During their run in The Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney took turns as the dominant forces in the band. Around the time of A Hard Day’s Night (1964), John’s creativity and overall songwriting production were unparalleled.
Looking back on his Beatles career in 1980, John saw that fertile period as a product of youthful energy. “You can never be 24 again,” he told Playboy’s David Sheff. “You can never be that hungry twice.”
A few years later, with The Beatles wealthy enjoying stunning wealth and worldwide fame, Paul became the band’s dominant figure while making Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour (both 1967).
Thinking about what changed during that period, John noted the shift in his lifestyle (living with a wife and child outside of London) and how that contrasted with Paul’s life circa 1966-67.
John Lennon said his suburban life took him out of his songwriting game
In March of ’66, John had his famous “more popular than Jesus” interview with journalist Maureen Cleave. And readers of that London Evening Standard article also caught Cleave describing John as “probably the laziest person in England” as he showed off his countless possessions around the house.
Needless to say, John no longer put himself in the “young and hungry” category at that point. He had more money than he knew how to spend and had a lifestyle that was more “Good Morning, Good Morning” than “A Hard Day’s Night.”
In the 1980 Playboy interviews that became All We Are Saying, John spoke of the difference between he and Paul then. “There was a problem with that period,” John said. “I was living a more suburban life at the time, with a wife and kid, while [Paul] was still tripping around town.”
John said he would feel rushed as far as his creative process went. “[Paul] would work something out for a song or an album and then suddenly call me and say, ‘It’s time to go into the studio. Write some songs.’ He’d have all his prepared […] while I would be starting from scratch.”
John said he wrote ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘Lucy in the Sky’ in 10 days
While John might not have been churning out songs like he had in ’64, he still managed to produce several masterpieces during this period. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” his first knockout track released in ’67, went on record at the start of the Sgt. Pepper sessions.
John wrote that one while filming How I Won the War in 1966. With the Sgt. Pepper sessions underway and Paul writing reams of new material, John started feeling the heat in early ’67. “I managed to come up with ‘Lucy in the Sky’ and ‘A Day in the Life‘ under the pressure of only 10 days,” he told Sheff in All We Are Saying.
John spoke of only getting a few songs on Sgt. Pepper (he had three) and then even fewer new ones on Magical Mystery Tour (two, not counting “Strawberry Fields”). However, considering John wrote both “All You Need Is Love” and “I Am the Walrus” as the year wore on, you could argue he batted close to 1.000 in ’67.
After the group’s early ’68 trip to India, John came roaring back to form for The White Album. (He wrote 13 songs that ended up on the double-album.) All the downtime and meditation in Rishikesh — plus the departure from his suburban lifestyle — suited John well.