BIRTH OF A CLASSIC
'It was the only song I ever dreamed'
London, the 1960s: Wimpole Street, that elegant, bustling artery slightly north-west of Oxford Circus, would seem an unlikely birthplace for high artistic creativity. Hallowed ground for the highest echelons of the British medical profession, the thoroughfare had an aura of spruce residential comfort, too. Society's sea change during that decade could not, surely, have penetrated those houses. This was Old England at its most noble; the architect Thomas Leverton laid out Wimpole Street and its blood brother, Harley Street, in 1804, when anyone living in central London was only a couple of miles from open countryside. Now it was part of a city which Paul McCartney loved.
Wimpole Street's narrow-fronted houses, five storeys high, with round-headed front doors topped by fanlights of lead, were white-painted, deceptively spacious, and described famously by John Betjeman as 'those regular, weary rows where the doctors wait to foretell death as politely as possible'.
In the 1990s, dental surgeons soothe their patients with lush orchestral versions of songs (like 'Yesterday') from the 1960s and beyond. Thirty years ago, any music from 'those beat groups' would have been considered by most to have been unseemly. Wimpole Street and Harley Street were bastions of the Establishment, populated by eminent figures from the 'professions'. In distance, it was a mile or so from the hip basement clubs that helped shape the spirit of Swinging London, teeming as they were with pop musicians, actors, models. Psychologically the medical zone was light years away.
Number 57 Wimpole Street, two houses in from the intersection with New Cavendish Street, seemed to blend, outwardly at least, with the somewhat haughty atmosphere of the area. Inside, it was very much a family home. The residents, Dr Richard Asher and his wife, Margaret, were at a peak in their spheres of work. A respected doctor who also wrote prolifically on all aspects of medicine including psychiatry, Dr Asher, with his wife and their three young children, had moved to Wimpole Street from their flat in nearby Great Portland Street in 1957. It was not merely a prestigious address for Dr Asher; it also offered space for Margaret, a professor at London's Royal Academy of Music, to give private tuition on the oboe in the basement music-room. There, too, Dr Asher would often relax at the grand piano, demonstrating considerable talent as an amateur player of the classics. Music of all styles shaped their children's early years, and it was a family destined to be linked closely with the arts.
By 1963 the Asher children were teenagers. Peter, aged nineteen, had met a fellow student at Westminster School named Gordon Waller, with whom he was to forge a creditable career as a singing duo akin to the Everly Brothers. Flame-haired Jane Asher was, at seventeen, an aspiring actress whose distinguished career had begun at the age of six with an acclaimed performance as a deaf mute in the movie Mandy (it was entitled A Crash of Silence in the US). And fifteen-year-old Clare Asher was at school.
A splendid home-maker and cook, Margaret Asher attached name-plates to each room in her house. She established an atmosphere exuding warmth and a love of culture at the onset of a decade that was to prove eventful for the Asher family. She could not have guessed, at the start of 1963, that by the year's end the nameplates such as Peter's Room, Jane's Room, and Clare's Room would need to be augmented by one which read: Paul's Room.
The Sixties, that extraordinary pageant now both cherished and scorned, began in effect in 1963. The year in which Paul McCartney would reach the age of twenty-one, it was the time when the Beatles provoked a seismic shift in the consciousness of Britain through the medium of popular music.
In November of that year, Paul, by then the boyfriend of Jane Asher, moved into the small room at the very top of 57 Wimpole Street - 'a bit of an artist's garret', as he recalls it affectionately, 'right next to Peter Asher's room. It was one of those huge Wimpole Street houses and Jane lived a couple of floors down, next to her mum and dad.' Paul's room, with its bed, easy chair, record player and small piano, overlooked the rear of the house while his neighbour Peter's had a view of Wimpole Street.
A Beatle's route to this desirable, stable environment in 1963 had been circuitous, and reflected the aspiration of the inner man, during the tumult of new stardom, for real values. At the start of the year, the Beatles had been living in their native Liverpool. On their visits to London for recording sessions they stayed in hotels, also meeting writers and photographers. Their first base, the traditional Royal Court in Sloane Square, was succeeded as Beatles headquarters by the modish President in Russell Square. Here, Paul and John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would usually share rooms in those partnerships. As 1963 progressed, they scored four chart-topping singles ('Please Please Me', 'From Me to You', 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'She Loves You') and toured Britain four times. They felt as though they were 'in transit', and they knew the future would bring even more travelling.
Hotel life quickly lost its allure for them. It was essential when they were in London, the Beatles told their manager, Brian Epstein, that they had a 'group flat'. In the autumn of that year, all four Beatles moved into 57 Green Street, off Park Lane, May-fair, where each had a separate bedroom.
