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(Credit: Bent Rej)

Music

The song Paul McCartney thinks John Lennon secretly wrote about his parents

Before The Beatles came The Quarrymen; this early incarnation was formed by 16-year-old John Lennon in 1956 with some friends from Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool. They were initially, very briefly, called the Blackjacks, but this was changed early on in favour of the school branding.

In 1957, Lennon met a 15-year-old Paul McCartney at St Peter’s Church Hall fete in Woolton. The pair got on like a house on fire, and it wasn’t long before McCartney joined The Quarrymen, initially as a rhythm guitarist. The pair found chemistry both as friends and songwriters, and it wasn’t long before McCartney was invited over to Lennon’s house, where he was looked after by his aunt, Mimi Smith. 

In Barry Miles’ 1997 biography Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, McCartney was quoted explaining how he used to spend hours on end in Lennon’s bedroom listening to old-school rock ‘n’ roll records from the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Jerry Lee Lewis. They jammed by playing along to the tracks and eventually cut their teeth, writing a handful of songs themselves. 

“It’s a lovely thought to think of a friend’s bedroom then,” McCartney pondered. “A young boy’s bedroom is such a comfortable place, like my son’s bedroom is now; he’s got all his stuff that he needs: a candle, guitar, a book.”

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He added that playing in Lennon’s small bedroom had a setback, though. “Physically, it was always a bad idea for us to sit side by side on the bed in his bedroom,” he recalled. “The necks of our guitars were always banging.”

Despite being recorded and released in 1964 after The Beatles’ seismic rise to fame, ‘I Call Your Name’ was one of the earliest original Lennon-McCartney compositions. The song was written primarily by Lennon with some musical supervision from his partner. 

Reflecting on the classic single, McCartney explained that he didn’t often think about the deeper meaning behind Lennon’s lyrics until many years later. “We worked on it together, but it was John’s idea,” McCartney said of the song. “When I look back at some of these lyrics, I think, ‘Wait a minute. What did he mean?’ ‘I call your name, but you’re not there.’” 

In hindsight, McCartney thought Lennon must’ve been referring to his absent parents in the lyrics. “Is it his mother?” McCartney pondered. “His father? I must admit I didn’t really see that as we wrote it because we were just a couple of young guys writing. You didn’t look behind it at the time, it was only later you started analysing things.” 

Sadly, Lennon was forced to deal with maternal abandonment issues throughout his life. Aged just five, his mother, Julia Lennon, was put under pressure by her eldest sister Mimi to give up care of John. Mimi repeatedly expressed to Liverpool Social Services her lack of confidence in Julia as a mother due to her “sinful” ways. It is still unclear just how fair Mimi’s accusations were regarding Julia, but likely, Mimi wasn’t happy with Julia’s fun-loving personality; she was known to be cheeky, good-humoured and impulsive – many traits that would later be attributed to her son. 

In 1945, John was finally forced into the care of his strict and prudent auntie Mimi who would take over parenthood with her husband, George Smith. While allowed to visit his mother regularly, John became increasingly upset with the separation. Some 12 years later, Julia was killed by a drunk driving policeman when John was only 17; this was a source of severe trauma in Lennon’s life that would crop up increasingly into the late ’60s and early ’70s in songs like ‘Julia’ and ‘Mother’. 

Listen to The Beatles’ ‘I Call Your Name’ below.