In the music industry, there are few bigger living legends than Sir Paul McCartney. Back in their ’60s heyday, of course, the veteran singer-songwriter and his Beatles bandmates transformed popular culture – perhaps even the world. And McCartney still seems happy to talk about that time in his life, judging by a September 2019 appearance on TV’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In fact, while on the show, the much-loved musician even chose to divulge a secret about his relationship with his former songwriting partner John Lennon.
Yes, even decades on from Lennon’s death, there’s still more to learn about the late star. Fans of the Fab Four may lap up such revelations, too – especially when they come from McCartney himself. Famously, Lennon and McCartney had a rather checkered relationship, with the pair seemingly being at loggerheads after the end of their time in the Beatles.
The two musical icons even seemed to trade blows – albeit only through their lyrics. Most notably, Lennon’s track “How Do You Sleep?” appears to lambaste McCartney for his lackluster post-Beatles output. In one particularly scathing section of the song, the late star sings, “The only thing you done was yesterday, and since you’ve gone you’re just another day.”
Given such barbs, then, many perceive Lennon and McCartney’s relationship to have hit the rocks during that period. But in September 2019 McCartney looked to set the record straight. And after sitting down with Stephen Colbert for an interview, the veteran musician made a significant confession.
Since the advent of popular music, a number of bands have arguably emerged as icons in their particular genres. For instance, plenty of heavy metal fans would claim that groups such as Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Metallica have all been trailblazers in their field.
However, when it comes to the music industry as a whole, there are few bands more influential than The Beatles. The group’s iconoclastic brand of rock music first revolutionized the pop world in the 1960s, with Lennon, McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison all becoming superstars during that time.
The Beatles’ story actually began a few years prior to their explosion on the world stage, though. It all started back in 1957, when Lennon put together a band as a teenager. In that endeavor, he was joined by a collection of friends who all studied at Quarry Bank High School in Liverpool, England.
Lennon’s band took on the name of The Quarrymen, and they would go on to play their music at several different venues in the local area. Then, a few months later, a new member was added to the group. That summer, Lennon was introduced to McCartney, who was just 15 years old at the time.
And once McCartney joined the band on rhythm guitar, he played a big role in getting another recruit on board. The musician was already friends with Harrison during that period, you see, and had asked him to attend one of the band’s shows. Lennon eventually welcomed Harrison into The Quarrymen in March 1958, placing him on lead guitar.
But over the course of the next year, Lennon’s acquaintances from school all dropped out of the band, leaving only him, McCartney and Harrison. The name of the group changed as well, with the trio briefly dubbing themselves Johnny and the Moondogs – although that moniker wasn’t to last much beyond the end of the ’50s.
In 1960, you see, a friend of Lennon’s named Stuart Sutcliffe joined the group and put forward the idea of the band calling themselves Beatals. This ultimately changed to the Silver Beetles then, in the summer of that year, The Beatles.
With the name all set, The Beatles went on to establish themselves as an upcoming force in both England and Germany. Things didn’t really start to take off, however, until 1962 – the year that Starr was accepted as the band’s permanent drummer.
With McCartney and Lennon leading the way, The Beatles’ first album hit the shelves in March 1963. Titled Please Please Me, the record was a smash hit in the United Kingdom. Follow-up With the Beatles – released just a matter of months later – became a million-seller, too.
And The Beatles went on to produce another 11 albums over the next seven years, establishing themselves as one of the biggest bands in the world as they did so. That run, of course, included now-legendary records such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and a self-titled effort that is better known among fans as The White Album.
Then, in May 1970, the band’s 13th album Let It Be was released. And yet again, the record was a hit, reaching number one in the U.S., Australia, Canada and the U.K. Let It Be proved to be The Beatles’ swansong, however, as they broke up that same year.
As it turned out, tensions had been high between the Fab Four way before the split. But while a few outside factors were rumored to have caused the rift – including Lennon’s famous partner Yoko Ono – the problem may actually have been a lot closer to home.
“I don’t think you could have broken up four very strong people like them,” Ono is quoted as saying in a 2009 article by Rolling Stone magazine. “Even if you tried. So there must have been something that happened within them – not an outside force at all.” It’s been suggested, for example, that Lennon and McCartney’s failing relationship played a big role in The Beatles’ demise.
But why did the former friends fall out in the first place? Well, it’s said that Lennon wanted to pursue a career without the responsibility of The Beatles hanging over him. McCartney, on the other hand, apparently wanted to stick with the band going forward. And after The Beatles decided to call a halt to live performances, Lennon began to mull over what that decision meant for him.
According to a 2009 report by Rolling Stone, Lennon once explained, “I was thinking, ‘Well, this is the end, really. There’s no more touring. That means there’s going to be a blank space in the future.’ That’s when I really started considering life without The Beatles – what would it be?”
“And that’s when the seed was planted that I had to somehow get out of [The Beatles] without being thrown out by the others,” Lennon added. “But I could never step out of the palace because it was too frightening.” Regardless of Lennon’s bleak assessment of the situation, though, the band still continued to make music.
