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Music

The Beatles song Paul McCartney wrote for his sheepdog

@jackwhatley89

There isn’t much that Paul McCartney didn’t write a song about during his prolific heyday. The gifted songwriter took inspiration from every crystalline moment of humanity he could. Whether it was the corner of an old Liverpool street where he’d meet his mat John Lennon and whistle tunes around the ladies selling poppies for veterans or meeting Jesus Christ himself, McCartney found inspiration everywhere.

It wasn’t only the human side of life that McCartney found beguiling, The animal world was also an area for him and The Beatles to explore. The group had several songs that referenced animals across their catalogue. In fact, the Fab Four had a complete set: George Harrison wrote ‘Piggies’, Lennon produced ‘I Am The Walrus’, Ringo Starr even wrote ‘Octopus’ Garden’ while on holiday with Peter Sellers. Paul McCartney has two special entries on the list of bestial bops on one album. The Beatles (White Album) featured both ‘Rocky Raccoon’ and a special song Macca wrote for his sheepdog.

‘Martha My Dear’ took pride of place within the rock-centric White Album and has since become a rich part of the album’s reflection. Like many of the songs on the record, ‘Martha My Dear’ was pieced together. Originally, the track was a simple piano exercise that McCartney would play occasionally. “When I taught myself piano, I liked to see how far I could go, and this started life almost as a piece you’d learn as a piano lesson,” the star told Barry Miles for Many Years From Now.

“It’s quite hard for me to play,” he continued “it’s a two-handed thing, like a little set-piece. In fact, I remember one or two people being surprised that I’d played it because it’s slightly above my level or competence, really, but I wrote it as that, something a bit more complex for me to play. Then while I was blocking out words – you just mouth out sounds and some things come – I found the words ‘Martha my dear’.”

Such was the ferocity of the Beatles machine in these days, something fuelled by both the band’s feverish desire to be respected artists and the volume of cash that pursuit was accruing, that continuously writing songs was a habit encouraged and exploited. Many argue that this flurry of activity can sometimes dampen the fire of the group’s creation. But, it sometimes generated fleeting moments of heavenly irreverence, much like the feeling one gets staring into the eyes of a pet.

Growing up in the working-class neighbourhoods of Liverpool, Paul McCartney bought his first pet, an old English sheepdog, in 1965 for his home on Cavendish Avenue and named her Martha. “She was a dear pet of mine. I remember John being amazed to see me being so loving to an animal. He said, ‘I’ve never seen you like that before.’ I’ve since thought, you know, he wouldn’t have. It’s only when you’re cuddling around with a dog that you’re in that mode, and she was a very cuddly dog.”

Initially, the song’s heartfelt message appeared to be a thinly-veiled love letter to McCartney’s then-girlfriend Jane Asher, whom he intended to marry. But, McCartney dispelled that thought in 1997 when speaking with Miles. “It’s a communication of some sort of affection but in a slightly abstract way – ‘You silly girl, look what you’ve done,’ all that sort of stuff. These songs grow. Whereas it would appear to anybody else to be a song to a girl called Martha, it’s actually a dog, and our relationship was platonic, believe me.”

There has always been something integrally joyful about McCartney’s songwriting. Though largely disparaged by the rockier side of Beatles fandom, Macca was never afraid to show his lighter side and writing a song for a big fluffy dog is about as airy and hairy as one can get.

Listen to The Beatles song Paul McCartney wrote about his sheepdog, ‘Martha My Dear’ below.