ROOTS IN MUSIC
'It was never rock 'n' roll to me'
It seemed such a pensive, melancholy song to be gestating across three key calendar years of Beatlemania, 1963 to 1965. These were heady times, in which the Beatles secured a multitude of awards, won the hearts and heads of millions around the world, and became the most influential force, musically and sociologically, since Elvis Presley. Touring America and being feted in his homeland, Paul McCartney never forgot the melody, but now the lyrics for a song he had called 'Yesterday', while poignant, seemed at odds with the euphoria that surrounded the Beatles.
George Martin believes the words are 'the weakest part of the song' and represent a yearning by Paul for less frenzied times. 'Even though he was only twenty-two [when he finally recorded it], he had lived more than twenty-two years,' Martin says. 'It was a pretty complicated life at this time. They were in the middle of the trauma of being world heroes; this song happened two-thirds of the way through their touring years.' So Paul had already had his fill of hotel rooms, fans outside the door, and the prison of being famous. The threats, the tiresome aspect of being on the road, the noise, the hullabaloo - 'They got really sick to the teeth with it. So his lyrics are: "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away."'
Paul, however, rejects George Martin's theory that 'Yesterday' was a reaction to the mayhem of Beatlemania. 'That's George's theory about a lot of stuff,' Paul laughs. 'George also analyses "When I'm 64" as a young guy's view of hell. I don't quite agree with some of his analyses on these things. On "Yesterday", I don't think it was that at all, really. To us, it didn't seem too crazy. I think that to George, to people who looked at our lives, it looked crazy. To us, it was all we knew. It was very nice. We were earning a lot of money. It was fast and active. But so are my kids' lives and your kids' lives. You say to yourself: "My God, how do they do it?" Tearing about .. . but that's what you do at that age. I think that maybe it's a little bit too easy to think that I was yearning for quieter times.'
Contrasting with any reaction to the success of the Beatles, a darker reason for the lyrics emerges from Paul McCartney's own reflections on his past in this song. He believes he may possibly have written 'Yesterday' as a catharsis for the death of his mother when he was aged fourteen.
Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me
Yesterday came suddenly.
Why she had to go, I don't know
She wouldn't say
I said something wrong. Now I long for yesterday.. .
Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh I believe in yesterday.
Anguish, regret and lost love permeate the lyrics, underpinned by a brooding self-examination. The melody, conceived from his spirit, arrived at Paul's hands from deep within his subconscious; he did not sit down to work it out. To him, there remains something 'weird, awesome, spooky' in trying to explain how he woke up feeling driven to the piano, where the tune spilled out of him.
The words, still spiritual, were rather different in their origin. They were the product of a man in search of a theme, but still generated from within. This was not an artist bent on delivering a commercial three-minute song, which was the case with so many Beatles tracks. To reach the root of 'Yesterday' and to touch the core of much of McCartney's oeuvre, it is necessary to delve into his boyhood.
He was born James Paul McCartney on 18 June 1942. His mother, Mary, qualified for the privilege of a private ward in Walton Hospital, Liverpool, because she had previously been the sister in charge of the maternity section. Formerly Mary Patricia Mohin, daughter of a coal merchant, she hailed originally from Ireland, moving at age eleven to Fazakerley, Liverpool, and on 15 April 1941 she married James McCartney, a cotton salesman, the son of a tobacco cutter from Everton. Mary was thirty-two, James thirty-nine, at the arrival of their first-born.
The couple had met when Mary was staying with her friend, James's sister, during one of Liverpool's countless air raids by Hitler's bombers. Married at St Swithen's Roman Catholic Chapel, Gill Moss, Liverpool, they moved into furnished rooms at Sunbury Road, Anfield, which was to be baby Paul's first home. Jim McCartney was 'over the moon with joy' when his first son arrived. 'Because he was a bachelor who married rather late, nobody thought he would ever marry,' says Bett Robbins, his niece, whose mother was one of four daughters and three brothers who included Jim. 'He was an absolutely doting father when Paul arrived.' Bett remembers her Aunt Mary as 'softly spoken, not gushy, very quiet. . . and I remember she had quite a nice singing voice around the house.'
After the birth, Mary suspended her work while Jim continued to work diligently at Napier's ammunition-making factory. Shortly afterwards they moved to a small, government-subsidized house on the Wirral, the quieter side of the Mersey, at 92 Broadway, Wallasey Village. But in a matter of months, Jim's work at Napier's ended and he secured a job in the war-torn city centre as an inspector in the Liverpool Corporation Cleansing Department. This meant that it was essential to live in the city centre and the family of three moved to Sir Thomas White Gardens.
