The songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney needs no real introduction. The driving force of The Beatles, the duo is credited as writing around 180 astonishing songs between 1962 and 1970, a back catalogue which is now credited as changing the course of popular music as we know it today.
While Lennon would later explain how he and McCartney would work “eyeball to eyeball”, as the band developed amid the hysteria that was Beatlemania, the dynamics began to change. “We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball,” John Lennon said during an interview with Playboy in 1980.
“Like in ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ I remember when we got the chord that made the song,” he added “We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had, ‘Oh you-u-u/ got that something…’”
Later, in 1994, 14 years after Lennon’s sad murder, McCartney reflected on the song’s composition: “‘Eyeball to eyeball’ is a very good description of it. That’s exactly how it was. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was very co-written.”
However, life for The Beatles wouldn’t remain so simple. Tensions would often reach boiling point amid the stresses of their high pressured environment, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were pushing the songwriting dynamics to new levels with their contributions, and the sheer level of fame that the Fab Four boasted meant that getting all four members into a room became increasingly more difficult.
As a result, the way in which The Beatles worked was forced to change. Famously, performing live was removed, a decision made as the manic fan obsession proved too deafening and the size of the venues removed the soul from their music. Away from that, studio life was fractious as outside influence began seeping in. How were the band supposed to keep on churning out the hits amid this pandemonium? Well, the occasional answer was simple: bunker down and work solo.
Some of The Beatles’ most iconic songs, like ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and countless others were written by Lennon and McCartney while away from one another. Having penned their own work, each person would bring it to the studio either fully formed, or simply requiring a little finessing by the other.
Reflecting on this method during a recent interview with Fresh Air, McCartney revealed: “It was just a question of location really,” he said when asked why they worked apart on certain songs. “If I was on holiday and I wanted to write a song, John wouldn’t be there. So I would just write the song and I wouldn’t think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to wait until I see him’.”
Macca added: “The same happened with him. I would just be somewhere feeling the song and it was often just that, proximity. If we weren’t able to just meet up that day, but you still had an idea for a song.”
Listen to McCartney discuss his writing partnership with Lennon, below.