Fresh Air Celebrates The 50th Anniversary Of The Beatles' Arrival
Fifty years ago, on Feb. 7, 1964, The Beatles touched down at JFK airport. Two days later they broke TV viewing records and changed music, fashion, history — and basically an entire generation — when they appeared live on The Ed Sullivan Show.
An estimated 73 million people saw that first Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, says TV critic David Bianculli. "The Beatles were a blast of fresh energy from overseas, and America was eager to embrace them."
Click the audio link above to hear Terry Gross' interviews with Starr and McCartney.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I, WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND")
THE BEATLES: (Singing) Oh yeah, I tell you something I think you'll understand. When I say that something, I want to hold your hand, I want to hold your hand, I want to hold your hand. Oh, please say to me...
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
Believe it or not, and if you're around my age it's not easy to believe, it was 50 years ago today that The Beatles touched down at JFK Airport. Only two days later, they broke TV viewing records and changed music and fashion and history and basically an entire generation by appearing live on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
Today, we'll listen back to Terry's interviews with the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. And we'll start with a quick salute to the weekend when The Beatles invaded America. The golden anniversary of The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show," for me really is TV gold. It was back in 1964, when people gathered in their living rooms to watch one of only three networks on their family's only TV set. Ed Sullivan's CBS variety show was one of the hit shows then because he offered true variety - comics, singers, even jugglers and magicians.
If you didn't like what was on, wait a few minutes, and something completely different would show up. Why change channels? It was like vaudeville transmitted through the small screen. Sullivan offered a weekly menu of the hottest show-biz acts, veteran performers, new up-and-coming ones and some flat-out strange acts.
"The Ed Sullivan Show" of February 9, 1964 had all of the above. First of all, and last of all, since The Beatles closed the show as well as opened it, you had the Fab Four themselves. The Beatles performed live on "The Ed Sullivan Show" for three successive weeks that February. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had just hit number one on the U.S. charts the week before, and The Beatles played that song on all three shows, keeping it in the top spot the entire month.
GROSS: The Beatles were a blast of fresh energy from overseas, and America was eager to embrace them. An estimated 73 million people saw that first Sullivan show appearance. But also on that same show, they saw other acts, which are far less memorable 50 years later. The poor guy who had to follow The Beatles that night was a Dutch magician named Fred Kaps in a pre-recorded bit doing card tricks.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW")
FRED KAPS: Oh thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Now especially for this show tonight, I made an entirely new trick. I've never done this trick in public before. So this will be the first time I do this trick. I hope it won't be the last time. Now this trick is done with five...
BIANCULLI: Impressionist Frank Gorshin was there, too, prefacing his act of celebrity impersonations by posing what turned out to be a very prescient hypothetical.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW")
ED SULLIVAN: Now from Hollywood the brilliant impressionist Frank Gorshin. So let's have a very nice welcome, shall we?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FRANK GORSHIN: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Well, it's election year, and once again a lot of the Hollywood stars will be out campaigning for the candidates of both parties because of their interest in politics. Well, a funny thing occurred to me. What if these stars should suddenly decide to run for these offices themselves? They'd have no trouble getting votes because of their popularity. In just a short time, the stars will be running the country.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: And the cast of the Broadway "Oliver" performed two numbers, one of which featured a young actor and singer named Davy Jones. Two years later he'd be starring in NBC's "The Monkees," a rock group intentionally designed to emulate and imitate The Beatles.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "OLIVER")
DAVY JONES: (Singing) I'd do anything for you, dear, anything for you mean everything to me. I know that I'd go anywhere...
BIANCULLI: This weekend, the 50th anniversary of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan will be covered extensively by the media. CBS has a new primetime special scheduled to be shown 50 years to the minute after that Sullivan show from 1964. But I don't expect any of these tributes to play selections from Fred Kaps, Frank Gorshin or Davy Jones. What you will hear all this weekend is the sound of The Beatles themselves, whipping the teen girls in the studio audience into a frightening frenzy.
Surprisingly, Sullivan's staff didn't get the sound of The Beatles right until the third show. In the first show, John Lennon's mic was off most of the time, and in the second show, John's was on, but Paul's was off. But CBS sure captured the sound and the sight of those wild teenage girls, and in that one night America was infected by Beatlemania.
