The Lyrics

Paul McCartney                                                                                       Allen Lane £75


Paul McCartney is perhaps the only person in the world to have been as famous and well-known for so many years, aside from Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1964, the Beatles became famous worldwide. Paul has been featured in countless articles, books, and movies since then. Linda, Paul’s first wife, created his personal archive which now includes more than 1,000,000 items.

He has been asked many times over the years about his brief stint as Beatle for 50+ years. Always willing to answer questions, he is always willing to recount the same old experiences, stories and observations.

By now, most of us are Beatles experts (George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney above with friend Dennis Littler)

We are Beatles enthusiasts by now (George Harrison with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison above with Dennis Littler)

Most of us Beatles fans are Beatles specialists by now. We know more than our cousins about Paul McCartney. 

We know that Yesterday was originally called Scrambled Eggs, that he wrote Let It Be after his late mother appeared to him in a dream, that Martha My Dear was about his dog, that Hey Jude was written for John’s son Julian, and so on and so forth. 

Even the most trivial detail from his childhood – for instance, that he was the only boy in his class who knew how to spell the word ‘phlegm’ – reappears in every new biography.

Somehow I have a greater knowledge of Paul McCartney and myself than others.

Heaven only knows where I was in the 1960s. It is impossible to find out at this point in time. However, I am able to look up any date in any book if I need to determine exactly what Paul was doing.

John Lennon (above, writing I Saw Her Standing There with Paul McCartney) is, inevitably, a dominant figure in the book

John Lennon, above, who wrote I Saw Her Standing There alongside Paul McCartney, is undoubtedly a prominent figure in this book.

When I first heard that he was planning a lavish – and, it must be said, greedily over-priced – two-volume work on his lyrics, complete with autobiographical reminiscences, I was very sceptical. 

What could be left?

How wrong was I! The Lyrics is not only full of well-known stories but also contains an abundance of fresh material that many of them are very touching.

As if by magic, The Lyrics is both an old man’s book and a young man’s book. Paul, now 79 years old, clearly feels the need to think back on his youth and childhood, when the world was still a clamor.

‘Happy those early days! when I/ Shined in my angel infancy…’ wrote the 17th Century poet Henry Vaughan. ‘O, how I long to travel back/ And tread again that ancient track!’

The Lyrics is both an old man’s book and a young man’s book. Paul McCartney (above, in his family home's garden) has clearly been drawn back to thinking about his childhood and youth

The Lyrics is both an old man’s book and a young man’s book. Paul McCartney, above in the family garden. He clearly finds himself drawn back to his youth and childhood.

It is arranged in what at first sight looks like a dull and dogged trawl through the lyrics of 154 of Paul’s songs, listed from A-Z. 

One page is given over to each lyric, followed by four or five pages of thoughts and memories inspired by that lyric, interspersed with photographs and other bits and pieces – school essays, original manuscripts, concert bills.

Even though it seems unlikely, this fishing technique yields abundant catch. Rereading his lyrics brings him back to the original writings. 

He wrote the simple song I Lost My Little Girl when he was just 14. It’s not so straightforward, is it? ‘You wouldn’t have to be Sigmund Freud to recognise that the song is a very direct response to the death of my mother,’ says Paul. 

‘She died in October 1956 at the terribly young age of 47. I wrote this song later that same year.’

Looking again at his old lyrics, Paul McCartney (above) finds himself transported back to the time when they were written. The oldest is a simple little song called I Lost My Little Girl

Paul McCartney, above, finds himself transported back in time to his lyrics by looking at them again. One of his earliest songs is called “I Lost My Little Girl”, a small song.

He clearly believed he was writing a country/blues song about the loss of a girl. ‘Well her clothes were not expensive/ Her hair didn’t always curl/ I don’t know why I loved her/ But I loved my little girl.’ But 64 years later, it dawns on him that it sprang from somewhere deeper.

