Your two big television shows were the James Paul McCartney and The Magical Mystery Tour shows. How were these conceived?
The Mystery show was conceived way back in Los Angeles. On the plane. You know they give you those big menus and I had a pen and everything and started drawing on this menu and I had this idea. In England they have these things called Mystery tours. And you go on them and you pay so much and you don't know where you're going. So the idea was to have this little thing advertised in the shop windows somewhere called Magical Mystery Tours. Someone goes in and buys a ticket and rather than just being the kind of normal publicity hype of magical ... well, it never is magical, really ... the idea of the show was that it was actually a magical run – a real magical trip.
I did a few little sketches myself and everyone else thought up a couple of little things. John thought of a little thing and George thought of a scene and we just kind of built it up. Then we hired a coach and picked actors out of an actor's directory and we just got them all along with the coach and we said, "OK, act." An off-the-cuff kind of thing.
The James Paul McCartney show were these people who wanted us to do a TV show and they said they wanted a nice show and said you can do it any way you want. This seemed like a good opportunity, you know, to kinda get on the telly. So that one was just worked up that way. We met the guy when we went to Morocco. We were on holiday then and they came out and we sat around the pool and talked about various ideas and came back to England and did it.
Were you sorry The Magical Mystery Tour was not shown in America?
At the time, hey, I thought, "Oh, blimey," but ... eh ... it started out to be one of those kind of things. Like The Wild One, you know, Marlon Brando ... at the time it couldn't be released. The interest in it came later. The interest started to grow, you know. Magical Mystery Show was a bit like that ... well, whatever happened to it ... that's a bit magical itself. Like the Stones' Rock and Roll Circus. You know, what happened to that, you know. I mean, I'd like to see that. So all of those things work out well. You've got to be patient. Everything like that works out well. I think it was a good show. It will have its day, you know.
There was an interesting reaction to James Paul McCartney. Some people liked some parts and didn't like others.
I can understand that. You know, I think a lot of people thought we could have done more ... could have done a better show. It was a little bitty [disjointed]. That was a fair comment, but I got a lot of letters from people, you know, just people, old people, from like Red Creek, Minnesota, just saying, "Hey man, dug the show, you know."
You told me you still ask your friends, "Is this really good?" And Linda mentioned that you still get nervous about the work. And so does this mean you watch critical notices very closely?
No, I don't like criticism whatever. I don't think I ever liked it when my dad said, I don't like your trousers. But I went through a difficult period where I started to listen to what the newspapers have to say ... about me ... and say, some guy would be sittin' in New York all hung up thinking, "Well, that's not as good as I woulda wanted." And I thought, "Well, blimey, that's only one guy. I'm not going to take it as gospel."
Linda mentioned you "bounce off" people. After you left George Martin and the other three, was Linda the only person to bounce your ideas off of?
For a while, yes. Oh yes.
Did you miss not having more people? Is there anyone you ask now outside of people in the band?
Sometimes now I mainly bounce off myself. I do that more now, call it what you will – maturity? Sometimes if a friend is in the studio I'll ask for their opinion and that will make it easier on me. The laugh of all this is I say all this rubbish and it all changes the next day.
I still read the notices and stuff and they're usually bum ones when you're expecting them to be great. Like after Ram, there were a lot of bum notices after Ram. But I keep meetin' people wherever I go, like I met someone skiing. As he skiied past me he said, "I loved Ram, Paul." So that's really what I go by. Just the kind of people who flash by me in life. Just ordinary people and they said they loved it. That's why I go a lot by sales, not just for the commercial thing. Like if a thing sells well, it means a lot of people bought it and liked it.
Does that mean, then, that you didn't think too much in retrospect of 'Wild Life'? Because of all your albums ...
No, ah, I quite liked it. I must say you have to like me to like the record. I mean, if it's just taken cold, I think it wasn't that brilliant as a recording. We did it in about two weeks, the whole thing. And it had been done on that kind of a buzz we'd been hearing about how Dylan had come in and done everything in one take. I think in fact often we never gave the engineer a chance to even set up a balance. There's a couple of real big songs on there, that only freaks or connoisseurs know.
Yeah, "Tomorrow" is one of them. It's like, when I'm talking to people about Picasso or something and they say, well, his blue period was his only one that was any good. But for me, if the guy does some great things then even his downer moments are interesting. His lesser moments, rather, because they make up the final picture. Some moments seem less, he was going through kind of a pressure period. You know, you can't live your life without pressure periods. No one I know has.
You mentioned Dylan sort of being an inspiration for doing 'Wild Life' the way you did it ... He's going on the road, of course, this month.
With the Band ...
Does this in any way motivate you, inspire you?
No, not particularly. I mean, I've just been on the road last year, so my being ... doing that just might have inspired him; I don't know, you know. He's a great guy, Dylan; he's a musician, and stuff, and he's a great spirit. Love him, you know.
Do you think he influenced you at all?
Oh, yes. Very heavily.
I think the first time was in "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." That was John's song. Then there was a good deal of influence in the Hard Day's Night and Help! periods. Certain chords, the acoustic bit. We liked him.