Terry spoke with Ringo Starr in 1995 and asked him about his memories of appearing on that first "Ed Sullivan Show."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
RINGO STARR: I thought we'd come to America, and it was fabulous, and there was millions of people at the airport, and they were lying in the streets, and it was yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah all over the place. And just my impression was Ed Sullivan, you know, I'm waiting for Ed to say there they are, they're all the way from England, and I know it's great, and they're going to be fabulous and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's like Ed said here they are, The Beatles.
GROSS: But you probably couldn't comprehend the whole - yeah.
STARR: It's just - we were just thrown to the lions.
STARR: To this day, I've always thought God, I mean, you could have done better than that, Ed.
GROSS: Well, you probably were unfamiliar with the whole Ed Sullivan phenomenon. I mean, the most low-key, square person.
STARR: We didn't know what it meant. Yeah, we did not know what it meant. You know, this guy just booked us on a show, and we'd go anywhere for a gig.
GROSS: So how did The Beatles ask you to join the band after they asked Pete Best to leave it?
STARR: Well, they didn't do it that way, you see. Pete Best was still in the band, and I was with Rory. And one day Pete couldn't make the session. So they asked me to play. And we'd got to know each other in Germany because we were the two bands playing there, The Beatles and Rory Storm. So, you know, we really became friends there.
Then we get back to Liverpool, and Pete couldn't make it one day, and Brian Epstein came and said would you play the lunchtime session? And I said sure. And that was it. And then we went for a drink, and that was the end of the story. And then a couple of weeks later he asked me again to play a couple of sessions, a couple of gigs. I said sure, you know, because I just happened to have the time.
And then I went away to play with Rory to - it's a holiday camp in England, Bucklands Holiday Camp, where you go for three months, you play the summer there in the rocking Calypso Hall.
STARR: And we were the rock band, and Brian called me on the phone, and he said, you know, would you like to join The Beatles? And I said sure, I'd love to join The Beatles. And I said when? And he said today. And I said, well, I can't join today. That was a Wednesday in 1962, and I said I can't play today because, you know, the band would be out of a job. We'd have to wait until Saturday because by then we could get another drummer.
And that's what happened. And, you know, everybody knows the story from then on.
GROSS: Well, an interesting part of the story is you showed up for the first recording session of The Beatles, and the producer...
STARR: George Martin.
GROSS: Yeah, had another drummer all picked out because I guess he didn't know that you had been chosen to be in the band.
STARR: No, he didn't know it. Well, he listened to the band with Pete Best and didn't think Pete was going to be on the session. And so he didn't know about me at all. And so he'd got this drummer Andy White ready, you know, a professional drummer, a session drummer.
STARR: And I came down, and I was just mortified. And he said oh, we've got this real drummer here. I said, well, what am I? And he didn't want to take a chance because in those days it wasn't like you could go in the studio and just spend your time there. You know, the session was three hours. You were in and out, and that was it.
So Andy played on the single, and of course then we re-recorded it, and I played on the album, and I sort of defy anyone to tell the difference. And that was it. But George Martin has apologized over and over again because I've made him, for doing this to me.
GROSS: Yes, actually I think he continues the apologies in his new book.
STARR: I think he does, and he did on Friday when I was with him.
GROSS: Oh, oh, oh. So when you joined the band, did you have to do, you know, The Beatles haircut and the suit jacket and...
STARR: Well, that's the famous line. You know, John came on the phone saying welcome to the band, but you'll have to get your hair cut and get rid of your beard, and which I did. I didn't have much of a beard then, but I did have my hair swept back. And we had it cut so it fell forward. It was part of the image. And Brian Epstein was moving them into like this image thing to making them wear suits and, you know, not drinking and smoking onstage. It was all part of the deal.
GROSS: Did that come easy for you? Were you comfortable with that, or...
STARR: Oh, yeah because I'd been in a group that had suits. You know, we - Rory Storm and the Hurricane, we were the top band in Liverpool 'cause we had suits.
STARR: And, you know, everyone else was just like they are now, actually, all sort of scruffed up. That's - we were professionals. You know, it's all funny to think about it now, but that red suit meant so much.
GROSS: Red, wow.
STARR: Red, and we had green suits so we could change, big doings in the '60s, I'll tell you, big doings.
GROSS: Now in The Beatles, did you have to, like, figure out who you were going to be in terms of your public personality in the band? Because everybody in the band seemed to get this, you know, public persona.
