Soul of a Clean Machine

Paul McCartney's Compositions in the Beatle Years (1960-1969)

In previous essays about the harmonica and backwards masking, the emphasis has been on the works of John Lennon and George Harrison. To round out things a bit, let's turn to the songs Paul wrote and when he wrote them, seeking common threads and perhaps some conclusions pertinent to the nature and significance of Paul's compositions in the Beatle years.

I'll avoid post-Beatle compositions except glancingly, leaving that area to those more interested and expert. Rather than completeness, the goal will be to concentrate on the more pivotal and indicative pieces, especially unreleased songs. The standard reference for released material is "The Complete Recording Sessions," hereafter referred to as "Lewisohn." Rather than clot things up with academic references to page numbers, I hope you'll trust me and if not hit the index and look it up for yourself.

The basic rule of thumb used is that if Paul takes any solo lead vocals in a song, it is assumed that he wrote at least part of it unless there is a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. This heuristic works very well in the middle and later years. In the early days especially, several songs were co-written with John Lennon, often with vocal harmony throughout and no lead singer per se. I'll treat these and any songs where the lead singers alternate as collaborations, to be evaluated as part of the dynamic between John and Paul. That all said, let's get to it, year by year as best we can.

1960

The first recorded evidence of Paul's songwriting ability is the early drumless Quarrymen sessions, typified by the "Rehearse with Stu Sutcliffe" and "At Home" boots available on both CD and vinyl. Despite the poor sound quality, near-nonexistent bass playing, and lack of percussion these recordings are essential to an understanding of the Beatles' development as songwriters. They are also underexamined in the standard works about the Beatles.

Rather than try to duplicate Alan Pollack's more exhaustive and highly recommended treatment (featured elsewhere on the web and in Illegal Beatles #17), I'll concentrate on the McCartney compositions exclusively. In passing, let me say that I can find no reason to doubt the authenticity of these recordings, and plenty of reason to believe they are what they claim to be. The voices, the compositions, the general musical ability all point to a 1960 session of the Quarrymen just trying to hear what they sound like.

"I'll Follow the Sun" (ultimately released in 1964 as a folk/acoustic number) appears here as more of a country and western tune with the major pentatonic melody and guitar fills characteristic of the genre. Other originals along these lines and presumably from this time period include "Wake Up In the Morning" (an unreleased Get Back revisitation available on the "Songs from the Past Vol. 4" CD among other places) and "What Goes On" (a 1965 released cut nearly attempted in early 1963 and supposedly dating about this far back, according to Lewisohn). This version shows, among other things, the influence of country music on Liverpool area rockers and the Beatles specifically, seen later in both covers ("Act Naturally" and "Sure to Fall") and originals ("I've Just Seen a Face"). Besides anticipating the entire Byrds/Eagles/New Riders country-rock genre, this performance anticipates how important the acoustic guitar will eventually be for McCartney's work. Without that instrument, the song verges on being a Ringo throwaway, especially in comparison to the released version.

Another factor lifting this song above toss-off status is its lyrical content. While the rhymes are a bit stilted and predictable, there is nonetheless some real feeling here, and the Apollonian central theme will figure in the Beatles' work all the way to the final "Abbey Road" album. Note that in the Lewisohn interview Paul recalls a visual memory of writing this song, a good indicator of the presence of adrenalin and strong emotion at the time of composition. That depth of feeling comes through even in this early attempt, and like all of McCartney's ballads in the Beatle era, it's just plain damn pretty. Lastly, it's worth mentioning that to some extent this song is a mini-melodrama that could be easily imagined as a music-hall piece, with the hero costumed in cowboy gear following a cardboard sun offstage after the last verse.

Most of Paul's other compositional contributions to these sessions fall into the twelve-bar blues vein. Both "Well, Darling" and "You Must Write Every Day" (that is what they're singing, although my album cover calls the songs "Hey Darling" and "You Must Lie Every Day." Also, it's John and not George singing "Matchbox") show the influence of Little Richard. Both melodies lean heavily on the flatted seventh as Penniman did in songs such as "Directly From My Heart To You" (later covered by Frank Zappa). The latter tune has a strong "Paperback Writer" feel to it and is yet another song about writing letters, seemingly a near-obsession for Paul ("Wake Up in the Morning," "P.S., I Love You," "All My Loving"). It's also interesting and indicative that a tendency to write as few lyrics as possible and scat-stretch single words across many notes. (The technical term is melisma. "Hey Jude" and "My Love" come to mind here as later examples) is already present and pronounced in these cuts, along with the trademark squeals and screams so prominently featured throughout the Beatle years.

"Thinking of Linking" evokes the later "12-Bar Original," "Catswalk," and the general Ventures-type surf-music feeling McCartney seems to prefer when writing instrumentals. With some cleanup, this number would fit quite nicely on the first (McCartney) solo album. "Some Things We Forget" (not to be confused with the 12-bar "Some Days") has both a Latin flavor and a 12-bar feel to it, a start-stop syncopation with lyrics over backing silence evocative of "Besame Mucho."

Paul's cover of "Hallelujah, I Love Her So" is indicative of future "granny song" problems in the group and the weaknesses of the Decca auditions. Viewed more positively, Paul's efforts in this direction did contribute to the Boys' broadness of appeal and provide their more innovative material with a wider audience. This is probably a good time to note that "When I'm 64" supposedly dates from this era too.

In sum, Paul's contribution is based on existing country, Latin-pop, and blues forms. Absent is much of an American pop, Brill Building feel, though that area belonged more to Lennon both in terms of cover performances (BBC era) and similarly styled originals.

Lyrically, things are pretty stilted and predictable, although there is some balladic integrity in "I'll Follow the Sun." As you'd expect from Paul, the strength is in the melody and the vocal performance. Despite its raw and undeveloped state, this set prefigures the general form and feel of nearly all the songs that Paul will contribute to the Beatles for the next five years, whether cover or original. Major contributions NOT heard here include his slow love ballads and high-quality bass playing.

Before leaving this collection, let us moan a note of groaning lament for the famous Lost Notebook of Lennon-McCartney compositions thrown out by Jane Asher while cleaning out her and Paul's shared living quarters. It's extremely likely that transcriptions of all the original material mentioned so far, along with who knows how many Get Back revisitations, giveaways and totally undocumented songs, hit the dustbin that one fatal day to the eternal detriment of this article and of Fabologists everywhere.

