- Published by:
- Club Sandwich
- Mark Lewisohn
Songs mentioned in this interview
A Day In The Life
Daytime Nightime Suffering
Ebony And Ivory
Free as a Bird
Hallelujah, I Love Her So
In Spite Of All The Danger
Let Me Roll It
Maybe I'm Amazed
Momma Miss America
Monkberry Moon Delight
Motor Of Love
That'll Be The Day
That's All Right Mama
The Fool On The Hill
The Long And Winding Road
Tomorrow Never Knows
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This is your chance to interview Paul McCartney, we said. Send in your questions, we said. And you did, by the ton. In what is probably the greatest reader response in Club Sandwich’s glorious 18 year history, our office has been deluged with your postcards and envelopes. Sandwich editor Mark Lewisohn took along the questions to Paul, who generously set aside considerable time to answer them fully. And, as you’ll read below, he was more than happy to discuss the topics that you won’t read in any other McCartney interview. So thank you, one and all, for your marvellous response. We hope you enjoy the result.
Which solo album have you most enjoyed recording?
from Stephen Lashe, Doncaster, England
Probably the first one, McCartney, which was recorded on a four-track machine and was done in the living-room at home. Linda and I were newly-weds, and we had a baby, so we had that golden glow that you get in the first years of marriage. We still have it now, of course, but those first years are always special.
Also, I felt a certain relief at not being tied into the Apple situation, because along with a regret about the break-up of the Beatles there was also a good side to it, which was the feeling of a new start… even if it was a little bit terrifying.
So, putting McCartney together was probably the most fun. It was so intimate, it was just me, and, listening to it now, I think that I did stuff that I wouldn’t normally have done. Some of the instrumentals I like a lot. They may not mean much – ‘Momma Miss America’ doesn’t really add up to much – but I like them.
The second most enjoyable album to make was Band On The Run, but that was more traumatic because there were all sorts of problems in Lagos. But I still enjoyed the recording.
You once mentioned having a blast recording ‘You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)’. Which other Beatles songs were especially fun to record, and why?
from Lisa Photos, Madison, WI, USA
A lot of them were fun – ‘Hey Bulldog’, most of Sgt Pepper, especially ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘Hey Jude’ and quite a few others.
‘Birthday’ was very good because it was done in one evening. It was very spontaneous – John and I told everyone that we didn’t know what we were going to record but we sat down in a corner, wrote some words, got some ideas and riffs and it all came together.
In terms of atmosphere in the studio and relations within the band, what were the happiest and least happiest Beatles albums to record?
from Andre Cesarro, Ottawa, Canada
It’s a good question but also a difficult one because time is a great healer, and looking back on the Beatles I tend to think that it was all great fun. And that’s not whitewash, it’s just the way that memory goes. You can have a terrible holiday, it might rain all the time, but years later if someone asks “Did you ever go to the south of France?” you would say “Oh yes, I had a great time…”
So, relatively speaking, they were all great to record, and I wouldn’t take one degree off any of them.
But, to answer the question, Revolver and Rubber Soul were especially nice. It was still early days and we were coming good as an album band, so they felt very fresh. On the other hand, the White Album and Let It Be had to be the most difficult because the group was starting to break-up.
I suppose what I’m saying is that the earliest were the best and the later ones weren’t. But, as I say, I wouldn’t take anything away from any of them, not even the White Album or Let It Be – I think they’re great albums, it’s just that they were just done during a tense time. But, who knows, that may make them better, because it’s difficult to say what works in creativity.
Have you written any songs to express thoughts or feelings that you could not verbalise in any other way?
from EKse Pinnas, Boston, MA, USA
Yes, ‘Here Today’, which was written for John. It was always a very difficult question, after John died, to deal with the finality of it. He had been making digs at me, in ‘How Do You Sleep’ and all of that stuff, and I’d not really addressed any of those comments. But we had settled our differences before he died, we enjoyed good fun phone conversations.
So I addressed them in ‘Here Today’, saying, in effect, “If you were here today you might say that such and such a thing is a load of bullshit but you and I both know that it isn’t.”
Would you ever consider releasing a compilation of your promotional videos?
from Joyce Meyer, Independence, MO, USA; Pat Meisner, Copenhagen, Denmark; Pat Sudds, Hillsdale, MI, USA; Pam Barrett, Waterlooville, Hants, England; Derek Wells, Horsham, West Sussex, England; Al James Meldonian, Warwick, RI, USA; S Sammons, Stafford, England
Yes. We’ve been planning it for years but it’s the sort of thing we hold back for when nothing else is happening. Next year, for example, there’ll be The Beatles’ Anthology, last year there was Paul Is Live, this year we’ve left it too late. So it won’t be for a couple of years yet but, yes, we do have definite plans to do it.