STARR: Yeah, I think mine just came in naturally as Mr. Dopey. You know, it's sort of like the comic clown, you know. John had (unintelligible), Paul was Mr. Lovable. Well, I was Mr. Lovable, but the young girls loved him. George was the silent type, and, you know, I was hi, what's happening?
And so that image of course, especially through "Hard Day's Night" is, you know, I've had to battle that since that day. Everybody thinks, oh, that's what he's like, and of course he's not like that at all.
GROSS: Could you give a sense of what it was like early on when The Beatles' fame started getting, like, so extraordinary that you couldn't go places without attracting crowds? I mean, what...
STARR: Well, you know, we were young boys, and it was exciting where we'd, you know, we'd sort of conquered England. That was the first job. You know, just to get down to London and get in there was heavy enough. And then we'd do the continent. You know, we used to, as they say, oh well we've done Sweden, we've conquered Sweden. We've done France now, we've done Italy, you know.
STARR: And then of course we were invited to come to America, and at that time we were really worried because we'd had two records out here, or they were coming out, and nobody wanted them. And by chance George came over for a holiday. He was the first one of us to come to America. And of course he was going to record shops, you know, have you got The Beatles? And they were saying excuse me? I've never heard of them.
So, you know, he came back saying, oh, they don't know us over there. And of course, you know, the story goes when Capitol decided to put some money behind us to promote us, and we got off the plane to do Ed Sullivan, we had a number one. I mean, you can't plan things like that. This is just how it is.
GROSS: So when girls started screaming at your performances, did you have - do you have any idea what was going on, like, why, why the screaming as opposed to anything else?
STARR: It started in Liverpool and just...
GROSS: So you actually knew where it started? I mean, I was a...
STARR: Yeah, it caught on like wildfire all over the world.
GROSS: Was it frustrating to perform in concerts where you couldn't hear what you were playing because the audience was screaming so loudly?
STARR: It got frustrating in the end. At the beginning it was just fabulous. I mean, if you can imagine you're 22, 23, and you go onstage, and all those people are just screaming at you, loving you, I mean, you were selling - making and selling a lot of records and making good records. You know, it was everything you dreamed about.
And it just built up and built up, and of course around about '65, you know, it started actually to get a little tiring because, you know, we were starting to make really interesting records, and we couldn't perform them. And it didn't matter what we did. People were screaming anyway. So no one was listening. And because of that, we were becoming, you know, not the best musicians we would become because we could only play, you know, the actual thing.
I mean for me personally, it's very hard to do this on radio, but I could only the downbeat, you know, (makes noises). I couldn't do any fills or anything because they would just disappear into the cosmos. So you found yourself, you know, you're just sitting there playing the track, really.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite phase of The Beatles' recording years?
STARR: You know, making the first record was just a thrill. I mean, it was absolutely thrilling. And listening to it on the radio. You know, we would stop the car when we'd be going to a gig somewhere, and you'd know, you know, because they didn't play them every 10 minutes. Oh, at 7:45 on Wednesday, they're going to play your record.
So wherever we were going, we'd stop the car, we were usually in a car, and listen to it, you know. But then of course - from "Rubber Soul" on, you know, the records started to really get exciting. You know, the sound, we were really getting into making sounds, making good sounds. The writing was getting better. You know, everything was picking up. It was really getting good.
So, you know, it had a natural progression, so, you know, to say this period or that period, they're all different periods. I mean, I like "The White Album," that's one of my favorites just because I felt after "Sergeant Pepper," which was brilliant, but it just doesn't happen to be my favorite, "The White Album," we were getting back to being a band again.
And, you know, that's what The Beatles were. We were a really cool band.
BIANCULLI: Ringo Starr, speaking to Terry Gross in 1995. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 1995 interview with Ringo Starr. Fifty years ago this weekend, he and Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison performed on live American TV for the first time on CBS' "The Ed Sullivan Show."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
GROSS: Can we talk a little bit about life before The Beatles for you?
STARR: Sure, sure.
GROSS: You grew up in Liverpool. What was your neighborhood like?
STARR: Well, I was born at a very early age.
STARR: Our neighborhood was real working class. I remember being conscious from a very early age that I wanted to get out of there because it was dark.
GROSS: Dark from...
STARR: It was just dark. It was just a dark neighborhood. You know, it was like they needed more streetlights at night. But of course it was my neighborhood as a child, and I have, you know, wonderful memories of it. And the thrilling thing is that, you know, my memory of it, because I'd left it for years, was like, you know, this childhood memory that I had all these big avenues that we used to walk down.