Comfortable though it was, it was rented accommodation devoid of charm and they had neither the time nor inclination to decorate it. Paul remembers that he hated it and described it as 'austere'. The others went through a phase of thinking they would decorate it, but Paul, unusually for such a fastidious young man, could not be bothered. He knew that for him, anyway, it was going to be temporary. 'The whole atmosphere of my upbringing in Liverpool had been very homey. Even though my mum had died and it was just me and my brother and my dad, there were always aunties around cooking nice meals.' He missed that.
Fate decreed that the Green Street home would be a short-lived address for all the Beatles, more so than any of them expected. On 8 April 1963, John Lennon had become a father when his son Julian had been born to his wife Cynthia in Liverpool. By November, John was ready to set up a new home in the Kensington area of London with his wife and child. George and Ringo were happy to stay on in Green Street for a time, but Paul felt restless and with John's imminent departure he started to look around for a new home.
On 18 April 1963, after a Beatles concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, Paul had met, backstage, Jane Asher, who had earlier posed, assuming the role of a screaming Beatles fan, for a photographer from the Radio Times.
As Paul's romance with Jane began, he often visited her Wim-pole Street home and immediately sensed the family camaraderie that he had left behind in Liverpool. When he casually mentioned to Jane's mother that he disliked the cheerlessness of his Green Street 'Beatles flat' and was looking for an alternative, she responded: 'Why don't you stay here for a little while?' It could, Margaret Asher suggested, be a temporary home during his search for something more permanent; Paul was keen on staying in central London. 'It was such a nice household instead of a cold flat in Mayfair,' Paul recalls. 'Margaret Asher cooked, I liked the family . . . and I hadn't been happy with Green Street because I was used to a family situation.' The Ashers were just that.
His outlook might, he agrees, have been a little chauvinistic, but he had been raised in a house where his mother or his aunts cooked and were a powerful presence. An extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins were always in and out of the McCartney Liverpool home, and Margaret Asher's offer was accepted instantly with gratitude.
Dr Asher diplomatically checked with all his neighbours to ensure that they had no objection to the arrival of a young, long-haired pop star in their midst. He was able to assure them of the young man's impeccable behaviour and manners. He would not reduce the tone of the area; a few autograph-hunting fans might be noticed but they were to be dealt with discreetly.
As Paul McCartney moved into Wimpole Street in November 1963, the Beatles story was gathering speed. One year earlier, their tentative beginning with 'Love Me Do' had promised little. But on 13 October 1963, their appearance on the major British TV show Sunday Night at the London Palladium caused uproar. Watched by 15 million, they sang four songs before meeting wild scenes of fan fever outside the theatre. The word Beatlemania was born that night. And as their hit records sold by the million, they released their second album, With the Beatles, in November.
A key to the success story of the Beatles was evident on that album, just as it was as they stepped on to stages around Britain. Raw energy and the exuberance of rock 'n' roll merged with Paul McCartney penchant for melodic romanticism. Alongside the upbeat album tracks 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Please Mister Postman', Paul McCartney stepped forward, just as he did in concerts, to sing two powerful love songs, 'All My Loving' (which he wrote) and 'Till There Was You'.
The roles and personalities of the individual Beatles were delineated quickly, and glibly, by a British media eager to pigeonhole them as just another group of four lads hitting the pop big-time. John Lennon was the dangerous, abrasive, opinionated one. Paul McCartney was the cherubic-faced charmer and soothsayer, whom ever)' mother in the land felt was handsome, intelligent, caring, a perfect potential son-in-law. George Harrison was a secure musical foundation, laconic with his humour, happy to be the foil to the eminent hit-writing leadership of Lennon and McCartney. Ringo Starr was the mop top-shaking, grinning drummer whose quick wit helped the quartet's neat blend of cynicism and enthusiasm.
It was not as simple as that. But stereotype descriptions were needed quickly, as the Beatles were overthrowing a jaded scene and building the bridges of a fresh youth culture. In 1963, nobody was very concerned about the complexities of the characters of the 'Fab Four', the 'moptops'.
The rise of the Beatles also coincided with the arrival of a new form of night-club populated exclusively by the young, and the coining of the word discotheque. Over his favourite drink, then as now, of Scotch and Coke, a socially mobile McCartney enjoyed mingling with the entire cast of 1960s London, celebrities from the spheres of art and cinema, the theatre and books. 'I vaguely resent people knowing something that I don't,' declared the inquisitive Beatle at that time.
Paul enjoyed London by night, and among his regular places to visit were the Saddle Room in Hamilton Place, the Ad Lib in Leicester Place (where all the Beatles held court regularly) and, later, the Bag o' Nails in Kingly Street, the Cromwellian in Kensington, and the Pickwick Club in Great Newport Street. Often, Paul and Jane would dine at a restaurant called Tiddy Dols in Shepherd Market; and they would watch mainstream show-business cabaret at the Talk of the Town off Leicester Square.* Because he loved nocturnal London, Paul would visit a club most nights when he was not working and, notoriously fond of sleep, he would rise at about midday unless there was an earlier appointment.
