The Beatles Song John Lennon Said He Could’ve Sung Better Than Paul McCartney
If you want to know who wrote a particular Beatles song, a big clue is the lead singer. When you hear John Lennon on the vocal of an original track (e.g., “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Come Together”) it’s a safe bet he was the composer.
The same goes for songs featuring Paul McCartney (“Martha My Dear“) or George Harrison (“Savoy Truffle“) on lead vocals. But there were exceptions during the Beatles’ epic run. Early on, John passed “Do You Want to Know a Secret” to George for him to sing. (He thought it suited George’s range.)
Later, for Sgt. Pepper’s, John and Paul collaborated on “With a Little Help From My Friends” with the understanding Ringo would sing it. John’s “Good Night” (also for Ringo) on The White Album falls into this category as well.
However, you weren’t going to see John writing a song for Paul to sing (or vice versa). They just didn’t work like that. Looking back, John pointed to one Abbey Road song he thought he could have taken off Paul’s hands — and done a better job on vocals, too.
John said Paul should have let him sing ‘Oh! Darling.’
In 1980, as John and Yoko Ono were getting ready to release Double Fantasy, the couple sat down for many hours of interviews with Playboy’s David Sheff. During those talks, John gave withering critiques of many Beatles songs.
Indeed, John and Sheff ran through every Beatles song. When they got to Abbey Road, John had lots of thoughts about “Oh! Darling,” a track by Paul he admired. “‘Oh! Darling’ was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well,” he said. “I always thought that I could’ve done it better.”
John followed that by saying “Oh! Darling” was more in his style than Paul’s. But he acknowledged that they didn’t operate that way (i.e., taking one another’s songs to sing). “He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it,” John said.
He then offered up another line that makes his 1980 Playboy interviews must-read material. “If he’d had any sense, he should have let me sing it,” John said.
Paul spent days trying to get the vocals right for ‘Oh Darling.’
Paul knew that the vocal for “Oh! Darling” would be a challenge — and taxing on his voice. So, in order to minimize the damage, he began coming into the studio early to belt out the vocal before digging into other work. And he kept doing it, day after day.
“Every day we’d be treated to a hell of a performance as McCartney put his all into singing the song all the way through once and once only, nearly ripping his vocal cords to shreds in the process,” engineer Geoff Emerick recalled in Here, There and Everywhere.
Emerick believed pride played a factor in Paul’s decision to keep the vocal to himself. “Paul’s ego prevented him from ever giving John a stab at singing the lead on ‘Oh! Darling,’ despite the fact it was probably better suited to Lennon’s voice,” Emerick wrote.
Everyone — well, everyone other than John Lennon — would agree it turned out fine in Paul’s hands. But it would have been something to hear John at the mic on “Oh! Darling.”