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John's recollection of meeting Paul

Paul's thoughts on writing with John

John talking about where the name 'Beatles' came from

Paul and John being very silly, and funny

The Music and Magic of Lennon-McCartney

Lennon and McCartney are an unusually polarised songwriting team, even though they were both madly in love with rock 'n' roll when they began playing together. The difference was, they both loved it for entirely different reasons. Paul McCartney's upbringing was decidedly more working class than John Lennon's, even though John's more middle class family life was probably more traumatic. Paul's father, Jim, was a cotton salesman who worked his way up in a respectable manner and played in a big band on the side as a hobby. While mother, Mary, had to work full-time as a midwife in order to make ends meet for their two children. By comparison, John's Aunt Mimi stayed home and kept house while her husband, George, worked at the local dairy. Mimi could even afford to have a gardener come in twice a week. Lennon, who was given the gentlemanly middle name "Winston" after Prime Minister Churchill, grew up with a servant - the McCartney's would never have dreamed of such a luxury. This working class ethic was instilled in Paul at a very young age, and it represents a major difference in the way he and John approached their music: John, always more unconcerned with expressing himself, came to see his music as an art, while Paul became a consummate craftsman; he saw pop music more as a trade.

The songs each chose to sing lead on for their early BBC radio spots clue their separate traits: John identified with a broken family in Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee," the rampant consonants of Berry's wordy "Too Much Monkey Business," and the tenderness that turns to frustration in Phil Spector's "To Know Her Is To Love Her." Paul loved the fun side of Chan Romero's "Hippie Hippie Shake," the Hollywood sentimentality of "The Honeymoon Song," and the high melodrama of "Bésame Mucho." As Greil Marcus writes, "Lennon's writing always admitted struggle; McCartney's always denied it." To say that McCartney aims to please is not really going too far - to this day he loves to entertain, and he's in his element when he's upbeat, celebrative, and downright whimsical. In the 1963 Christmas message he told his fans, "We'll try to do everything we can to please you with the type of songs we write and record next year..." Paul McCartney is a comfortable person: looking both inside himself and at the world around him, he waxes positive - life suits him. His personality plays itself out musically with lyrical melodies dressed in clever harmonic frameworks (the two-key layout of "Here, There And Everywhere," the major-minor tension of "Eleanor Rigby"). And his appetite for kitsch is at least as large as his hero Elvis Presley's.

Lennon had more in common with Presley's rebellious posture - the side that provoked questions, confronted assumptions, and challenged authority. When he looked at himself and the world around him, he felt unsettled, dissatisfied; life wore on him. The creative process for Lennon was a working out of this discomfort - he got a lot off his chest in song. He was, as McCartney himself has said, a more autobiographical writer than his partner. Events in his life directly influenced the songs he wrote: with McCartney, the same is not as often true. "Norwegian Wood" is about an affair Lennon had; "Michelle" has nothing to do with McCartney's own love life. Lennon's musical personality is obsessed with rhythm, and his lyrics most often rise above Paul's. Paul was primarily a melodic thinker, both in the lyricism of his vocal lines and in the sweep of his bass playing; his gift lies in linear phrases, while Lennon's jagged beats disrupt songs horizontally. McCartney's texts are usually witty, charming, narrative, or sentimental. Lennon's are more extreme: acerbic, confessional, or maddeningly obtuse.

A knowledge of the music Lennon and McCartney had in their ears by 1962 explains the sources of some of their licks, but the bands who carried on to record after Beatlemania hit prove that the Beatles weren't the only four Liverpudlians who knew and cherished their girl-group 45s. What matters more is how they digested what came before and turned it into something they could call their own: you can hear Elvis' corn in Paul's rendition of "Till There Was You," and Williams' howling jealousy when Lennon sings "Leave My Kitten Alone" (from the Beatles For Sale sessions), but you can't explain either Paul or John by pointing to their exemplars. In the best sense, they define one another.

Lennon and McCartney immersed themselves into song-writing, to the point where they threw away between fifty and a hundred tunes before they wrote "Love Me Do" (some of these, like "One After 909," I'll Follow The Sun," "What Goes On," and "When I'm Sixty-Four" were revived later on). When they dueted on Carl Perkins' "Sure To Fall," they learned as much from its style as from its construction; the small silences in their cover of the Everly Brothers' hit "So How Come (No One Loves Me)" taught them the value of such tricks. Among their performing heroes, many wrote their own songs (Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison) and the Beatles were always covering or copping ideas from pop's great tunesmith's (Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Shuman and Pomus, and Motown's Berry Gordy).

