All the time in the world still wouldn’t be enough for Howard to ask every question he had for Sir Paul McCartney on Wednesday morning as the living legend returned to the Stern Show studio for another unforgettable interview that covered (and uncovered) stories from Paul’s youth, his first meeting with John Lennon, what really caused the Beatles to break up, and why he still loves making new music, including his 17th solo studio album “Egypt Station,” available Friday.
Check out the many highlights from Paul’s interview with Howard (below).
When Paul Met John
As a teenage boy growing up in Liverpool, England, Paul told Howard none of his peers paid any interest to him whenever he’d mention his ability to write songs. That is until he met a young man named John Lennon.
“When I met John, I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve written some songs.’ He said, ‘So have I,’” Paul recalled, likening it to a light bulb going off. Soon after, he and John began writing songs together, forming a bond over their mutual love of music. But it was their shared experience of having their mother pass away that brought the boys even closer.
“We both lost our moms and we loved them and nobody in the world understood except us,” Paul explained.
Together, McCartney and Lennon would go on to write some of the most influential music in history, impacting rock and roll, fashion, and an entire generation of impassioned fans.
“The thing is, you know, we weren’t trying to create a revolution,” Paul admitted to Howard. “We were just kids from a poor area in Liverpool who wanted to make some money.”
With the Beatles being the best-selling band in history, that original goal has most certainly been accomplished. But aside from the cash, Paul said he simply always wanted to write “something memorable” fans could appreciate. Making a memorable tune was crucial for McCartney, who never learned to write music and therefore had to figure out ways to quickly capture the melodies that popped into his mind. To this day, Paul still can’t read or write sheet music.
“I kind of don’t want to,” he told Howard. “I could never relate to those little dots on the page and the music I heard in my head.”
While fans and music critics alike have long praised McCartney’s songs, it took John Lennon some time before he was willing to outwardly compliment his bandmate’s songwriting talent. It happened on the set of the Beatles’ 1965 film “Help!” John was listening to a cassette of “Here, There and Everywhere,” set to be released on the band’s album “Revolver,” and told Paul he thought it was “a really great song.”
“He never complimented me like that,” Paul said. “I remember it to this day, you know, exactly where I was when he said it. It was great … it really gave me a lot of confidence in that song and in my writing.”
Beatles Song Stories
Paul offered plenty of behind-the-scenes stories of how he penned some of the Beatles’ biggest hits, even debunking some long-standing rumors about the band’s music. Check them out (below).
“She Loves You”
Had Paul listened to his father’s advice, the chorus of “She Loves You” could have sounded somewhat different. The elder McCartney suggested his son sing “she loves you, yes, yes, yes” rather than the now famous lyric “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Thankfully, Paul decided not to make the edit before stepping into the recording studio.
“He had musical ability but he didn’t have ‘hip’ ability,” Paul joked about his dad.
“Love Me Do”
Though the Beatles’ debut single was primarily written by McCartney, it was originally intended to be sung by John Lennon. It wasn’t until the band got to the recording studio that producer George Martin changed the arrangement a bit, asking John to start his harmonica part one beat earlier, thereby not allowing him to perform the song’s vocals. Instead, Martin asked Paul to sing the lead vocals.
“I was so nervous,” Paul said, telling Howard you can hear the shakiness in his voice on the track.
Considering Paul is far from a native French speaker, he needed some help writing the French lyrics heard in “Michelle.” His friend Ivan’s wife was a French teacher who sat down with Paul and offered him lines in French that would rhyme within the song.
“She actually wrote it, all the French,” Paul told Howard.
“Drive My Car”
McCartney had nothing about a car in mind when he first began composing the song “Drive My Car.” He told Howard he initially wanted to write something about a guy giving a girl “golden rings” but he and Lennon couldn’t come up with lyrics that made any sense with that concept.
“We were stuck and he agreed, this is going nowhere,” Paul said.
After a cup of tea, the two decided to get rid of all mention of rings and instead frame it around a girl who wanted a chauffeur but had no car to be driven in. The completed song was written soon after the idea came to them.
“All My Loving”
Paul told Howard “All My Loving” is unique because it’s the first song he wrote by coming up with the lyrics before the tune. He said he was riding a bus when the inspiration struck, and he started jotting down words that looked like a poem, which he eventually turned it into the hit song.
While talking to Howard about his beliefs in God, Paul recalled how one of the Beatles’ biggest hits “Yesterday” came to him in a dream, perhaps a sign that a higher power does indeed exist. According to McCartney, he literally woke up with the tune in his head.
“I was just lucky that I remembered it,” Paul said.
