With about 200 songs in the Lennon-McCartney catalog, you’d think the two great Beatles songwriters would have some disputes about who wrote which classic tune. However, that was almost never the case. Looking back, Paul and John agreed on the primary authorship of nearly every track.
For listeners, there are several signs pointing to one songwriter or the other. First, whoever sang the lead vocal was usually the author. Occasionally, Ringo would belt out a Lennon-McCartney tune, but typically John and Paul sang lead on their own songs.
You could also get clues in the subject matter and musical style. If you heard what sounded like a 1930s tune, you could be sure it was a Paul McCartney song — the kind John referred to (not affectionately) as Paul’s granny music.
Still, there were two occasions that found John or Paul claiming he wrote more than the other (and everyone else present) remembered him doing. It took some digging by others to set the record straight.
There was a major disagreement over the lyrics for ‘Eleanor Rigby.’
Once Paul recorded “Yesterday” without the help of John and the other Beatles, the cat was out of the bag in the studio, so to speak. From that point on, it wouldn’t be a big deal if one of the band members decided to try an arrangement without guitars and a rhythm section.
Paul once again did that on Revolver’s “Eleanor Rigby.” The moody track ended up featuring eight musicians on strings in what became a classical arrangement. Right away, you can tell it’s the sort of song John Lennon would never write.
John never claimed to have a hand in the musical composition. However, he did contend he wrote the majority of the lyrics. Speaking with Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980, John said he penned everything but the first verse. But others present during those days recalled him writing much less.
In Paul’s recollection, he had the main lyrics written and asked for help finishing up the song. Ringo chipped in a phrase, George supplied “Ah, look at all the lonely people,” and John might have tossed in a line or two. But no one remembered John doing any significant chunk of the songwriting.
Paul said he contributed more on ‘In My Life’ than anyone else recalled.
In the case of Rubber Soul’s “In My Life,” it was Paul who remembered contributing much more than anyone close to The Beatles could confirm. For this track, John wrote the lyrics first, so no one disputed where the idea or the words came from.
However, Paul said the entire melody was his. This time, you can safely say the majority of the music, with its minimal jumps in pitch and simple verse, sounded a lot like other Lennon tunes. Basically, everyone agreed John wrote it who was around The Beatles then.
John did give credit to Paul for the middle section, though. He also said the harmony came from his old songwriting partner. Yet a scientific study cast doubt on even that much of a contribution. (It estimated there was a 2% chance Paul wrote the music for “In My Life.”)
All things considered, two out of 200 ain’t bad. With more than a decade separating the composition from their recollections about their old songs, Paul and John agreed on almost everything. In these negligible cases, they merely had to rely on a little help from friends to get it right.
Also see: The No. 1 Beatles Song John and Paul Recorded Without George or Ringo
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