Jim's work was neither pleasurable nor well-paid. A self-educated and intelligent man, he found it dispiriting that, with a second child expected, the family purse would be extremely stretched. On 7 January 1944, Paul's brother was born. He was named Peter Michael, though both sons were called by their second given names. Soon the family was on the move again, to a 'prefab' bungalow at Roach Avenue on the Knowlsley estate. Facing the family's financial pressure, Mary McCartney returned to her profession, becoming a part-time health visitor. Shortly after the birth of Michael, Mary had to return to the hospital for treatment for mastitis, a breast disease.
Mary missed her nursing career and, while health visiting provided a vocation and a small income, a return to more active service attracted her for two reasons. First, the role of the health visitor was less satisfying to her than full-time nursing; and second, the extra income would be very welcome. She became a domiciliary midwife, a job that brought with it a council house with a nominal rent, and the McCartney family thus moved again, this time to 72 Western Avenue, Speke, an estate which would later be dominated by those who worked at the Ford motor factory nearby.
'My Mum was the upwardly mobile force,' Paul remembers. 'She was always moving us to a better address; originally we had to go out to the sticks of Liverpool because of her work as a midwife. Roads were unmade but the midwife's house came free. So economically it was a good idea. She always wanted to move out of rough areas.'
Disciplined and cheerful, and running a meticulously clean and tidy house, Mary McCartney established her reputation as a first-class midwife and conscientious mother. By contrast, Jim McCartney was frustrated by the fact that his income barely equalled that of his tenacious wife. At the end of the war he had resumed his job as a salesman at the Liverpool Cotton Exchange, but his pay was poor.
They were, however, model parents in these war years and, with an extended family of aunts and uncles, the McCartney brothers enjoyed a rumbustious childhood, the economic position of the family being firmly working-class. They did not starve, the household furniture was quite adequate, but there was not much surplus money for luxuries. Paul became aware of this when his schooling began at Stockton Wood infants' school, and later when he won a scholarship to the poshest school in the city, the Liverpool Institute.
It was a music-conscious house. Mary McCartney whistled a lot, Paul says. 'That's one of my fond memories of my mum. You don't hear many women whistling. She was quite musical. My father was even more so; he was a pretty good pianist.'
When he was aged ten, Jim McCartney had burst an eardrum when he fell from a wall during childhood pranks. This meant he had avoided conscription into the armed forces during the war, though he served as a fireman and helped to extinguish incendiary bombs. For most of his childhood he had warmed to music, the sounds of jazz and the big bands, and the ballad singing of artists such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Teaching himself piano and trumpet, he had formed a band by the time he met his wife-to-be: initially called the Masked Melody Makers, it developed into Jim Mac's Band. Jim gave up trumpet when, as Paul remembers it, 'his teeth went' and he needed false dentures.
From a furniture and music store in Allerton called North End Music Stores (NEMS), run by Harry Epstein, Jim bought a second-hand piano.* At home, he would play the songs of the era, jazzy material made famous by Fats Waller, like 'Chicago' and 'Stumbling', plus rich ballads such as 'Lullaby of the Leaves' and 'Stairway to Paradise'. Adept at these strong melodies, he could also play piano in the 'stride' style popularized by such jazz players as Meade Lux Lewis and Earl Hines.
Paul traces his formative years in music to those days, when he was about ten years old. 'It all dates back to my dad, who with his friend Freddy Rimmer used to be always playing these old tunes, jazz songs. And it was never rock 'n' roll to me when I was growing up. I grew up loving the music my dad was making and I particularly liked the singing of Peggy Lee, who was introduced to me by my cousin, Bett Robbins.'
Twelve years older than Paul, Bett Robbins remembers how her enjoyment of music augmented the influence of Jim McCartney in influencing the boy's tastes. At her home in Boaler Street, adjoining a shop where her mother ran a sewing repairs business, she often looked after Paul and Michael. There was no garden at the small terraced house, and they spent several hours at a time indoors, Bett using her love of music to keep the brothers occupied.
'I had a banjolele, a cross between a banjo and a ukulele, at that time,' she says. 'I wasn't very good at it, but I enjoyed it. Paul was a youngish twelve and he was fascinated by it. He picked it up and played it but wasn't, of course, producing any terrific sounds. I said: "Look, if you want to put your fingers so, in that triangle,
* - Harry's son was Brian, later to become the Beatles' manager. Paul still has his father's piano.
you get a D7 on that one chord. I taught him three basic chords on two songs, "The Man from Arizona" and "Has Anybody Seen My Gal". He loved it. He never put the thing down.' He was intrigued, too, by her book of basic chord graphs, and she taught him the chords, also, to a song called 'Ragtime Cowboy Joe'.
