Paul McCartney’s Secret Autobiography, In Song: His 25 Most Revealing Tracks
Of the Beatles, it's John Lennon who typically gets credit for writing songs about "lovers and friends I still can recall." Sir Paul McCartney? Not nearly so confessional, at least according to the conventional wisdom. How much personal detail is anyone going to find in "Ob-la-Di, Ob-la-Da," "Live and Let Die," or "The Girl is Mine"?
But as Sir Paul turns 70, it's time for Lennon-favoring detractors as well as fans to face up to the fact that Macca has left us a secret autobiography, in song, without ever having set pen to paper for an official memoir. His wives, parents, children, and childhood—and yes, even his oft-fractious relationship with Lennon—have all been covered in his music, even if he's tended to be a bit more opaque about it. Here's a look back at his life through his own songwriting:
Songs About John Lennon
"TOO MANY PEOPLE" (1971)
McCartney has acknowledged taking a swipe at his former partner in this track from Ram, his second post-Beatles release. "'Too many people preaching practices.' I felt that was true of what was going on with John. 'Do this, do that, do this, do that.'... He'd been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up in my nose a little bit. I wrote 'Too many people preaching practices'… I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn't anything else on it that was about them." He then went on to correct himself. "Oh, there was 'Yoko took your lucky break and broke it in two.'" Yes, he'd actually named Yoko Ono in a lyric of the tune before he wisely thought better of it.
"DEAR FRIEND" (1972)
On the first Wings album, the otherwise pastoral Wild Life, Paul seemed to again have a bee in his bonnet about John,though he took a slightly more conciliatory tone, as the title would indicate. "'Dear Friend' was written about John, yes," he later allowed. "I don't like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So after John has slagged me off in public, I had to think of a response, and it was either to be [to] slag him off in public—some instinct stopped me, which I'm really glad about—or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote 'Dear Friend,' saying, in effect, let's lay the guns down, let's hang up our boxing gloves." Still, with lines like "Are you a fool?," well, it didn't seem like the gloves were completely off.
"HERE TODAY" (1982)
In the first and most famous of several songs McCartney wrote about Lennon after his death, he sings that he's "holding back the tears no more," but also cheekily acknowledges that if John were "here today," "you'd probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart." He later said, "I'm talking to John in my head. It's a conversation we didn't have." But he believes that they could have, having reconciled somewhat before Lennon's death. "It was the saving grace. Because it got a bit sticky after the Beatles. No, we were really good mates again."
"THE SONG WE WERE SINGING" (1997)
Flaming Pie was the first album McCartney worked on after the Beatles' Anthology project, and the Fabs were clearly on his mind, starting with the album title, which took its name from a famous Lennon quote. And in this opening track, McCartney fondly recalls his songwriting and philosophical "jawing" sessions with his late partner.