Late in 1963, he awoke one such late morning at Wimpole Street realizing that he had actually dreamed a tune. 'I awoke with this tune in my head. [He hums the tune: "Da da da . . ."] I thought: what is that? I know that. I know that.
His first thought was that it was one of those standard tunes his father, a pianist, had played back home in Liverpool. Paul had been raised on an eclectic musical diet, since his father revelled in standards like 'Lullaby of the Leaves', 'Stairway to Paradise', 'and "Chicago"; all that old jazz stuff, as Paul recalls.
'I first thought: oh, it must be one of those old songs. . . I've just forgotten which one. But I had this piano by the bed .. .' And, with a melody in his head, the next move was natural. 'I just fell out of bed, found out what key I had dreamed it in, and it seemed near G, and I played it. I said to myself: I wonder what it w, you know. I just couldn't figure it out all, because I'd just woken up. And I got a couple of chords to it. I got the G, then I got the nice F sharp minor seventh, that was the big waaaahhhh. That led very naturally to the B which led very naturally to the E minor. It just kept sort of tumbling out with those chords. I thought: well, this is very nice, but it's a nick, it's a nick [from another song]. I don't know what it is.'
Intrigued with the sound whirling around his head, Paul decided to canvass opinions. 'We were always very careful,' he says of his songwriting partnership with John Lennon. 'The great danger with writing is that you write someone else's song without realizing. You spend three hours . . . and you've written a Bob Dylan classic. This one, I was convinced, was just something I'd heard before. I said to people: well, it can't be mine; I just woke up dreaming it!
* - Paul was the only Beatle to remain a London resident throughout the Beatles years. John and his wife Cynthia, with their young son, eventually moved to Weybridge, Surrey, with Ringo and his wife Maureen settling on the same estate soon after their wedding in 1965. George Harrison, who married Pattie Boyd in 1966, moved to Esher, Surrey.
'There was no logic to it at all. And I'd never had that. And I've never had it since. This was the crazy thing about this song. It was fairly mystical when I think about it, because of the circumstances. It was the only song I ever dreamed.'
The Beatles were a pop group. The generic description of 'rock' had not arrived in the mid-1960s, and the term 'band' was at that time reserved for brassy dance orchestras or jazz line-ups. Quaint though 'pop group' now sounds, it perfectly mirrored what the Beatles and thousands of others who followed them were all about. For while they loved rock 'n' roll, inspired by the giants like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, the Beatles cross-fertilized the best of popular music to produce a hybrid, and the reason that was possible can be traced to Paul McCartney's musical education. He loved the surge of rock, but never wanted to lose his love of other influences. The aim was to make pop and rock 'n' roll hit singles. In the 1970s, the evolution of pop into rock, and the ascendance of albums as creative works of art, dwarfed the old-fashioned pop single and, to a large degree, the philosophy of 1960s pop.
The Beatles, as Paul points out, sat astride show business and new pop-rock, which they had largely invented, in the early 1960s. Unashamedly ambitious for success, with hit singles and TV and radio shows to boost their chances at every opportunity, the Beatles rubbed shoulders with the glitterati of an entertainment world they were actually dominating, if not overturning.
'It wasn't the rock industry at all,' Paul says of those years. There was no hardcore rock 'n' roll movement and the young pop acts like Cliff Richard and Adam Faith performed in tandem with such adult ballad singers as Shirley Bassey and Frankie Vaughan. That was the entertainment world into which the Beatles were baptized when they arrived in London with their early hits. 'We'd be doing concert bills and Dave Allen would be introducing us, and we'd be second on the bill to [ballad singer] Frank Ifield, comedian Ken Dodd, people like that.'
This integration meant that they had none of the divisive 'them-and-us' attitude that infected the polarizing rock bands of the 1970s and beyond. Darlings of the young, the Beatles were equally comfortable with troupers, entertainers from the old school. The Beatles simply wanted to make hits, not speak for a disaffected part of the nation. They were, notes Paul, quite simply, 'crossover showbiz'. They were so keen to achieve success in all areas that when they toured Britain in 1963 they asked Roger Greenaway, a singer with a group on their bill called the Kestrels, to teach them how to bow in unison at the end of their songs.
One of the epicentres for the show-business fraternity that attracted the Beatles was the home of the ebullient singer Alma Cogan. Her first-floor flat at Stafford Court, on Kensington High Street, was shared by Alma, her sister Sandra Caron, an actress, and their mother, Fay.
