By the late 1960s, it had all turned sour. After years of relentless touring and then even more relentless studio work, The Beatles had started to grow apart. While the first half of their career together had been defined by friendship, they had started to assert their own personal agendas with greater and greater force during the second half.
This initial friendship was formed out of a wealth of shared experiences and, as a result, it seemed utterly genuine to the public. The Beatles’ friendship was so profoundly affecting in this way, that Richard Curtis (Director of Notting Hill and Yesterday) once cited it as informing his depiction of friendships on-screen. But The Beatles’ charming, carefree antics in films like Hard Days Night, would eventually give way to bitter resentment.
The cracks started to show during the studio sessions for The White Album. At this time, it seemed that each member of the fab four had a different opinion on which direction the band should be taking. This, combined with Lennon’s dependence on heroin, and an array of business disputes, caused a great deal of anonymity between the band members, isolating them from one another.
This isolation was all-consuming, leading each of The Beatles to quit and then re-join the group in a cry for help. At this time, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr began work on their own solo projects. Paul McCartney was especially keen to develop his solo material and, when Lennon quit the band in 1969, took the opportunity to escape to his farm and work on the songs that would come to make up his first self-titled album.
‘Man We Was Lonely’ is one such track. Officially written after The Beatles acrimonious split in 1970, but likely composed earlier, the track acts as a sort of diary entry, conveying the bitter mood of McCartney’s bandmates and the simmering tension between them at the time. Paul had been a key figure in the band’s ultimate demise but struggled to give his take on the breakup in the press. Instead, he chose to give his perspective through song.
In ‘Man We Was Lonely’, McCartney highlights specific difficulties he had with Lennon and his frustration at not being able to give his songs the attention he felt they deserved. “I used to ride on my fast city line/ Singing songs that I thought were mine alone, alone/ Now let me lie with my love for the time,” he sings.
The song gives the impression that, during those years, Paul felt like an outsider looking in. Ironically, that same feeling was one of the only things the individual Beatles had in common at that time. Describing his reasons for escaping to Sicily in 1968, Ringo Starr said: “I felt I wasn’t playing great, and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider.” Harrison, too, felt as though everyone’s songs were being given more time than his, and that he somehow wasn’t as important as the rest of the group.
In an interview in 2001, McCartney opened up about the inspiration behind ‘Man We Was Lonely’, describing how: “It wasn’t that easy when I left the Beatles. ‘Man We Was Lonely’ I think was a little bit of a reflection of those times. My biggest problem was I had to sue the Beatles; I tried to sue [Apple Group business manager] Allen Klein, but he wasn’t a party to any of the agreements, so I ended up having to sue my best friends as a technical matter. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, but it was pointed out to me that it was the only way to do it.”
“I knew I had to get out [of the Beatles], and I knew I would apologise to them, and I knew once I got out, they’d get out. So if I got out of prison, I’d free them. It was a very difficult call. I went through a lot of tough times emotionally, so something like ‘Man We Was Lonely’ reflects that,” McCartney concluded.