1961

Thanks to the Lost Notebook's grim fate and the lack of any recorded materials from this calendar year, things quickly get a bit thin. Fortunately, since the Decca auditions take place on the very first day of 1962, it's a reasonably safe assumption that all or most of the significant work on Paul's original contributions to that fiasco originate in 1961.

I assume the readership knows by now that the original bootlegs of these songs are mastered too fast, and therefore sound one half-step too high musically. (Editor's note: This has since been corrected on Yellow Dog's "Ultimate Collection Vol. 1" and "The Road to Fame, 1961-62" on Star Club Records, to name two.) Add to that the global note that Pete's drumming is pretty much a disaster and the choice of songs is just a tad smarmy, and things are pretty well set up for failure.

Our first candidate, "Like Dreamers Do," has a very American pop-Latin feel to it. For whatever reason, Paul leaves his strengths in the blues and folk/country genres behind and tries for Eydie Gorme loungelizard material like this song. The great sound quality, professional-sounding arrangment and good vocal are ruined by the Paul Ramon approach, in particular the I-aye-yaye-yaye and you-oo-oo-oos and the cliched lyrics and rhymes. The harmony and melody show some real talent and promise, however misdirected.

"Love of the Loved" has more of a Beatle feel to it, especially in the chord changes and guitar work. I recall reading somewhere that this evenutally ended up as a Cilla Black tune. The melody and changes in the verse are quite nice, but again we have lyrics that don't really add much, and a Latin feel to the bridge that tries to add energy but only subtracts beauty.

Paul's "'Til There Was You" cover is pure granny, an American show tune from "The Music Man," but with audience-development value and some appeal. "September in the Rain" provides perhaps the low point of these sessions with its "one, two, shooby dooby do hey!" intro. Rounding out the roster is the perennial unreleased Fab chestnut "Besame Mucho," here in arguably its best performance because of how well it fits with Pete's drumming style. One is forced to acknowledge the generally mainstream, somewhat schmaltzy quality of this material; not rock and roll at all, but MOR pop music tarted up with a beat. It rates mention partly due to the lack of available source material from 1961 and for the way, along with "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," it continues and solidifies McCartney's track record of singing this type of music.

1962

Having discussed the Decca materials under the heading of 1961, we're left another fairly lean year. However, we can assume from the Decca material and available recordings and documentation of "Abbey Road" sessions beginning in May of this year that Paul continued to avoid 12-bar blues numbers in favor of a more American pop style with a Latin influence.

There's also a strong possibility of George Martin putting the kibosh on one or more of Paul's songs on the basis of live tryouts during this period. As an example I'd cite "Hello Little Girl," even though it's a John song. This original was clearly one that the Beatles favored and honed over a span of at least two years. It appears in the Quarrymen tapes, again at the Decca auditions, and was even in their live on radio repertoire in March of this year. Enter Martin in June of 1962, and "Hello Little Girl" disappears without a trace. Since we know that Martin had access to at least some of the Decca tapes (it was on that basis that the June EMI audition was arranged) and none of the originals from those sessions were ever recorded again by the Beatles, it is reasonable to conclude that Martin rejected them for reasons of poor quality. It's possible, then, that one or more Paul compositions from the Lost Notebook were attempted and shot down in this time frame.

Fortunately, sometime after the Pete Best firing we have those wonderful Cavern Club rehearsal sessions, featuring the debut of "I Saw Her Standing There" in the bootleg realm. While not strictly a twelve-bar in a structural sense, there are a lot of changes reminiscent of that form, and the vocal melody is mostly a pentatonic blues riff with emphasis on the flatted seventh, as in those Quarrymen tapes. While the prototypical version played on this date doesn't have the energy and sharpness of later attempts (live, released, and outtake), clearly Paul is catching on to something here that will prove important later, to wit: If you're going to write formally simple songs with unsophisticated lyrics, it really helps to have a rock and roll beat and some strong feeling in there.

"Catswalk" from these same sessions is another instrumental cut that would fit nicely into either the Quarrymen sessions or Paul's first solo album, with the corresponding alterations to the sound quality. There's no further evidence of any more work on this song by the Beatles. We are left with only one more song that is clearly and completely a Paul composition for this year, namely "P.S, I Love You." Again we see the Latin influence and more letter-writing. There's also a strong music-hall playlet/scene feel here, the faithful young hero (doughboy?) at his writing-desk in barracks or student garret corresponding with his true love far away. Definitely not rock and roll, nor blues, and while pleasant enough not innovative in any way. No surprise then that this qualified only as a B-side for "Love Me Do," establishing the standard Beatle pattern of the two main writers splitting singles between themselves.

Both "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why" seem to be John songs; I can't find any evidence to attribute significant input to Paul on either song. John takes all the solo vocals, and the lyrics seem to reflect his sensibility and style. As for "Tip of My Tongue," I've never heard it performed by anyone and Lewisohn calls it "terrible." Knowledgeable readers are invited to write in with any additional information on the composition of these songs.

1963

A pattern emerged in 1962, in that John Lennon was out-writing Paul in terms of sheer quantity, at least as judged releasable by George Martin. Thus on the magic date of Feb. 11, 1963, Paul contributes only one released original, but it's a biggie: "I Saw Her Standing There," honed to perfection after six months of live performances in England and Germany. In light of Paul's tendency later on to overwork his material, it's interesting that the released version is Take 1.

Although "Hold Me Tight" was attempted on this date, it was later remade and leaves our story here for the moment. Judging by the lyrics and the musical style, along with lead vocals where applicable, it is probably safe to assume that the other originals recorded on this date ("There's A Place," "Do You Want To Know A Secret," and "Misery") are primarily John songs.

Moving into the post-February singles, we run into what seem to be the first significant collaborations. Musically and lyrically, "She Loves You" seems to be Paul material. One indication is how the story features a third party; the speaker is only indirectly involved. However, in his interview with Lewisohn he attributes authorship to himself and Lennon.