The clique there, including Beatles manager Brian Epstein and composer Lionel Bart, loved her parties, which began around midnight when concerts had ended. Alma Cogan attracted a VIP guest-list: Sammy Davis Junior, Michael Caine, Stanley Baker, Bruce Forsyth, Tommy Steele and Terence Stamp were just a few of the celebrities who mingled with Paul McCartney and John Lennon. 'It was the sort of place,' says Lionel Bart, 'that you could go to at three in the morning, throw coins up at the window, and eventually a face would look out and throw the keys down.'
At one such party in late 1963, Paul said to Alma that he had a new tune that he wanted her to hear. He added that he was intrigued by it himself and would like her opinion. This was not unusual; it was part of the interaction that existed in London show business in 1963. Paul said he would go round and play it for Alma on her piano one day soon.
Paul had already tried out his haunting melody on John Lennon, who believed it sounded original. But so high was John and Paul's productivity that if a song was lying around unfinished for long, or did not cry out for immediate help from the other partner, it went to the back of their 'queue'. This tune therefore assumed no priority in their hectic lives. Paul decided to play the tune informally to people older than himself or John, writers who had good ears for popular music that pre-dated the Beatles.
At the Fulham Road home of Lionel Bart, Paul courted the view of the respected composer who, like him, could not read or write music. Bart had written hits including 'Living Doll' for Cliff Richard, 'As Long as He Needs Me' (which Shirley Bassey sang into the charts) and had scored enormous successes with his shows Oliver! in 1960 and Blitz in 1962. In 1964 and 1965 he would create Maggie May and Twang!! When Paul hummed him the melody, Bart recalls that he told him he could not categorize it but, to his ears, it was worth pursuing.
Late one evening in the autumn of 1963, Paul went to the home of Alma Cogan with his new melody very much on his mind. Ten years older than Paul, she represented a generation of show business which preceded the Beatles and Elvis Presley, yet she had broad tastes and a good instinct for commercial sounds. Known by her public as 'the girl with a laugh in her voice', Alma had enjoyed a string of seventeen hit singles including 'Bell Bottom Blues', 'Sugartime' and the chart-topping 'Dreamboat' in May 1955.
If Paul's melody had been conceived by him a few years later, he would have carried around a cassette of himself playing piano and humming it, perhaps. But in 1963, there was no such invention. And so when they were not writing in the studio, he and John Lennon had to carry their melodies in their heads. 'We had a rule which was: if we can't remember it, how are they going to, it's no good. That was a rule and we lost, probably, one or two average songs that way.' As Paul says, the ones that got away 'couldn't have been good enough, because if he couldn't remember the tune, I would, and vice versa'.
His new melody idea was different. It was a tune that stayed inside Paul's psyche and refused to budge. T couldn't help it,' he recalls. Because it seemed so unusual in scope, different from the material he and John collaborated on, he had to press ahead with it independently. Arriving at Alma Cogan's home, Paul remembers: 'I played the melody for her and she said: "It's lovely." It was a little bit embarrassing because I think she thought I'd written it for her. Maybe I didn't make it very clear by saying: here's a song I've written; what do you think of it? I probably said: "This is something I've written; does this remind you of anything?"' McCartney was still concerned that he might have sub-consciously been playing a derivative of someone else's melody.
Alma's sister, Sandra, taking up the story, declares that her mother, Fay, walked into the lounge as Paul sat at their piano, and said to him, Alma and Sandra: 'Anyone like some scrambled eggs?' That, Sandra says, prompted Paul to give it a bizarre working title. Sitting at the piano, he began to sing: 'Scrambled eggs . . . Oh my baby how I love your legs ... oh ... scrambled eggs.' Still wanting affirmation that he had developed something new, he asked Alma if she, with her considerable knowledge of mainstream popular songs, recognized the tune.
'She said: "No. It's original. Nice song." Later, I did hear that Alma had thought I was pitching her a song.' That would have been quite feasible in Alma's view. McCartney and Lennon were happy to spread their songwriting skills around, offering demonstrations to other artists in the Brian Epstein management stable, such as Cilia Black and Billy J. Kramer.
'Pitching songs was part of the thrill of it,' Paul says of the period. 'We were learning all the stuff we'd seen in films. It had always been my great dream to be a songwriter. I'd seen films like 101 Dalmatians, and the idea of a guy with a piano in a garret was very romantic for me. I often thought: Jeez, if I could earn my living by doing that, it would be great. It was always a great image . . . the wife coming in with a cup of tea or something, and the writer saying: "Thank you, dear; I'm just working on something
His self-image, even in those heady days when he was a huge star, was of a creative soul whose boundaries exceeded the public perception of the Beatles. To some, Paul, John, George and Ringo represented long hair, Yeah Yeah Yeah, sharp repartee and a few catchy songs. McCartney, much more than any of his colleagues, was going to be a songwriter in the grand tradition.
