A little tale of two little boys
“A little tale of two little boys” (or the Lennon – McCartney vs McCartney – Lennon controversy) was an article I wrote in 2002, following the uproar in Beatles fan circles regarding Paul McCartney’s so-called “reversal” of the composers credits on his live album “Back in the US”/”Back in the World”. Lots of otherwise intelligent people sided with the Yoko Ono version of the story here, which I suspected was because they didn’t know the full history of the Lennon-McCartney – McCartney-Lennon credits. I was thinking about this article for a couple of days, and then I sat down and wrote the entire piece in one go in English, and published it online. I do believe this was the first time I wrote a complete article in English, and I did it because I was aiming it at the U.S.A. audience. Not long after that, I was approached both by the editor of the US “Daytrippin’ Magazine” and the editor of “Beatlefan”, who both wanted to print my article. Since “Daytrippin'” was the first to ask, that’s where it got printed. Now here’s the article, illustrations have been updated to a modern standard.
A Little Tale of Two Little Boys (or the Lennon-McCartney vs McCartney-Lennon controversy)
Once upon a time there was two little boys. Their names were John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Paul wrote songs. One of his songs was called “I lost my little girl”. He was only 14 at the time. John was impressed and wanted to start writing songs, too. He was 16. So he wrote one called “Hello, little girl”. Cheeky devil. Sometimes the two of them would assist each other in writing a song, and sometimes they would write complete songs together.
There was never a rule about it, like one wrote the lyrics and another the tune. More often it would be that one was stuck with where the melody should go after a verse and a chorus and the other would think of a “bridge” or a “middle 8”, a different section. The boys wanted to be big time songwriters, along the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leiber and Stoller or Goffin and King. It was a young world, musicwise. So they agreed that when they eventually released the songs they had written, they would put both their names on every song, be it a Paul-song, a John-song or a collaboration.
Paul once wrote a song he tentatively called “Seventeen”. It went: “Well she was just seventeen, never been a beauty queen”. John protested, “No no, you should go ‘you know what I mean’!” Cheeky devil. So Paul followed his suggestion, finished the song and renamed it “I Saw Her Standing There”. It was almost completely a Paul-song, even though John had contributed to half a line. They both agreed on this. Suddenly, when they were 20 and 22 their pop combo got a record contract and the writers got a publishing contract! Big time was lurking around the corner. So they released a single, “Love Me Do” (Lennon – McCartney). It struck the charts! And the next year they released another, “Please Please Me” (McCartney – Lennon). It became a no.1 hit! So the group (now known as ‘The Beatles’) released their first long-playing record, “Please Please Me (with Love Me Do and 12 other songs)“. They didn’t have too many songs written that they were please pleased enough with to record, so some of the songs they recorded were written by others.
This is how the songwriting credits were presented on this, their first LP: McCartney – Lennon. The LP was an instant hit and went to the top of the LP charts in Great Britain for weeks and weeks. The songs from their first single, Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You were now credited to “McCartney – Lennon”, the names had been repositioned.
Next up, the boys released their third single, “From Me To You” (McCartney – Lennon).
The Beatles decide to take a break after this. They go on holiday. Three of them go to Santa Cruz, Tenerife, while John (the cheeky devil) decides to spend some time with the Beatles gay manager, Brian Epstein, in Barcelona, Spain.
After their holidays, the boys has an appointment with their manager. Paul turns up a bit late, and when he finally arrives, he is informed by John Lennon and Brian Epstein that they have decided that the songwriting credits should hereafter read “Lennon – McCartney” instead of “McCartney – Lennon”. Cheeky devils. Paul is dismayed but gives in, seeing as he had turned up late and all that.
And so it came to pass that on all records released after this meeting, starting with the “She Loves You” – single, the credits were written in the new fashion, thus establishing the young songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney along the Rodgers and Hammerstein et al ones. Both boys continued writing songs alone and together, and still honored the mutual agreement they both had made so long ago about putting both their names on their songs.