Paul vividly recalls Bett's record collection and the impression it made on him in his pre-teenage years. 'She'd say: "Listen to this ... a lovely song." So eventually I went out and bought a few Peggy Lee records and "Till There Was You" was among them; I had no idea until much later that it was from The Music Man, mixed in with songs like "76 Trombones" and all that ... I don't think I'd have done it if I'd known that. There would have been too much of a stigma in our world. A show tune! Are you kidding?'
The 78rpm records that Bett Robbins played on her wind-up gramophone in that house were similar in flavour to those championed by Jim McCartney. T used to love a song by Peggy Lee called "Johnny Guitar",' she says, 'and I used to sing it and pretend I was Peggy Lee.'
The standard ballads of those mid-1950s years were a part of her collection which Paul enjoyed: Frank Sinatra singing 'All the Things You Are'; Al Martino singing 'Star Eyes'; Peggy Lee's 'The Folks Who Live on the Hill' and Woody Herman's Orchestra's million-selling 'Laura'. The Peggy Lee-George Shearing album Beauty and the Beat was a favourite in the Robbins collection.
While Jim Mac's Band, led by Jim McCartney, enjoyed only modest success playing the dance-halls in the Liverpool area, his talent had a strong effect on his family. Sing-songs were a regular feature of the McCartney household. 'That lovely music in Jim came apparently from nowhere,' reflects Bett Robbins. 'He used to sit at the piano and out came all these wonderful chords. He couldn't read music at all.' His piano had to be 'rescued' from the air-raid shelter where it had been stored, with sandbags all over it, during the war. 'It still played miraculously,' says Bett. At Christmas and New Year, the entire McCartney clan would gather to sing songs such as 'Carolina Moon' and the Al Jolson classics 'Baby Face' and 'When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along'.
Another dimension of Bett's record collection might, she feels, have influenced Paul more than he realized. 'He never actively took an interest in any of my light classical music but I used to say to him: "You're missing some good stuff."' Despite the boy's indifference, Bett played to him pop classics such as Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, Scheherazade, the Holberg Suite and La Calinda.
Paul would grow to cherish such childhood memories, of his abundant family of aunts, uncles and cousins, and of the genial atmosphere created in the houses around Merseyside where his diligent parents stepping-stoned their way to improving their lot. His broad tastes in music, which were to be so important a contribution to the Beatles' success, were a direct result of the sounds of his boyhood, in those years before rock 'n' roll arrived in his life. Many years later, after seeing the world through the hurricane of the Beatles, Paul positively glowed on the subject of his family and its values. After Speke, they had moved to 20 Forthlin Road in the desirable part of Allerton, south Liverpool.
Pipe-smoking, slipper-wearing, and with a keen sense of humour based on proverbs and decency, Jim McCartney was a father who keenly influenced his eldest son. Though a passive man, he was unquestionably the head of the household, administering an occasional wallop to either son when he or Mary considered they had breached the parental line of good behaviour. Conversely, Jim was demonstrative, perhaps more so than Mary. Ambitious for both sons, as Michael joined Paul at the prestigious Liverpool Institute, they hoped their eldest would enter the professions, perhaps as a doctor or accountant. A popular boy at school, Paul was usually chosen as form captain. With his special talent as a communicator, he was reckoned by several observers to be a natural for the role of schoolteacher.
Michael asserts that he identified more closely than Paul with their mother, and that she catered more for his [Michael's] neediness. His elder brother was more independent, he adds. Paul is not so sure; perhaps Michael felt closer to their mother because of the brothers' difference in age, he says now. He refutes any theory that he was aligned more with his father than his mother, despite the musical path he shared with Jim. 'I don't think that's actually true. A younger son gets a lot of attention and cuddling when he arrives. In my own mind, I identified with both of my parents: I think they were both great. We were very lucky to have them as parents. Perception is a funny thing. Mike, being the younger brother, might have spent a little more time with Mum, but that's all there was to it.' Whatever the case, no sibling rivalry entered their respective relationships with their mother and father.
They were young boys when the thunderbolt of Mary's death hit them. Throughout the summer of 1955 she had complained of pains in the chest area, and as they increased, she took to using large doses of BiSodol, an antacid powder usually used for indigestion. But the trouble was far more deep-rooted and lay in the mastitis for which she had been treated shortly after Michael's birth.
In the late summer of 1956, Michael, then twelve, heard her crying in her bedroom and when he ran in to ask her what the trouble was, he saw her with a crucifix. 'Nothing, love,' she replied. But the truth was that a specialist had diagnosed her pain as breast cancer. Soon, she was in Northern Hospital. Being a nurse, she knew just how serious her condition was, and confided in her relations that she would regret not seeing her sons grow up.