'It's yours? all his friends, in and out of the Beatles, insisted. 'We've never heard it before!' Finally, Paul accepted that it was something that he had dreamed, that had come to him. 'I thought: wow, that's really good. I've never had this happen.' It was, he smiles, rather like finding an item and handing it in to the police; 'If no one claims it, I'll have it! So ... then I didn't have any words.'
Next, working on the piano in his bedroom at Wimpole Street, he remembers 'putting the middle in, what we used to call middle-eights, even if they were middle-sixteen bars or middle-thirty-twos. They were always, to us, middle eights, because we had heard some musicians call that part of a song the middle-eight.'
'Scrambled Eggs (Oh my baby how I love your legs)' was still its whimsical title. 'But I knew I wasn't going to be able to get away with that.' Paul was pleased with the additional work he had put in to finish the melody. 'The turnaround [in the middle] worked, balanced it up. It picked up from the melody, then followed it to earth. There is a beginning, a middle and an end as we were always taught in school about our essays. That was very satisfying about it. It felt complete.' (As an eleven-year-old schoolboy, Paul had been a prize essayist on the subject of the Coronation in 1953, winning a contest from 200 entries. He won two books, one being the obligatory prize about the Queen, plus his own choice, a book on modern art.)
The sounds in the Asher house, with the oboe coming from the basement and classical piano from Dr Asher, could be seen as conducive to the creation of such a song. But as Paul points out, it was not conceived as a piece of classical music. 'The environment in which I created it was not unconducive. But the only connection with Margaret [Asher] was that she later used it as a test piece to teach people the oboe, of which I was very proud. She thought it was good as a melody. But I dreamed it more as just a nice ballad.'
By then, 'Scrambled Eggs' was familiar to all the Beatles. Doodling with it in the studio and at each other's homes, Paul was acutely aware that a fine tune had been conceived by him but that it remained unhatched. He talked about the tune as an unfinished project, and he was a young man in a hurry to get things done. He confessed to the other Beatles that he had not hit the right theme for the lyrics. 'Blimey!' George Harrison said once with his characteristically droll humour. 'He's always talking about that song. You'd think he was Beethoven or somebody. . .'
The work schedule of the Beatles in 1963 and 1964 would give any modern rock band, and perhaps anyone in show business, apoplexy. It was a measure of their drive and ambition, which increased unremittingly from the start of 1964, that their songwriting and recording operations blossomed so richly; they fulfilled a packed schedule of engagements while their inventiveness continued to flourish. While 1963, when Paul's big song was conceived in his head, was their big year in Britain, the start of 1964 was to establish them around the world. On 14 January 1964, after ten nights appearing in their own Christmas show at the Astoria, Finsbury Park, London, the Beatles set off for France for conceits in Versailles and in Paris at the Olym-pia.
Rapid stardom had not diminished the Beatles' enthusiasm for individual growth in their music, and 1964 was the year that found them blooming in that direction. George Harrison, submerged as a songwriter by the titanic partnership of Lennon and McCartney, gave the group a fresh sound by adopting, sometimes, the twelve-string guitar, quite a revolution at that time. And while Paul was en route to creating his magnum opus, John would that year write such contrasting beauties as 'If I Fell' and 'A Hard Day's Night'.
In Paris, Paul asked for a grand piano to be moved into their suite at the Hotel George V, partly so that he could develop his song a little. It was still 'Scrambled Eggs' set to a melody, and it did not feel right. The song came and went during the hubbub of the Beatles' first visit to France. George Martin, the Beatles' producer, visiting the hotel, heard Paul play the melody again and remembers being 'really impressed' by its originality. He was already used to startling originality from the Beatles, but this was something new. However, George told Paul, he would have to come up with an interesting lyric . . . and it was such an un-Beatle-like song, defying categorization, that it presented him, as the producer of the Beatles, with a slight dilemma.
Martin added that, strong though the melody appeared for 'Scrambled Eggs', he wondered how John, George and Ringo's contribution could fit into the performance of the melody and/or vocal. Subconsciously, that remark caused Paul to give the song less attention than other surefire hits such as 'Can't Buy Me Love'.
There were other matters to preoccupy the Beatles during that visit to Paris. Their live shows failed to ignite much excitement among the cynical French, but from America to the Hotel George V came the news that they and their manager had hungered for. Their single T Want to Hold Your Hand', which Paul and John had written in the basement at Wimpole Street, had soared from number 43 to the top of the US Hot Hundred published by Billboard magazine. It was the breakthrough to US success that the Beatles had awaited (and which their manager had always predicted) and it had come true with astonishing force. British acts had never triumphed in the States on anything like this scale. The euphoria in the Beatles' suite was contagious, long before they could properly grasp the scale of their achievement.
