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Lennon–McCartney was the songwriting partnership between English musicians John Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980) and Paul McCartney (born 18 June 1942) of the Beatles. It is one of the best known and most successful musical collaborations in history, with the Beatles selling over 600 million records, tapes and CDs as of 2004. Between 1962 and 1969, the partnership published approximately 180 jointly credited songs, of which the vast majority were recorded by the Beatles, forming the bulk of their catalogue.
Unlike many songwriting partnerships that comprise separate lyricist and composer, both Lennon and McCartney wrote words and music. Sometimes, especially early on, they would collaborate extensively when writing songs, working "eyeball to eyeball" as Lennon put it. Later, it became more common for one of the two credited authors to write all or most of a song with limited input from the other. By an agreement made before the Beatles became famous, Lennon and McCartney were credited equally with songs that either one of them wrote while their partnership lasted.
In January 2017, McCartney filed a suit in United States district court against Sony/ATV Music Publishing seeking to reclaim ownership of his share of the Lennon–McCartney song catalog beginning in 2018. Under US copyright law, for works published before 1978 the author can reclaim copyrights assigned to a publisher after 56 years. McCartney and Sony agreed to a confidential settlement in June 2017.
Lennon–McCartney compositions have been the subject of numerous cover versions. According to Guinness World Records, "Yesterday" has been recorded by more artists than any other song. The Sunday Times called Lennon and McCartney the greatest composers since Ludwig van Beethoven.
The pair met on 6 July 1957, at a local church fête, where Lennon was playing with his skiffle group, the Quarrymen. McCartney, brought along by a mutual friend, Ivan Vaughan, impressed Lennon with his ability on the guitar and his version of Eddie Cochran's '20 Flight Rock'. Soon after, Lennon asked McCartney if he would join the Quarrymen. McCartney accepted. The duo's first musical idols were the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and they learned many of their songs and imitated their sound. Their first compositions were written at McCartney's home (20 Forthlin Road), at Lennon's aunt Mimi's house (251 Menlove Avenue) or at the Liverpool Institute. They often invited friends—including George Harrison, Nigel Walley, Barbara Baker, and Lennon's art school colleagues—to listen to performances of their new songs.
Lennon said the main intention of the Beatles' music was to communicate, and that, to this effect, he and McCartney had a shared purpose. Author David Rowley points out that at least half of all Lennon–McCartney lyrics have the words "you" and/or "your" in the first line. In Lennon's 1980 Playboy interview, he said of the partnership,
[Paul] provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes. There was a period when I thought I didn't write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock 'n' roll. But, of course, when I think of some of my own songs—"In My Life", or some of the early stuff, "This Boy"—I was writing melody with the best of them.
Historian Todd Compton has noted that there is some truth to Lennon's statement regarding McCartney's optimism. However, it does not tell the whole story, as some of McCartney's most characteristic songs are tragic, or express themes of isolation, such as "Yesterday", "She's Leaving Home", "Eleanor Rigby" or "For No One".
Although Lennon and McCartney often wrote independently—and many Beatles songs are primarily the work of one or the other—it was rare that a song would be completed without some input from both writers. In many instances, one writer would sketch an idea or a song fragment and take it to the other to finish or improve; in some cases, two incomplete songs or song ideas that each had worked on individually would be combined into a complete song. Often one of the pair would add a middle eight or bridge section to the other's verse and chorus. George Martin attributed the high quality of their songwriting to the friendly rivalry between the two. This approach of the Lennon–McCartney songwriting team—with elements of competitiveness and mutual inspiration as well as straightforward collaboration and creative merging of musical ideas—is often cited[by whom?] as a key reason for the Beatles' innovation and popular success.
As time went on, the songs increasingly became the work of one writer or the other, often with the partner offering up only a few words or an alternative chord. "A Day in the Life" is a notable and well-known example of a later Beatles song that includes substantial contributions by both Lennon and McCartney, where a separate song fragment by McCartney ("Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head ...") was used to flesh out the middle of Lennon's composition ("I read the news today, oh boy ..."). "Hey Jude" is another example of a later McCartney song that had input from Lennon: while auditioning the song for Lennon, when McCartney came to the lyric "the movement you need is on your shoulder", McCartney assured Lennon that he would change the line—which McCartney felt was nonsensical—as soon as he could come up with a better lyric. Lennon advised McCartney to leave that line alone, saying it was one of the strongest in the song.