And then I went back, and there's all these really narrow streets.
STARR: The memory plays games. but it was a loving neighborhood. I mean, the school was three minutes' walk away. So, you know, it was a real neighborhood. There was a pub on nearly every corner, which I got to a little later.
STARR: You know, and that - there was a park I used to walk to. I mean, one of my ambitions, which my mother used to tell me often, was I wanted to be a tramp. And so we used to walk everywhere. One of the reasons was, of course, because we couldn't afford to take a car or take a limo in those days - or a bus even. So we used to walk a lot. And I used to love that. And there was parks around us, and so it was - it was a very poor neighborhood, but childhood memories make it quite romantic.
GROSS: I know your father left the family I think when you were 3.
STARR: Yeah, he'd had enough.
GROSS: So did your mother have a way of making money?
STARR: Yeah, she worked any job she could find. You know, I mean, I come from a working-class family, but they call it lower-working-class when you've only got one parent. But my mother, God bless her, she did anything, from scrubbing steps to working in a food shop to working in pubs, anything she could to support us because he forgot that part of the bargain.
GROSS: Right. Now I know when you were young you had two long hospital stays. When you were 6, your appendix burst, and you ended up getting an internal infection.
STARR: I had peritonitis, it's called, yeah. And that was pretty dangerous. It's still dangerous today, but in 1947 it was very dangerous.
GROSS: So you were in the hospital for about a year.
STARR: I was in a year because six months in I was getting rather well, and I got excited, and I fell out the bed and ripped open all these stitches in my stomach. So they had to dive in again and sew me up.
GROSS: Oh, gosh.
STARR: So we're lucky to be here, Terry.
GROSS: Yeah, well and they you got sick again when you were 13, tuberculosis, was it?
STARR: Yeah, but that was from the area I lived in.
GROSS: Industrial stuff?
STARR: Yeah, where I lived, like not every other home, but it was like, you know, six or seven cases in every street where people were just in the living room dying of TB because they didn't have a cure, of course. And again, God, you know, shone his light on me. In 1953 or '54, when they discovered streptomycin, and that's what saved me. So they shipped me off to a greenhouse in the country.
GROSS: A greenhouse, is that like a sanitarium?
STARR: Yeah, just a huge greenhouse where instead of flowers they put all us kids in there and let us breathe some decent air for a change and gave us streptomycin. And a year later I came out of there.
GROSS: So how did you keep busy while you were sick? Had music entered your life yet where you listened to a lot of it?
STARR: Well, that's where it entered my life was because to keep us busy, besides letting us knit - they used to knit dishcloths.
STARR: It was really exciting. And then so some teacher would come in with musical instruments, being drums, tambourines, maracas, triangles, all percussive stuff. And she'd put this big screen - I'm trying to let you visualize it out there in radioland. Big, big white paper with red notes for the drums and yellow notes for the tambourines and green notes for the triangles.
And so she would point to these different colored symbols, and we would either hit whatever instruments we had. Well, I had a drum the first time, the first session, and I really loved it. And so they came like a couple of weeks later and they tried to give me another instrument, but I only wanted the drum, and that's where I really fell in love with drums.
GROSS: So what was it like of you after you were sick to - or while you were sick, even, to be playing an instrument that's so physically taxing?
STARR: Well, I didn't have an instrument for years later. I made my first kit when I came out of hospital out of biscuit tins and firewood. And then when I was about 16, I got a bass drum. That's all I had was a big bass drum. And then I was 18, I got my first kit. So I'd strengthened up by then.
GROSS: And how old were you when you were actually playing in a band?
STARR: One month later.
GROSS: After you got the kit?
STARR: Yeah, because I was really lucky because in those days if you had the instrument, you were in the band and because it was skiffle, so it was real easy. So that's how I - the guy next door was called Eddie Miles, but we formed the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group. And he was the guitarist. And my best friend Roy Trafford was the other guitarist. And we got another guy on tea chest bass, and we just out there and played.
BIANCULLI: Ringo Starr, speaking to Terry Gross in 1995. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: We're celebrating the 50th anniversary this Sunday, of the first live U.S. TV appearance by The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. You just heard Terry's interview with Ringo Starr. Now, we'll listen back to her interview with the other surviving Beatle, Paul McCartney. This Sunday night, Starr and McCartney will reunite and perform on a "CBS" music special.
