As part of the upcoming ‘John Lennon at 80’ radio show, celebrating the life of The Beatles legend John Lennon, Sean, his son with wife Yoko Ono, has been speaking with some of the pivotal figures of the songwriter’s life including none other than his bandmate and childhood friend, Paul McCartney.
The show will be a rare in-depth insight into one of Britain’s finest musical talents and is set to go out over the weekend. The programme will also feature conversations with Sean Ono Lennon’s brother Julian Lennon as well as Elton John, completing an in-depth look at John Lennon’s influence on music and his personal life.
As well as the singer’s personal life, thanks to the interview with McCartney, we can also get a look behind the curtain of The Beatles as the bassist and Lennon’s songwriting partner answered questions about their career.
Naturally, there is mention of Bob Dylan and the songs that maybe didn’t land so well, but there was also the difficult question surrounding the pair’s rivalry. Though The Beatles wrote some of the world’s most beloved pop songs, by the end of their run, it seemed as though the Lennon and McCartney partnership were now playing against each other. “You guys famously started writing, I guess, more and more independently as you as the record progressed,” said Ono Lennon, asking his father’s longtime partner, “but was there still a kind of input or influence happening anyway?”
“You know, the reason we originally wrote separately was because we were living separately,” says McCartney simply. “In the early days, we’d been on tour all the time so we were kind of living together. Once the touring is off, and we might have one tour a year or something, there would be plenty of time to be at home.”
The downtime allowed room for creation, “you’d pick up a guitar or something. And let’s say I wrote ‘Yesterday’ or something like that, John would write ‘Strawberry Fields’, so you were writing separately,” but the song would still need to be polished to Beatles standard and that, McCartney says, was a group process. “You’d bring it together for the record,” Macca remembers, “but you would then get some collaboration to finish up the song and to bring it into the studio, and then you collaborate in the studio.”
It’s something McCartney thinks he and the rest of the band in their individual careers took on into their solo writing too. “The interesting thing is that, ever since The Beatles broke up and we didn’t write together or even record together, I think each one of us referenced the others.
“When we’re writing stuff, I often do it, you know. I’m writing something and I go, ‘Oh, god, this is bloody awful.’ And I think what would John say? And you go, ‘Yeah, you’re right. It’s bloody awful. You’ve got to change it.’,” reminisces McCartney. “I know from reports that he did similar things to that,” he continues, “If I’d have a record out, he’d go, ‘Bloody hell… got to go in the studio. Got to try and do better than Paul.’”
The differing attitudes of Lennon and McCartney are likely to be compared in pop culture forevermore. But while many musos will point to Macca as the brains of the operation, McCartney himself thinks there was a continuous balancing act between them that made the band truly shine. “There may be some truth that, musically, I had an edge because my dad had shown us some things. And I’d learned the guitar chords a bit before John, but it wasn’t so much that, the sophistication, it was attitudes.”
“So my attitude would be, ‘This is what I want to do.’ And then John would bring another edge to it. So the great thing was the combination of those two attitudes, and I look back on it now like a fan. You think, ‘Wow, how lucky was I to meet this strange Teddy boy off the bus who turned out to play music like I did. And we get together!’”
It’s clearly still a point of pride for McCartney and the landmark birthday of his departed friend is a kindly time to remember his other half. “It was a bit yin yang,” he continues, “They say with marriages opposites attract and I think we weren’t like madly opposite, but I had some stuff he didn’t have, and he had some stuff I didn’t have. So when you put them together it made something extra, which I think was this.”
We can’t wait to dive into this feature across what will be a touching weekend. ‘John Lennon at 80’ airs from 9-10pm on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th October on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sounds.