Is there one song by someone else you wished you had written?
from Carol Price, Coventry, England; Kate Graham, Weybridge, England; and Adrian Rider, St Ives, England
I don’t really want to have written anyone else’s songs, but, as a fantasy question, I love ‘Stardust’, by Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish. It’s a beautiful song. And I remember thinking that Billy Joel’s first hit, ‘Just The Way You Are’, was a nice song, I’d like to have written that one too. ‘Stardust’ first, though.
But when it comes down to it, the truth is that I feel so lucky at what I’ve done… if I ever start listing them: ‘The Long And Winding Road’, ‘The Fool On The Hill’…it’s difficult to take it all in.
Whatever happened to the Cold Cuts album project?
from Stephen Chastelle, London, England; Chris Rowsell, Shepperton, England; Karl-Gustaf Ryderup, Lidkoping, Sweden; BJ0rn Barstad, Trofors, Norway
It became a bootleg, which put me off the idea.
The project originally started out as Hot Hitz And Kold Kutz, with two k’s and two z’s, but then someone at the record company said “Why have cold cuts on a hot hits album?” as a result of which it became simply Cold Cuts. So it went on the back-burner and cooled off, to mix a few metaphors, and then went even cooler when I discovered that it had become a bootleg.
I still have a lovely unused cover the for the album, drawn for me by Saul Steinberg, best known by the public for his New Yorker drawings. I got to know him and for many years was asking him to draw me a cover, and eventually he came up with something. This is probably the most compelling reason to issue the album, actually: just to use his cover!
Like the promo video compilation, though, these things can get in the way of other projects. I mean, if you’ve got a “real” album already out then to issue another one can be confusing. I’d love to release millions of things but it would mean issuing about 12 albums a year, and the powers that be don’t like that because you spread yourself too thin.
What piece of music moves you the most?
from Michele Allen, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Quite a wide range of music moves me and can make me cry, but what comes immediately to my mind is not actually a piece of music but a musical situation. We were in Africa once, listening to Fela Ransome Kuti, and when he and his band eventually began to play, after a long, crazy build-up, I just couldn’t stop weeping with joy. It was such a fantastic sound, to hear this African band playing right up your nose, because we were sitting right by them. The rhythm section was so hot, so unusual, that it was a very moving experience for me.
Hearing the Oratorio done for the first time in public, at the Liverpool premiere, was another moving moment, especially the a capella ‘Mother And Father’ section at the end of War, the first movement.
You are rumoured to have recorded a special album at home one Christmas in the 1960s in which you sang, acted and performed sketches, only three copies of which were said to have been pressed – for John, George and Ringo. Is this true?
from Benito Ricordi, Torino, Italy
Yes, it’s true. I had two Brenell tape recorders set up at home, on which I used to make experimental recordings and tape loops, like the ones in ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. And I once put together something crazy, something left-field, just for the other Beatles, a fun thing which they could play late in the evening. It was something for the mates, basically.
It was called Unforgettable and it started with Nat ‘King’ Cole singing ‘Unforgettable’, then I came in over the top as the announcer – “Yes, Unforgettable, that’s what you are! And today in Unforgettable..!’ It was like a magazine programme: full of weird interviews, experimental music, tape loops, some tracks I knew the others hadn’t heard, it was just a compilation of odd things.
I took the tape to Dick James’s studio and they cut me three acetate discs. Unfortunately, the quality of the discs was such that they wore out as you played them. I gave them to the fellas and I guess they would have played them for a couple of weeks, but then they must have worn out. There’s probably a tape somewhere, though.
Which post-Beatles song has taken the longest to record, and why?
from Colin Hurst, Cheadle, England
There hasn’t been a real epic, but I suppose you could say that ‘Ebony And Ivory’ stretched over quite a long period. We started it off in Montserrat, with Stevie Wonder, and then had various sessions in England, without Stevie, to finish it off, including one at Strawberry Studios South, in Dorking. We spent a lot of time fixing and polishing the recording but it was worth it, not only because it was a good track but because it became Stevie’s first number one single in Britain.
Were the Beatles really singing “tit tit tit” in the song ‘Girl’?
from Robin Warman, London, England
In a word, yes!
Do you ever connect with computer networks such as Internet? There’s a brilliant McCartney/Beatles fan forum on there.
from Lynn Schneider, San Carlos, CA, USA; Chris Fisher, Altoona, PA, USA
No, I’m completely computer-less. I haven’t a chip in my head…or on my shoulder.
I’ve never got into computers, not even for music. In fact, I hate recording music with them. In the time that it can take an operator to load my bass guitar recording into the computer – as happened, for example, with ‘Motor Of Love’ – I could have played the thing 50 times. And as I’m a “performer” that’s no good. I can’t stand the waiting around.
