Paul McCartney loved writing songs with John Lennon. However, if he had to choose one of the most exciting things about their time as songwriter partners, Paul said they came at songs from different angles. They were opposites most of the time but complimented each other.
Paul McCartney said there was a grey area in writing songs with John Lennon
In The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul wrote that no one was interested in his songs until he met John. In The Beatles’ early days, the songwriting pair wrote at least one song daily and only came close to a dry songwriting session once.
A dry songwriting session was rare for Paul and John because they knew how to work together. If one were stuck, the other would know how to help. “We could suggest the way out of the maze to each other, which was a very handy thing to have. We inspired each other,” Paul wrote.
Many times, one of them would add something that made the song perfect. “One of us would come up with that little magic thing. It allowed the song to become what it needed to be,” Paul said.
During a 1984 interview with Playboy (per Beatles Interviews), Paul said he never envied John’s cleverness when they wrote together, just his “repartee.” However, it wasn’t a question of envying each other. They were as good as each other. “We started from the same place and then went on the same railway journey together,” he said.
Paul’s wife Linda said the pair were more similar than different. Paul agreed. “With me, how I wrote depended on my mood,” he said. “The only way I would be sort of biting and witty like that was if I was in a bad mood! I was very good at sarcasm myself; I could really keep up with John then. I was right up there with him if I was in a bad enough mood. We were terrific then. He could be as wicked as he wanted, and I could be as wicked.”
Linda added that Paul could write “Helter Skelter” and John could write some of the softer songs on Abbey Road. “A lot of songs that people thought you wrote, he probably wrote; and I’m sure there are a lot of songs people thought John wrote that were really written by you,” she said.
Paul agreed. “That’s right,” he said. “It was more gray than anyone knew.”
Paul, on the most exciting thing about writing songs with John
Once The Beatles got going, Paul and John settled into a groove, churning out hit after hit. They sat with their guitars and strummed until one of them came up with a note or melody they both liked. Things got exciting once their songwriting got better.
In The Lyrics, Paul explained that one of the most exciting things about writing with John was that he would often come in from another angle. “If I were saying, ‘It’s getting better all the time,’ John might easily say, ‘It can’t get no worse,’” Paul said.
This happened in The Beatles’ song “I’ve Got a Feeling.” Paul calls the song a “shotgun wedding” between his “I’ve Got a Feeling” and John’s “Everyone Had a Bad Year.”
When people ask Paul what it was like to write with John, he always says it was much easier than writing alone. There were two minds at work.
“Mine would be doing this, his would be doing that, and the interplay was just miraculous,” Paul wrote. “And that’s why people are still listening to the songs we wrote. They didn’t just go away like your average pop song. The climate that the two of us created in writing wasn’t a soppy pop song climate. We created an environment in which we might grow, try new things, maybe even learn a thing or two.”
The singer-songwriter is still writing songs with his songwriting partner
One of the things that contributed to The Beatles’ split was that Paul and John didn’t write songs anymore. They’d begun to work apart. After the band broke up, Paul had to learn how to write songs alone. To this day, Paul summons John’s spirit whenever he writes new tunes.
“As I continue to write my own songs, I’m still very conscious that I don’t have him around, but I still have him whispering in my ear after all these years,” Paul wrote in The Lyrics. “I’m often second-guessing what John would have thought – ‘This is too soppy’ – or what he would have said differently, so I sometimes change it. But that’s what being a songwriter is about; you have to be able to look over your own shoulder.
“Now that John is gone, I can’t sit around sighing for the old days. I can’t sit around wishing he was still here. Not only can I not replace him, but I don’t need to, in some profound sense.”
Ultimately, Paul doesn’t need John to write songs. It was exciting while it lasted, but at least Paul has his memories and John’s spirit with him.