HomeVoices of the StarsVoices of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Stars • Paul McCartney

Radio personality Terry Gross talks about how McCartney’s school friend, Ivan Vaughan, was responsible for Paul’s historical meeting with John Lennon.


Terry Gross
So your friend Ivan introduced you to John Lennon. Do you remember what the band was playing the first time you heard John with the band The Quarrymen.

Paul McCartney
Yeah, they were – they had a repertoire of kind of folksy, sort of bluesy things mixed with early rock ‘n’ roll. And John and the band were playing a thing called “Come Go With Me,” which was a record for a group called the Del Vikings. It was an early rock ‘n’ roll record. But John obviously didn’t have the record, and he’d probably heard it a few times on radio. And being so musical, he’d just picked it up. And so he was doing a version of it.
But what impressed me was, even though he didn’t know the words, he would make them up and he’d steal words from sort of blues songs. So instead of the real words, which I don’t know, but he was singing: Come go with me down to the penitentiary. Which was more off Big Bill Broonzy or somebody, you know.
But I thought, you know, that’s inventive. That’s ingenious. So I warmed to him immediately hearing that.

Gross
And how were you invited to play with the band?

McCartney
Well, they were doing two sets. There was one in the afternoon — when I first of all saw them — which was outdoors. And then there was to be one in the evening. And, meantime, they had all this time to fill, so they went into the village hall, where the evening gig was to be. And they were sitting around, and with all this time on their hands, John, who was one and half years older than me, had got hold of some beer from somewhere and was having a little drink. We were sitting around and just playing various songs.
And even though I was left-handed, I’d kind of learned to turn the guitar upside down and just about play songs, ’cause my friends wouldn’t let me retune their guitars, obviously – too inconvenient for them. So I’d had to learn this left-handed method.
So I turned the guitar around – I think it was his guitar – and I played a song – an early Eddie Cochran song, which was called “Twenty Flight Rock.”
And I must have done it quite well because a couple of days later I was cycling around Walton, which was the area where I met John. One of the friends, a guy called Pete Shotton, cycled up to me and said: Hey, we were talking about you. You know, we enjoyed that “Twenty Flight Rock,” and would you like to be in the band, you know?
So I said, well, I’ll have to consider this. You know, this is a big move to me. I’d never been in a professional outfit before. I’d never actually even hardly sung on stage before. I think I just did it once at a holiday camp somewhere. And, uh, so I said, “I’ll get back to you on that one.” A couple of days later I did and said, yeah, you know what, it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Gross
Now, when you were growing up, your, your, your father was an amateur musician; he played piano.

McCartney
Yeah.

Gross
And, um, I imagine he had a lot of records around the house?

McCartney
No, not so much records, we didn’t. We listened to the radio, and he played piano in the house. But, in actual fact, I can’t remember him having one record — let alone lots.

Gross
Did the songs that you grew up with that your father played, or that you listened to on the radio with your father, did, did they affect your sense of, like, song structure or the kind of chords you put to a song?

McCartney
Yeah, very definitely, yes. I loved listening, uh, as a kid, to him playing the piano. I can still remember now, sort of, lying on the floor with my, uh, chin cupped in my hands, um, listening to him play. He played, um, from another era, songs from another era. One of my favorites he played was a song called “Lullaby of the Leaves.” He used to play, um, things by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. He played, uh, “Chicago.” “Chicago, Chi–,” so I loved all those songs, you know, I loved hearing him.
And he would actually take me and my brother, and he would educate us in his own primitive way, ’cause he didn’t know how to read or write music. He’d learned by ear.
But he was very musical. And so we’d be listening to the radio, and he’d say, “Can you hear that deep noise, there?” He’d say, “That’s the bass.” So he’d pick out things for us to listen to. And he would sometimes show us how to do a harmony. He’d say, “Now here’s a tune, and this is the harmony to it.” So, in the Beatles, in the early days of the Beatles, I was very keen on us doing harmonies. And I p–I would have to, uh, put that down to him.

Gross
The vocal harmonies, you’re talking about?

McCartney
Yeah. I would always encourage the Beatles to do harmonies. Or, if John had a song, I would immediately harmonize to it. And you can hear that right the way through the Beatles career. I’m often harmonizing a third above John, or we’re often harmonizing as a group. Um, so I think my love of harmony came from him actually sitting my brother Mike and I down, and saying, um, “This is how it goes.

Gross
Now, one of the song lyrics included in your new book of poems and lyrics, uh, “Blackbird Singing” is “Yesterday.” And this, apparently, is a re-writing of the very first song that you wrote at the age of 14, which is called “I Lost My Little Girl.”

McCartney
No, that’s not quite true. Um, the, my very first song was called “I Lost My Little Girl,” and that was, um, written at the age of 14. But, um, where I think the confusion is, is that “Yesterday” was a rewriting of the original lyric of “Yesterday,” because the song “Yesterday,” tune of it, uh, came to me in a dream. I just woke up one morning and I, I had this melody in my head.
And, being, by then, a professional musician, I thought, “I wonder what that is.” And I had a piano by the side of my bed so I, I actually, uh, sort of got some chords and put this tune to it. But I didn’t have any words, so the original words to “Yesterday” were, “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs, duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh, I believe in scrambled eggs.” And I thought, “You know what? The tune’s too nice to have those as the lyrics.” So, heh … so, “Yesterday” is a re-write of “Scrambled Eggs.”

Gross
That’s funny. That’s, that reminds me of how, like, Ira Gershwin and some of the other great lyricists used to write what was called dummy lyrics. They’d come up with anything, like, the equivalent of “scrambled eggs” …

McCartney
Uh-huh?

Gross
… just to have a fake lyric, to give them the rhyme scheme for, for the melody.

McCartney
That, well, that’s it, yeah. I call that blocking in. You, it sometimes happens …

Gross
Uh-huh, uh-huh …

McCartney
… it sometimes happens as you’re doing the song; you get a tune and it feels sort of silly going “bah, dee-dee, bah-dee, bah-doh, dah-dee, dah-doo, dah-doh.” So you just go, “I’m a girl, da-dah, da-dan, du-somebody-boh, de-doo, be-dee.” And you, you find words just come to you, some of which you keep, some — like “scrambled eggs” — you lose, quickly.

(Adapted from NPR)

References
Acknowledgements

All authors must admit to a dependence on the work of others. We are no exception. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the publications and reference sources that we have consulted and adapted for educational purposes. It would also have been quite impossible to have produced the material on this website without adapting a variety of authentic resources that we have regularly referred to. While every effort has been made, it has not always been possible to identify and cite the sources of all the material used or to trace all copyright holders. We will be happy to omit any contents or include any appropriate acknowledgements when they are brought to our notice.

Your Feedback