Over the last 30-plus years of your career is there one piece of criticism that really sticks out in your mind?
from Christopher Clark, Nottingham, England
Yes, too many pieces, actually, although I have to say that the most hurtful stuff came from John. It was like a mate betraying me. But I don’t hold any grudges.
There’s been a lot of stuff in the newspapers. I remember one piece that was so bad that Linda wrote to the journalist and asked him how he could have written such cruel off-the-cuff comments. He wrote back saying “I never thought you’d read that…”
The saving grace in at all, though, is that not one of the great artists, painters, ever got a good review in his lifetime. Van Gogh never sold a picture during his life, not even to his brother who was an art dealer. Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring was booed off the stage. Mozart was criticised – “too many notes”. And these are the greats, whether you like it or not.
So I take a philosophical attitude and, ultimately, conclude that, in a way, criticism suggests that I’m better than “they” think!
The book about the Beatles’ recording sessions says that you recorded a demo of a song called ‘Etcetera’ during the “White Album” era. Whatever happened to it?
from John Bezzini, East Hartford, CT, USA
I offered it to Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger, who were looking for a song for Marianne to record, but it wasn’t what she wanted. I think she was looking for an ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and instead I offered her an ‘Etcetera’. I’ve got a lot of those silly little songs – they can’t all work out well, and sometimes when people ask me for one I’ll pull out one of those.
Would you have bothered to pick up the bass if it hadn’t been for the departure from the Beatles of Stuart Sutcliffe? And do you think that all these years of playing the bass has hindered your development as a guitarist?
from Fred Young, London, Ontario, Canada
I doubt I would have picked up the bass if Stuart hadn’t left. We always considered it “the fat guy’s instrument”, the instrument played by the man standing at the back, and I liked the idea of being more at the front.
I certainly didn’t start playing the bass by choice; in fact, when the guitar that I first took to Hamburg – a Rosetti Lucky 7 – broke, I played the piano. It was only when Stuart left that I got lumbered with the bass. Any of those stories about me ousting Stuart to get the bass position in the Beatles are completely false. Even though Stuart and I did argue from time to time, because I felt that he was holding the group back, musically – I, of course, was very ambitious, very young and very keen that the Beatles should not to unnoticed – it was never that bad and we always ended up being good friends.
I suppose that if I had been playing the guitar all the time, instead of the bass, I’d be a better lead guitar player now, but off duty, as it were, I play guitar anyway – I don’t sit around playing bass because it’s not as good an accompaniment as a guitar. And I always use a guitar, or a piano, when I’m writing, not the bass.
But as you’ve only got one life (or have you?) I’m quite happy to have played bass. And, in a funny way, I suppose I’ve played lead guitar through the bass, in that I’ve become very melodic with it.
Do you have any contact with Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys)?
from Ian Craig, Nottingham, England
No, but I am a great admirer of his work.
Every major artist these days is putting out beautifully produced and designed boxed set retrospectives of their career, using original masters, greatest hits, unreleased recordings and other rarities, and packing a booklet with loads of information and photos. Have you considered doing this? (You should consider CD-ROM too. The scope is awesome.)
from Stuart Black, Cranford, NJ, USA; Barry Hyams, Yeovil, England; Stephen Kershaw, Solihull, England
For the Beatles there’ll be the Anthology, but for me, solo, I haven’t considered it yet. And we do know about CD-ROM but still the answer is: not yet.
In the world tour free magazine you hinted at a possible future collaboration with Paul Simon. Is this going to happen?
from Reto Streule, Reinach, Switzerland
It might. We know each other as friends and we keep up with what each other is doing. The truth is, though, that I’m a bit wary of collaborations. I had one of the best collaborations of the century, I think, with John. There was a special chemistry between us. And I have collaborated with some other very good people too – Elvis Costello is good fun to work with, and I don’t give up the idea of working with him again.
So, yes, it would be very rewarding to work with Paul Simon, but… and I don’t know what that “but” is, except that I am, generally, a bit wary of doing collaborations.
We McCartney followers are fascinated by the subject of your recording sessions. Have you considered writing a book detailing them?
from Jerzy Plech, Warsaw, Poland
No, not really. The only recording session I’ve written about was the new record the Beatles made this year, ‘Free As A Bird’. It was an exciting week, and then, shortly afterwards, Linda and I went on holiday to America, and on the plane I wrote down what had gone on at the session. I did it just to remember the facts, really, before they were forgotten.
Your music is so melodic, and it leads me to wonder: do you admire the music of composers Bacharach and David?
from Cicely Marr, Tring, England
Yes, I do. Certain songs of theirs I like a lot. ‘Close To You’ is particularly nice.