When McCartney and Lennon met as teenagers and began writing songs together, they agreed that all songs written by them (whether individually or jointly) should be credited to both of them. The precise date of the agreement is unknown; however, Lennon spoke in 1980 of an informal agreement between him and McCartney made "when we were fifteen or sixteen". Two songs written (primarily by Lennon) in 1957, "Hello Little Girl" and "One After 909", were credited to the partnership when published in the following decade. The earliest Beatles recording credited to Lennon–McCartney to be officially released is "You'll Be Mine", recorded at home in 1960 and included on Anthology 1 35 years later.
Some other compositions from the band's early years are not credited to the partnership. "In Spite of All the Danger", a 1958 composition that the band (then The Quarrymen) paid to record to disc, is attributed to McCartney and George Harrison. "Cayenne", recorded at the same time as "You'll Be Mine", is a solo McCartney composition. "Cry for a Shadow", recorded during the Beatles' sessions with Tony Sheridan in June 1961, was written by Lennon and Harrison.
By 1962, the joint credit agreement was in effect. From the time of the Beatles' first A&R audition in January that year, until Lennon's announcement in September 1969 that he was leaving the band, virtually all songs by McCartney or Lennon were published with joint credit. The only exceptions were a handful of the McCartney compositions released by other artists (viz. "Woman" by Peter and Gordon in 1966, "Cat Call" by Chris Barber in 1967, and "Penina" by Carlos Mendes in 1969).
After the partnership had ended, Lennon and McCartney each gave multiple accounts of their individual contribution to each jointly credited song, and sometimes claimed full authorship. Often their memories of collaboration differed, but often their early and late interviews are in conflict. The following five cases are prominent examples of differences between their recollections:
In October 1962, the Beatles released their first single in the UK, "Love Me Do", credited to "Lennon–McCartney". However, on their next three releases the following year (the single "Please Please Me", the Please Please Me LP, and the single "From Me to You"), the credit was given as "McCartney–Lennon". With the "She Loves You" single, released in August 1963, the credit reverted to "Lennon–McCartney", and all subsequent official Beatles singles and albums list "Lennon–McCartney" (UK) or "J. Lennon/P. McCartney" (US) as the author of songs written by the two.
In 1976 McCartney's band Wings released their live album Wings over America with songwriting credits for five Beatles songs reversed to place McCartney's name first. Neither Lennon nor Yoko Ono publicly "voiced a word of disapproval about it". Many years after Lennon's death however, in the late 1990s, McCartney and Ono became involved in a dispute over the credit order. McCartney's 2002 live album, Back in the U.S., also used the credit "Paul McCartney and John Lennon" for all of the Beatles songs. When Ono objected to McCartney's request for the reversed credit to be used for the 1965 song "Yesterday", McCartney said that he and Lennon had agreed in the past that the credits could be reversed, if either of them wanted to, on any future releases. In 2003, he relented, saying, "I'm happy with the way it is and always has been. Lennon and McCartney is still the rock 'n' roll trademark I'm proud to be a part of – in the order it has always been." An in-depth analysis of the legal issues was the subject of a 66-page article in the Pepperdine Law Review in 2006.
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A number of songs written primarily by the duo and recorded by the Beatles were credited as follows:
The German-language versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" were also credited to additional songwriters for assisting with the translation. "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" was credited to Lennon–McCartney–Nicolas–Hellmer and "Sie Liebt Dich" was credited to Lennon–McCartney–Nicolas–Montague.
Lennon–McCartney, along with the Rolling Stones' songwriting partnership between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, as well as other British Invasion songwriters, inspired changes to the music industry because they were bands that wrote and performed their own music. This trend threatened the professional songwriters that dominated the American music industry. Ellie Greenwich, a Brill Building songwriter, said, “When the Beatles and the entire British Invasion came in, we were all ready to say, ‘Look, it’s been nice, there’s no more room for us… It’s now the self-contained group- males, certain type of material. What do we do?"
The Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership makes up the majority of the Beatles' catalogue. The first two UK studio albums included 12 cover tunes and 15 Lennon–McCartney songs, with one track ("Don't Bother Me") credited to George Harrison. Their third UK album, A Hard Day's Night (1964), is the only original Beatles album made up entirely of Lennon–McCartney compositions. The next album released, Beatles for Sale (1964), included six covers and eight Lennon–McCartney originals. The subsequent release, Help! (1965), had two covers and two Harrison compositions along with ten Lennon–McCartney tracks; it was the last Beatles album to feature a non-original composition until Let It Be, which included an arrangement of the traditional Liverpool folk song "Maggie Mae". Among the songs in this post-Help! output, Harrison contributed between one and four songs per album, and Starr wrote two songs in total and received a joint credit with Lennon and McCartney for a third ("What Goes On"). In addition, "Flying" and "Dig It" were credited to all four Beatles. The rest of the catalogue came from Lennon and McCartney.
Lennon and McCartney gave songs to Starr to sing, and to Harrison before he started writing his own material. As for the songs they kept for themselves, each partner mostly sang his own composition, often with the other providing harmonies, or they shared lead vocal. If each contributed a fragment to make a whole song, he might sing his portion, as in the case of "I've Got a Feeling" and "A Day in the Life". "Every Little Thing" is a rare example of a Lennon–McCartney composition written by one member of the partnership (McCartney) and sung by the other (Lennon).
Several songs credited to Lennon–McCartney were originally released by artists other than the Beatles, especially those managed by Brian Epstein. Recording a Lennon–McCartney song helped launch new artists' careers. Many of the recordings below were included on the 1979 compilation album The Songs Lennon and McCartney Gave Away. Beatles versions of some of these were recorded; some were not released until after their split, on compilations such as Live at the BBC (1994) and The Beatles Anthology (1995–96).
|1963||The Rolling Stones||"I Wanna Be Your Man"||UK #12||Beatles version released later in 1963 on With the Beatles|
|1963||Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas||"I'll Be on My Way"||(B-side)||Beatles version released on Live at the BBC|
|1963||Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas||"Bad to Me"||UK #1||Beatles version released on iTunes download "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963|
|1963||Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas||"I Call Your Name"||(B-side)||Beatles version released on The Beatles' Second Album (US) and the Long Tall Sally EP (UK) in 1964|
|1963||Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas||"I'll Keep You Satisfied"||UK #4|
|1964||Billy J. Kramer with The Dakotas||"From a Window"||UK #10|
|1963||Tommy Quickly||"Tip of My Tongue"||–|
|1963||The Fourmost||"Hello Little Girl"||UK #9||Beatles version released on Anthology 1|
|1963||The Fourmost||"I'm in Love"||UK #17||Beatles version released on iTunes download "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963|
|1963||Cilla Black||"Love of the Loved"||UK #35||Beatles version released on I Saw Her Standing There|
|1964||Cilla Black||"It's for You"||UK #7|
|1968||Cilla Black||"Step Inside Love"||UK #8||Beatles version released on Anthology 3|
|1964||The Strangers with Mike Shannon||"One and One Is Two"||–||The song was rejected by Billy J. Kramer. The Strangers with Mike Shannon were South African.|
|1964||Peter & Gordon||"A World Without Love"||UK #1|
|1964||Peter & Gordon||"Nobody I Know"||UK #10|
|1964||Peter & Gordon||"I Don't Want to See You Again"||–|
|1964||The Applejacks||"Like Dreamers Do"||UK #20||Beatles version released on Anthology 1|
|1965||P.J. Proby||"That Means a Lot"||UK #30||Beatles version released on Anthology 2|
|1968||Black Dyke Mills Band||"Thingumybob"||–||Developed from an early version known as "Etcetera", demoed by Paul McCartney during a session for "Mother Nature's Son" on 20 August 1968.|
|1969||Mary Hopkin||"Goodbye"||UK #2|
|1969||Plastic Ono Band||"Give Peace a Chance"||UK #2||Although composed alone by Lennon, McCartney was credited as co-composer on the single appearance and on Lennon's compilation albums Shaved Fish and The John Lennon Collection. The credit was revised in the 1990s to cite only Lennon.|
Note that several songs released during this period were credited solely to Paul McCartney:
|1966||Peter & Gordon||"Woman"||UK #28; US #14||McCartney is credited as "Bernard Webb".|
|1966||The George Martin Orchestra||The Family Way||–||McCartney composed most of the music for this soundtrack.|
|1967||The Chris Barber Band||"Catcall"||–||Originally known as "Catswalk", performed from 1958 to 1962 and revisited during the Get Back sessions in January 1969.|
|1969||Badfinger||"Come and Get It"||UK #4||The original demo was included on Anthology 3.|
The following compositions are believed to have been written by Lennon and McCartney, but never officially released by The Beatles or any other artist. Many have appeared on Beatles bootlegs; a notable exception being "Carnival of Light". The list of unreleased songs includes some of the earliest Lennon–McCartney joint works dating back to The Quarrymen, the group which evolved into the Beatles. Several of these songs were revisited during the Get Back sessions of early 1969.
