By Bill Harry
The Lennon & McCartney partnership is one
of the most popular song writing teams in the history of popular music,
although, for the most part, the great majority of songs they wrote
individually. They used each other as a catalyst rather than sitting down to
write each song together.
As John commented, "I couldn't sit down with Paul in some sort of working
situation, like in an office job. If I was told the two of us had to sit at a
table until we finished our next song, the job would never get done. I have to
grab bits of inspiration when they fly by. I should have a recording machine
taped to my back or I should carry a guitar. I never know when ideas will come.
It's worse with individual words. I wait ages for the right rhyme and then it
comes and goes before I am able to get it down. Once it's lost, the whole
process has to begin again."
The two decided to collaborate on writing songs soon after they met. Paul had
played John a number he'd composed called 'I Lost My Little Girl' which inspired
them to try writing as a team. It was during the school holidays in 1957, prior
to John enrolling at Liverpool College of Art, that they began meeting to
compose songs, mainly at Paul's home in Forthlin Road. When terms began and Paul
returned to Liverpool Institute and John began his studies at the Art College,
they would both take time off school to meet up at Paul's house, while his
father was away at work. They also met to discuss their ideas in the Art College
canteen or Life Rooms.
Their Forthlin Road sessions usually lasted for three hours and took place
between 2 o clock and 5 o clock, before Paul's father, Jim, returned home from
They used to write their lyrics down in an exercise book and Paul recalled that
the first number they wrote was called 'Too Bad About Sorrows', followed by
'Just Fun'. Another number written around that time was 'Love Me Do', of which
Paul was to say "it was completely co-written. It might have been my
original idea but some of them were really 50-50s, and I think that one
Paul was to say, "Well, first I started off on my own. Very early on I met
John, and we then, gradually, started to write stuff together. There's a lot of
random in our songs - writing, thinking, letting others think of bits - then
bang, you have the jigsaw puzzle."
John said, "When we started off we were uncertain as to exactly where our
writing would take us. Paul was a rocker with one eye on Broadway musicals,
vaudeville, and shit like that. I, on the other hand, was inspired by Buddy
Holly's songwriting and was determined to show I was as capable as any Yank. To
me Buddy was the first to click as a singer-songwriter. His music really moved
and his lyrics spoke to us kids in a way no one ever bothered before."
Of course, the problem when two people write together is their personal
recollections of who wrote what or the extent of the contribution an individual
made. When John recalled 'Love Me Do', he said, "Paul wrote the main
structure of this when he was sixteen or even earlier. I think I had something
to do with the middle eight." When they wrote 'With A Little Help From My
Friends' for Ringo, Paul recalled "It was pretty much co-written, John and
I doing a work song for Ringo. I think it was probably the best of the songs we
wrote for him", while John commented, "That's Paul's writing with only
a little help from me."
Paul was to admit that the two of them exaggerated the number of songs they
wrote during that early period. They even informed me at Mersey Beat that they'd
written around 100 songs together during that time when it was actually less
They only wrote down the words as they couldn't write music and their theory was
that if they couldn't remember the tune the next day then it couldn't have been
The Beatles first British chart-topper 'Please Please Me' has the song writing
credit 'McCartney/Lennon.' Since, from the very beginning, the two wrote a
number of songs on their own, it was initially agreed that the name of the main
contributor to the song would go first - McCartney-Lennon or Lennon'McCartney.
Their agreement was changed by Brian Epstein, who considered it too complicated.
He insisted that the person whose name went first should conform to the position
in the alphabet - and as L comes before M, it should be Lennon-McCartney.
Although this was basically contrary to the arrangement John and Paul wanted,
they had no option but to agree, although this was to cause problems decades
later concerning the songs which Paul actually wrote without any contribution
from John or other members of the Beatles, such as 'Yesterday.'
The two agreed that all income generated by any of the songs under the Lennon
& McCartney banner would be shared equally between them. Generally, John's
songs were lyric led while Paul's were noted for melody, although John was to
disagree with this generally held opinion later on.
John told Beatles press agent Tony Barrow, "Paul has a special gift when it
comes to making up tunes. I find myself using tunes which already exist and
fitting my words to them. I have to back off and begin again all the time. I realized
I'm pinching an old American hit. With me, I have a theme, which gets
me started on the poetry side of the thing. Then I have to put a tune to it, but
that's the part of the job I enjoy least. Words come easier."
There was also a great deal of rivalry between the two, as Paul pointed out,
"If John came in and said he'd just written three songs, I'd go away and
try to write three just as good."
They were still writing together when they began touring in Britain and John was
to comment, "It's simply a question of waiting for ideas to arrive.
Sometimes this will happen in the van or on a train when we're halfway between
engagements. Once one of us has come up with a few introductory phrases or a
good theme for the lyrics we can bang the whole thing into shape within an