Who came up with the idea for the MPL logo of the man juggling planets and the moon?
from MMM, Flint, MI, USA
I think it was a design firm. When we first started the company I abbreviated the name McCartney Productions Limited into MPL and did a logo, which was the three letters in a kind of oval-shape. Then, a few years later, we asked a design group to come up with a new logo, and they suggested a juggler.
Laurence Juber, of Wings, was very into astrology and he was worried about the significance of it all. I’ve forgotten what the significance is, in fact, but it’s something about Saturn being a heavy planet. Well, I’ve juggled some heavier planets in my time!
After it was designed I wrote and recorded the little bit of music that goes with the logo at the start of films and videos.
Will we ever be able to enjoy your paintings exhibited?
from Sandy Gallagher, Chattanooga, TN, USA
Yes. The good news is that is that we are currently fixing up an exhibition to be held in Germany in 1996. These things take a long time if you do them thoroughly, and as I’ve done something over 300 paintings it’s taking a long time to select them. We won’t use them all, of course, but I’m doing more with every week.
This has all come about as a result of the World Tour free booklet, when the daughter of an art exhibitor from Germany showed her father what I’d said about my paintings. He then contacted me and asked if he could come and have a look at them.
I suppose my main worry is the “crossover” problem that people have. For example, when people hear that Tony Curtis paints they inevitably think “He’s really an actor, but he also likes to paint”, the acting coming first. And David Bowie – “He’s really a singer, but I suppose he’s a bit of an artist on the side…”. People get pigeon-holed too easily. With my stuff I can imagine that the tabloid newspaper journalists will come along, and, if there’s a nude in it, all they’ll report is “Macca’s Raunchy Shocker!”
So we are putting together an exhibition, and if it’s successful in Germany, and I like the feeling of exposing my private work to the world, then it might tour elsewhere.
What do think when, in concert, you see young girls screaming their heads off at the merest sight of you?
from Heleen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
I love it, I absolutely love it. Who wouldn’t? Show me a man who wouldn’t. I have no problem with it at all. I am puzzled, though, because they’re supposed to be screaming at people their own age, and I’m their fathers’ age. But it’s very flattering, very encouraging, and it’s better than them sitting there with their arms folded.
I like any display of emotion, it’s something that I can relate to, and, unlike other performers, it doesn’t put me off. Some musicians say “I wish they’d shut up so that I can hear myself”, but I’ve got plenty of amplification so I can always hear myself. And anyway, even if I couldn’t, I’m used to performing without being able to hear myself, from the Beatles days.
Do you read books about the Beatles, and, if so, what do you like and dislike?
from Jean Nickolds, Leeds, England; Sue Sanders, London, England
I don’t really bother these days. My system is to open new books at random and read one page. If I find a mistake on that one page then I assume that there must be more, that I haven’t found the only mistake.
People write such wild stuff these days — I recently read that I was supposed to have given John a painting and he was supposed to have come around to my house and put his foot through it. Well, I never did give John a painting, and if I did he never put his foot through it. So, no, I don’t really read them.
There’s so much fantasy in books now, and they’re mostly written by people who weren’t around when the things happened. The funny thing, though, is that when George, Ringo and I got together recently at George’s house, to be on camera together for the first time in the Anthology, even we couldn’t remember anything the same! Even the three of us who definitely were around when the things were happening now have completely different recollections of events. In fact, the director of the Anthology suggested that it was the perfect way to end the series: the three of us sitting there disagreeing on what had happened. “It was in June.” “No it wasn’t, it was in February.” “No it wasn’t, I remember it being quite hot so it must have been August.” It was hilarious!
Is it true that you and John Lennon recorded together in LA in 1974? John once mentioned something about you and he playing on ‘Midnight Special’. How did this happen and do you have a tape?
from Joe Albritton, Burke, VA, USA; Terry Freed, Camp Hill, PA, USA; Jordi Melgosa Olmedo, Barcelona, Spain; Nick Detaranto, PA, USA; Olivia M Jacson, San Diego, CA, USA
It’s very difficult to remember those days because it was all a bit crazy and everyone was getting “out of it”, but, yes, John was doing some recordings in LA and I showed up. It was a strange session. The main thing that I recall, apart from the fact that Stevie Wonder was there, is that someone said “What song shall we do?” and John said “Anything before ’63. I don’t know anything after ’63.” Which I understood because it’s the songs from your formative years that you tend to jam. I’m always doing old Bo Diddley tunes, or Elvis songs like ‘That’s All Right Mama’. Anyway, it wasn’t a very good session, and I don’t think we recorded much of interest, but I ended up on drums, for some reason. And no, I don’t have a tape of it.