Their band, The Beatles continued making singles, EP’s and LP’s for seven years and the songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney turned out hit after hit for the band to record. On one occasion, John Lennon wrote a song called “Give Peace A Chance”, which he released with another band, “The Plastic Ono Band”. But the Beatles were still together, so he credited the song as always to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Eventually, the boys fell out with each other and the Beatles broke up. John started writing songs together with his wife, Yoko Ono, and Paul collaborated with his wife, Linda McCartney. John had a few hits, Paul had lots. After a period of time, John and Paul reconciled as friends, but never wrote more songs together. About 10 years after the break-up of the band, John Lennon was murdered on the street outside his new home in New York, by a deranged madman. The world mourned, especially those who had loved the Beatles and their music.
Seven years passed, and the world was experiencing a media change, the CD’s were taking over as the new format to release records. So 14 of the Beatles LP’s were re-released as CD’s, starting with ‘Please Please Me’. And once again, record buyers could witness what the early songwriting credit had been: McCartney-Lennon. The release of the Beatles on CD spawned another generation becoming aware of the incredible talent of the group and the composers.
After the death of John Lennon, his widow Yoko Ono became the keeper of his flame and had an equal say when business decisions concerning the Beatles were the issue, alongside Paul, George and Ringo Starr, the bands drummer. In matters concerning the songs that were credited to the Lennon and McCartney songwriting team, she had an equal say to that of Paul McCartney, albeit they both had little influence, seeing as most of their songs were now owned, incidentally, by Michael Jackson.
Ono continued to release records by John Lennon, some of them compilations of earlier releases, some of them containing hitherto unreleased material from his archives. One of the compilations was “Lennon- Legend”, a sort of a ‘greatest hits’ kind of CD. On this CD however, the name of Paul McCartney was totally omitted from the songwriting credit for “Give Peace A Chance”. A misprint? An oversight? Cheeky devil? We don’t know. And we didn’t hear any official complaints from Paul. Indeed, Paul released his own version of this song on one of his own CD-singles, taped at a concert in 1990 in John and Paul’s hometown of Liverpool, as a tribute to John. It was a medley of John’s songs, also comprising “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Help!”, and the medley was collectively credited to “Lennon/McCartney”.
Along comes 1994, and the Beatles company Apple has finally wrangled itself out of all the legal hassles with the record company EMI that had existed since the group’s break-up 25 years earlier. “Time takes Time”, to quote Ringo Starr. Apple is now free to start releasing “new” Beatles CD’s comprising hitherto unreleased live, radio, demo and studio recordings by the group. The board members of Apple, Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko are once again finding themselves in business meetings, deciding what to do and what to release. In one of this meetings, Paul decides to address the question of songwriting credits. His idea is that they should read “Lennon/McCartney” on the songs the pair collaborated the most on, “Lennon/McCartney” on the songs that were actually John-songs, and “McCartney/Lennon” on the songs that are actually Paul-songs, like “I Saw Her Standing There”. This is not new. Paul himself applied this method of thinking way back in 1976, when John was still alive, on his release of “Wings Over America” – a concert album that had a few songs on it from the Beatles era.
John didn’t say a word about this. He didn’t complain that Paul had “reversed” the songwriting credit. For John, this was OK. It’s Paul’s record, and Paul is entitled to write whatever he likes on the record cover, as long as they are both credited. John didn’t threaten to sue. He didn’t ask his lawyers to “see into it”. John did nothing! Nada! Zip! And he used to be such a cheeky devil. Not trying to read John’s mind about this, but this writer’s theory is that John probably saw Paul’s point. After all, John knew that the Beatlessongs on “Wings Over America” were mainly, or completely, Paul’s own compositions.
Back to the Apple board meeting: Yoko Ono declines. Product released by The Beatles should have the “Lennon/McCartney” songwriting credit where appropriate. And Paul loses. Again. Even though he met on time this time. Apple releases “The Beatles Live At The BBC”(1994), “Anthology 1″(1995), Anthology 2”, “Anthology 3″(1996), “Yellow Submarine Songtrack”(1999) and “1”(2000) with the songwriting credit of “Lennon/McCartney”.