We met him when we came to New York and we were together awhile. He came to one of my sessions when I was doing Ram in New York.
You mentioned in the studio that you were influenced in a recent session by Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man." Do you think Fela or someone else might misconstrue this?
Being influenced by something and stealing something are two different things. When you hear the track we did and hear Marvin Gaye's you probably would never know they were related. I may be influenced by something, but it's in my head and doesn't necessarily show in the song. "Here, There and Everywhere" was supposed to be a Beach Boys song, but you wouldn't have known.
"Hi Hi Hi" was the one that brought you back to the Top Ten, after "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb," although in Britain they played "C Moon" because "Hi Hi Hi" was banned by the BBC.
I thought the "Hi Hi Hi" thing could easily be taken as a natural high, could be taken as booze high and everything. It doesn't have to be drugs, you know, so I'd kind of get away with it. Well, the first thing they saw was drugs, so I didn't get away with that, and then I just had some line "Lie on the bed and get ready for my polygon."
The daft thing about all of that was our publishing company, Northern Songs, owned by Lew Grade, got the lyrics wrong and sent them round to the radio station and it said, "Get ready for my body gun," which is far more suggestive than anything I put. "Get ready for my polygon," watch out baby, I mean it was suggestive, but abstract suggestive, which I thought I'd get away with. Bloody company goes round and makes it much more specific by putting "body gun." Better words, almost.
It made it anyway in the States.
Yeah, well, the great laugh is when we go live, it makes a great announcement. You can say "This one was banned!" and everyone goes "Hooray!" The audience love it, you know. "This next one was banned," and then you get raving, because everyone likes to. Everyone's a bit anti-all-that-banning, all that censorship. Our crew, our generation, really doesn't dig that stuff, as I'm sure you know.
"Helen Wheels" has done better in America than England, as have many of your records past, back to the old days. Have you ever thought of a reason why?
The only thing I can think of is the foreigner syndrome. We're British, and that means something to an American. It's like some Americans who do better over here, like Cassidy and the Osmonds, even Elvis.
It's been suggested that the Beatles provided something for Americans they had lost with the death of Kennedy – youth, happiness, freedom from inhibitions. Does that make much sense to you?
No, none at all.
In songwriting technique, how did you compose with John? How did you compose yourself and then with Linda?
Well, first, I started off on my own. Very early on I met John, and we then, gradually, started to write stuff together. Which didn't mean we wrote everything together. We'd kind of write 80% together and the other 20% for me were things like "Yesterday" and for John things like "Strawberry Fields" that he'd mainly write on his own. And I did certain stuff on my own. So I've done stuff on my own.
When I said how do you compose, I meant actually sitting down and doing it. Did you use guitar, or did you use piano?
When I first started writing songs I started using a guitar. The first one I ever wrote was one called "My Little Girl" which is a funny little song, a nice little song, a corny little song based on three chords – G, G7 and C. A little later we had a piano and I used to bang around on that. I wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four" when I was about 16. I wrote the tune for that and I was vaguely thinking then it might come in handy in a musical comedy or something. I didn't know what kind of career I was going to take.
So I wrote that on piano and from there it's really been a mixture of the both. I just do either, now. Sometimes I've got a guitar in my hands; sometimes I'm sittin' at a piano. It depends whatever instrument I'm at – I'll compose on it, you know.
Do you start with a title or a line, or what?
Oh, different ways. Every time it's different. "All My Loving" – an old Beatle song, remember that one, folks? – I wrote that one like a bit of poetry, and then I put a song to it later. Something like "Yesterday," I did the tune first and wrote words to that later. I called that "Scrambled Egg" for a long time. I didn't have any words to it. [Paul sings the melody with the words "scrambled egg ... da da da da ... scrambled egg ..."] So then I got words to that; so I say, every time is different, really. I like to keep it that way, too; I don't get any set formula. So that each time, I'm pullin' it out of the air.
When did you get the idea you were going to bring in a string quartet on "Scrambled Egg"?
First of all, I was just playing it through for everyone – saying, how do you like this song? I played it just me on acoustic, and sang it. And the rest of the Beatles said, "That's it. Love it." So George Martin and I got together and sort of cooked up this idea. I wanted just a small string arrangement. And he said, "Well, how about your actual string quartet?" I said great, it sounds great. We sat down at a piano and cooked that one up.
How would you see George Martin's contributions in those songs in those days?
George's contribution was quite a big one, actually. The first time he really ever showed that he could see beyond what we were offering him was "Please Please Me." It was originally conceived as a Roy Orbison-type thing, you know. George Martin said, "Well, we'll put the tempo up." He lifted the tempo and we all thought that was much better and that was a big hit. George was in there quite heavily from the beginning.
The time we got offended, I'll tell you, was one of the reviews, I think about Sgt. Pepper – one of the reviews said, "This is George Martin's finest album." We got shook; I mean, "We don't mind him helping us, it's great, it's a great help, but it's not his album, folks, you know." And there got to be a little bitterness over that. A bit help, but Christ, if he's goin' to get all the credit ... for the whole album ... [Paul plays with his children.]
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