Terry spoke to Paul McCartney in 2001, when he published a collection of old lyrics and new poetry called "Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965- 1999." Several of the opponents were about McCartney's late wife, Linda, and were written before and shortly after her death. During their conversation, Terry asked Paul about the early reactions to The Beatles, not from the kids, but from their parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
GROSS: You know, when The Beatles started performing, the adults were...
SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: Up in arms about them; about your hair and about, you know, the silliness of the lyrics and everything.
GROSS: And, but with "Yesterday," like, the nightclub adult performers started adding it to their acts.
GROSS: Did I feel like a victory to you or did you really not care what the adults were doing in their acts anyways?
MCCARTNEY: No. It was very nice to have that because we thought what we were doing was quite good and we're proud of it. And there was this sort of backlash particularly from the elder generation. People tell me stories now. They say they were watching that first "Ed Sullivan Show" and it's always the dad in the family who sort of says, eh them Beatles, yeah. And he never likes us. And he always says, you know, those are wigs.
MCCARTNEY: They always thought, the dads always swore, you know, the kids say, we knew they weren't. We knew they weren't. So it was always the problem. The dad was always the problem. So I suppose he was a symbol - symbolic of the problem. So when people started to like anything out of our repertoire it was a certain victory and "Yesterday" was a personal victory of mine. I mean for instance, the great clarinetist Benny Goodman, who we had loved and thought was great talent, started for some reason, and maybe it was just a journalistic thing, but he came out against us. He said, oh, you know, I can't remember what he said. But, of course, we hated him from then on and we started saying is a lousy clarinetist. Anyway, what does he know, you know? So there was this sort of group that like us that but we weren't very good. So when "Yesterday" came out, I think a lot of them had to change their tune and it eventually got recorded by way too many of them.
GROSS: Right. So your friend Ivan introduced you to John Lennon. Do you remember what the band was playing the first time you heard John with the band The Quarrymen.
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, they were - they had a repertoire of kind of folksy, sort of bluesy things mixed with early rock 'n' roll. And John and the band were playing a thing called "Come Go With Me," which was a record for a group called the Del Vikings. It was an early rock 'n' roll record. But John obviously didn't have the record, and he'd probably heard it a few times on radio. And being so musical, he'd just picked it up. And so he was doing a version of it.
But what impressed me was, even though he didn't know the words, he would make them up and he'd steal words from sort of blues songs. So instead of the real words, which I don't know, but he was singing: Come go with me down to the penitentiary.
MCCARTNEY: Which was more off Big Bill Broonzy or somebody, you know. But I thought, you know, that's inventive. That's ingenious. So I warmed to him immediately hearing that.
GROSS: And how were you invited to play with the band?
MCCARTNEY: Well, they were doing two sets. And they were sitting around, and with all this time on their hands, John, who was one and half years older than me, had got hold of some beer from somewhere and was having a little drink. We were sitting around and just playing various songs. And even though I was left-handed, I'd kind of learned to turn the guitar upside down and just about play songs, 'cause my friends wouldn't let me retune their guitars, obviously - too inconvenient for them. So I'd had to learn this left-handed method.
So I turned the guitar around - I think it was his guitar - and I played a song - an early Eddie Cochran song, which was called "Twenty Flight Rock." And I must have done it quite well because a couple of days later I was cycling around Walton, which was the area where I met John. One of the friends, a guy called Pete Shotton, cycled up to me and said: Hey, we were talking about you. You know, we enjoyed that "Twenty Flight Rock," and would you like to be in the band, you know?
So I said, well, I'll have to consider this. You know, this is a big move to me. I'd never been in a professional outfit before. I'd never actually even hardly sung on stage before. I think I just did it once at a holiday camp somewhere. A couple of days later I did and said, yeah, you know what, it wouldn't be a bad idea.
GROSS: I understand you missed the first date that you were supposed to play on with The Quarrymen because you were on a scouting, a Scout camping trip and there something I find funny about that.
GROSS: I don't know whether it's because it's a sign of how young you were or the choice between, you know, the proto-band, you know, the band that later kind of became The Beatles versus camping with the Boy Scouts.
MCCARTNEY: Well, I mean you've got to have priorities, haven't you, in life.
