John Lennon and Paul McCartney may have quickly become best of friends as they joined forces to conquer the world as The Beatles but, on a personal level, they were very different people. While McCartney was a people-pleaser, Lennon was a deliberate disturber of the peace.
It meant that when their songwriting continued to develop alongside their different personalities they would often start to write alone. It would allow the songs to become more fully realised instead of stretched across two different ideologies. That said, there is one famous track which sees their two personalities shine through.
The track ‘We Can Work It Out’ offers up a crystal clear image of the two different songwriters. Recorded over two days, amounting to 11 hours (the longest in Beatles history), the song became a symbol of tolerance and allowed Paul McCartney to exercise some demons.
“The lyrics might have been personal. It is often a good way to talk to someone or to work your own thoughts out,” McCartney told Barry Miles in Many Years From Now. “It saves you going to a psychiatrist, you allow yourself to say what you might not say in person.” McCartney was said to have written the upbeat and quick-tempo chorus and verse following an argument with his then-girlfriend Jane Asher.
Here is where we see the difference between the two writers. While McCartney was happier to speak of hope and optimism, Lennon’s view of the world was altogether darker. Lennon speaking to David Sheff in 1980 said of the song, “Paul did the first half, I did the middle-eight. But you’ve got Paul writing, ‘We can work it out/ We can work it out’ real optimistic, you know.”
Adding: “And me, impatient, ‘Life is very short and there’s no time/ for fussing and fighting, my friend.'”
In these simple lines, one can see the outline of their personalities. While McCartney wrote songs which hoped for happiness and sunshine days, Lennon’s tracks were steeped in emotional turmoil and an outlook on the world that was uncomfortable. It was the beautiful balance the duo struck which made songs like ‘We Can Work It Out’ and countless other iconic moments in music.
Of course, it wasn’t just Lennon and McCartney, the whole group contributed to songwriting by this point and the band’s additions to the duo’s work was vitally important. “I had the idea, the title, had a couple of verses and the basic idea for it, then I took it to John to finish it off and we wrote the middle together,” said McCartney.
“Then it was George Harrison’s idea to put the middle into waltz time, like a German waltz. That came on the session, it was one of the cases of the arrangement being done on the session.
Truly, when all The Beatles came together they could make some of the finest music the world has ever known.