The Lennon/McCartney collaboration in general violates the usual pattern where one partner does words only and the other music only, especially interesting given what appear to be Paul's greater melodic talent and John's weight with words. The lyrics on "She Loves You," therefore, seem mostly to be Paul's work. Besides involving a third party without implying a love triangle, the story line jumps around in time and verges on incoherence at times. But the energy in those introductory tomtoms, and the shining brilliance of the harmonies more than compensate for any poetic limitations. And again it's easy to imagine this one as a staged mini-melodrama.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand" is musically more reflective of John's style with harmonic progressions suggestive of "Sexy Sadie," "Strawberry Fields Forever," and "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)." The lyrics, though direct, are more in the McCartney vein, however. But underlying what looks like an elementary piece of pop fluff there is nonetheless a very sophisticated use of limited harmonic resources. The title line, for example, is sung over no less than five different harmonic backgrounds, and the intro that starts things off so well is a truncated version of the end of the bridge.

Continuing our way through the year, the unreleased "I'll Be On My Way" (a June BBC recording), seems to be clearly Paul. There's nice guitar work, a good harmonic progression and a pleasant melody, but once again the lyrics are stiff (Junelight/moonlight? Please!) and the story line somewhat convoluted. Perhaps this one ended up as another Martin reject; the intro strongly resembles the verse of "Love of the Loved." The "With The Beatles" sessions bring us to McCartney's second breakthrough song, "All My Loving." The uptempo feel of "I Saw Her Standing There" energizes the faithful scribe of "P.S. I Love You" to produce one of Paul's best early songs. A most illuminating point is Paul's comment to Lewisohn that he wrote the words without the tune for the first time on this one -- a technique generally more associated with John. Again, the detailed memory suggests a personal honesty and emotional intensity that comes through in the realized product. "Hold Me Tight" resurfaces as Paul's only other original on this record, again more in the rocker mode. Both the released version and available outtakes drag a bit and have some pitch problems in the lead vocal. While this is usually considered a minor, filler cut, I have an inexplicable fondness for it despite its shortcomings as recorded. Perhaps the song was simply beyond the group's reach at the time, both vocally and instrumentally. The intervals Paul has to hit are just a bit too difficult for him to cope with at this point, and the band is clearly straining to keep the chord changes and scale obbligados going. I get similar vibes from "There's A Place," the sound of a record by people who are better songwriters than performers, at least on certain technically demanding songs at this stage of their development.

Summing up this year, we see an emphasis on bouncier, more uptempo material, and increasing success. In terms of overall song count and A-sides, though, Lennon is still clearly in the lead by what seems to be a fairly wide margin. Rather than waste time on a list of titles, just count up the original songs with Lennon solo vocals recorded in this year and you'll see what I mean.

1964

The peak year of Mania brings is also the "Hard Day's Night" era, and features Paul's first true ballad: "And I Love Her." The harmonic progression is interesting and it gets a nice lift from the modulation (probable credit to George Martin here) when the guitar solo restates the melody, expanding the Beatle sound with the most prominent acoustic guitar work to date. With "All My Loving," this song helps establish the Beatles and Paul specifically as a source of "standards," all-time universally accessible songs that bands play at weddings. It was even a minor hit in the U.S. as an instrumental. It's his third breakthrough song, too. While Paul's granny covers had already established him as a balladeer, this song was wholly his and brought him a new level of acceptance. The lyrics, too, seem heartfelt and a cut above earlier midtempo Latin-style efforts.

Having staked out new territory on the slow side, Paul completes the double play with "Can't Buy Me Love." Here we have a true but slightly altered 12-bar, with a shuffle bridge very reminiscent of "All My Loving," in some ways combining 1963's two best songs to produce the first Beatle hit single composed solely by Paul. The driving beat and wailing vocal is well complemented by a substantial and straighforward lyrical statement. Note too how cleverly the bridge is slightly altered to just the right length in the intro and coda, holding back the 12-bar and adding specificity that otherwise might be lacking, likely another Martinesque arrangement flourish.

Backed with "You Can't Do That," this A-side gives the Beatles a single with not one but two 12-bar-based tunes. Thus we see the Quarrymen compositions were followed by a three-year drought of 12-bars originals. Until this point all blues-progression songs recorded by the Beatles were covers ("Chains," "Boys," etc.). Both songs feature a somewhat innovative bridge that changes the focus of the lyrics, relieving the monotony (tritony?) of the 12-bar and adding individuation. It is as if the 12-bar form is something special, trite yet sacred, requiring total self-confidence from the writers and a little something extra to establish a true sense of authorship. The interpersonal dynamics were such that they both did it at exactly the same time, and on a single no less.

In comparison to these two blockbusters, the rest of Paul's year pales a bit, with the possible exception of his bridge for "A Hard Day's Night." "Things We Said Today" is a medium tempo album cut. There's some quality here but it's another one of those 'tweeners like the Decca songs in terms of tempo -- neither slow nor fast and not strong enough lyrically to compensate. Live concert tapes of this period show this fairly clearly, as this song kind of gets in the way, neither taking things down for a serious balladic moment, nor adding to the high-energy of the more rave-up cuts that dominate the live set list for 1964.

We now come to October and Paul's second hit single, a monster cut and a great song that builds on previous success without really adding much: "She's a Woman." Like "Can't Buy Me Love," it's a generic 12-bar with a bridge, high energy and a great vocal. Repeating the hit single formula from earlier this year, it's backed with the blues-influenced "I Feel Fine," which although not a progression has a structure similar to "She's A Woman" in the intro and a pop cliche for the bridge. Again pairing related compositions, this double-A sider differs from the previous one in having nearly identical lyrical content as well. McCartney, as of this point, has proven that he can compete with Lennon as a songwriter. The theme of dueling A-sides is firmly established and will continue more or less for the rest of their time together.

Paul's big cover for the year is "Long Tall Sally," his quintessential raveup one-taker straight from Little Richard and title cut of a UK EP. It's another 12-bar, bringing us full circle to the Quarrymen days but with the vocal and instrumental musicianship totally over the top. This may be stretching things a bit, but it is perhaps significant that in marked contrast to the intense personal intimacy of "Twist and Shout's" story line. This one is a third-party narrative where the speaker is not directly involved in the action. Supposedly the lyrics are about a transvestite.