MCCARTNEY: Come on. The Scouts what kind of an official thing I took part in. And so if you missed it, you know, there was problems. Whereas, this was a new venture, you know, the band. And let's face it, none of us knew it was going to lead to any of the heights it did lead to. So it was the kind of thing I was likely to pass up the band in favor of an important scouting gig. So I had to go, I'm afraid.
GROSS: Now, your songs were co-credited, you know, in the Beatles era. My understanding, and correct if I'm wrong, that many of the songs were written by one of you or the other, although the other would do some editing on the song, but a few of the songs were actually true collaborations. Is that right? Is that accurate?
MCCARTNEY: Yeah. Well, what happened was, in the early days they were pretty much - the very earliest days were separate. We wrote one or two separately before we actually got together. But when we got together and actually started writing the earliest Beatles stuff, everything was co-written. We hardly ever wrote things separate. But then, after a few years, as we got a bit of success with the Beatles, and didn't actually live together or weren't just always on the road together sharing hotel rooms, then we had the luxury of writing stuff separately.
So John would write something like "Nowhere Man" sort of separately in his house outside London. And I would write something like "Yesterday" quite separately on my own. And as you say, we would come together and check them out against each other. Sometimes we would edit a line of each other's. But more often we'd just sort of say, yeah, that's great. And very often, a line that one of us was going to chuck out we would encourage the other not to chuck out because it was a good line. I had a line in "Hey Jude" much later that said: The movement you need is on your shoulder. And I thought that was me just blocking out the line. And I said I'll change that. He said you won't, you know. That's the best line in it.
And similarly, I would encourage him to keep lines in his songs that he didn't think were very good. And I'd say no, that's a really great line. There was a song of his called "Glass Onion," where he had a line about the walrus, here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul. And he wanted to keep it but he needed to check it with me. He said, What do you think about that line? I said it's a great line. You know, it's a spoof on the way everyone was always reading into our songs. I said here we go, you know, we give them another clue to follow. So we would check stuff against each other, and it was obviously very handy for our writing to be able to do that.
GROSS: Were you ever sorry that your songs were co-credited? Did you ever wish that you could get the composing credit for your songs, that was clear?
MCCARTNEY: Well, it was an arrangement we made in the early days - very early days. And, of course, you know, a lot of people don't realize that we, our admiration goes back to people like Rogers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart. We loved a lot of the work of those people, and so we were looking for something similar. So Lennon/McCartney grew up so that we could be a songwriting team in the tradition of those people. For the first few years it was fine and it never bothered us. But more recently I must say, it started to bother me. What happened was the kind of thing that would spark the feeling that it may be should be better credited, the songs, was that Adrian Mitchell, who helped me edit my poetry book, did an anthology of verse where he had my poem, "Blackbird," my song or poem "Blackbird," in it. And, of course, it was credited "Blackbird" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, which was just not true. John hadn't had anything to do with that. So that kind of started me thinking. And then when we had the Beatles' first anthology record came out I actually did request that on the song "Yesterday," which was solely penned by me, that for the first time in 30 years I'd be allowed actually have my name in front of John's. Not remove John's name, but that we credited "Yesterday" by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. As I say, John actually didn't have anything to do with the song at all. He didn't sing on it or play on it or write it. So I thought that was fair enough. And an actual fact, I wasn't allowed to do that, that was vetoed. I don't want any credit if John stuff gets separately put in something like a poetry anthology, you know, I don't want any credit for "Give Peace A Chance," even though I am credited on that. Some of John's stuff was purely John and I'd rather it be that.
BIANCULLI: Paul McCartney, speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. More after break. this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE NIGHT BEFORE")
BEATLES: (Singing) We said our goodbyes the night before. Love was in your eyes the night before. Now today I find you have changed your mind.
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2001 interview with Paul McCartney. She spoke to him when he was releasing a book named "Blackbird Singing," a collection of old lyrics and new poems.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
GROSS: You have a poem for John in there. It's called "Song for John." It's actually a lyric for a song that you recorded in 1982. But I was wondering if you could read it for us.
MCCARTNEY: OK. This poem is called "Here Today." It was originally a song I recorded for John Lennon.
(Reading) And if I said I really knew you well, what would your answer be if you were here today? Well, knowing you, you'd probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart, if you were here today. But as for me, I still remember how it was before and I am holding back the tears no more. I love you. What about the time we met? Well, I suppose you could say that we were playing hard to get. Didn't understand a thing, but we could always sing. What about the night we cried, because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside? Never understood a word, but you were always there with a smile. And if I say I really loved you and was glad you came along, then you were here today, for you were in my song, here today.
