Lennon & McCartney

By Bill Harry  

John LennonThe 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 work. 

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 was."

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 than 20

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 very good.

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.'

Paul McCartney - Copyright © Nevitsky Collection 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 hour."

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