We close out the year with the generally weak, or at least tired, "Beatles For Sale" album. Paul's material seems to be mostly leftovers, given the success with singles and high-energy covers during this year. "I'll Follow the Sun" is reworked into a better arrangement, with prominent acoustic guitar (for the second time on a Paul song) and a Latin feel. "What You're Doing" has some nice moments especially in the backing vocals, but suffers from its middling tempo and trivial lyrics. Paul seems to have hit a lull after a series of breakthroughs, as though something is going to happen but isn't quite ready to yet. Though his status as composer has risen, he's still lagging Lennon in both quality and quantity, mostly on the basis of lyrical content and innovative use of form. Recall that John held his own quite nicely on the "With the Beatles" album and both major singles, then stack up Paul's two originals on this album against "No Reply," "I'm A Loser," "Baby's In Black," "Eight Days A Week," and "I Don't Want To Spoil the Party."

1965

After some time off for touring and the holidays, our hero returns to Abbey Road in February of this year to start working on songs for the as yet untitled second feature film.

"Another Girl" starts things off, a listenable enough uptempo number with a bridge strikingly similar to the one used later in Birthday. Lyrically there's not much to talk about and the feeling of marking time continues. Similarly, "The Night Before" has some nice musical flourishes but doesn't substantially advance Paul's songwriting track record. "Tell Me What You See" is just another midtempo love song expressing trite Tin Pan Alley themes.

Around this time, we also have Paul's first electric guitar performance on a Beatle record, handling the leads on "Ticket To Ride," although the event is unpublicized at the time. And for those of us still keeping score, the contemporaneous Lennon tunes are again markedly superior: "Ticket To Ride," "Yes It Is" (Paul is left off the single!), "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," and "You're Going to Lose That Girl." After a remarkably efficient couple of years, the sheer exhaustion that marked the "For Sale" sessions carries over to two songs that end up on the cutting room floor: "If You've Got Trouble" and "That Means A Lot." The latter suffers from overproduction in this first attempt, although it's almost redeemed (musically, at least) by an interesting harmonic and melodic structure and a strong coda. My suspect for why this never shipped is the incredibly convoluted story line that the lyrics attempt to convey: the very first line (A friend says that your love won't mean a lot) introduces four characters and three time frames in 10 words. Why, why, why? Because it's an answer song, an attempted sequel to "She Loves You." ("When she says she loves you, that means a lot, get it?), the way "Judy's Turn To Cry" continues the plot of "It's My Party." The remakes of March try a more uptempo Latin beat and have some potential, but the lyrics come off even more stiffly this time around and the song is never finished. The combined offbeat-triplet drum hook from the first version survives in "Ticket To Ride," though.

The ultimate testimony to Paul's talent, resilience, and competitiveness is the way he demolishes seven months of mediocrity (by Beatle standards) on the best day of his musical life: June 14, 1965. Whatever was bubbling in his melodic little brain all that time simply bursts forth in a tour de force of stylistic mastery, a miraculous triad of songs that in itself pretty much summarizes Paul's entire career and musical talent.

Our somewhat loose chronology tightens up a bit here, becoming a matter of mere hours on a single day. We begin with the countryish "I've Just Seen a Face," probably Paul's most effective use of this form. The feel of the Quarrymen version of "I'll Follow the Sun" carries over into this one, again suggestive of related originals and covers like "Wake Up In The Morning" and "Act Naturally." The lyrics are pretty solid. Even the scat singing "mm-mm-mm-la-da-da" fits in well with the flow. One of the strengths of the American version of "Rubber Soul" is that it begins with this song's finger-picked acoustic guitar intro, setting a completely different tone to the proceedings from that offered by the elctric guitar that begins "Drive My Car" on the UK version. Paul's attachment to this song is evidenced by how he kept it in his repertoire even in the Wings days when he didn't do very much Beatle music. The melody is so strong that, as in "And I Love Her," it functions as the guitar solo too, without dulling its impact in any way.

Next, we have the peak and finale of a series of released 12-bar originals and covers that began with "Can't Buy Me Love." And it's probably the ultimate of them all, "I'm Down," as perfect an original blues rocker in the Little Richard mode as there is ever likely to be. Its only placement in the released canon is as the B side of "Help!" (the resulting single having two songs with different music but emotionally similar lyrical content), making it another one of those Beatle songs unavailable on album, rarely played on the radio and mostly known to single-flippers.

From early 1964 until this point, nearly all of Paul's singles and EP cuts go straight back to the 12-bars of the Quarrymen days and the major reason he was invited to join the band: his Little Richard imitation. "I'm Down" is no exception. It also features Lennon on organ. (Were this a BBC cut of a year or two ago we might have heard harmonica instead, as in "Clarabella".) The scat-scream coda is a high point, to some extent material recycled from "That Means A Lot," later to reach perfection in "Hey Jude."

In perhaps the world's strangest segue, the last song of the day is Paul's greatest compositional breakthrough of all, "Yesterday." Although not even a single in the UK, this was a gigantic hit in the U.S. and became the absolute biggest, most covered, "standard" ever composed by Paul McCartney, John Lennon or the two of them. It is literally impossible to ride on an elevator, shop at a mall, or wait in a dentist's office without hearing this song and probably always will be.

Musically, "Yesterday" is a true break from all previous tendencies, innovative in its chord pattern, melody, and simple classical arrangement. The harmonic rhythm (how fast the chords change) is less regular and predictable, therefore more interesting, that in any of Paul's compositions so far. Lewisohn reports that "Yesterday" was in the works at least since early 1964 with George Martin's first listen to "Scrambled Eggs." In another tribute to Jane Asher as muse, the lyrics are direct and personal.

Like "I'm Down," this song becomes a staple of the live tour set for this year, but in two arrangements: Paul on acoustic guitar with guest string players ("The Ed Sullivan Show") and Paul on bass with the rest of the group on standard instruments (it actually comes off remarkably well this way, for example on Swinging Pig's "Five Nights in a Judo Arena" CD of the Japan dates). At last, McCartney is established as a full songwriting peer of Lennon and the target of considerable envy ("Ludwig Van McCartney") within the group for the individual focus that results on tour and in the media. Paul's appearance on acoustic guitar is also his first public exposure as a multi-instrumentalist, earlier efforts on the electric guitar having been confined to the privacy of the studio and not called out in liner notes. The slow tempo, the heartfelt lyrics, and melodic beauty combine to deliver on the promise of "And I Love Her." It's the first song not at all prefigured by any Quarrymen or Decca material.

