The Beatles wrote a lot of love songs. Other than the pronouns and commonplace words like “I” and “You”, it is the word “Love” that is used most by the band in their lyrics, with over 600 uses across 213 songs. It was the universal topic that anyone could understand, and it’s something that has never aged, contributing to the band’s continued relevance.
But who were those songs specifically about? This is where it tends to get tricky: whether it’s in contemporaneous interviews or in subsequent lookbacks, like in Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics or George Harrison’s I Me Mine, the writers often claim that they didn’t have any articular person in mind when they wrote some of their most legendary love songs.
McCartney, in particular, is relatively dismissive of the idea that he wrote songs about his then-girlfriend, Jane Asher. There are undeniable and verifiable songs that he wrote with the relationship in mind, but some of those tend to be the more pessimistic songs about the ends of relationships, like ‘For No One’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’. Lennon claims not to have written any love songs specifically for his wife Cynthia but admitted that ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ was about an affair.
But there are a few definitive works that can be traced back to the wives and girlfriends that The Beatles had during their careers. Lennon had Ono on the mind as he composed ‘Julia’, originally an ode to his mother, and paid tribute to her with the line “Ocean child calls me”. Later, Ono would be the direct inspiration for ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey’, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, ‘Dig a Pony’ and even some lines in ‘I’m So Tired’.
George Harrison was perhaps the Beatle with the most direct connection to his wife in song. From as early as the Help! cut ‘I Need You’, most of Harrison’s love songs revolved specifically around his first wife, Patti Boyd. ‘Something’ would be the most famous example, but ‘For You Blue’ was also dedicated to Boyd around the late stages of The Beatles career.
For his part, McCartney claims to have written ‘Two of Us’ based on trips with his wife Linda, although fans have speculated that the song is actually about his friendship with Lennon. In The Lyrics, McCartney clarified that most of his Beatle-era love songs weren’t written to anyone intentional, and it was only with his early solo career that he started writing songs specifically about Linda.
Even though The Beatles were focused largely on love throughout their career, the direct lines back to their own loved ones remain few and far between. It just goes to show the workmanlike aspect of their writing which allowed them to crank out so many songs in such a short time frame. Most of the band’s love songs, especially early tracks like ‘Thank You Girl’, ‘And I Love Her’, and ‘All My Loving’, were about the idea of love rather than direct odes to their wives or girlfriends at the time.