“Lennon/McCartney” is one of music’s greatest songwriting credits, a catchall that covered most of the Beatles‘ tracks and was employed even when John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t collaborate on a certain song. However, although arranged alphabetically, the ensuing decades have favored Lennon’s placement in the songwriting credit, suggesting that Lennon had more to do with crafting the Beatles songs than McCartney. In a revealing new interview with Esquire, McCartney opens up about his frustrations regarding “Lennon/McCartney” as well as a nixed “McCartney/Lennon” credit.
“We had a meeting with [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein. I arrived late. John and Brian had been talking. ‘We were thinking we ought to call the songs, Lennon and McCartney.’ I said, ‘That’s OK, but what about McCartney and Lennon? If I write it, what about that? It sounds good, too,'” McCartney said (via The Telegraph). “They said, ‘OK, what we’ll do is we’ll alternate it: Lennon and McCartney, McCartney and Lennon.’ Well, that didn’t happen. And I didn’t mind.” McCartney eventually viewed “Lennon/McCartney” as “a good logo,” like Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Hammerstein and Rodgers doesn’t work,” he quipped.
However, in some instances, McCartney regretted that the alternating songwriting credit didn’t occur, especially on “Yesterday,” a Help! song “which John actually had nothing to do with, none of the other Beatles had anything to do with – I wrote it on my own, sang it on my own, they’re not on the record, nobody is even involved with it, and they didn’t mind that and I didn’t mind, nobody minded, but that’s very much mine,” McCartney said. “The original artwork had ‘Yesterday’ by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and a photo of John above it. And I went, ‘Argh, Come on, lads.’ Anyway they wouldn’t do it,” he added regarding the “McCartney/Lennon” credit.
McCartney once again approached the discussion on songwriting credit after realizing the digital age has benefitted Lennon more than McCartney when it comes to displaying who wrote the Beatles’ songs. “You know how on your iPad there’s never enough room? So it’s kind of important who comes first,” McCartney said of the digital margins. “Late at night I was in a hotel room looking online and I happened to see this music book, which has got all the songs in it, and it was ‘Hey Jude’ by ‘John Lennon and…’ and the space ran out.”
McCartney also cited “a poetry book, Blackbird by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. No! He didn’t write those lyrics!” Although McCartney says Lennon wouldn’t have cared if the credits to songs like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude” were all flipped, McCartney is reluctant to pursue a “McCartney/Lennon” credit now because he’s afraid of the backlash. “I’ve given up on it,” he said. “Suffice to say. In case it seems like I’m trying to do something to John.”
In the Esquire interview, McCartney also talked about Lennon’s assassination and how it retroactively elevated that Beatle’s role in the Fab Four. “When John got shot, aside from the pure horror of it, the lingering thing was, ‘OK, well, now John’s a martyr. A JFK,'” McCartney said. “I started to get frustrated because people started to say, ‘Well, he was the Beatles.’ And me, George and Ringo would go, ‘Err, hang on. It’s only a year ago we were all equal-ish.’
“John was the witty one, sure,” McCartney added. “John did a lot of great work. And post-Beatles he did more great work, but he also did a lot of not-great work. Now the fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean, and beyond. So whilst I didn’t mind that – I agreed with it – I understood that now there was going to be revisionism. It was going to be: John was the one. I mean, if you just pull out all his great stuff and then stack it up against my not-so-great stuff, it’s an easy case to make.”