If you could go back to 1962, would you still choose to become famous or would you opt for an “ordinary” life?
from Sian Lambert, England; Susan Marie Balding, Greer, SC, USA
No thank you! I had “an ordinary life” for 20 years and this one’s better.
Is it true that you contributed to George Harrison’s tribute song to John Lennon, ‘All Those Years Ago’? There was a lot about this in the press at the time but I can’t actually hear you on the recording.
from Cecilia Franks, Lincoln, England
Yes – me, Linda and Denny Laine are in the backing harmonies. We were making the album Tug Of War at the time and we wanted George Harrison to add a guitar overdub onto ‘Wanderlust’, so George Martin, me, Linda and Denny arranged to go up to George’s house. When we got there, though, he said “First I’ve got this track that I’d like you to sing harmonies on” so we agreed to do that and then do the guitar overdub afterwards. We did our bit, but then, what with one thing and another, he never got around to doing the guitar overdub.
Rumour has it that you contributed some of the lyrics to Scott HcKenzie’s ‘San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)’. Is this true?
from Eileen Joyce, Okemos, MI, USA
No, not that I recall. Although you can always contribute to lyrics unwittingly, by saying something in a conversation that someone else remembers and puts into a song. But I never sat down with anyone and consciously helped out, no.
Is it true that you can be heard munching vegetables on the Beach Boys track ‘Vegetables’? The CD liner notes say so.
from Paul Douglas, Dudley, England
Do they? Well, I was certainly at a few Beach Boys sessions, and if someone gave me, say, an apple, I would have munched it, and if there’d been a microphone nearby I suppose it might have gone down on tape. But I don’t remember doing it knowingly.
What are your hopes for the future of LIPA?
from Paul Dean, Liverpool, England
My original aim was two-fold. One was to save the Liverpool Institute – not only because I have a lot of memories of going to school there but also because, as a building, it dates back to 1825 and we should look after buildings of that age. The other was to start a “Fame School” after the Toxteth street riots of 1981.
Now my greatest hope for LIPA is that we give young people hope for the future. The street that runs between the Catholic cathedral and the Anglican cathedral is called Hope Street, and I’d like to think that this is symbolic. We may produce stars, roadies, lighting people, dancers, songwriters, managers, whatever, but the main thing is for them to do well and to enjoy life. I want LIPA to breed hope because there’s a lot of doom around at the moment -if I was a kid growing up now I’d be more worried about the future than I was when I was young.
Apart from the 1958 disc of That’ll Be The Day’ and In Spite Of All The Danger’, which we’ve known about for years, did the Beatles, the Quarry Men, or whatever, cut any other private recordings in Liverpool or the north-west before signing with a record company?
from Linford Smith, Warrington, England
I don’t think so. We helped out on a recording of ‘Fever’, with Lu of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. That was done in a little demo studio in Hamburg, where you could go in and make your own record. This was before the Bert Kaempfert/Tony Sheridan recordings.
‘That’ll Be The Day’ and ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’, which we made in 1958, was our first session, but there were some other recordings that we made at home, which will be included in The Beatles’ Anthology. Sometimes I’d borrow a tape recorder – a Grundig with a little green eye – or John would manage to borrow one, and we’d go around my house and try to record things. I seem to remember recording ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’ because I had the Eddie Cochran record. They were very much home demos, very bad sound quality.
What the heck is “monkberry moon delight”?
from Shelli Bennion, North Highlands, CA, USA
When my kids were young they used to call milk “monk”, for whatever reason that kids do – I think it’s magical the way that kids can develop better names for things than the real ones. In fact, as a joke, Linda and I still occasionally refer to an object by that child-language name.
So, monk was always milk, and monkberry moon delight was a fantasy drink, rather like ‘Love Potion No 9’, hence the line in the song “sipping monkberry moon delight”. It was a fantasy milk shake. Being an American, Linda has always been very good at making milk shakes and our family is quite into them.
Why do you rate the album Wild Life as a failure? Though not as great as Band On The Run or Tug Of War you do sound so soulful on it.
from Jeremy Westcott, Bristol, England
Why, thank you, Jeremy! It’s not really a favourite, I must admit, although there are one or two tracks on it that I like. I have one overriding thought about Wild Life, which is that we were driving along Sunset Strip in LA, Linda and I, when a camper van pulled up along side of us. I’ll never forget this: the driver of the camper, an old hippie, lifted up the sleeve of Wild Life and showed it to me out of his window, shouting “Hey Paul, great album, man!” Linda and I just turned to each other and said “Right, that’s it, it is a great album, no question. That’s enough, what that guy just said makes it all worthwhile!”