Time out now for the release of "Help!" (film, album, and single in a perfectly coordinated multimedia barrage) and therefore nearly all of the material recorded so far, the only exception being "I've Just Seen A Face." And off on the promotional tour exemplified by the Hollywood Bowl performances.

Though you can't tell from the released canon at this point, we are already deep into the "Rubber Soul" period by the time October arrives. And next up is the UK album opener, "Drive My Car." This is a nice little rocker that tells an amusing, music-hall type of humorous story although the plot and tenses are again a bit convoluted.

More significant and representative of the period is "We Can Work It Out," seemingly the story of a fight with Jane aided by Lennon's characteristic minors and triplets in the middle eight. Collaborations between the two have become rarer at this point, and we'll see very few more. The song is packaged on another megahit double-A single with John's 12-bar "Day Tripper," and contrasts in both form and content with the latter's racy pessimism. The acoustic orientation begun in June continues here, along with the more interesting harmonic rhythms. One also senses McCartney moving into the driver's seat in terms of additional instrumentation; while John seems to have started the process in "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," Paul's forays with orchestration on "Yesterday" and harmonium on this cut move the balance in his direction, where it will stay for some time.

The parade of "Rubber Soul"-era acoustic cuts continues with "Michelle." A veddy British music hall Femme-De-Chambre cartoon of French sexuality is relieved by a beautiful melody, so strong it even holds up with slight variations as the guitar solo which is played twice. Lennon claims the middle eight (part of which is also the intro) and it's quite believable given the minor key and chromatic descent in the bass line. Following the success of "Yesterday" and having the same mass accessibility, "Michelle" again generates a lot of cover versions and adds to the general perception of the Beatles and Paul specifically as writers of standards.

The paroxysm of cover and original tunes in the 12-bar blues mode continued in the studio at Abbey Road, although two of the last efforts in this vein were never released. "12-Bar Original" seems to have a strong McCartney influence. Although there is a goodly amount of harmonica and lead guitar (some of which could certainly be Paul!) on this cut, it still could be lifted whole and, with appropriate adjustments in the sound quality, put either on the Quarrymen tapes or McCartney album as is with no noticeable dissonance.

"I'm Looking Through You" is one of Paul's more lyrically sound efforts, and seems to follow "We Can Work It Out" in describing relations with Jane Asher. Paul may overall have made better music while hassling with Jane than when (presumably) happy with Linda. The song as released is excellent folk-rock and very representative of the era; noteworthy is the nice acoustic outtake that features a 12-bar in place of the bridge that was written later. Like its companion instrumental outtake, this 12-bar sequence never sees release, leaving John's "The Word" as the last work in this form until "Flying" from "Magical Mystery Tour."

"You Won't See Me" rounds out Paul's best year with the Beatles so far. It's musically innovative and lyrically direct, again bespeaking a troubled love life. Its middle-tempo feel unfortunately detracts a bit from the interesting harmonic progression, but overall it's a very successful piece. And it's therefore no surprise that this is the first Beatle album to contain no covers at all. With Paul now able to match John's productivity and George entering the fray with two songs, there's no need for material from other writers. Tracking the Lennon/McCartney dynamic, the balance has moved from John's favor to one I'd characterize as equality.

1966

"Paperback Writer" is Paul's first entry for this year, an uptempo, lyrically direct initial foray into social comment, the subject matter (as in "Can't Buy Me Love") being greed. There's an irony here, in that Paul seems to be subconsciously and unintentionally revealing something of himself: Dirk McQuickly hustling his second-rate material to lesser groups maps pretty well to the likeable wannabe protagonist of this tune. Backed with John's "Rain" we have the big two splitting a single again, with social comment from different viewpoints and different musical forms. What unifies the single is a very similar overall sound to the two sides and a good deal of time droning in the same key and home chord. Again we see a playlet, something easily staged in the music hall.

"Revolver" is next up and another strong album for Paul individually. As on "Rubber Soul" he manages to match John in both quality and quantity, although on this record there is an argument to be made for Lennon's material being more lyrically substantive and formally innovative. The parade of standards established with "Yesterday" continues with "Here There and Everywhere" and "Eleanor Rigby." The latter is the album's hit single and some of Paul's most substantial social commentary as well. Yet it's easy to discern a conservative streak and a separation from the other writers, while John and George are moving more into drugs, Eastern mysticism, and experimental sounds, Paul sticks more to traditional forms and love-oriented content. There's no Timothy Leary or backwards stuff on his cuts, and the playlet approach continues to dominate.

Also interesting is the absence of anything of the 12-bar ilk or the acoustic material prevalent on "Rubber Soul." Horns, strings, and keyboards solidly dominate Paul's sound on this album, with horns especially prominent on "Got To Get You Into My Life" and his " Whiter Shade of Pale" knockoff, "For No One." It almost seems that Paul, always more conventional than the other two and not inclined for whatever reasons to their wilder outbursts, chose instead to vary the recorded sound of his songs, not the harmonic form or lyrical content. The point seems to be adding new textures to the Beatle canon while operating solidly within standard musical structures. It's also very probable that one or more of these songs were composed on the piano, in many ways beginning Paul's career on that instrument. Observe also that duet vocals with John seem to be fading out in favor of a more solo-plus-backup approach.

"Good Day Sunshine" is perhaps the best example of the well-made Paul song in this mature phase, uptempo with a nice melody and a very interesting Martin contribution on the arrangement, and not a lot of lyrical content. "Got To Get You Into My Life" again seeks to evoke a predefined style, Motown in this case, with a muted carryover of the Little Richard feel and some echoes of the 12-bar form. However, Paul has basically stopped trying to open up new territory, at least for awhile, and seems content exploring and honing existing styles and approaches without straining his limited poetic skills.