Paul recalls that he and Michael went with their father to see her in hospital, where she had undergone a mastectomy operation. 'It was a huge shock to us, because suddenly she was very ill, and we were very young. There was a little bit of blood on the sheets and it was really creepy for us at that age. Nobody was holding out much hope for her. This was very scary.'
In the tense days after the operation, Paul and Michael went to stay with their Uncle Joe and Auntie Joan. The dreaded news came swiftly, and Joan told them as they woke to go to school one morning: 'Love, your Mum's dead.' It was 31 October 1956.
'My reaction was very strange,' Paul remembers. 'Mum was a working nurse. There wasn't a lot of money around - and she was half the family pay packet. My reaction was: "How are we going to get by without her money?" When I think back on it, I think, Oh God, what? Did I really say that? It was a terrible, logical thought which was preceded by the normal feelings of grief. It was very tough to take. And then, seeing your father cry for the first time in your life was not easy, a terrible thing for a kid. They had been quite stable, as a marriage. I don't remember seeing them argue; there might have been heated discussions, but there was never a lot of argument.'
Paul's idyllic family background had been shattered abruptly.
Mary was a mere forty-seven. Paul was fourteen, Michael twelve. Certain that his mother's death affected him deeply and that his reaction was the superficial, nervous response of a fourteen-year-old in shock, Paul continues: 'I could have changed my story by now. I don't need to tell you that. I could have said: yes, I was very saddened by my mother's death . .. ' He could, also, apply a traditional interpretation to his song 'Yesterday', that it is a nostalgic ballad about lost love. But that would be too simplistic. Paul cannot be certain that the song was a long-delayed, subconscious reading of his feelings, some eight years after the tragic loss of his mother. 'I would probably have to go into deep hypnosis to get that one out of me, lie on a couch for a few months.' But there is too much additional evidence of the man's emotional candour in his music for his instinct to be wrong. Consider his song 'Let It Be', that valediction for the break-up of the Beatles, in which he sings: 'When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.' Consider his spiritual song 'Lady Madonna', in which he sings of 'children at her feet, wonder how you manage to make ends meet'. Consider, too, his affectionate song 'Put It There', in which he remembered his father, who died on 18 March 1976.
Put it there, if it weighs a ton
That's what a father said to his young son.
'Put It There' was one of his father's 'mad' expressions, like: There's no hairs on a seagull's chest.' 'Put it there, if it weighs a ton', his father would say, stretching out his hand to end any friction. 'I hate to see things go so wrong', Paul's optimistic song adds.
These are but a few of many signals that some of Paul McCartney's most impactful work is autobiographical. As a stream-of-consciousness artist who writes as he thinks rather than sculpts his lyrics, he does not often stop long enough to apply forensic examination to what he is saying. In 'Yesterday', however, he seems to be facing up to the reality that it was not merely a piece of nostalgic poetry wedded to a plaintive melody. It was something of a cri de coeur, and the realization makes it an even more astonishing achievement at the age of twenty-two. Paul will probably never be able to describe satisfactorily how the melody came to him. Other songwriters believe some melodies are 'sent' to them, that they do not consciously create some of their work but that it is 'given' or channelled from a force they do not entirely control.
That is apparently what happened with 'Yesterday' one autumn morning in 1963, and some fifteen months later when the words fitted into place. A tune that had come to earth so mystically was joined by words of heartfelt, if coded, spirituality.
Psychologically, both the words and the music of 'Yesterday' target some of our most vulnerable emotions. 'The song looks backwards to a time when life seemed simpler and better,' says Dr Glenn Wilson, a psychologist at the University of London.* 'The older you get the harder it is to see more fun in the future than you had in the past. Indeed, the older we get, the less we get in positive, rewarding experiences. We acquire all this baggage of losing people, by death or desertion. Generally, life always looks a little better looking backwards.
'And it's a perfectly valid function of music to remind people that they're not alone in their feelings. Songs provide social support; that's why the greatest proportion of song lyrics are about love gone wrong, or lost, broken relationships.' People experiencing that need to be touched by a song that sympathizes with their situation.
