Paul McCartney’s “meaningless” Beatles song that annoyed John Lennon
By the end of 1967, The Beatles were physically, mentally and emotionally spent. Not only had their fame reached fever pitch, something that even refusing to tour didn’t dampen, but now the tensions surrounding such meteoric fame began to arise. To make matters worse, with the tragic passing of their manager and leader Brian Epstein, the Fab Four were slowly falling apart. It makes it all the more impressive that they were able to record an album as game-changing as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The reason for the LP ever being fully completed can be attributed largely to the emergence of Paul McCartney as the band’s new leader. Where Lennon and Epstein had once stood, Macca was now carving his own place on the mantel, driven by musical nous and creativity, it appeared The Beatles were entering a new chapter. To compound this point, at the end of the year the group would record what John Lennon would describe as a “meaningless” song which would, eventually, be released as the A-side to Lennon’s own song ‘I Am The Walrus’.
The song in question, ‘Hello Goodbye’, isn’t regarded as one of The Beatles’ finest yet, somehow, and much to Lennon’s displeasure, the song was released as the main single — hitting number one as it did. But it was a shift of the inner-band dynamics which did not go unnoticed by the group. By the end of 1967, it felt as if Macca was now leading his band through his own personal preferences of music hall tomfoolery. All the while, Lennon was plotting a return to rock on The White Album.
Released on 24th November 1967, ‘Hello Goodbye’ has a habit of dividing audiences. Some see it as the perfect combination of pop and spirituality, marrying the undeniable McCartney melody with a sense of the Buddhist void that would certainly appeal to their growing audience of hippies and acid-loving free thinkers. The song, it appears, also arrived out of thin air with Macca showing off his songwriting chops.
Allistair Taylor, Epstein’s former personal assistant, was attending a dinner when Macca showed the now boss of Apple Corps how easy it was to write a song. “Paul marched me into the dining room, where he had a marvellous old hand-carved harmonium,” recalled Taylor for Yesterday. “Come and sit at the other end of the harmonium. You hit any note you like on the keyboard. Just hit it and I’ll do the same,” she added.
“Now whenever I shout out a word, you shout the opposite and I’ll make up a tune. You watch, it’ll make music’. ‘Black,’ he started. ‘White,’ I replied. ‘Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Good.’ ‘Bad.’ ‘Hello.’ ‘Goodbye.’ I wonder whether Paul really made up that song as he went along or whether it was running through his head already,” knowing the smarts Macca had at his disposal it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have something in mind before sitting at the harmonium.
McCartney later spoke a little more in-depth about the track so delicately poised on the duality of life,” stating: “‘Hello, Goodbye’ was one of my songs. There are Geminian influences here I think the twins,” he remembered when speaking to Barr Miles for Many Years From Now. “It’s such a deep theme in the universe, duality – man woman, black white, ebony ivory, high low, right wrong, up down, hello goodbye – that it was a very easy song to write. It’s just a song of duality, with me advocating the more positive. You say goodbye, I say hello. You say stop, I say go. I was advocating the more positive side of the duality, and I still do to this day.”
As the perfect distillation of their two characters, Lennon was deeply disappointed not only with the song but with the idea that it had trumped his own trippy piece of music, ‘I Am The Walrus’. “That’s another McCartney. Smells a mile away, doesn’t it?” snarkily replied Lennon when speaking to David Sheff about the song in 1980. “An attempt to write a single. It wasn’t a great piece; the best bit was the end, which we all ad-libbed in the studio, where I played the piano.”
Later Lennon would describe the song as “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions” and while we can’t quite attest to that description it’s easy to see why Lennon was frustrated. It was clear from the choice to place a universally understood and easily digestible song as the band’s single and relegate Lennon’s confounding kaleidoscopic track ‘I Am The Walrus’ as its back up that McCartney was now in charge. While it wouldn’t remain that way for long, it was clear that the group were on a collision course for destruction.
The Beatles break-up was a situation that occurred thanks to thousands of different strands coming together but it’s hard not to see this decision as one of the cementing factors of the band’s new position and, therefore, their eventual demise.