Paul McCartney has been no stranger to female attention since the early years of The Beatles, a place in which their concerts would be graced with a choir of screaming women entranced by the allure of the Fab Four.
The sound pollution was famously so obstructive to some performances that McCartney would have to politely ask them to quieten down. This request was not lightly thrown since the pursuit of female attention was one of many reasons for his early ambitions as a musician. He recalled that ‘Michelle’, the classic love song from Rubber Soul, had been written in recollection of his attempts at parties to woo the ladies by playing this Chet Atkins fingerstyle guitar accompanied with faked French lyrics. Fortunately, for the official release, the band managed to find real French lyrics.
It is apparent that McCartney has a knack for writing about those who touched his heart to greater or lesser extents. Whether it was his beloved sheepdog Martha who inspired his 1969 song ‘Martha My Dear’, or Meta Davies, a kind, talkative meter maid who issued McCartney with a parking ticket outside Abbey Road studios inspiring the writing of ‘Lovely Rita’.
Here, we explore some of the greater influences on his songwriting.
The songs Paul McCartney wrote about the women he loved:
Paul’s beloved mother, Mary McCartney, passed away in 1956 when he was only 14 years of age. The heartache from such a loss will often leave a scar that attaches itself for life. For some, this can be damaging with tragic effects on mental health; others may manage to find the strength to use the heartache of loss as inspiration to live a life loved ones would be proud of. Paul was thankfully one of the latter, often citing his mother as a huge spiritual influence in his life long after her physical loss.
The most notable and obvious example of this influence is in one of The Beatles later and most popular ballads, the title track of their final album Let It Be. By the end of the 1960s, The Beatles had enjoyed more success than any band who had come before them in a whirlwind eight years rewriting the rules of popular music. Despite their success, the band were in a state of irreparable disarray in 1969 with a split imminent.
One night around this difficult period, McCartney was visited in a dream by his mother in an angelic presence telling him to “let it be”. Upon waking, McCartney was inspired to write about this experience: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom… Let it be,” McCartney recalled, adding: “I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.”
The first relationship McCartney engaged in that had a significant impact on his songwriting was with actress Jane Asher. The couple had first met in 1963 when the Beatles had been in their early stages of success in the UK. Asher intimately witnessed McCartney’s rise to global fame with the star spending many of his nights at her house in London. While at Asher’s house, McCartney wrote many of his hit songs, most famously waking from yet another dream with not merely an idea for a song, but the whole of ‘Yesterday’ formed in his head – I’ve heard of a good night’s sleep but McCartney was on another level!
The relationship was strong for four years with McCartney romantically inspired by Asher to write ‘You Won’t See Me’, ‘And I Love Her’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’ among other big hits for The Beatles. Unfortunately, the relationship wasn’t to last and the couple broke up in early 1968, just weeks after their engagement. Earlier in 1967 McCartney had met American photographer Linda Eastman and nothing could stop him.
The Beatles’ released but one of their masterpieces with Revolver in 1966. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is one of the most memorable and thought-provoking songs from the album. Amongst George Martin’s beautiful double string quartet arrangement, the song tells the mystical story of the elusive characters Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie. The characters are portrayed in a desperate world of loneliness with the imagery of a bleak churchyard environment painted into the lyrics and framed by the mournful atmosphere of the instrumentals.
‘Eleanor Rigby’ is often believed to be inspired by the name McCartney read on a headstone at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, where he incidentally met John Lennon at a church fete in 1957. The wonderment of what sort of life she might have led sparked his imagination and inspired the lyrics. However, McCartney has since discounted this origin, recalling that Rigby was actually an old lady whom he used to help with menial house chores in his youth. He recalls: “I found out that she lived on her own, so I would go around there and just chat, which is sort of crazy if you think about me being some young Liverpool guy.”
After his split from Jane Asher in 1968, it wasn’t long before Paul was entangled with the love of his life, Linda McCartney, née Eastman. They married in 1969 and never looked back with McCartney writing his new love ballads all for Linda, most notably ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ which appeared on his first solo album McCartney in 1970. Through the split of the Beatles in 1970, Linda was at Paul’s side as his devoted confidante. They opted for the family lifestyle raising their four children Mary, Stella, James and Heather in the idyllic surroundings of their residence at High Park Farm in Scotland.
This new lifestyle was especially reflected in McCartney’s 1971 album Ram which was recorded with his newly formed band Wings in which Linda played the keyboard. The song ‘Heart of the Country’ gives an idea of how elated the couple were to escape to the countryside. ‘Eat at Home’ from the same album was written and sung by Paul with Linda harmonising in the chorus; the song is directed toward Linda with lyrics reflecting Paul’s contentment with his newfound domestic lifestyle.
Throughout the years, the family enjoyed a slower life than that of the Beatles era, with Paul enjoying a successful solo career and Linda taking a firm stand in the Animal Rights movement. In 1992, she founded her famous vegetarian and vegan food company. Sadly, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and finally lost her battle with the disease in April 1998.
McCartney’s final words to Linda were: “You’re up on your beautiful Appaloosa stallion. It’s a fine spring day. We’re riding through the woods. The bluebells are all out, and the sky is a clear blue.”
He explained: “I had barely got to the end of the sentence when she closed her eyes and gently slipped away. Our family is so close that her passing has left a huge hole in our lives. We will never get over it, but I think we will come to accept it, total heartbreak.”