|"I Lost My Little Girl"||1956||First song written by McCartney. Performed by The Beatles (with Lennon on lead vocals) during the Get Back sessions. A performance of this song can be heard on McCartney's 1991 album Unplugged (The Official Bootleg).|
|"Too Bad About Sorrows"||1957||One of the earliest Lennon–McCartney compositions. Briefly sung by Lennon during the Get Back sessions of 8 January 1969; sung by McCartney during Get Back sessions of 21 January 1969.|
|"Just Fun"||1957||Played by The Quarrymen from 1957 to 1959; briefly sung (by Lennon) during the Get Back sessions of 8 January 1969.|
|"Keep Looking That Way"||1957||Played by The Quarrymen.|
|"Looking Glass"||1957||Instrumental. Mentioned in 1969 film outtakes; unknown if performed during Get Back sessions.|
|"That's My Woman"||1957||Played by The Quarrymen.|
|"Thinking of Linking"||1957||Played by The Quarrymen; briefly sung by Lennon during the Get Back sessions of 29 January 1969; performed by McCartney, Harrison and Starr for The Beatles Anthology.|
|"Years Roll Along"||1957||Played by The Quarrymen.|
|"Because I Know You Love Me So"||1960||Country-influenced duets briefly sung by Lennon and McCartney during the Get Back sessions of 3 January 1969.|
|"I'll Wait Till Tomorrow"||1960|
|"I've Been Thinking That You Love Me"||1960||Briefly performed during the Get Back sessions of 3 January 1969.|
|"Won't You Please Say Goodbye"||1960||Briefly sung by Lennon during the Get Back sessions of 3 January 1969.|
|"Some Days"||1960||Speculative titles based on taped works-in-progress. "You'll Be Mine", also recorded at the time, was released on Anthology 1.|
|"You Must Write Everyday"||1960|
|"Come on People"||1960|
|"I Don't Know"||1960|
|"I Fancy Me Chances"||1962||Performed live in 1962 and briefly during the Get Back sessions; the latter was released as "Fancy My Chances with You" on the bonus disc of Let It Be... Naked.|
|"Pinwheel Twist"||1962||Performed live in 1962.|
|"Carnival of Light"||1967||Recorded on 5 January 1967; nearly 14-minute-long experimental collage.|
|"Shirley's Wild Accordion"||1967||Recorded on 12 October 1967; instrumental intended for Magical Mystery Tour film.|
|"Commonwealth"||1969||Improvised studio jam satirising Enoch Powell's claim in a 1968 speech that immigration into the UK would cause a race war. Sung by McCartney during the Get Back sessions of 9 January 1969.|
|"Song of Love"||1969||Sung by McCartney; performed during the Get Back sessions of 14 January 1969.|
|"Watching Rainbows"||1969||Sung by Lennon; performed during the Get Back sessions of 14 January 1969.|
|"Madman"||1969||Sung by Lennon; performed during the Get Back sessions of 14 and 21 January 1969.|
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