There wasn’t much need to regret anything when it came to The Beatles, and everything that might have been cause for concern was buried under the overarch of peace and love that the ‘Fab Four’ represented. As Paul McCartney said himself when looking back at the message of his art: “I still believe that love is all you need. I don’t know a better message than that.”
Nevertheless, even Edith Piaf knew that ‘No Regrets’ was a lie. Thus, Paul McCartney was bound to take retrospective issue with some of the art he extolled with The Beatles amid a manic fanfare of rapid progression. In fact, it is truly remarkable, and a measure of the majesty of the band, that during a prolific period of pioneering – the likes of which the world has rarely seen – that there aren’t more obvious regrets in the back catalogue and more.
Beyond the whirlwind, the second astounding fact on this front is that Paul McCartney was only 24 when Promethean feats like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came to the fore. This had ‘Macca’ look forty years into the future with the track ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and there is a fair dose of thorny irony in the fact that this is one of the anthems that he regrets writing.
As the star explained in a Los Angeles Times interview: “It was really an arbitrary number when I wrote [‘When I’m Sixty-Four’]. I probably should have called it ‘When I’m 65,’ which is the retirement age in England. And the rhyme would have been easy, ‘something, something alive when I’m 65.’ But it felt too predictable. It sounded better to say 64.”
As it happens, there was something fateful about the anthem in prognosticating the end of The Beatles too. The Beatles didn’t have much time to look ahead when the world was getting busy around them. The song presented this moment of reflection and it found Lennon thinking differently. As he famously told Dick Cavett: “We didn’t want to be dragged on stage playing ‘She Loves You’ when we’ve got asthma and Tuberculosis when we’re 50.”
He continued: “A long time ago, I said I didn’t want to be singing ‘She Loves You’ when I’m 30, I said that when I was about 25 which in a roundabout way meant that I wouldn’t be doing whatever I was doing then.” Thus, in some ways, this looking ahead of the moment foreshadowed what was to come.
However, when Paul McCartney reached a ripe old age, his main regret was that the song wasn’t foreshadowing enough. “I met someone who plays piano in an old persons’ home, and he said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I play some of your songs, and the most popular one is “When I’m Sixty-Four,” but I have to change the title to ‘When I’m 84’ because 64 seems young to those people,’ he said. ‘They don’t get it.’”
Seeing as though the song grapples with the crux of ageing, McCartney seemingly found it too juvenile to do justice. As he said with a sigh, “If I were to write it now, I’d probably call it ‘When I’m 94.’” However, if ageing teaches us one thing, it’s that you can’t go back and change the past, so McCartney’s sigh with the song doesn’t last long.