On “Anthology 2”, the first take of the very famous and hugely successful song “Yesterday” is going to be included. So far, the world had only heard the second take of this song, which was included on the LP “Help!” in the United Kingdom, and released as a single in many other countries. “Yesterday” was a song that came to Paul McCartney in a dream. He woke up and played it on the piano next to his bed, and then struggled for some time to come up with the now familiar lyrics. The song had always been a McCartney composition, and Paul was the only Beatle present on the record. This was one of the reasons why The Beatles didn’t want this song to be released as a Beatles-single in the UK, it was too much of a McCartney solo effort. John Lennon had always agreed that this song was Paul’s completely, still it was published as a “Lennon – McCartney” composition, Paul still honouring the mutual agreement that the two little boys had made so long ago.
When Apple was about to release the song on “Anthology 2” however, Paul wanted to release it with the names of the composers reversed to “McCartney – Lennon”. The version (take one) on “Anthology 2” is even more of a McCartney solo-effort than the familiar take two, because it doesn’t have string overdubs, thus Paul is the only living human being present on the record, strumming his guitar, singing and humming. Paul’s suggestion was vetoed by Yoko Ono, allegedly causing several already printed covers for the “Anthology 2” to be destroyed and new ones printed.
Along comes 2002 and Paul McCartney undertakes a massive and highly successful tour of the United States (leaving the sales figures for the simultaneously ongoing Rolling Stones-tour in the dust behind him). He decides to release an album from the tour and entitles it “Back in the U.S.”. On this concert recording, there are quite a few songs from way back when Paul and John was a songwriting team. Paul does exactly the same as he already did in 1976 on “Wings Over America”, he put his own name first. “Composed by Paul McCartney & John Lennon”. But now John’s not around anymore to not react to this. Yoko is around. She acts. She’s asking her lawyers to “see into it”. She instructs her spokesman Elliot Mintz to start a debate about it. She should have taken a history lesson first. This is a non-issue. A storm in the proverbial tea-cup.
In fact, one record featuring John did actually reverse the songwriting credit for “I Saw Her Standing There”, the “McCartney – Lennon” – composition from the “Please Please Me” album. On a concert recording with Elton John, John introduces the song like this: “We’re gonna do a number from an old estranged fiancee of mine, poor Paul”. Cheeky devil. The recording was released as a single in 1981, after John’s death and the credit looks like this:
When the song “Please Mister Postman” was first listed on the LP With The Beatles in 1963, the songwriting credits read: “Please Mister Postman (Holland)”. When “With The Beatles” was re-released on the CD medium in 1987, the credit suddenly read: “Please Mister Postman (Dobbin-Garrett-Garma-Brianbert)”. The latter presented a far more accurate description of who composed said song than the former, yet there was no nostalgic public outcry over this.
On the album “Beatles For Sale” (1964), the final song on the album is identified as “Kansas City (Leiber-Stoller)”. This credit was the same throughout the sixties and the seventies. In the early eighties however, it was discovered that the Beatles actually performs a medley of two songs on this track, “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey”. On all later pressings of the LP and on all CD’s this has been corrected, and “Little Richard” Penniman‘s name has been added to the composer credits. Thus, the composer credits of these two songs now reflects the truth much better than they originally had.
This logic however, is simply not applied when it comes to the “Lennon – McCartney” songwriting partnership.
Now, a lot of Beatles-fans and followers have for once sided with Yoko on this issue. That the phrase “Lennon and McCartney” is a holy phrase and should not be touched. There are three reasons for this. Number one: “Lennon and McCartney” sounds better than “McCartney and Lennon”. This is true, just like the names “John, Paul, George and Ringo” sounds a lot better than “George, John, Ringo and Paul”. Number two: Nostalgia. We are used to hearing the words “Lennon and McCartney” like that, and it brings back memories, touches a nerve. Number three: It’s alphabetically the correct order. L before M. Funny no one has brought this argument to attention concerning “George, John, Paul and Ringo”.