Could Paul be writing from his subconscious, partly about his mother, eight years after her death and without realizing it at the time? Dr Wilson believes that was very likely. 'The song is very mournful. It looks back to an earlier time and he wants to undo mistakes he has made in the past. The wording could come from the subconscious; something has gone wrong in a relationship with a girlfriend, or he has regrets about saying the wrong thing. The success of the song is down to the fact that it would ring a bell in anybody's life, whether the individual receiving it connects it with a lost girlfriend, wife or parent. We must all have said things we regretted in the past. We regret them particularly when we don't have a chance to put matters right. When a person has
* - Dr Wilson is Reader in Personality at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. A semi-professional singer, he is the author of Psychology for Performing Artists: Butterflies and Bouquets, published by Jessica Kingsley, London 1994.
died, there's a feeling of a lack of completion, of not having said: "Dad, I love you," before it's too late, and then spending the rest of our lives regretting that.'
That year of 1956, when Paul's mother died, was marked by profound change for British teenagers. Rock 'n' roll had made its first noises the previous year, when Bill Haley's Comets scored a hit with 'Rock Around the Clock'. This extraordinary sound challenged the balladeers who dominated the British hit parade, as it was called: Alma Cogan with 'Dreamboat', Jimmy Young with The Man from Laramie', Ruby Murray with 'Softly, Softly' and Dickie Valentine with 'Finger of Suspicion' — all safe and sound melodies, the sort of music Jim McCartney might enjoy, but with minimal teenage appeal.
When Bill Haley's initial record was followed by Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel' and 'Don't be Cruel', young people had a new sound to adopt as part of their self-expression. With rock 'n' roll, too, came a curiously British uniform, that of the Teddy Boy, with very tight black trousers known as drainpipes, bootlace tie, lurid-coloured socks, and greasy hair designed like an elephant's trunk at the front and a d.a. (duck's arse) at the rear. A Teddy Boy's girlfriend had to wear a full skirt which, when she danced, displayed her suspenders holding up those black seamed stockings, a tight sweater to emphasize her assets, stiletto-heeled shoes and a waspie belt.
Though rock made a strong impact, it did not make a takeover. Doris Day gave us the lilting 'Que Sera Sera', Pat Boone crooned 'I'll Be Home', and Johnnie Ray, the emotive 'Nabob of Sob' who said he cried real tears on stage, sang 'Glad Rag Doll' and 'Just Walkin' in the Rain'. From America, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers with 'Why Do Fools Fall in Love' pre-dated the Michael Jackson sound with infectious energy and simplicity.
The new sounds laid the foundations for a music that would stand for ever, revolutionizing the minds of teenagers like Paul McCartney. Little Richard, later to be an important influence on Paul, recorded a string of seven million-sellers including 'Long Tall Sally', 'Rip It Up' and 'Lucille'. Carl Perkins, later to become Paul's friend, wrote a rock anthem, 'Blue Suede Shoes', which Elvis Presley took to the best-sellers. Gene Vincent and Screaming Jay Hawkins were making their impact, while in Britain Tommy Steele arrived with the tepid 'Rock with the Caveman'.
Jim McCartney had arranged for eleven-year-old Paul to be auditioned for the junior choir at Liverpool Cathedral, but he was not accepted. However, he had shown his usual practicality in encouraging his eldest son's clear interest in music. 'My dad was the big influence because he was playing piano all the time by ear,' Paul recalls. 'I used to try to get him to teach me, but he said no, you've got to get lessons.' Paul demurred on that. 'I spent a lot of time just looking at the piano and taught myself,' Paul recalls. 'I learned chords, then from knowing C and the break-up of C I could basically play things like "A Whole Lotta Shakin".' Later, he recalls, John Lennon 'used to pick up a few little things when he'd come round to our house. And if I had a few hours I'd just play around on the piano, finding chords. That was one of the great excitements: "Wow, that goes with that one." I just taught myself.'
When he had asked his father to teach him, he replied: 'I can't play, son.' Paul said: '"You play great" — because he did. He played lovely old-fashioned stride piano. He wrote some stuff. I actually did a song of his with Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer called "Walking in the Park with Eloise". I said to my dad: "Do you know that song you wrote?" He said: "I didn't write it, I made it up." I said: "I know what you mean, but we call that writing these days, Dad!"'
Next came the influence of Lonnie Donegan. On 11 November 1956 fourteen-year-old Paul went to the Liverpool Empire to see a concert by the star of a new British music described as skiffle. With a simple three-chord style, Donegan sang nasally his big hits 'Rock Island Line', 'Cumberland Gap' and 'Putting on the Style', and many thousands of British teenagers were hooked into picking up a guitar to emulate his earthy simplicity. Impoverished though he was, Jim McCartney had recently managed to find £15 to buy Paul a trumpet which Paul later traded in for a Zenith guitar. And like teenagers all over Britain, Paul was listening to Radio Luxembourg, that precursor of the pirate radio stations that beamed the best-selling music into Britain from the heart of Europe.