Their individual tendencies dictate the form a song takes. McCartney prefers dramatic settings, complete with characters: "Eleanor Rigby" and "She's Leaving Home" are like pop-song short stories. The two-key harmonic framework of "Penny Lane" articulates its double narrative structure. Lennon is more interested in projecting moral visions with mythical figures like "Nowhere Man" or "I Am The Walrus," and he addresses his audience more directly. As collaborators (and competitors - the distinction is often subtle), they constantly influenced one another and were well aware of their differences. It is not completely a joke that Lennon enjoyed referring to "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" as McCartney's best song.

As collaborators, their idiosyncrasies appear explicitly in dialogues like "We Can Work It Out," a song about a lover's quarrel that turns out to be an argument in itself, and "A Day In The Life," where two separate ideas are stitched into one musical setting. But the same dynamic also produces opposing visions like the "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever" single: here each song springs from the same desire to depict a personal vision of childhood. McCartney's is charming, of "ordinary" lunacy at the corner barbershop. Lennon's song uses an image of homelessness (the title refers to an orphanage near where he grew up) and poses despairing questions about abandonment. McCartney could never have penned the disturbing "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," just as Lennon would never have bothered with "Maxwell's Silver Hammer."

Because they often contradicted themselves in interviews, we can't know in detail who contributed what to many songs. Hunter Davies describes them writing "With A Little Help From My Friends," bouncing ideas off each other for Ringo's Sgt. Pepper spotlight. But the specifics of what else we know make their partnership seem utilitarian; they would use one another when and if they wanted to. Lennon re-wrote "Drive My Car," which McCartney brought in as "Baby, You Can Wear My Diamond Ring"; Paul introduced the first draft of "Hey Jude" as gibberish and John dubbed it as finished; John discarded several descriptive verses for "In My Life," but Paul claims to have written the melody; and Paul suggested the lopsided drum hook for Lennon's "Ticket To Ride."

As musicians, their personalities complement each other, enlarging the scope of what would otherwise be individual statements. Paul's lyrical harmony and melodic bass playing shade Lennon's intensity in "Don't Let Me Down." Lennon's background harmony to the last verses of "Hey Jude" lends it a warmth and spirit that no other singer could provide. If they didn't always work together when writing - they composed more and more separately as the years passed, even though the publishing citations still credit them jointly - they were almost as generous toward each other in performance.

The personal relationships that the Beatles shared were also an ever-changing mixture of different balances, but John Lennon was clearly the one they acknowledged as their leader from the start. To begin with, Lennon had more of a vision of what the Beatles were about and what they could be; he spoke of it more in interviews and he lived it out more in his life (it was John who invited Paul to join the Quarrymen, as much out of respect as fear of competition). If, as Greil Marcus suggests, "It was the Beatles who opened up the turf the Stones took as their own - there was no possibility of a Left until the Beatles created a Centre," the same can be said to be true of the different creative spaces Lennon and McCartney inhabited. McCartney can be called the group's center, the middle of the road; Lennon stands for the fringes that are rock 'n' roll's true holy ground. Paul went along with Brian Epstein's stylised suits and deep bows; John always wanted to skip the formalities. Paul covered the standard classic ballads as a matter of course; John made certain their early records finished to the sound of him wailing "Twist And Shout," "Money," and "Dizzy Miss Lizzie." The exceptions prove the rule: John's "Good Night" is as sarmy as anything McCartney ever wrote, and "Helter Skelter" is Paul's heavy-metal scorcher. But Paul's cover of "Long Tall Sally" is rollicking where John's "Money" is utterly vicious; Lennon's love ballad "Julia" is oedipal, and follows Paul's "I Will" on the White Album the way "Dear Prudence" follows "Back In The USSR" - from the ridiculous to the sublime. In the final analysis, Lennon's struggle with life more often outweighs McCartney's contentedness.

There is an undeniable sympathy between them as singers that makes their best duets something different still. Paul's romanticism curbs John's angst ("If I Fell"), and Lennon shoots McCartney's puerile excesses though with humour ("Yellow Submarine"), one making up for what the other may lack. They are a team as naturally suited to one another as Astaire and Rogers, Abbott and Costello, Rodgers and Hart or Hammerstein, Hepburn and Tracy. They magnify this power not just because they are two, but because their combined chemistry is so much more than one plus one.

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