Another argument that has been presented in the ongoing debate is this: Legend has it that early on before they were published anywhere, John and Paul used to write down the words and chords to their compositions in Paul’s school exercisebook, starting every page with the signature “Another Lennon and McCartney original”. This is how Paul himself remembers it in the “Anthology” book: “We wrote songs together. I wrote them down in an exercise book and above them it always said, ‘Another Lennon/McCartney original.’ Next page, ‘Another Lennon/McCartney original.'” Unfortunately, this exercisebook was thrown into the dustbin one day in the sixties when Jane Asher (Paul’s fiancee at the time) was housecleaning. So we can’t check. This is a quote I found on the subject when searching the internet, it’s by John Lennon from a 1980 interview, courtesy of the book “Lennon and McCartney” by Malcolm Doney (1982):
“Paul and I made a deal when we were fifteen,” revealed Lennon in 1980. “There was never a legal deal between us, just a deal we made when we decided to write together that we put both our names on it, no matter what.”
So, he doesn’t mention who’s on bass… er… I mean who comes first.
Let’s face it: This whole debate isn’t about right or wrong. In an ideal world Paul would have his way. It’s what’s just. But he has the odds against him. The deal that he and John made when they were little boys is so cute, that the public has decided to stick to it. And the phrase “Lennon and McCartney” is so familiar throughout the world that it has practically entered the english language dictionaries. And the media has a fun time juxtaposing the names of Abbott and Costello, poking fun at Paul’s feeble attempt to put the record straight. Myths have a way of surviving correction. Even now, only die hard Beatles aficionados are convinced that the title of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was based on a drawing by a five year old boy. The rest of the world knows that it was LSD. Which will probably be carved into the stone of future history books. It’s not easy being a legend in one’s own lifetime, Sir Paul.
1956 (unknown date): Paul McCartney (14) writes his first song: “I lost my little girl”. The same year he writes “When I’m 64” as an instrumental.
1957 (July 6): John Lennon and Paul McCartney meet. Lennon is impressed with Paul’s abilities to tune a guitar, to remember all the words to Eddie Cochran’s “20 Flight Rock” and the fact that he has composed songs of his own. Some time later, John asks Paul to join his skiffle group, the Quarrymen. John starts to compose songs of his own, “Hello Little Girl” being his first effort. John and Paul starts to help each other out with the songs, forming a partnership. The two young men agrees that whenever they have written a new song, both their names shall appear as composers. This remains a secret for years.
1962 (October 5): The Beatles release the “Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You” – single. Both songs are credited to “Lennon – McCartney”. A misprint on the test-pressing, “Lennon – McArtney” has been corrected before the official release.
1963 (January 11): The Beatles release the “Please Please Me/Ask Me Why” – single. Both songs are credited to “McCartney – Lennon”.
1963 (March 27): The Beatles release the “Please Please Me” album. All original songs are credited to “McCartney – Lennon”, including Love Me Do and P.S. I Love You.
1963 (April 11): The Beatles release the “From Me To You/Thank You Girl” – single. Both songs are credited to “McCartney – Lennon”.
1963 (April 27): John Lennon and Brian Epstein have a 12 day vacation in Spain. The other three Beatles spend their holidays in the Canary Island of Tenerife.
1963 (date unknown): Paul turns up late for a business meeting and is informed by John and Brian that the songwriting credit shall from now on be reversed. He protests, but is in minority.
1963 (August 23): The Beatles release the “She Loves You” – single. Both songs are credited to “Lennon – McCartney”. It sells. In droves. It is to become the all-time best selling single of Great Britain, and holds that title for 14 years. (Eventually being outsold by a Paul McCartney – single in 1977, “Mull of Kintyre”) Unfortunately for Paul, the success of ‘She Loves You’ and subsequent Beatles – releases make this constellation of their names a ‘household word’.