At the Liverpool Institute, Paul was in the higher echelon of academic boys, on course, if he wished, for university in the years when such a path was not so frequent as in the decades that followed. He took his studies seriously, and applied the same seriousness to the guitar, which he played, as he wrote, left-handed. In the bathroom at Forthlin Road, he found he could achieve his desired effect of echo, and he practised relentlessly. Application was everything to him and he taught himself the guitar with passion, dedication, and the extraordinary attention to detail that would mark his life, He quickly mastered the chord changes and the lyrics of the hits he heard on record and on the radio.
To Jim McCartney and brother Michael, Paul's assiduity with his guitar was partly explained by the need to submerge his grief at the death of his mother. Despite the flow of relatives and aunts who would take time off from their own families to go to the McCartney house and cook a 'Sunday roast on Monday nights' for Jim, Paul and Michael, there was an emptiness around the house. In the aftermath of such a family death and a shock, any fourteen-year-old would feel bereft. The guitar was no substitute but it provided a comfort, an absorbing hobby, at this important juncture.
By 1957 the force of rock 'n' roll was becoming more tangible and, appealingly to Paul's ears, touched with melodicism, too. As Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, the sound on Radio Luxembourg was of Buddy Holly and the Crickets singing 'That'll Be the Day', a song later named by Paul as the most influential song and sound of his youth. The record was actually credited to the Crickets, with Holly as featured vocalist, but Buddy's popularity forced a switch later that year when they were credited as Buddy Holly and the Crickets on their second million-seller, 'Peggy Sue'. This was a sound central to Paul McCartney's evolution, fusing Holly's love of Presley with country and western, gospel and Texas-Mexican influences. To all that, Holly added a plaintively appealing voice. Paul was immediately hooked, as Holly began a two-year string of successes that would become evergreens: songs like 'Not Fade Away', 'True Love Ways', Words of Love' and 'Rave On'.
The Everly Brothers' vocal harmonies on 'Wake Up Little Susie', 'All I Have to Do Is Dream' and 'Cathy's Clown' impressed Paul too. Don and Phil Everly, with artists as different in style as Duane Eddy and Bobby Darin, sat outside the hard rock formula. Their music owed more to harmonic strength than to the posturing and driving beat that came from the rock pioneers like Elvis and Little Richard. Even Jim McCartney, then aged fifty-four and like most of his generation rather cynical about a new brigade of youth who seemed not to have mastered their instruments, could recognize the sweet melodies of Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.
Paul was drawn to both with equal interest. As a fifteen-year-old he identified with the verve of rock 'n' roll, and as a fledgeling musician he thrilled to the more melodic songs that were coming over the airwaves. It was from this pot-pourri of sounds that Paul's eclectic tastes in music were born, enabling him to straddle pop and rock. With his black and white flecked jacket and tight black trousers, he displayed a tokenism towards the rock 'n' roll culture. As a teenager growing up in the 1950s, he understood and enjoyed part of the rebelliousness that some adopted as an essential adjunct to rock 'n' roll music. As long as it carried a good song, he loved that music and determined to perfect his guitar-playing of the hits of the era. But unlike so many, he was never enslaved to rock 'n' roll. With the sounds of Peggy Lee and Fats Waller embedded in his psyche, Paul headed for his fifteenth birthday knowing, instinctively, that there were only two forms of music: good and bad. His musical base was wholly different from that of the teenager who was to become his songwriting partner.
John Lennon came from a contrasting and less secure background. Nearly two years older than Paul, he had emerged from an emotionally bruised childhood, his parents playing out a tug-of-war for his custody upon the breakdown of their marriage. When John was aged three, his mother believed that the best environment for him was in the care of her sister in the sedate Liverpool suburb of Woolton. John's Aunt Mimi and Uncle George raised him steadfastly, with values not dissimilar to those of Mary and Jim McCartney. A dairyman, George Smith was able to give John a home that was materialistically more fortunate than the McCartneys'. But several fundamental differences shaped John.
A potentially bright student at the academic Quarry Bank Grammar School, the young Lennon was the precise opposite of the young McCartney, lacking any application and failing all his examinations. A reprobate at the age of fourteen, he embraced rock 'n' roll as his saviour. However, contrasting with Paul's encouragement from his father, John met strong opposition to his love of pop music from his Aunt Mimi. (Uncle George had died in 1955 before music had completely gripped Lennon, who, like Paul, listened nightly under his bedclothes to the sounds of Radio Luxembourg.) To Lennon, rock 'n' roll was a lifeline, and unlike Paul, he grew up regarding 'old' popular music as the enemy.
