While I’ve always known about the back and forth between the Beatles after the break up, my lack of interest in their solo material meant that I was only really aware of the headline grabbing “How Do You Sleep?” with its on-the-nose and ungrammatical lines such as Those freaks was right when they said you was dead…
Apart from decrying its poor grammar, obviously, my main objection to “How Do You Sleep” was that it wasn’t a good tune. I hated its plodding tempo and its hard rock stylings and the melismatic stretching out of syllables. And most of all, I hated it because, after all, Paul was right.
I mean, what did George eventually think when he had to pay over his royalties from “My Sweet Lord” to Allen Klein, who had sneaked off to purchase the publishing rights to The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”? Ha ha! I bet that really showed Paul. I think George’s complaining songs are mostly to do with being kept in his place as a songwriter, but it’s interesting how much of his ire was directed at Paul, when it was John who stitched him up over (I think) “And Your Bird Can Sing”.
In his song “Three Legs”, on Ram, Paul sings about how a dog with three legs can’t run. I imagine this is both biologically and metaphorically correct. Paul knew that the individual Beatles – including himself – weren’t as good on their own, and that the other three, in breaking the unanimous-vote convention of the group to sign with Klein, had made a fatal mistake. Paul’s veto should have been it. I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have split up, but the decade of litigation and bad feeling that followed might have been avoided.
Paul’s “Too Many People” has been seen as an attack on John’s political posturing, but I see it more as an assessment of the Apple madness of those later years, and the liggers and parasites and hell’s angels who were hanging around and helping themselves. I always used to get anxiety about all the money the Beatles were throwing away, but I understand now that it was thrown away in service of tax avoidance schemes and would never have been theirs anyway. There is in the lyric a pointed comment about how John in particular has broken up a winning partnership (“You took your lucky break and broke it in two”), but history proved him right, didn’t it?
I’ve written about the song before but, it struck me with force this morning as I woke up with “Silly Love Songs” stuck in my head again, that an earworm is the best revenge. “Silly Love Songs” is a masterclass in earworm creation. There’s the main melody (catchy as fuck), and the bass line (catchy as fuck) and then the counter-melody (catchy as fuck). And then all three come together to create the most infuriatingly catchy piece of popcorn you’ll ever get caught in your teeth. Your brain is basically just crawling with worms like something out of a Cronenberg movie. And what’s wrong with that? he sings. And considering all the finger-pointing Lennon had done about Paul’s simple little solo songs (Since you’ve gone you’re just Another Day), it took some proper brass neck for him to release “Starting Over” in 1980.
My favourite overdetermined McCartney lyric is one that is generally not included in lists of “songs the Beatles wrote about each other”, but I think there’s an argument to be made for “With a Little Luck”, from 1978.
By then a certain détente had occurred between him and Lennon. Wings were down to the core three, and within a couple of years McCartney would kind of give up on the project altogether and go solo permanently. His McCartney II album signalled this new beginning, and included “Coming Up”, a song Lennon heard on the radio and openly liked.
But “With a Little Luck” seems so like a plea to me, with lines like We can make this whole damn thing work out, and, We can lay it down / Can’t you feel the town exploding?
Which, I imagine, pretty much describes what would have happened if the two of them had worked together again. There is no end to what we can do together… has such poignancy for me.
As I said, though, overdetermined, and I have no evidence other than my own genius for this interpretation.