Of all the TV shows the Beatles appeared on, what was your favourite?
from Samantha Walker, Bournemouth, England
The Morecambe And Wise Show because we loved them, it was one of the most professional shows and it was very simple to do. They were very, very big idols of ours, Eric particularly but Ernie as well. (Perhaps I should add, for our overseas readers, that Morecambe and Wise were a classic British music-hall act.)
Anyway, we admired them greatly, and they were both so nice and friendly, and very professional, and their production team nursed us through the rehearsals and recording with great finesse. It was an honour to be on TV with them.
The Royal Command Performance and The Ed Sullivan Show were other highlights but they weren’t as much fun because they were a bit more nerve-wracking.
Did you appear in George Harrison’s video for “When We Was Fab’? There were stories that it was you inside the walrus costume.
from Peter Nash, London, England
No. George wanted me to be in it but I wasn’t available. So I suggested that he put someone else in a walrus costume and tell everyone that it was me. We’ve always had fun with the walrus thing. We don’t lay many false trails but the walrus has always been one of them.
Anyway, though it was me in the walrus costume in Magical Mystery Tour, it wasn’t me in ‘When We Was Fab’ – it was a joke between George and me, which we purposely decided not to tell anyone.
What was the first song that turned you on to guitar and vocal harmony?
from David Gauthier, Montreal, Canada
‘That’ll Be The Day’ by Buddy Holly and the Crickets.
I’ve read about your forthcoming authorised biography of the 1965-68 London “avant-garde” period, written by Miles, but have you given any thought to writing a life-long autobiography, or a series of autobiographies?
from Sammy Oakey, Roanoke, VA, USA; Barbara Potter, San Diego, CA, USA; Sylvain Villeneuve, Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada; Valerie Despre, St Nicolas de Redon, France
I always thought that you needed to be at least 70 before you considered writing your memoirs. It always seemed to be the province of old generals, sitting in their houses after they had retired. Now I’m not so sure.
The Miles book was occasioned by my realisation that I don’t always remember things as crystal-clear as I used to believe. You cannot remember everything. Stuff goes. I liken the human mind to a computer, where a message will appear saying “You have used 99 per cent of the available memory, I cannot proceed unless you wipe something”. And I always feel like I’ve wiped certain bits in order to leave space for new events.
Any chance of you re-recording the song ‘Tomorrow’ from the Wild Life LP? It’s such a great song and yet it’s been buried.
from Amy Benbow, Stroud, England
Another good question. Linda’s dad, who is no longer alive, was a great fan of this song, and he was always saying to me “You should do it again. You’ve thrown it away and it deserves re-making.” I asked him how he thought I should do it and he said “Slow, really slow”. It got to be a joke in the end, how slow he thought it ought to be. I haven’t yet got around to doing it, though.
Elvis Costello once invited fans to come on stage and spin the hand of a giant clock, and he would then perform whatever song title the hand ended up pointing to. You have an even stronger repertoire than Elvis to do this – would you consider it? The excitement in the audience and the unpredictability of the show would be fantastic.
from Margaret Rata, Swindon, England
I’ve actually talked to Elvis about this, because it sounds like a great idea and maybe the kind of thing I could do, because, yes, I definitely do have the repertoire. But Elvis said “You know what? I don’t even do it anymore because the fans caught on. I used to get people showing up simply to get on the stage, and they wouldn’t only spin the wheel, they’d take the microphone off you and do anything to hold up the show.”
So while I know that you’d get the Valeries, Chrises, Toms and Marks, the fans who would behave themselves, you’re also going to get the Big Robbos and the Big Nortons coming on stage!
Alright, I know there are other ways of doing it, but just ask yourself this: why doesn’t Elvis do it anymore? Yes, I agree that it’s a great idea, but it’s one that I won’t do.
You often seem to dismiss, or at least gloss over, the Wings period of your post-Beatles career. How do you really assess the music of the 1971-79 period?
from Tom Frangione, New Jersey, USA; Maura J Wood, Beverly Hills, FLA, USA
It’s very difficult for me to assess Wings because they came after the Beatles. So, to me, there was always a feeling of let-down because the Beatles had been so big that anything I did had to compare directly with them. And I was still in shock anyway, after the Beatles broke up.
But I remember, years later, being with David Bowie and looking through one of those chart facts books. First we looked up James Brown and then somebody else until, finally, we admitted that, really, we wanted to look up our own entries. And when we looked at mine I saw that the albums I thought had died a death, like Wild Life and Back To The Egg, had got to something like number eight in the States. And I thought, “My God, people would give their right arm to have that sort of’failure’!” That’s a very successful failure.