And while Paul enjoyed a strong family base, John's contact with his few far-flung relatives was erratic. Consequently, he emerged as a loner, a drifter for whom art and rock 'n' roll quickly became his only vocations. An avid reader, he would later combine a waspish wit and lyrical word-play to mesmerizing effect; but as a teenager, he was a problem to his aunt, who was in despair at his talent wasting away.
At sixteen he had adopted the regalia of the Teddy Boy. On 6 July 1957, with his group The Quarry Men, formed in the wake of the skiffle craze, John was the musical attraction at the garden fete in the grounds of St Mary's Church, Woolton. His playing was crude; he busked the words to 'Come Go with Me', the Del Vikings song. But his appearance on stage had a rugged magnetism.
In the crowd, Paul, just fifteen, saw the show and met John afterwards in the church hall. An extraordinary symbiosis occurred between the two teenagers. John was already a warrior, all set to rampage through art college, which he would join two months after that garden part)'. A rock 'n' roll animal almost by birthright, he was a primitive guitarist who loved the urgency of the new sounds of Elvis Presley and Lonnie Donegan. His mother, Julia, a vibrant spirit, had taught him a few chords on her ukulele and his aunt had relented to his pressure to buy him a guitar on instalments. But by contrast with Paul he was an undisciplined player. 'All I can play is chunk-chunk-chunk,' he would tell me during the Beatles years, when his work was underpinned by the studious lead guitar of George Harrison. Pop music, to Lennon, was the vehicle that would become his salvation. In Liverpool, in Beatles years, many observers would say that had he not been a success in pop music, his future could have been extremely dodgy.
In that church hall, Paul's musical superiority was instantly evident. Demonstrating the wizardry on the guitar that resulted from hours of practice, he could show John the dazzling solo as played by Eddie Cochran on 'Twenty Flight Rock'. Even at fifteen, he was on the way to becoming a consummate musician with a natural ear. Lennon was impressed. United, they would eventually recruit George Harrison and Ringo Starr and go on to create musical and cultural history.
The erratic, poetic, philosophical cmgst of John Lennon had found, in Paul McCartney, a genius of a very different hue. The rich tapestry of sounds in Paul's head, stretching from theatrical soundtracks through jazz to rock 'n' roll, was the foundation that would both blend and clash with John. Paul would enable the Beatles to be credited with magnificent music such as 'Here, There and Everywhere', 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Michelle'. John's teenage stance, built on rockier foundations, brought to their partnership a sarcastic wit, sharp observation, and an artistic, autobiographical edge. To Lennon, the music was secondary to a method of expression at that stage, as well as being a career he sorely needed. As they grew together, he admired Paul's musicianship - but rarely said so.
When they first met and Paul told John that his mother had died, John was incredulous. 'I don't know how you'd cope with that,' Lennon remarked. A year after they became friends, a cruel twist of fate sealed their brotherhood. John's mother lived a short distance from where John lived with Aunt Mimi at 251 Menlove Avenue. Leaving the house on the night of 15 July 1958 after visiting her sister, Julia was hit by a car and sent spinning in the air. She died, instantly, aged forty-four.
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The suddenness of that death, and the closeness of Julia's age to that of Mary McCartney when she died, struck a sombre and eerie note for the two teenagers. 'That actually became a huge link between John and me,' Paul says now. 'As kids, at a very formative age, it kind of bonded us.' Young and with a black sense of humour, they gave each other comfort when people remarked on the Beatles' achievements.
'People would say: "Does your mother like this?" and we'd say [in a matter-of-fact-style]: "Oh, she died a couple of years ago." At that point John and I would look at each other sardonically; we'd play that one on people.' They waited for an embarrassed reaction. Putting a brave front on their emotional darkness, they developed a kinship.
It was a 'front' of bravado. 'We couldn't be seen, in Liverpool at that age, to be saying: "Mother died. It's terrible" . . . which is what we were feeling inside. We toughed it out. Even to the point when, if someone came to our houses and asked if our mother was there, we'd reply quickly: "Oh, she died a couple of months ago."' That threw the onus for a response back on the questioner, who became apologetic. Paul and John would exchange such stories of how they dealt with their trauma.
Eventually, when the pandemonium of the Beatles had subsided, John articulated his own thoughts about his mother in his songs 'Julia' and 'Mother'. He was undergoing psychotherapy at the time and much of his unsettled early life, buried for so long, surfaced in his work. Neither Paul nor the McCartney family nor the Beatles could have been expected to deduce in the mid-1960s that Paul's lyric for 'Yesterday' might be his inner voice.
