The Trick Paul McCartney and John Lennon Used to Remember Their Music in the Recording Studio

Paul McCartney and John Lennon had a simple trick for remembering their music when The Beatles reconvened in the recording studio. They wrote memorable songs with catchy melodies.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon with The Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in 1964.
Paul McCartney and John Lennon | Bettmann/Getty Images

Paul McCartney and John Lennon helped each other make music

In The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul explained that he and John knew how to help each other in the songwriting process. If one was stuck, the other would know how to fix it.

“A lot of what we had going for us was that we were both good at noticing the stuff that just pops up, and grabbing it,” Paul wrote. “And the other thing is that John and I had each other. If he was sort of stuck for a line, I could finish it. If I was stuck for somewhere to go, he could make a suggestion.

“We could suggest the way out of the maze to each other, which was a very handy thing to have. We inspired each other.”

Many times while Paul and John were working on their music, one of them would add something that the other hadn’t thought of that made the whole song. For instance, Paul revealed that John’s last-minute addition to “All My Loving” made it “magical.”

“He’s playing the chords as triplets,” Paul said. “That was a last-minute idea, and it transforms the whole thing, giving it momentum. The song is obviously about someone leaving to go on a trip, and that driving rhythm of John’s echoes the feeling of travel and motion. It sounds like a car’s wheels on the motorway, which, if you can believe it, had only really become a thing in the U.K. at the end of the fifties.

“But, it was often like that when we were recording. One of us would come up with that little magic thing. It allowed the song to become what it needed to be.”

The trick Paul and John used to remember their music in the recording studio

Paul revealed that he and John had a trick for remembering their music in the recording studio; they wrote memorable tunes. If they wrote a melody that was easy to remember, that helped them when they could finally put it down in the recording studio.

“Then remembering it – that was the trick,” Paul wrote. “And in order to remember it, we had to write something memorable. You know, if we were writing something that was too clever or too this or that, we probably weren’t going to remember it.

“I always found that by the time I’d got home in the evening and had a drink, I’d completely forgotten it. ‘Oh s***,’ I would think. ‘Well, he’ll remember it. But what if he’s also had a drink and we’ve both forgotten it?’ But in the morning, I’d wake up singing it. It would be there, fresh as a daisy.”

This is what Paul and John had to do for songs like “Eight Days a Week.” Paul explained, “So we had the lyrics for ‘Eight Days a Week,’ and now I’d reinforced them in my brain, and by the time we came to the session, John and I could play it on acoustic guitars for George, Ring, George Martin, and the engineer.

“None of them had ever heard it before. John and I were the only two who knew it, but within twenty minutes we’d all learnt it.”

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The closest the bandmates ever came to a dry songwriting session

Paul and John started making music together when they were teenagers. Every songwriting session bore fruit. Although there was one session that almost didn’t.

Paul wrote, “The nearest John and I ever got to a dry session was with a song called ‘Golden Rings.’ I’d brought a version of it out to John’s house in Weybridge, and we stalled when we got to the lines ‘You can buy me golden rings / Get me all that kind of thing.’ We kept singing that over and over and couldn’t get beyond it because it was so shockingly bad.

“Part of the problem was that we’d already had ‘a diamond ring in ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’ ‘Golden Rings’ was unoriginal and uninspiring. We couldn’t get past it. So we left it, went and had a cup of tea.”

Then, when the pair returned to the song, they added a new character and story. The result was “Drive My Car.”

“When we came back, we started thinking of the woman as an LA girl,” Paul said. “That improved things a bit. Then she wanted a chauffeur. This is a little like the song ‘Norwegian Wood’ in the sense that you’ve got a cast of characters and then, before you know it, you’ve got a story. You’re going to burn someone’s house down because she’s got a lot of Norwegian wood.

“So let’s burn it and, meanwhile, let’s sleep in the bath. Once you get into creating a narrative and storytelling, it’s so much more entertaining. It draws you forward so much more easily. Now we were dramatising the interviewing of a chauffeur; we got over that dry moment and finished the song.

“It became one that didn’t get away. And its success had to do with getting rid of ‘golden rings’ and heading to ‘Baby, you can drive my car.'”

Fortunately, that was the closest Paul and John got to a dry songwriting session. Could you imagine if they’d left “Golden Rings?” They might not have written “Drive My Car.”