We have then another year where the talents of John and Paul seem to be more or less in balance, producing another excellent album and consistently good double-A singles. Paul's songs seem to dominate and get more radio airplay, and overall the amount of singles issued is the fewest in four years. Contrast the material he produces this year with what came out of him in 1962, and it's almost impossible to believe it's the same person. Hey, maybe he DIED and SOMEBODY ELSE was substituted for him and wrote the songs ...

1967

"Penny Lane" is our first entry from the year of the Summer of Love, and perhaps best understood as an outtake from the "childhood concept album" that eventually became "Sgt. Pepper." Note that both John and Paul returned to this project in later decades, each in characteristic ways: the "Plastic Ono Band" and "Liverpool Oratorio" projects respectively. Boy, how I wish they had made that album together...

The piece at hand is extremely characteristic of its author on several levels: beautiful music to start with, including excellent horn and piano lines with lots of arrangement help from Martin. While the lyrics do contain some nice images and the overall effort succeds at evoking the childhood wonder of the young artist, I still sense a failure to get at the heart of the matter; the pseudomystery of the last verse seems to deliver less than the earlier verses promised. Paul's oft-noted tendency to avoid self-revelation undermines the end result, partially due to the approach of third-party storytelling that will mar the more overtly "granny" efforts of the next few years. Still, it's a great song and yet another standard.

Which brings us to the matter of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." These sessions, from which there are basically no illuminating outtakes available, coincide with a major change in the dynamic of the Beatles as a group. Heavy drug use, personal tendencies of his own, and the influence of Yoko Ono begin to diminish John's leadership role, leading to the first album that is generally considered to be a Paul project. Perhaps the commercial successes like "Yesterday," "Michelle" and "Penny Lane," and Paul's obvious overall growth as composer in the last two years combined with Lennon's passivity and solipsism to tilt the balance of power in Paul's favor. In any case, something changes here, and they'll never be exactly the same again.

Given this opportunity and his own track record, it's no surprise that Paul pulls the entire group, and this album, in the direction of third-person narrative and music-hall formulas. The notion of staged playlets is extended here; all of John's and George's music is kind of subsumed by it even though they don't address the Pepper "concept" directly.

Stylistically, Paul continues the "Revolver" trend away from blues and Latin music towards standard pop and music hall forms. There isn't much acoustic guitar and instead we get lots of keyboards and orchestration. Yet this record may contain the best, most overtly personal and expressive set of lyrics Paul contributes to any Beatle album.

"Getting Better" is direct in its lyrical approach, uptempo, with just enough sitar to tie in with "Within You Without You" and enough youthful rebellion to synergize with the spirit of the times. 1967, for those of you who are too young to know, was a year in which the credibility of some sort of Aquarian Age reached its peak, and the optimism expressed here was about as spot on as you're going to find. This was all before the drug overdoses, riots, protests and assassinations were combined with the civil rights struggle to reposition the Sixties into a decade of turmoil and upheaval.

"Fixing a Hole" has a similar lyrical feel, unbounded optimism tempered by reflection: sure, there are a few repairs to be made, but I'll turn inward for awhile, and prevail with amicable assistance. Similarly, the melodrama of "She's Leaving Home" seems to resolve with a feeling that youth will win out over the dark stodgy forces of shallow materialism. Things work out well with "Lovely Rita" too, so there is no "blues" content in this record on a lyrical level: by that I mean, there is no pain associated with love in Pepperland, death and intolerance are the only enemies.

"A Day in the Life" marks the first clear collaboration with John since "Michelle," formally similar to what they did together on "A Hard Day's Night." Again, Paul's contribution is the bridge, with a lyrical change of scene and a shift in the rhythmic accent. The lyrical promise of "Penny Lane" is finally delivered here in Paul's little but crucial snippet, with its Coleridgian conclusion that meshes perfectly with Lennon's contribution. These words and "Fixing A Hole" take Paul into the realm of imagination John has claimed since "There's A Place." And while the power balance may now be in Paul's favor, both writers contribute a strong set of originals, continuing the track record of "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver." This is probably the last great song they wrote together, an album closer, musically brilliant in both design and execution, breathtaking in its scope and detail, indescribable. Formally significant is the merger of two unfinished songs, in this case one by each major writer; this notion bears watching as we'll see later.

Paul spends the rest of his time making filler in silver hammer land, resurrecting "When I'm 64" from about 1959 (ah, to hear a tape of the Quarrymen doing this song! Now THAT would be something!). Here we have the first truly original totally "granny" song Paul records with the Beatles, but alas, not the last. Creative differences with John and George are growing and will only get worse.

On the singles front, Paul has his worst year since 1963. Only "Hello Goodbye" is offered to follow up "Penny Lane," and while the song is mostly effective it doesn't measure up to his best recent output by any stretch. The Lennon singles of the time are much more sophisticated lyrically and musically. The balance of power may have shifted, and the two may now be musical equals, but that doesn't mean that Paul is ready to lead the group by himself. Witness his first "All Me" project: "Magical Mystery Tour" (or "Get Back to Broad Street On Drugs"). That just about describes it, doesn't it?

Paul seems basically burnt out by this time, following his earlier pattern of musical thumb-twiddling after each major success. Desire seems to exceed capacity at this point, and it was certainly a tough assignment to try and follow up "Pepper." Where do you go? What happens next? The Boxing Day Massacre, and what is generally considered to be the Beatles' first artistic failure: "They can't all be gems."

Indeed. The title cut and "Your Mother Should Know" are lame in comparison to the best work of the last three years. "The Fool on the Hill," theoretically about the Maharishi, ironically but accurately describes its author more than anyone. I get a sense here of Paul unintentionally saying something about himself under the guise of describing someone else, similar to what happened with "Paperback Writer." Since we have some content at least and the nearly guaranteed pretty music, the result is the best Paul song of the lot.

1968

The Maharishi fiasco and the tragical Mystery Tour leave Paul and the Beatles seemingly at a low point artistically. As Marianne Faithfull puts it in "The Compleat Beatles," people started to wonder if the Beatles could do it anymore. As "Lady Madonna" hits the charts in March, we haven't seen an AM hit from Paul for over a year, at least not the kind of blockbusters we've been used to from "Can't Buy Me Love" to "Penny Lane." And while the cut in question moves well, has a great bass line, and is very listenable, it's again somewhat in the "Hello Goodbye" realm, second-rate for a Beatle single. Paul is evasive again, knocking out still another third-person story with lyrics that promise more than they deliver despite some strong imagery. As with so much of Paul's work from this point on with a few notable exceptions, one is tempted to scream at him, "Yes, but how do you FEEL about it?"

