Paul McCartney Said He and John Lennon Did Not ‘Have a Formula’ When Writing Songs

The Beatles are one of the most popular bands of all time. Made up of members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, the band’s music is still heralded today. In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, McCartney sat down for a conversation with singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, and the two discussed their careers. During the interview, McCartney talked about his songwriting process with Lennon.

A black-and-white photo of The Beatles in 1964
(L-R) Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon | CBS via Getty Images

Paul McCartney shared he did not ‘have a formula’ when writing songs with John Lennon

In 2020, Swift and McCartney were interviewed by Rolling Stone about their new releases from that year. Swift released her acclaimed album folklore, and McCartney released an album called McCartney III.

During their conversation about the albums for Rolling Stone, McCartney and Swift also talked about their respective careers and songwriting process.

“I remember what I wanted to know about, which is lyrics. Like, when you’re in this kind of strange, unparalleled time, and you’re making this record, are lyrics first? Or is it when you get a little melodic idea?” Swift asked McCartney.

He replied, “It was a bit of both. As it kind of always is with me. There’s no fixed way. People used to ask me and John, ‘Well, who does the words, who does the music?’ I used to say, ‘We both do both.’ We used to say we don’t have a formula, and we don’t want one. Because the minute we get a formula, we should rip it up.”

McCartney continued, “I will sometimes, as I did with a couple of songs on this album, sit down at the piano and just start noodling around, and I’ll get a little idea and start to fill that out. So the lyrics — for me, it’s following a trail.”

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Paul McCartney thinks he wanted ‘fame and attention’ at the beginning of his career

In the Rolling Stone conversation, McCartney and Swift bonded over using pseudonyms to write music. McCartney then admitted that he did not have the same mindset about anonymity when he was younger.

“But, you know, let’s face it, you crave fame and attention when you’re young. And I just remembered the other day, I was the guy in the Beatles that would write to journalists and say [speaks in a formal voice]: ‘We are a semiprofessional rock combo, and I’d think you’d like [us].… We’ve written over 100 songs (which was a lie), my friend John and I. If you mention us in your newspaper…’ You know, I was always, like, craving the attention,” McCartney said.

“The hustle! That’s so great, though,” Swift replied.

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How Paul McCartney writes his songs

After his career with the Beatles, McCartney has had a successful solo career as a singer-songwriter. Speaking with Swift in Rolling Stone, he explained how he writes lyrics as a solo artist.

“I think a love of words is a great thing, particularly if you’re going to try to write a lyric, and for me, it’s like, ‘What is this going to say to that person?’ I often feel like I’m writing to someone who is not doing so well. So I’m trying to write songs that might help,” he shared.

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