1965 (February 4): the company MacLen (Music) Ltd. is formed to handle the business of licensing the rights of the Paul and John compositions to Northern Songs, and to collect 50% of the publishing royalties due to Lennon and McCartney from Northern Songs. The remaining 50% of the publishing revenue goes to Northern Songs, then still jointly owned by the Beatles, their manager and Dick James.
A German LP was released where both “Lennon-McCartney” and “McCartney-Lennon” were credits used, depending on how the original single was credited.
1970: The Beatles split up, and the songwriting partnership of John and Paul is no more. They start releasing new songs under their own names, or as “Paul and Linda McCartney” or “Lennon – Ono”.
1976 (Dec 10): Paul McCartney releases the triple concert album “Wings Over America”. 5 songs on this albums are credited to “McCartney/Lennon”. John Lennon does not complain about this. Probably since these five songs were mainly Paul – compositions, anyway. And since it’s not a “Beatles-release”, Paul can write up their names in any way he choses to, so long as both names are listed.
1980 (unknown date): John Lennon reveals in an interview: “Paul and I made a deal when we were fifteen(sic). There was never a legal deal between us, just a deal we made when we decided to write together that we put both our names on it, no matter what.”
1980 (Dec 8): John Lennon is killed by a deranged madman on the street outside his home in New York. His wife Yoko Ono is a horrified witness to the senseless crime. The world mourns. The spirit of the sixties dies.
1983 (unknown date): Michael Jackson buys Northern Songs.
1987 (various dates): The Beatles’ recordings are released on compact discs. The “Please Please Me” album CD and the “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You” single-cd’s are still credited as “McCartney – Lennon”.
1990 – 1996: The 1927 Songwriting Act comes into play, regarding Yoko Ono’s ownership of the “McCartney-Lennon” or “Lennon-McCartney” songs.
That act gives heirs of a songwriter all the rights to his or her music once the original copyrights run out. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been sold to someone else. If the songwriter died during the copyright term, once the term runs out the new owner loses the rights and they revert back to the heirs. Because John Lennon died, it didn’t matter that the rights to the songs were with Michael Jackson. Once the copyrights had to be renewed, Jackson lost Lennon’s portion; they reverted to Yoko Ono and her son, Sean. The Beatles songs were under 28-year copyright protection. So songs in 1962 had to be renewed in 1990, and so on. When they were renewed, Lennon’s ownership — which had been sold to Jackson — started going to Yoko. This meant that because John was dead, he was no longer under Jackson’s agreement. McCartney, however, was. So half of his portion of royalties from the Beatles catalog goes to Jackson (or now, Sony/ATV Music Publishing).
1995 (unknown date): Apple is about to release The Beatles’ “Anthology 2”, on which there is a version of “Yesterday”. Paul makes a request to Yoko Ono, who is now his partner in the MacLen (Music) Ltd. company (there are three shareholders and five shares, Paul and Yoko has two each and Apple holds the fifth share), to have McCartney’s name put first on the song. Yoko agrees at first, but later calls back to reverse her decision.
2002 (Nov 10): Paul McCartney releases the double concert CD “Back in the U.S.” in Japan. It is later released in other territories as well, including USA, but excluding Europe. The “Lennon-McCartney” – songs and the one “McCartney – Lennon” -song (“I Saw Her Standing There”) on the album is credited like this: “Composed by Paul McCartney & John Lennon”.
2002 (Nov 11): The Abbey Road Beatles fansite on the web reports about the composing credits, choosing not to comment.
2002 (Nov 12): UK Newspaper the Sun reports on the switching of credits on “Back In the U.S.” in the article “So now it’s McCartney & Lennon”. Britain yawns.