By 7 February 1964 the Beatles were on Pan American flight number 101 from London to New York, a flight that would be immortalized and travelled on by Beatles fans for many years. The Beatles were excited but apprehensive. At Kennedy airport, 3,000 American teenagers gave them a rapturous reception, and two days later they gave their first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Seventy-three million people saw them perform five songs, which included the two McCartney stage hits 'All My Loving' and Till There Was You'. Such songs had by then firmly established Paul as the Beatle who sang the prettiest songs. It would be nineteen months before the song now referred to as 'Scrambled Eggs', lying metaphorically in Paul's back pocket, would be premiered on this same Ed Sullivan Show to significantly recast the Beatles' popularity. That 1964 appearance was to mesmerize teenagers. Neither Paul nor anyone else knew that his unfinished song was to wield a different power in 1965.
This American trip, which included concerts in Washington DC and New York, plus a trip to Miami to perform again on The Ed Sullivan Show, was followed by a frenetic schedule through 1964 — recording sessions, trips to Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia and New Zealand, a twenty-five-concert, first full American and Canadian tour, a long British concert tour and then a Christmas season at the Odeon, Hammersmith.
Throughout that year there were signs that Paul was becoming increasingly entrenched in his commitment to rich melodicism in his songwriting. Two songs in particular bore the feelings of wist-fulness that were to pour from McCartney's pen to establish his central role in the Beatles. 'And I Love Her', a gorgeous ballad that would be sung by scores of other artists, featured Paul writing and singing at his most poetically attractive. 'Things We Said Today' was another melody and lyric with an unhackneyed theme and an unusually structured melody. And, as a clincher, he turned in 'Can't Buy Me Love'. Released on 20 March 1964, this single attracted advance orders of more than a million and it sold more than 2 million copies within a week of its release. Rocky without being wild, and interpreted famously in a jazz style by Ella Fitzgerald, to Paul's delight, 'Can't Buy Me Love' was another example of his versatility.
During the pandemonium of the first US visits in 1964, and long beyond them, Paul's song-in-waiting went on the back burner. It was not even on record. Paul would mention it to the other Beatles and George Martin occasionally . . . but, not surprisingly, it was not considered to be an urgent project. Its texture was weirdly outside the accessibility of the style that had swept the Beatles to fame.
Incredibly, the song that would become a classic was going to wait another year, making a total of approximately twenty months from the moment he dreamed it until its arrival in the recording studio.
We were on the cusp,' says Paul McCartney, pinpointing the Beatles' crossover from traditional show-business values into the more dangerous realm of rock 'n' roll — or, in 1960s parlance, beat groups. Their sounds and looks mirrored a new voice of youth, but they carried no youthful snobbery towards the old guard. Lennon, playing his role of angry young man to the hilt, sneered about established stars, but he and the Beatles delighted in mingling with the show-business fraternity which their parents held in such high esteem. A phoney war, whipped up by the media, pitched them as bidding to revolutionize the scene, aiming to overthrow such balladeers as Shirley Bassey, Val Doonican, Frankie Vaughan and Petula Clark. That happened, to a degree, but more by accident than design.
Manager Brian Epstein, however, viewed the Beatles as firmly in show business proper. He encouraged them to learn from the past. Indeed, in putting them in suits and ties he had placed them in his early ambitions, alongside the Shadows, Cliff Richard's famous backing band who enjoyed success in their own right. It was a fair analogy; the Shadows had pioneered the three-guitars-and-drums line-up in Britain, and since 1959 they had scored a raft of hits including 'Apache', 'FBI', 'Wonderful Land', 'Dance On' and 'Foot Tapper'.*
The first 'summit' meeting of Cliff Richard, Britain's leading pop star, the Shadows, and the fast-rising Beatles occurred on 13 April 1963. Bruce Welch, the Shadows' rhythm guitarist, threw a party at his home at 157 Headstone Lane, North Harrow, Middlesex, and invited all four Beatles. Later that summer, Welch continued his friendship with Paul McCartney, attending his twenty-first birthday party in Liverpool. The Shadows were appearing in a summer season at Blackpool at the time.
'Paul and Jane Asher met me in the doorway of the Liverpool Empire to guide us to his home,' Welch remembers. 'At the party, he said they were facing what we had experienced, in the Shadows, for a few years. Being recognized by fans all the time, there was just no privacy.'
With his income from those Shadows hits, twenty-two-year-old Welch had recently bought a home in southern Portugal. He told Paul that he was welcome to free use of his holiday villa at any time. Through the rest of 1963 and the next year, McCartney's schedule was so hectic that he forgot the kind offer. But they would meet occasionally, at various London clubs. Sharing the same record company (the Shadows recorded for Columbia, the Beatles for Parlophone), they would also bump into each other at EMI headquarters in Manchester Square, London.
