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The Story Behind the Song: Paul McCartney's dystopian 'Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five'


The cultural impact of George Orwell’s impenetrably bleak Nineteen Eighty Four has extended to almost all forms of media. Wherever you look, you can find movies, TV shows, podcasts, and music that reflect the autocratic regimes and burned out ruins of the world detailed within the pages of Orwell’s masterpiece. There’s even a term for it now: Orwellian. It just goes to show how thoroughly Orwell’s work has penetrated into the public’s consciousness.

Of all the artists who were to take inspiration from the hellscape of Nineteen Eighty Four, perhaps the least likely would be one James Paul McCartney. Although he occasionally got his kicks on death and destruction, most of his works were on the sunnier side. How could the man who wrote ‘Good Day Sunshine’, ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, and ‘Mull of Kintyre’ take a radical left turn into the burned-out ruins of humanity?

Well, for one, McCartney was a voracious reader. Secondly, the former Beatle was always keen to take his inspiration from relatively novel resources. Whether it be a speech given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a headline in a paper, or the last words of a legendary painter, McCartney could find a hook in just about any work, whether it be fanciful or fatalistic.

Not unlike ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five’ finds McCartney taking what would ostensibly be a negative subject and finding the light in it. In this case, ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five’ uses the setting of a wrecked dystopia to create the kind of tune that McCartney excels at: a silly love song.

“The idea behind the song is that this is a relationship that was always meant to be,” McCartney explains in The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present. “No one in the distant future is ever going to get my attention, because I’ve got you. But when it was written, 1985 was only twelve years away; it wasn’t the very distant future — only the future in the song. So, this is basically a love song about the future.”

McCartney goes on to explain why he’s always brought back to writing love songs. “‘Love’ is a staggeringly important word, and a staggeringly important feeling, because it’s going on everywhere, in the whole of existence, right now,” he says. “The point I’m making is obvious — that this ‘love thing’ is global, really universal.”

In that way, the song also doubles as an ode to the undying love McCartney had for his wife, Linda. Written while Wings were making the Band on the Run album, McCartney was well within the world of marital bliss during the song’s creation. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to keep it that way, with Linda’s death in 1998 triggering a wave of grief that McCartney was ill-equipped to handle on his own.

Still, as he proclaims within the songs lyrics, the love he would continue to have for Linda transcended time and even life. “I didn’t think / I never dreamed / That I would be around to see it / All come true.”