The song was an anachronism in the evolution of the Beatles. It had no special relevance to the 1960s, nor to any other decade; it could have been written at any time, not necessarily by a twenty-two-year-old pop star. It belonged, then as now, to the soul of McCartney. The sentimentalist deep inside him was the essential ingredient. With relish, Paul talks of how a song like 'Yesterday' would have come naturally to him because he always loved pouring emotion into his work: 'Dad loved harmony. That's where my tastes come from. People can't realize that now, because rock 'n' roll came in so big and so quickly that it ate up everything else.'
His enjoyment of the urgency of that new music became mixed with his love of ballads to inform all his future work. By the time he met John, Paul could play a little piano and guitar, drawing from a sweep of styles he admired equally, and apply a scholarly determination to any challenge that faced him, as the elder son, with his widower father.
The Beatles went to Hamburg to learn their craft the hard way and returned triumphantly to Liverpool's Cavern Club. 'In Hamburg I played songs like "A Taste of Honey" and "Besame Mucho",' Paul remembers. 'And what interested me was the key change from minor to major instead of from major to minor. I loved, that major in there: "Besame..." Ooh, that really thrilled me. It wasn't social climbing in a musical way. It was that these songs thrilled me somewhere deep down.'
What McCartney took into the Beatles was a frame of musical reference that belied his youth: a keen ear for the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter to build on the group's rock 'n' roll base. Melodious qualities, rather than raunch, were the cornerstone. And the lyrics he loved carried sentiment. The other Beatles were either reluctant to display it at that stage or had not enjoyed the advantage of a household in which such music was played.
The emotion in Paul McCartney lay partly hidden in the high tide years of the Beatles. The suave diplomat, the keen careerist trading song for song with his collaborator and competitor John Lennon, the collector of fine art and lover of the theatre showed Paul as an extrovert. But he could not have written songs like 'All My Loving', 'Michelle' and 'Here There and Everywhere' if he had not been tearful inside. These were not merely songs tailored for an audience. They came, also, from within.
Paul feels that whereas many of his contemporaries entered the music arena as rock 'n' rollers, he arrived with an entirely different ethos. 'Going right back, I came in on the wave of Billy Cotton [a popular British dance band featured on the BBC Light Programme every Sunday lunchtime] ... I was always in favour of being a professional musician, not a rock 'n' roll player. I was trying to impress musicians, and train myself as a guy who knew his instrument, knew how to arrange, knew about songs.
'There was some rock 'n' roll in my record collection but I also loved things like Fats Waller and I used to do his song "Your Feet's Too Big", at the Cavern. And they used to come off more as comedy records, because Fats is really comedy anyway. One of my all-time favourite records is "Cheek to Cheek" by Fred Astaire. I just love the tune, the melody, I love his vocal style.
'So I had a deep love of all that. So in my own mind, yes, I think I was always trying to write something as good as that. And I think when I got "Yesterday", or really when "Yesterday" got to me because it was in a dream, I finally thought: Wow, I've actually done it, you know? I've actually written one of those tunes. And I continued to write those tunes with things like "Let It Be", "Here There and Everywhere", "The Long and Winding Road". To me, those songs were trying to write something substantial, that would stand in their own right rather than just have the Beatles do the songs.'
Sentimentality played a very large part in Paul's art, too. 'All my life, I've been able to admit to sentimentality,' he told me. 'And perhaps in some ways it would be cooler to not admit it so readily. But I'm not going to start that now. Because I'm very proud of being able to cry. I say that if God had not meant us to cry, he wouldn't have given us tears. I think it's a most important part of nature, but people cover it up.
'I like to be sentimental. I don't see it as a bad word at all. Particularly now that I've got kids. I'll cry at a film. The kids will turn round and say [in an embarrassed tone]: "Dad!" I say: "I know I'm a man and I know I'm your father but this [scene] touches me deeply." It's nearly always a father and children situation that gets me, a father who's losing one of his children . . . and at that, I'm done in. Because I can actually relate to it. People cover it up. I don't think anyone hates sentimentality, but they try to pretend it's not right to show it. Even a murderer doesn't hate it: talk to a murderer about his mum and he'll cry. The biggest criers we knew were the gangsters in Hamburg; they'd cry at the drop of a hat. People who had been in jail.'
That sentimentality has always been part of him. 'And it's almost embarrassing to talk about because it's not cool. And I present a nice, big, fat sentimental target for people to shoot at. That's wonderful for the critics. And everybody's criticizing everything about soft old Paul - whacky, thumbs-aloft McCartney! That used to bother me for years, but then I wondered what the hell I was worrying about. Being ridiculed for putting thumbs-aloft? It means optimism, and in this world . . .'