At one such meeting early in 1965, as the Beatles prepared to start the schedule for their second film, Bruce Welch said he was going to his home in Portugal for a break, 'and don't forget, Paul, it's there if you want it'. This time Paul was attracted by the offer, but no date for the trip could be fixed as the Beatles' activities were so demanding. After their Christmas season at the Odeon, Hammersmith, they plunged into recording sessions for the soundtrack of their second film, which would be entitled Help! In February and March they went on location in the Bahamas and to
Austria, before moving to Britain to complete filming at the film studio at Twickenham, Middlesex.
* - When he was battling to get interest in the Beatles from reluctant record companies, Epstein wrote to EMI on 8 December 1961: 'These four boys, who are superb instrumentalists, also produce some exciting and pulsating vocals. They play mostly their own compositions and one of the boys has written a song which I really believe to be the hottest material since [the Cliff Richard-Shadows hit] "Living Doll".'
There was a piano on one of the stages at the Twickenham studio, and during the shooting of the Help! movie, in the interminable waits between camera shoots, Paul would wander over and start tinkling the melody to the song which he told prodvicer Dick Lester, and film workers who listened, was without a title. Finally, after days of hearing Paul repeatedly playing the same tune, Lester's fuse blew. 'It got to the point where I said to him: "If you play that bloody song any longer, I'll have the piano taken offstage. Either finish it, or give it up!"'
Dick James, the Beatles' music publisher, who greatly admired their work, recalled to me how Paul McCartney had first unveiled to him his masterpiece: 'They were doing the filming of Help! and I went to Twickenham Studios. They had that enormous set of all the different doorways they went in and out of. In the Paul McCartney bedroom section, so to speak, there was a Hammond organ which came up from a hole in the ground in one very short scene. The director and the crew were up the other end, lighting the set, and there was obviously going to be a twenty-minute or half-hour break while they were getting the lights and the camera lined up.
'And Paul said to me, "Come and listen to this. It's my latest tune, we'll be recording it soon, I've got an idea but I haven't worked out the lyric yet." And he switched on the Hammond organ and very quietly just held the keys and used the bass part. Paul, in his construction of the song, always seemed to feature the bass before almost any other part of the melody. He played the left hand on the bass of the organ, and used the words "Scrambled Eggs" as the title. Funny words, but you really didn't have to be a great musician or even a music man to know that it was one of the greatest melodies that your ears had ever heard,' James added.
'It was an amazing song even then, as great as any of the Cole Porters or any of the Noel Cowards. Just a magnificent melody. If our industry could find half a dozen to ten songs like that a year, then nobody would be able to say they can't write songs like they used to do.'
Still, with dotty lyrics, even a strong tune was inadequate for a Beatles track and it was clear that Paul would need either iron discipline, or a changed environment, to get the words right.
As this time, Paul and Jane Asher often visited a club called Downstairs at the Pickwick in Great Newport Street. Meeting Bruce Welch there one evening, they finally arranged a date when they could accept his offer to visit Portugal for the first time in their lives and on 27 May 1965, Paul and Jane flew from London to the villa of the Shadows' rhythm guitarist. In those years before the Algarve became a fashionable resort for Europeans, Albufeira was a peaceful fishing village where pop stars like Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield had homes close to the one owned by Bruce Welch. Above anything else, they could revel in the anonymity. 'It was a joy of a spot for us,' Welch says. 'The locals would not know a Shadow or a Beatle, and though that sounds nothing now, in those years that was something so important for us. Paul had been working very hard, as we had done, and he told me he was looking forward to a couple of weeks of peacefulness in the villa.'
The journey to Albufeira was a long one in 1965. A ninety-minute flight took Paul and Jane to Lisbon (this was in the years before nearby Faro airport was opened), and from Lisbon a five-hour journey by road was necessary. It was on that warm, rather dusty journey, as he sat next to Jane, in the back of a chauffeured car, that Paul remembers scribbling the theme to the song that had been hanging around for some nineteen months. 'I hate the idea of "time to kill",' Paul says, explaining why the car journey seemed an opportunity to write. 'It seems such a waste of life, to kill precious moments. Linda says it's "time to fill".' The words came, he says, quickly and naturally:
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday
The rhythm of the lyric seemed OK. Paul was always an intuitive writer rather than one who would 'construct' a song to a theme. He relied on his natural instincts to provide the subjects. Usually, these were about love and relationships. 'Yesterday' emerged as something strangely different. It tumbled out, rather as the melody had done so long ago, from the sky. The reason for this would become apparent later, but for the moment, as the perfectionist in the songwriter anxiously penned the words to that melody, the most important objective was to structure the words as they came through, and to marry them to a demanding tune.