GROSS: When did you write this?
MCCARTNEY: I wrote that shortly after John died. I wrote it in the upstairs room of what is now my recording studio.
GROSS: What was the night that we cried that you refer to in the poem?
MCCARTNEY: We were supposed to play a gig in Jacksonville and we couldn't get in because of some great hurricane. So we had to spend a night or two in Key West. And at that age, with that much time on our hands, we really didn't know what to do with it except get drunk.
And so that was what we did. And we stayed up all night - talking, talking, talking like it was going out of style. And at some point early in the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us, because we - members of a band and young guys, we didn't do that kind of thing. So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark.
GROSS: Do you remember what you were talking about that led to that?
MCCARTNEY: Probably our mothers dying, because John and I shared that experience. My mother died when I was about 14, and his died shortly after -about a year or so after, I think. So this was a great bond John and I always had. We both knew the pain of it, and we both knew that we had to put on a brave face, because we were sort of teenage guys, and you didn't talk about that kind of thing where we came from.
GROSS: Now, that's the kind of thing that John really acted out through his music. I mean he had a couple of songs that were really about that and were...
GROSS: ...were very emotional. It's not the kind of thing you really did, though. None of the songs as far as I know were really about your mother.
MCCARTNEY: Well, no. Mine's veiled. My style is more veiled. And also, at the time the songs were written that you're talking about, like "Mother," John was going through primal scream therapy.
GROSS: Exactly. Right.
MCCARTNEY: And, you know, that's going to get it out of you.
MCCARTNEY: I didn't actually go through any of that. I had my own sort of more private scream therapy. So my stuff tended to be more veiled, or I would tend to talk to friends, relatives, loved ones about it in private. I think probably in songs like "Yesterday" it's been put to me, although it's kind of subconscious, but it's been put tome that the song "Yesterday" was probably about my mother.
Why she had to go, I don't know. She wouldn't say. I did something wrong, now I long for yesterday. That's yesterday, all my troubles were so far away. I'm sure that was to do with my mother dying. But as I said, the kind of age group we were then, it wasn't a done thing to talk about things like that.
GROSS: Well, those two different approaches you had to dealing with your mothers, musically, is an example in a way of how you were different. What do you think you had in common, musically, and were most different about musically?
MCCARTNEY: I think, in common, I think we both loved music. We both loved the same kind of music, and it was a very large spectrum. People often think of John as quite a hard guy. In actual fact, he had a very soft center and I was privileged to see that. So he would love songs like "Little White Lies," which is an old song.
GROSS: Walter Donaldson?
MCCARTNEY: And it's great.
MCCARTNEY: Yeah. It's a very beautiful song, with some beautiful chord changes. And it's not the kind of thing you'd associate with John. He was quite a sentimental guy. And I think he had to cover it up more. I was very lucky. I had, and still have, a very large supportive family. I've got relatives who are breeding as we speak.
MCCARTNEY: But John had a very - he had quite a small range. He had a very strange upbringing, actually, which didn't help his emotional profile. He was - he didn't live with his mother. He was brought up by his auntie. And then his uncle, his auntie's wife - his wife - Uncle George died. And John I remember telling me once that he felt he was some sort of jinx on the male side of his family because his father had left home when John was 3.
So I think John always felt somehow guilty about that kind of stuff. So I'd always had the strength of my family. I had been able to - I had people to talk to. So I think I've been more open about that and John wasn't able to talk about that quite so well, I think, until he was much older and therapy helped him.
So what did we have in common? We had a deep love of music, a love of songwriting, which stretched from very early old songs that were beautifully crafted, to much later rock 'n' roll songs, through people like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, through a lot of Elvis Presley stuff, through Chuck Berry, who to us was a great poet. I think Chuck is a great American poet. Bob Dylan is another who we both loved. So we had a love of music.
As to what our differences were, I don't know really. I don't really think about our differences. I prefer to think about what drew us together.
BIANCULLI: Paul McCartney speaking to Terry Gross in 2001. Terry also interviewed McCartney in 2012 and you can listen to that interview at our website freshair.npr.org. Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the first live TV appearance by the Beatles in America on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new George Clooney movie "The Monuments Men."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.