It was band member George Harrison who gave Paul a note on what he could add to “Hey Jude” to make it a better song – a suggestion Paul immediately shot down. George suggested inserting guitar riffs after each line of the song to emphasize the lyrics. Paul, however, wanted to stick with the just the simple piano and drum backing track.
“It didn’t seem like a good idea and the rule in the Beatles was if it was your song you were allowed to call it. You were the boss of the song,” Paul told Howard.
As sacred as Paul’s music may be, both to his fans and to McCartney himself, he told Howard he’s never heard a Beatles cover he didn’t like.
“Anyone who covers a song of mine, I love,” Paul said.
Countless artists have done their own renditions of Beatles tunes but when asked which covers Paul considered to be the best, he singled out Ray Charles and his version of “Eleanor Rigby,” Esther Philips and her song “And I Love Him,” and of course Joe Cocker’s unique take on “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Paul recalled listening to Joe’s demo of that song in the basement of Apple Records with producer Denny Cordell.
“They changed the arrangement completely … I loved it,” Paul told Howard.
It seemed all of Paul’s music that Howard played on Wednesday was a hit song, either for the Beatles or for his many solo projects. Which begged the question: has Paul ever written a truly bad song?
“Looking back on the whole Beatles career and particularly me and John writing, that does amaze me,” Paul said of his accomplishments. “We wrote something, I think, just short of 300 songs … Every single time we sat down we came away with a song.”
Even now, Paul told Howard he’ll often be up on stage performing one of his hits and think back to being the 24-year-old kid who first wrote it. “How’d I come up with that?” Paul said with a laugh.
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Who better to answer once and for all what caused the Beatles to break up than an actual Beatle? According to McCartney, the person responsible for the band calling it quits was John and John alone.
“There was a meeting where John came in and said, ‘Hey guys, I’m leaving the group,’” Paul remembered. John’s girlfriend Yoko Ono was present for that announcement, just as she was present for many of the Beatles’ recording sessions at the time.
“Looking back on it … the guy was totally in love with her and you know, you just gotta respect that. So we did and I do,” Paul continued.
But when it came time for the Beatles to put out their final album “Let It Be,” McCartney was pressured by his bandmates to delay the release of his own self-titled debut solo album. Paul told Howard how Ringo Starr even showed up at his house with a letter demanding he not put his solo effort out on the date he’d already scheduled.
“It was bad enough that we were splitting up, it was bad enough that all that money we’d earned and all that fame was going down the pan,” Paul said of the incident.
In the end, “McCartney” hit store shelves on April 17, 1970, beating “Let It Be” by about a month. Paul’s second solo album “Ram” was released one year later and he admitted to Howard he took a few subtle jabs at Lennon within the lyrics of that album’s songs, including in the hit song “Too Many People.”
“We were writing songs at each other, like, weaponizing songs,” Paul said. However, contrary to what some have said over the years, Paul’s lyric “You took your lucky break and broke it in two,” though directed at Lennon, was not originally written as “Yoko took your lucky break.”
“It didn’t last long,” Paul said of his and Lennon’s feud with each other, explaining to Howard how thankful he is they settled their differences when they did. Just over a decade after the Beatles released their last album, John was shot and killed outside of his New York apartment building by Mark David Chapman. “I feel very blessed that we got over it because if we hadn’t, and then John goes and gets killed, I don’t know how I would have dealt with that,” Paul continued.
Don’t Stop the Music
Many might wonder why Paul McCartney, after all he’s achieved as a musician, is still working as hard as ever even now at age 76. He told Howard while some grow tired of a life of touring and performing live, he still loves it.
“I was walking down a corridor in a Four Seasons … it was a nice hotel,” Paul said of a stop he recently had on tour. “I was thinking, ‘I’m loving this.’”
That’s not to say he doesn’t recognize the preferential treatment he gets as a rock icon. He referred to it as the “bubble” – taking private planes, avoiding going through customs, being driven to each gig, having an escort to each event, and being handed your guitar right before you step on stage.
And while there’s only one name on the marquee outside, McCartney explained his concerts take a tremendous effort from his whole team — a team he said he’s become very close with throughout the years. “When you come back on tour it’s like reuniting with a family,” he described.
This month, Paul heads out on the road once again, this time for his “Freshen Up” tour following the release of his new album “Egypt Station.” He’s scheduled to play 22 shows on three different continents with concerts on the calendar well into 2019. Still, Paul told Howard he’s nothing but excited to play for his many fans.
“I’m very lucky to be alive and to have stuff in my life that I love doing,” McCartney said.
Paul McCartney’s new album “Egypt Station” is available Friday. For “Freshen Up” tour info visit paulmccartney.com.