2002 (Dec 7): Rolling Stone.com reports that the switch of songwriting credits on Paul McCartney’s recently released “Back in the U.S.” CD has ignited a new battle with Yoko Ono. Ono lawyer Peter Shukat tells the paper, “What he did was absolutely inappropriate. John and Paul had an agreement. This is very petty.” And Yoko Ono is quoted as saying, “John and Paul often disagreed on which songs were written by whom. If John was here now, they could fight it out, or maybe they could never agree. But the important point is that John has to be here. He is not.” Though McCartney doesn’t give a response to the paper, his spokesman, Geoff Baker tells Rolling Stone, John and Paul “had agreed in the Sixties that they could switch the names whenever they felt like it.”
2002 (Dec 12) The story is picked up by Associated Press. In the following days, the news item is picked up by newspapers all over the world and the journalists have a field day, juxtaposing the names of Abbott and Costello etc, poking fun at Paul’s futile attempt to set the record straight. Speculations are made in the press, that Yoko Ono is going to sue Paul for the “credit switch”. No action is being taken by Yoko, other than having her lawyers “see into it”.
2002 (Dec 18): Paul is forced to release a press statement:
“The truth is that this is much ado about nothing and there is no need for anybody to get their knickers in a twist. I’m quite happy with the situation and I’m not worried about what Yoko Ono is saying – as I am more excited about now, rather than then, having finished a great tour and winning the No.1 tour of the year. The people whose opinion matters to me have had their say.”
“But I think it’s time that I made it clear what the facts are over this long-running and rather silly dispute.”
“John and I wrote many songs together but in an article in Playboy magazine John very accurately divided the credit for each of the Beatles songs between us – ‘I wrote this; this one was Paul’s’ etc. – and when I ran the exercise for myself a few years back for Barry Miles’s book ‘Many Years From Now’ I found that John and I were in complete agreement as to who had done what.”
“At the very beginning, the first time this ever came up was at a meeting at Brian Epstein’s office in Albemarle Street in London between Brian, John and myself. I arrived at the meeting to find that Brian and John had already independently decided the the billing would be ‘songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney’.”
“I said ‘What about McCartney/Lennon?’ They said ‘We’ll do this for now and we can change it around to be fair at any point in the future’.
“Been reassured by this, I let the matter go and our songs became known as Lennon/McCartney songs, a fact I was perfectly happy about.
“Many years later, when we were involved in ‘The Beatles Anthology’ project, instead of using the term Lennon/McCartney, the songs were been credited as ‘written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney’. I made a request to Yoko Ono to have my name put first on the song ‘Yesterday’, which John had often admitted he had nothing whatsoever to do with. ”
“I felt that after 30 years this would be a nice gesture and something that might be easy for Yoko to agree with. At first she said yes, but then she rang back a couple of hours later and reversed her decision.”
“The fact is that it was not a decision that was hers to make, but because of her objection I was not allowed to have my name in front of John’s.”
“Many people say to me that it doesn’t matter and in many ways I agree, but an incident that happened recently made me wonder whether it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have each song labelled accurately so that people would know which of the two composers had the bigger input in which song.”
“Late one night, I was in an empty bar flicking through the bar pianist’s music book when I came across ‘Hey Jude written by John Lennon’. If there is an argument for ‘correct labelling’ I think this is probably the best one. Computers these days often allow certain space for labelling of any item and as we all know the end of the label often gets cut off a sentence or title. For instance, I recently went to see a film which the tickets described as ‘Miss Congenia’.”
“I personally don’t see any harm in John’s songs such as ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Help’ being labelled ‘by John Lennon and Paul McCartney’ and my songs such as ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ being labelled ‘by Paul McCartney and John Lennon’. It lays out the information so that no one is in any doubt as to who did what – and I have also pointed out to Yoko Ono that I’m happy for our co-written songs to have John’s name in front of mine.”
“I think it is fair and accurate for the songs that John declared were mine to carry my name first. This isn’t anything I’m going to lose any sleep over, nor is it anything that will cause litigation, but it seems to be harmless to me after more than 30 years of it been the other way for people like Yoko who have benefitted, and who continues to benefit from, my past efforts to be a little generous and to not have a problem with this suggestion of how to simply map out for those who do not know who wrote which of the songs.”