What comes next illustrates just how complicated a character we're dealing with here. Leave it to Paul, having just followed his greatest triumph with pretty consistent mediocrity, to write perhaps the greatest song of his career. "Hey Jude," that is, in empathy with a young Julian Lennon trapped in the maelstrom of his parents' dissolving marriage. This one has it all: formal innovation in the arrangement, direct, personal, deeply felt lyrics, and one of the best vocal performances ever.

Available outtakes are certainly listenable and tell us that the arrangement was arrived at fairly early, and the hymnal feeling was there at the start. Lennon's contribution is small but vital (not to delete the "shoulder" line) as recounted on video (the CBS TV show "48 Hours") by Paul. He explicates the section like a schoolboy proud of a ribbon-winning lesson with his poetry teacher, as indeed it was. The scream coda from "That Means A Lot" and "I'm Down" reaches maturity here. The promo film extends the Beatle legend (after all, they basically invented music video) with the Dream's Last Gasp as friends and family join in the chorus, symbolically representing everyone. And what other song has flown to the top of the AM charts while weighing in at more then seven minutes of music?

Formally speaking, it's important to note that here we have Paul's first use of what I'd have to describe as the gospel genre. Interestingly, this approach is basically unprecedented in Beatle music to this point, and isn't associated with the traditional influences we've identified so far such as the blues or Latin-flavored pop. Perhaps the source is some of the lesser-known work of Lonnie Donegan.

We're into the White (album) Period now, the problems with "Magical Mystery Tour" seemingly leading Paul toward a more tried-and-true approach. The only twelve-bar of 1967 was a throwaway instrumental ("Flying"), but now we get two pretty straightforward ones from Paul alone: "Birthday" and "Why Don't We Do It In the Road." Returning from earlier efforts and approaches is the acoustic guitar on three high-quality cuts: "Blackbird," "Mother Nature's Son," "I Will." There's a lot less orchestration, and lyrically the content leans much more toward typical pop themes and away from mysticism, youthful rebellion, and the world of the imagination. Continuing the pattern since "A Day in the Life," there seem also to be no collaborations with John.

Unfortunately, granniosity is on the rise as well. "Honey Pie," "Martha My Dear," and even "Rocky Raccoon" are bathed in blue rinse. One can easily make a very strong case for shipping "Not Guilty" rather than any of these songs, not to mention "Wild Honey Pie" and the overworked, midtempo, vacuously third-person "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." Yes, but how do you FEEL? He never gives an answer. It's easy to imagine both Lennon and Harrison being somewhat embarrassed by being associated with this material, and annoyed by having some of their compositions omitted or undeveloped in favor of these trifles.

On the uptempo, non-blues side (though heavily influenced by the "acid rock" of the time), the twin triumphs of "Back in the USSR" and "Helter Skelter" combine with the good acoustic cuts to form what would be an uneven but fairly strong solo album if one were to isolate Paul's contribution from that of the others. With the usable backlog pretty much exhausted, it seems to have become increasingly difficult to write even half an album's worth of top-notch material in a single calendar year, hence the large proportion of basically filler material.
The available outtakes are unique in that they consist of fully conceived demos where the basic words and arrangement are carried unchanged into the release versions, and the Peter Sellers tape of nearly-finished final cuts. All of these are widely available, notably from Yellow Dog on "Unsurpassed Demos" and "Unsurpassed Masters Volume 4." None of Paul's material changes significantly during any part of the process, with the only exception being the remake of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and the omission of "Junk."

What these versions do reveal is a more developed ability to craft fully arranged tunes, arrived at during six years of intensive study with George Martin, and the "layer cake" approach to building final versions (in marked contrast to the multiple live takes that characterized for example the "Please Please Me" sessions). More interesting are the changes and omissions that befall the Harrison and Lennon material, but that's another article.

In many ways the "Get Back" movement starts here, a return to the patterns identified with earlier successes: strong on slow, simple acoustic ballads and rave-up blues. Concept and psychedelia are avoided for the most part, perhaps attempting to atone for previous excesses and recapture commercial market share.

Worthy of special mention although totally Lennon is "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." This song continues the melding-of-partial-songs thread begun with "A Day in the Life,: and turns out to be a major influence on Paul and a template for some of his most significant work in the next few years. And ironically this form is one that John Lennon seems to abandon completely after this one very successful effort.

1969

Until Doug et al remedy the situation, the "Get Back" sessions will remain the least documented period of the Beatle endeavor, paradoxically accompanied by the most outtakes. The standard opinion is that we have some of the weakest Beatle material ever, and that the "live" approach makes it even worse because there are no studio hijinks to cover the flaws. While that's basically true about the material as released on "Let It Be," and there is an undeniable lack of quality in both form and content, it didn't have to be that way. For example, follow the evolution of "Get Back" through the "Songs from the Past" series. What begins as a wonderfully rocking tune with a strong statement about racism is gradually sanitized a good hit single that says almost nothing intelligible about anything. Similarly, the "Commonwealth Song" had serious potential in its interesting political commentary and offhanded whimsy, but was simply thrown away. "News of the Day"/"Everybody's Rocking Tonight" could have been polished into an engaging and humorous self-satire. There was also a lot of high-quality material available from all three writers, witness the numerous prototype takes of material ("All Things Must Pass," "Give Me Some Truth," "Something") later to appear on "Abbey Road" and the first batch of solo albums.
So what happened? Several things, perhaps best summed up as drugs, divorce, and a slipping image. As with"Magical Mystery Tour," we have the others dragged along on what is basically a Paul project that they aren't particularly interested in. Then there's the fact that after years of creative success in the studio, stripping everything down for live performance seems to sacrifice more than it contributes. Solo projects seem to be already in the works, and one senses that there is a subconscious holding back of material for future use. Never mind having one band member, and the leader at that, so codependent he can't even show up for work without his significant other. In many ways it's actually surprising that what came out of these sessions (later Spectorization aside) is as good and interesting as it is.