Mary and Jim are his parents and dominate the book. They pop up in his mind in response to old and new lyrics. ‘It’s been suggested to me that this is a “losing my mother” song, to which I’ve always said, “No, I don’t believe so,” ’ he says of Yesterday. ‘But, you know, the more I think about it…’

Volume 2’s first song is Lady Madonna. ‘The fact that my mother Mary died when I was 14 is something I never got over,’ he says. He remembers her whistling in the kitchen, and thinking: ‘Oh, it’s beautiful that she’s happy.’

His father, who passed away in 1976, was a mysterious figure. But he is now alive and well. A 1990 McCartney song – unknown to me – called Put It There turns out to be all about Jim McCartney. 

‘When he was shaking your hand he would say, “Put it there if it weighs a ton”… my dad had a million of these funny phrases… another one of these expressions was, “There’s no hairs on a seagull’s chest.”   

Your guess is as good as mine as to what it really means, but it’s such a beautiful line that I’m pretty sure I’m going to feature it in a song one of these days.’ 

Jim is featured in a number of photographs that were never published before, such as a color portrait taken by Paul of him with a flower.

Paul recalls his father spanking his brother and him on their legs as naughty children, and then thinks back to the dark atmosphere that surrounded the final days of The Beatles. 

And then he wonders if some lines in the song – ‘If there’s a fight, I’d like to fix it/ I hate to see things go so wrong’ – might have been directed towards John, who had died ten years before. He asks ‘whether it’s not, in its own way, a peace offering to a man who died way too early’. So, one memory can float into another and so on.

John is unavoidably a major figure in this book. Paul is more open than ever, and he keeps coming back to that hurt when John was vicious after The Beatles split-up. ‘John turned nasty. I don’t really understand why.’ 

But he always held out for John’s approval, and in many ways still does. He mentions twice that John enjoyed his solo song, Coming Up. 

He still has dreams of him, and he talks to him. ‘I still have him whispering in my ear after all these years. I’m often second-guessing what John would have thought.’

He has not spoken about his relationship with Jane Asher for many years. However, here he admits that songs like And I Love Her or For No One are written in her honor. 

He was still passing Wimpole Street, years after their split. This is where Jane and her children lived for three decades. 

‘I passed the house and thought, “Wow, great memories there.” Then I went further down the street to where my doctor was, and I was just pressing the bell when I sensed someone behind me. Jane appeared behind me when I turned my head. I said, “Oh my God, I was just thinking about you and the house.” That was the last time I saw her, but memories don’t fade.’

Though he is, by nature, buoyant, in fact, almost ruthlessly so – with Stalinist efficiency, his ghastly second wife, Heather, is excised from the record – he does acknowledge shortcomings in his own character. 

Talking about We Can Work It Out, he reveals that it was written at a time when ‘things were not going so smoothly between Jane and me… Time has told me that millions of people go through these little squabbles all the time and will recognise just how common this is, but this particular song was not like that; it was “Try to see it my way.”’

He realizes now that he had been self-centered. ‘With a Beatles song, if it’s going to be heard by millions of people, you can spread a good message: “We can work it out”. 

If you wanted to say it in one line, it would be, “Let’s not argue”. If you wanted to say it in two lines: “Let’s not argue/ Listen to me.” Obviously, that is quite selfish, but then so is the song.’

Alas, there isn’t the space to go on about quite what a treasure trove this book is. 

Speaking of the Beatles song Your Mother Should Know, he reveals that it was prompted by his bossy Auntie Jin being sent by his family, at the height of The Beatles’ fame, to give him a telling-off about taking pot. 

He talks about influences such as Dickens, The Beach Boys, Louis MacNeice, Ken Dodd, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and Vaughan Williams, and he touches on subjects as diverse as The Queen (‘We rather fancied her. She was a good-looking woman, like a Hollywood film star’) and being forced by his father to scoop up horse manure from the street. 

His overriding impression shows a man with remarkable talent who recognizes his good fortune.

As Goethe once wrote: ‘He is the happiest man who can trace an unbroken connection between the end of his life and the beginning.’