But I must admit that the whole period was always mixed with the feeling of comparison to the Beatles. I would have felt much better about Wings if it had just happened on its own, either before the Beatles or with a decent interval afterwards. But it happened straight after the Beatles, which was unfortunate. I know why though – I needed to continue in music. I didn’t want to retire or do anything else.
Wings did have a lot of success, but also an awful lot of criticism. And you can’t help it: it always gets through. Even Van Gogh, with all his criticism, was bound to conclude that he never painted a good picture.
Are there Paul McCartney compositions which you feel have not received due recognition or have gone unnoticed?
from Keith Roffey, Milton Keynes, England
Yes, I suppose there are one or two, ‘Daytime Nightime Suffering’ is the main one, which was the B-side of ‘Goodnight Tonight’. ‘Waterfalls’ also – fans know about it but not many other people do.
What is your favourite Beatles movie, and why?
from Valerie Peel, Wolverbampton, England
A Hard Day’s Night because it was the first one, the fun one, it was the one we were very involved in, and the conditions were better than when we made Help!, the second film.
We were getting a bit spoiled by the time we made Help! and we weren’t really into the movie so much as going to various locations – the whole movie was based on the fact that we wanted to go skiing and go to the Bahamas. I just think that A Hard Day’s Night is a better movie: the script and the direction were good, it was fresher and we were into it. We were a bit bored by the time that Help! came along, although it’s not a bad film.
I also like Magical Mystery Tour, for its complete zaniness and nostalgia, but my favourite is A Hard Day’s Night.
I’ve heard you tell how you came upon the name Rigby, for the song ‘Eleanor Rigby’, above a store in Bristol. But did you know that there is a 19th century gravestone in the church grounds where you met John Lennon, St Peter’s in Woolton, with that name? Is it possible that you saw it as a teenager and your brain subconsciously retained it?
from Margo Graham, West Davenport, NY, USA
Yes, I do know about the grave, and someone has also told me that if you pan right a few yards there’s another gravestone that says McKenzie on it. The only answer I can give is that “we are living in the twilight zone”! I have no other explanation because I definitely remember seeing the name Rigby above a shop in Bristol, and I definitely remember McKenzie coming out of a phone book at John’s house. It was originally going to be “Father McCartney” but we didn’t want that so we looked in the phone book and found the nearest name that we liked, which was McKenzie.
I don’t even remember visiting the graveyard, but it’s possible that I did. Pretty spooky stuff, eh?
Are there any of the very early small-time shows with the Quarry Men which particularly stand out in your mind?
from Lester Smith, Crosby, England
The two I remember most are the Wilson Hall in Garston, which was one of my first shows with the Quarry Men, and which was great fun, and also my very first, at the Conservative Club in Broadway, Liverpool. That night was a disaster because I got sticky fingers and blew the solo in ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’, which is one of the easiest things in the world to play. That alone made me resolve never to become a lead guitarist.
What is your most British characteristic?
from Frederic Mommee, St Leger-sur-Dheune, France
I can’t think of one, really. Reserve, possibly, but actually I’m not that reserved. I love Britain, though, even for all its terrible mistakes. It’s as crazy as anywhere, and crazier than most, but I love it. So maybe that’s the characteristic: patriotism!
You are always so friendly and cheery on television and in public generally. Have you ever considered allowing us to see your “other side”? Everybody has one!
from Louise Dent, Louisville, KY, USA; Gene and Dianne Piurknwski, Rindge, New Hampshire, USA
Yes, I do have one, and a lot of people that I know do see it, particularly in business and in the family. But, you see, I was brought up to believe that it’s good to be nice, it’s good to be friendly. My Liverpool family are all like that, you know – “Alright, love?”, “How are you, princess?”, “Hello, queen”, “Are you doing alright, pet?” They all talk like that. And, do you know what? – we need more of it.
Another reason is that I’m always conscious of putting people at their ease, because when they meet a famous person they can be nervous. Even people who’ve known me for years can be nervous in my company. So, to put people at their ease, I try and be pleasant – it’s the way that I was brought up.
Did you have to eat meat when you were imprisoned in Japan in 1980?
from Noelia Vera Alcala, Navarra, Spain
No, I didn’t have to. The food was really strange in there, actually. In the morning we got seaweed soup, which was like a broth, together with one of those white bread rolls that are used for hot dogs and a little sachet of marmalade. It was a combination that almost made me throw up a few times. But I learned to pick at it because I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be in there and I didn’t want to lose too much weight.
I was very keen to be just one of the crowd in there, so when they offered me a Western-style bath, in private, I said that I’d rather go for the communal bath with all the others, which was a rather funny experience because the female guards were watching.
