It’s difficult to pin down Sir Paul McCartney. The magnetic songwriter and serial creator, has never felt comfortable under the glaring eye of the media. Though he shows his face when promotional material is needed to bolster his latest release, he approaches them differently to his ex-partner and former Beatle John Lennon. The bespectacled Beatle was abrasively honest whenever he was interviewed by the music press — never flinching at the opportunity to have his voice heard; Lennon was as happy to promote the work of The Beatles as he was to trash it. McCartney is a little savvier.
Today, we would say that McCartney was media-trained but, the truth is, he likely operated with a sense of self-preservation. Lennon was always happy to cast himself away from the Fab Four while McCartney, despite being the man the public assumed broke up the band, held are far closer affinity for the work they created. He has since treated the songs he made alongside Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as his children, all 200+ of them. It means, very rarely has he made it known the songs he doesn’t like.
Before you begin with guffaws of “that’s because they’re all great,” consider this our disdainful gaze. Of course, The Beatles are one of the most potent bands around, and their canon is beyond impressive, but, even with their robust catalogue, there are plenty of songs that fall below the watermark the Fab Four set out. For every true Beatles fan, there must be a hateful of songs that don’t reach the pinnacle of the band’s work. Lennon picked out more than a handful of songs that he hated while alive; McCartney’s distaste is a little harder to decipher.
To find those songs, we have to peer into a few different caves before finding the nugget of truth behind his camera ready answers. With that in mind, we may have found the songs by The Beatles that Paul McCartney disliked. To start, we’ve picked out perhaps the most famous of McCartney’s unfavoured set, a Revolver classic, ‘She Said, She Said’. The track is beloved by Beatles fans largely because of its connection to a time gone by; the swinging sixties in all their psychedelic glory can be found in this song.
Inspired by actor Peter Fonda and conceived during a particularly intense acid trip, Lennon and Harrison pushed forward with ‘She Said, She Said’ with an unwavering desire to communicate their new altered state of mind. As well as being a classic number, it is also one of the only songs that McCartney didn’t perform on, the bassist having angrily left the studio during recording: “John brought it in pretty much finished,” recalled McCartney in Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “I’m not sure, but I think it was one of the only Beatle records I never played on. I think we’d had a barney or something, and I said, ‘Oh, fuck you!’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll do it.’ I think George played bass.”
Many have attributed this tempestuous exchange to Macca’s disconnection to the material at hand. Not only had the song been brought to him largely finished, but it also spoke about taking acid, something which McCartney had not yet partaken in but had united the rest of the band. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how this song could be on Macca’s no-fly list. A similar John Lennon trip that McCartney was said to be less than keen on was ‘Revolution 9’.
A track that toyed with the avant-garde is usually a perfect song for McCartney. The songwriter enjoyed pushing the boundaries of what pop could be, but it would seem on this number, which has a habit of dividing Beatles fans, he found the constant snipping and sampling to be too much to bear. “There were about ten (tape) machines with people holding pencils on the loops— some only inches long and some a yard long,” recalled Lennon. “I fed them all in and mixed them live. I did a few mixes until I got one I liked.” There may be another reason McCartney would drop this song down the list of his favourites; it heavily involved Yoko Ono, who was now beginning to put a string on what had been an infallible songwriting partnership. “Yoko was there for the whole thing,” continued Lennon, “and she made decisions about which loops to use. It was somewhat under her influence, I suppose.”
Those are two songs that most fans would agree on being a part of McCartney’s disfavoured list. Now we get into the realm of songs that could certainly find themselves on the list but do take a little bit of imagination to get there, largely because they’re great tracks — ‘Yer Blues’ and ‘Across The Universe’. These two inclusions taken from The White Album and Let It Be respectively, come from Ian MacDonald’s book that claims McCartney was “sulky” playing on both the songs.
Considering the former song was written in India under the tutelage of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (a character McCartney wasn’t particularly fond of) and later performed by Lennon, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton as part of a mini-supergroup, there’s good reason to think he has grown even more disdainful of the cut. While the reasoning behind ‘Across the Universe’ is a little murkier, there’s a good case to say that during the time of recording, McCartney and Lennon were at their lowest ebb, perhaps influencing his feeling on the song then, even if that may have changed later on.
We’re now broaching the realm of songs that McCartney probably doesn’t dislike but, more accurately, cares very little for. These are the songs that he and Lennon cranked out at a furious rate, desperately trying to maintain the swell of Beatlemania. One such track, ‘Little Child’, McCartney described as a “work job”, and others fell into this category. About ‘Hold Me Tight’, McCartney explained: “I can’t remember much about that one. Certain songs were just ‘work’ songs… you haven’t got much of a memory of them. That’s one of them.” Later, he called the track a “failed attempt at a single.”
Similarly, ‘I’m Just Happy To Dance With You’ the Beatle described as a “formula song,” denouncing its merit. Following on from that was ‘Every Little Thing’ on Beatles For Sale: “‘Every Little Thing,’ like most of the stuff I did, was my attempt at the next single… but it became an album filler rather than the great almighty single. It didn’t have quite what was required.” Another track from that record, ‘What You’re Doing’, got a similar treatment: “‘What You’re Doing’ was a bit of filler. I think it was a little more mine than John’s… You sometimes start a song and hope the best will arrive by the time you get to the chorus, but sometimes that’s all you get, and I suspect this was one of them. Maybe it’s a better recording than it is a song; some of them are. Sometimes a good recording would enhance a song.” He also named ‘Tell Me What You See’ as “not awfully memorable.”
We didn’t need to compile this list to show you that Paul McCartney loved his time in The Beatles, but it does go a long way to prove it. Across hundreds of songs, these are the only tracks he ever made any negative comments about. While Lennon, Harrison and Starr were always quick to throw a bit of shade when they saw fit, McCartney has kept tight-lipped about the worst moments for the band in the studio; the reason is likely twofold.
Not only did Lennon et al. begin their tirade on The Beatles following the band’s split, something for which Macca took most of the blame, but they mainly aimed their grievances at McCartney’s work. The bassist never seemed keen to trade-off insults like that and seemed more content trying to keep the limelight of The Beatles away from his solo career. Also, perhaps the more obvious reason McCartney has kept his mouth shut is that he truly adores the work the Fab Four did. So, even when faced with comparative duds, like any parent, he can find a fleck of intrigue, a moment of recording prowess or simply a flash of fortifying memory to bolster his opinion and confirm the song as worthwhile.
While there’s no doubt that these songs would rank very low on Macca’s list of favourite tunes by the Fab Four, it’s clear that nobody loved The Beatles more than Paul McCartney.
The Beatles songs Paul McCartney disliked:
- ‘She Said, She Said’
- ‘Revolution 9’
- ‘Yer Blues’
- ‘Across the Universe’
- ‘Little Child’
- ‘Hold Me Tight’
- ‘I’m Just Happy To Dance With You’
- ‘What You’re Doing’
- ‘Tell Me What You See’