It's to Paul's credit that he at least manages to lead a weak field, producing by far the best material to attain official release. In spite of its devolution during the sessions, the title cut still comes out well, prefiguring the well-made but insubstantial output of the "Abbey Road" sessions. "The Long and Winding Road," pre-Spector, is an appealing and serviceable ballad that at least attempts to convey some sincere feeling. "Two of Us" is nice too, but again somewhat weakened by rehashing traditional romantic themes.

In Paul's defense, it's important to remember that his ambition was never to be a great poet, but a great songwriter. Unlike Lennon, he positioned himself not in the literary world of James Joyce and Wallace Stevens; his self-conceived peers are Cole Porter and Carole King. He may pale in comparison with Lennon, Dylan, and Paul Simon as a poet, but that wasn't what he was aiming for. It's therefore not surprising that while John's excesses tended toward the deep end, Paul under stress always heads for shallow water. This very difference is what made them so good together.

Meanwhile, back at the songs... "I've Got a Feeling" is seemingly the last collaboration between John and Paul, and another melded partial like "A Day in the Life." As with the rest of what Paul shipped from these sessions, there is generally little to gnaw on lyrically but the melodic ability and energy is sufficient to at least attain mediocrity and avoid disaster.

"Let It Be" follows "Hey Jude" much the way "Eleanor Rigby" followed "Yesterday" -- a new form that yielded great success is reused to produce another hit single. Obviously the most heartfelt of Paul's work in this period, it's almost his variation of "Hamlet," a keyboard-oriented hymn to his dead mother and the wistful yet determined anthem of several other demises: the Beatles', the '60s, and that of any remnants of innocence, optimism, and hope for global transcendance. The Dream embodied in "Sgt. Pepper" and resuscitated by "Hey Jude" takes its recessional here. Available outtakes reveal only minor formal variations and don't provide significant insight into developmental matters.

The synergy of the great singles of the Middle Period reaches total deterioration here. The complementary pairings that began with "Can't Buy Me Love"/"You Can't Do That," continued in "We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper" and others to flower in "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" have descended from the sublime to the ridiculous, and John's post-breakup contribution to the B-side is the hilarious "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)". The juxtapositions had already been getting strange for the most part: "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" don't even seem to be by the same group. "Hello Goodbye"/"I Am the Walrus" is a very odd couple, the first about nothing and the second about far too much. And then "Get Back" about nothing while "Don't Let Me Down" is about That Woman. In the great majority of cases over the last few years, notice that it is Paul and not John who contributes the A-side and gets the airplay, in contrast to the opposite case in the early years.

Somewhere early in this year we have a fuzzy segue into the "Abbey Road" sessions. Like the "White Album" and "Mystery Tour," these are beset by too much middle-tempo, third-person, musical hally granny songs from Paul. YES, BUT HOW DO YOU FEEL? His tendency to overwork things is marked in the released cuts; for one example, the "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" outtake from the "Get Back" sessions (on Yellow Dog's "Complete Rooftop Sessions" CD) has a silly freshness completely laundered from the released version. The machine is totally clean, but it doesn't do anything. According to Lennon, Paul actually believed that this number was a potential hit single, and the group was dragged through torturous remakes and overdubs, an effort out of all proportion to the underlying substance.

There is a breakthrough and a triumph here, and it's of course the medley on Side Two. Available outtakes ("Unsurpassed Masters Volume 5") reveal the a cake missing some upper layers and icing, but basically represent the entire work as shipped. The combination technique first used in "A Day in the Life," and successfully realized by John with "Happiness is a Warm Gun," is now taken by Paul as his own. The result is very satisfying esthetically in terms of sheer beauty of the overall sound and smoothness of the segues, compensating greatly for a lack of content and lyrical cohesion that makes this album overall less effective than "Sgt. Pepper."

The hit single is never found for Paul on this one. The problem with the medley in a commercial sense is that it's simply too long to release as a single. Paul will return to this problem in his solo career -- and solve it -- with pieces such as "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," "Band on the Run," and even "Live and Let Die."

The song fragments in the medley are all over the place, mostly consisting of variants on standard pop forms with some nice touches here and there. Certainly the orgasmic moment is the transition from "Polythene Pam" into "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," a moment in itself worth the price of admission. "Golden Slumbers" evokes the hymn feeling of "Hey Jude" and "Let It Be," "Her Majesty" the acoustic simplicity of "I'll Follow the Sun." "You Never Give Me Your Money" is like "Penny Lane," "Lady Madonna" and so many others in that a musically strong piece is betrayed by promising lyrics that fail to resolve themselves, teasing at substance but sliding off into ambiguous pseudomystery. He never shows his feelings...

"The End: attempts to tie it all together into a lyrical statement of some gravity and is partially successful, but beyond the sheer mastery of form and aural esthetics there is precious little to sink one's mental teeth into. There seems to be no collaboration and little synergy with Lennon on this record, and the medley's overall impact is that of a brilliantly executed pastiche of disconnected and incomplete ideas. Again Paul does not contribute a standard or lasting song, that role being played by George of all people whose compositional and lyrical efforts on this album outshine both John and Paul for the only time. In short, we can see much of Paul's solo career-to-be in this album, future collaborations excepted.

Flameless Last Words

Looking back over the ground we've covered so far, Paul's remarkable developmental path as a songwriter could be characterized as a journey to formal mastery with some remarkable peaks, sometimes held back by personal inhibition and a limited poetic talent. The influence of John Lennon, cad and bounder though he was, certainly helped Paul develop and challenged him in a way that hasn't happened since.

Like brilliant mathematicians or chess prodigies, pop songwriters seem to produce their best work in their twenties, before responsibilities and perspective soften the sharp emotions and excesses of youth; Paul is no exception. Paul's gifts as melodic composer, vocalist, and player would have led him to musical success in almost any era or context, in contrast to Lennon who could just as easily have become a beat poet or Expressionist painter as a rock musician. Frustrating though some of his tendencies may be, Paul achieved what he set out to do and became a great songwriter by adding to his considerable talent enough hard work to craft some really beautiful musical moments. There's no point in demanding more. That's what we're left with, and it is enough.