Was ‘Dear Friend’ about John Lennon, and ‘Let Me Roll It’ a deliberate Lennon pastiche?
from Marzanna Pipan, Wroclaw, Poland
‘Dear Friend’ was written about John, yes. I don’t like grief and arguments, they always bug me. Life is too precious, although we often find ourselves guilty of doing it. So after John had slagged me off in public I had to think of a response, and it was either going to be to slag him off in public – and some instinct stopped me, which I’m really glad about – or do something else. So I worked on my attitude and wrote ‘Dear Friend’, saying, in effect, let’s lay the guns down, let’s hang up our boxing gloves.
‘Let Me Roll It’ was not really a Lennon pastiche, although my use of tape echo did sound more like John than me. But tape echo was not John’s exclusive territory! And you have to remember that, despite the myth, there was a lot of commonality between us in the way that we thought and the way that we worked.
What do you consider is the stronger: your sense of melody or ability as a wordsmith?
from Tony Taylor, Skelmersdale, England
Probably my sense of melody, because it comes easiest to me. But I hate to be classed as a melodist because I would consider ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Lady Madonna’, ‘Paperback Writer’, ‘Eleanor Bdgby’ and a whole bunch of other songs as being quite good, lyrically.
So I don’t think of myself as one or the other, but if forced into a corner I’d have to admit that melody comes easiest to me.
What is the story behind a song called ‘Penina’ which I believe you wrote for a Portuguese band leader in 1968? Might you ever record it yourself?
from Petra Nascimento, Lisbon, Portugal
I went to Portugal on holiday and returned to the hotel one night slightly the worse for a few drinks. There was a band playing and I ended up on the drums. The hotel was called Penina, I made up a song with that name, someone made enquiries about it and I gave it to them. And, no, I shouldn’t think I’d ever record it myself!
Considering all the things that rock stars can say and get away with these days do you ever wish that your fame had come along a little later so that your opinions and actions wouldn’t have been subjected to such microscopic attention?
from Susan Dahlstedt, Wheaton, IL, USA
No, because when I have something important to say, perhaps about peace or the environment or vegetarianism, my celebrity status allows me to reach more people.
What are your memories of Rory Storm?
from Steve Wilson, Reading, England
Rory was a very nice, likeable guy. He stuttered but he was still a good rock and roll singer who, unfortunately, didn’t quite have what it took to make it big. But he was a great guy. His mum used to allow us around her house late at night when no other parents would, and I also remember Rory’s sister, Iris, who I used to go out with.
Why is it that you never use your first name, James?
from James Zerilli, Aberdeen, NJ, USA
Quite simply, my parents didn’t use it because my dad’s name was James and they thought that it would lead to confusion.
Are you a fan of Laurel and Hardy? You mention “Ollie Hardy” in your song “Junior’s Farm.’ If so, what is your favourite Laurel and Hardy film?
from Steffi Schwartz, Vienna, Austria
I love them, and I love all their films. I don’t have an out-and-out favourite but I particularly like The Music Box, when Laurel and Hardy have to carry a piano up a long flight of steps. I prefer their short films, and I love to see Stan “cry.”
You’ve occasionally referred to some of your early post-Beatles music as “unfinished.” If you were to re-make any of those songs which would they be?
from Jeremy & Lizzy, Auckland, New Zealand
‘Waterfalls’ comes immediately to mind because that’s a song which could take a little more of a finished treatment, whereas the McCartney II recording had a very thin treatment, even though a lot of people like it for that. So although I don’t have any regrets about the way I did it that’s the one I’d jump at first.
Going back to earlier songs, ‘Every Night’ could stand up to being remade. Other people have made good recordings of it, and I remember that when I played the McCartney album to Ringo he said that he preferred my original solo version, when I had first sung it to him.
Generally, though, as I say, I don’t have any regrets about the way I’ve recorded songs.
What did you, George and Ringo do to the demo of John’s Tree As A Bird’ which Yoko Ono gave you?
from Mike O’Brien, Newton, NJ, USA
We fixed it up. We took the attitude that John had gone on holiday saying “I finished all the tracks on my album except this one. I’m sorry that I can’t make the last session but I leave it to you guys to finish it off. Do what you’d normally do. Don’t get fussy, just do your normal thing. I trust you.”
And once we agreed to take that attitude it gave us a lot of freedom, because it meant that we didn’t have any sacred view of John as a martyr, it was John the Beatle, John the crazy guy we remember. So we could laugh and say “Wouldn’t you just know it? It’s completely out of time!” So we fixed the timing and then added some bits. John hadn’t filled in the middle-eight section of the demo so we wrote a new section for that, which, in fact, was one of the reasons for choosing the song: it allowed us some input.
This question will be answered in more depth when we release it, though. I don’t want to appear coy about the subject but we are having to sit on a great track for the first time in our lives and it’s not easy.
Last updated on March 9, 2019