The spacious house of Bruce Welch in Albufeira comprised four bedrooms, two bathrooms, lounge, dining room and kitchen. With its sea view, it was an idyllic spot at which to arrive, confidently feeling that an interesting song was nearing completion. As Paul stepped from the car, Bruce Welch remembers, 'He said straight away: 'Have you got a guitar? I could see he had been writing lyrics on the way down; he had the paper in his hand as he arrived.'
Walking into the lounge, Welch handed McCartney the only guitar he had in his holiday home, a 1959 Martin model 0018. 'Being a left-handed player, he had to play it upside down. He said: "What do you think of this?" almost immediately, and started singing the song. I didn't know those passing chords he had put into the composition. I was a three-chords merchant. I guess I was the first to hear it with the words. I knew it was magic, with those beautiful chord progressions, but only later, when it was recorded, did I realize just what a song he had begun in Portugal. I did say it sounded lovely, and he said something about wanting to polish it up while he was there.'
Bruce Welch and his wife - who had been packing their luggage while hearing the song - left for London as Paul and Jane settled in for their holiday. Very little work was necessary to complete the song, but the stark nature of the words was like nothing heard from a Beatle. It seemed to come from somewhere within him. . .
I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me
Oh yesterday came suddenly.
Such simplicity was the song's strength, yet there was something ambiguous about the third verse:
Why she had to go, I don't know
She wouldn't say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday
Whom was Paul addressing? A lost lover, it would appear. There was, though, something curiously autobiographical which did not sit quite so simply. Paul and Jane Asher were entrenched together at this time, the epitome of vibrant Young London. If it were a straightforward lament for a romantic split, it did not add up, for Paul was outwardly a very happy fellow.
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh I believe in yesterday.
It was inconceivable that a leading Beatle would want to hide away from anyone or anything in 1965.
After two weeks in Portugal, Paul was forced to return to London a day earlier than scheduled. The reason was another of the dramatic events which made the Beatles hot news almost every day. Brian Epstein decreed that Paul should be back in Britain by midnight on 11 June when a news embargo was lifted to announce that the Queen had awarded the MBE to Paul, John, George and Ringo. On 12 June, as news of their forthcoming investiture at Buckingham Palace swept around an astonished world, the Beatles gave an impromptu press conference at Twickenham Film studios. They had gone to see an early cut of their film Help!. Asked what he thought of the MBE award, Paul quipped that he thought the initials stood for Mister Brian Epstein.
When he told his Beatles colleagues that he had re-named 'Scrambled Eggs' as 'Yesterday' and completed the lyric, there was little response. He phoned George Martin and said he was ready to record it. The producer was a little sceptical about the title. Tt was unoriginal,' George Martin remembers as his first reaction. 'And I said to Paul: "There is a song, admittedly in the plural, called Yesterdays, which is a big standard." Paul replied: "I haven't heard of that and there can't be many people who have. And anyway, mine's called Yesterday . . ."'*
* - 'Yesterdays', written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, has been recorded extensively, mostly by jazz-based artists. Peggy Lee, a McCartney favourite, recorded it, as well as Count Basie, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Ray Conniff, Clifford Brown and Gato Barbieri.
The recording session for 'Yesterday' was set for 14 June, two days after the announcement of the MBE awards. Paul remembers the tenor of his first discussion with the Beatles about the recording. 'I said to everyone something like: "OK, now we'll get round to this song 'Yesterday'," And, as always, we'd sit around with George Martin; and I'd sit down with the guitar in the studio there and play de-da-da [Paul hums 'Yesterday's melody]. And I looked at the guys and said: "How are we going to do this?'' John said: "Well, I can't really sing anything over it. Or play rhythm guitar over it. What can we do on that, that won't spoil it?"' George and Ringo reacted similarly about their musical roles.
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'So they said: "Maybe you should just do it on your own as a little solo thing. It wouldn't be unheard of." John said: "It's yours. It's good. Just you and an acoustic guitar would be all right." Either John, George and Ringo could not think of anything to add to it, or, as Paul says, 'They were just very sensitive to the fact that it maybe didn't need anything.'
Paul was more eager to press ahead with this new song than he dared admit at the time. Fired by his love of music and a natural ear, he believed that an artist knew instinctively when he had written a potential hit, and this was one of those songs. Rebutting all the rumours and stories that have percolated into Beatles mythology, he shows how possessive he was about 'Yesterday'. He states that, contrary to rumours, he never offered 'Yesterday' to another singer. 'I knew I wanted it for myself. I played it to a lot of people, and sometimes when that happens they think you're pitching it to them. That was never the case with "Yesterday".'