone and plays me some of the song in question, another collaboration with Ryan Tedder, called “Get Enough,” which has an emphatically full-on Auto-Tuned McCartney vocal, plenty more than would be required to horrify any passing purists. It also sounds pretty good.

      “Come on, man,” says McCartney. “You can’t be so straitlaced to not expose yourself to experiences in life.”


      And he was like, ‘Oh, Paul, you know I love you so much.’ ‘Yeah, I know you do, Quince.’ But he’s an old guy. I don’t know what it was. But I don’t think I’m the worst bass player he’s ever heard. Or maybe he’s never heard bad bass players. He’s talking all of this jazz and musicianship, and he’s an arranger and stuff. This is like Buddy Rich saying Ringo couldn’t drum. Because coming from Buddy Rich’s sensibility, Ringo can’t drum. But coming from our sensibility, Buddy Rich is a load of shit. But God bless him”


        1. His language & choice of topics is a lot spicier in print than the the anodyne bobble head persona he presents for TV talk shows. In private that bobble-waggy head stuff disappears entirely – he stops trying so hard to be a likeable living legend lad.

          There’s a couple of stories in there of his experiences of being recognised on public transport that are quite interesting, but probably not entirely accurate. Burnishing.

          Recommended article if you have 45 to 60 mins.

    1. I think that after being locked into a room with the CrⒶss, the survivors would tell you a different story.

        1. They’re a defunct, British, multi-media art-punk group [not just music, but poems, pics & art]. Very influential without being particularly expert & without being ‘known’ in the mainstream. You can read a bio of CRⒶSS [or Crass, or crass] HERE & the other tabs in the link provide snippets of their music, album covers etc. etc. – also HERE is a decent Wiki.

        2. The Crass were – maybe still are – an anarcho-punk band from the late 1970s to … well they were still going in the late 1980s IIRC, but I can’t say I’ve heard of them for a while.
          They didn’t exactly go for tunes or melodies – more jarring discord. Kinda-like Einstürtzende Neubauten, but more suited to a recording studio than a building site. Slightly more suited. Well a less obvious mismatch.
          Bleeding from the inner ear would probably be considered as applause by both bands.

  6. It’s a fascinating soliloquy by McCartney on how he (with John Lennon, of course) wrote some of the biggest hits of his career

    I think it’s fair to stay, particularly as time went on, that John and Paul did not normally collaborate on their songs. Usually, the writer was the person that took lead vocals.

  7. McCartney told a more detailed story of Helier Skelter to Howard Stern – that interview is also on YouTube.

  8. Fascinating to listen to Paul. One of his strengths as a songwriter is to connect with the listener, which he does well.
    Thank you, Paul, for your gift of songs to this world.

  9. “As usual, YouTube is a black hole, ”

    Better (and probably more aptly known as) “down the rabbit hole”. Referencing Alice in Wonderland, of course.

    I spent most of yesterday there, ended up with 27 videos still to watch parked on my browser tabs, just had to say ‘to hell with it’ and go to bed.


    1. ended up with 27 videos still to watch parked on my browser tabs, just had to say ‘to hell with it’ and go to bed.

      That kind of behavior angers the AI.

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