Yet the issues kept building up within the famous group, and McCartney and Lennon’s compositional partnership appeared to fall by the wayside. Instead, Lennon was devoting more of his time to collaborations with Ono. “[Ono] always pushed [Lennon], which he liked,” McCartney would later explain. “Nobody had ever pushed him like that.”
Meanwhile, in 1968 one of The Beatles’ most well-known songs was released. McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” by himself, and the track’s lyrics could be seen as a sort of tribute to Lennon’s son Julian. Lennon, by contrast, interpreted the anthem in a very different way.
“The words ‘go out and get her’ – subconsciously [McCartney] was saying, ‘Go ahead, leave me,’” Lennon said in the late 1970s to Playboy magazine. “On a conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, ‘Bless you.’ The devil in him didn’t like it at all because he didn’t want to lose his partner.”
In the end, Lennon left The Beatles in September 1969 – although the news wasn’t officially announced. Then McCartney followed suit a few months later and made the split plain. Yes, once his debut solo album had been released in 1970, the musician confirmed that his famous band was done.
And in the years that followed, rumors continued to circulate about the nature of Lennon and McCartney’s relationship. It’s been said, for instance, that while the pair eventually reconciled prior to Lennon’s murder in 1980, the former friends were still not nearly as close as they had once been. Perhaps owing to this speculation, then, The Beatles’ former bassist finally decided to speak out in September 2019.
In that month, McCartney was one of the guests on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. During that appearance, in fact, the music legend spoke candidly about the effect that his mother’s death had had on him as a youngster. Then, at one point during the show, Colbert pulled out a photograph that showed both McCartney and Lennon sitting together and making notes on a sheet of paper.
And it was at that stage that McCartney addressed the rumors that he and his fellow songwriter hadn’t been close. The star revealed, “I do [remember this photo]. And that’s a very special picture for me, actually, because when The Beatles broke up, a lot of the talk was that I was the villain.”
“[There were also rumors] that John and I didn’t really get on well,” McCartney continued. “There was a lot of down talk about it, because everyone was sad that The Beatles had broken up. And I kind of bought into [being the villain]. When you’re called it enough, you start to think, ‘Maybe I was.’”
McCartney elaborated on this period of second-guessing himself, saying, “I had to do a lot of wrangling with, ‘Was I, wasn’t I [the villain]? Did I know John? Were we friends?’ Knowing really we were, but there were so many rumors about it.”
Then McCartney turned his attention back to the photo on Colbert’s desk. And with a glint in his eyes, he set the record straight once and for all – laying to rest all of the rumors that had preceded him for close to five decades.
McCartney said, “That photo, when I saw that, it’s like, ‘Yes we were friends.’ And it’s a beautiful photo for me, because it just reminds me of us working together and how cool it was.” The superstar expanded on that view, too, when talking with The Guardian in 2019.
“This picture is a blessing for me,” McCartney told the newspaper. “It’s like, ‘This is how we were. This is why we related, or else we couldn’t have collaborated for all that time.’ It reminds me that the idea we weren’t friends is rubbish. We were lifelong friends, [and] our relationship was super-special.”
Furthermore, in a previous interview, McCartney had shared that he “often” gets The Beatles back together in his dreams. On that occasion, he had told BBC Radio Scotland how he still had a place in his heart for departed bandmates Lennon and Harrison, who had passed away in 2001. And as it happens, McCartney would talk on this theme with Colbert.
“I dream about [Lennon],” McCartney told the host. “The thing is, when you’ve had a relationship like that for so long, such a deep relationship – I love it when people revisit you in your dreams. So, I’m often having band dreams, and they’re crazy!”
McCartney continued, “I’m often with John just talking about doing something. And I come to get my bass [guitar] ready to play, and it’s covered in sticky tape. You know, dreams! So I’m picking all this stuff off, trying to talk to him. I have a lot of dreams about John. They’re always good.”
The interview was subsequently uploaded to the show’s official YouTube channel in September 2019, where it has since earned close to two million views. The touching clip has also generated more than 28,000 likes and over 2,800 comments from online users.
What’s more, many of those comments proved to be incredibly positive. One YouTube user wrote of McCartney, for example, “Wow, he’s dreaming about playing with John and the rest of the boys. That’s so sweet. He must be missing them a lot.” Another individual, by contrast, touched upon the respect that McCartney still commands during such appearances.
“I love how quiet the room is when he starts talking about his mother and John,” the user wrote in the comments section. “You could hear a pin drop. Respect just fills the room. Love you Paul.” Someone else then replied to that message, adding, “That picture of John and Paul is special. I’m sure whenever he sees it he chokes up.”
McCartney had actually squeezed the appearance with Colbert into a busy schedule, as it hadn’t been long since he’d finished a tour to promote his new album Egypt Station. That jaunt had featured 39 dates – not bad going for a 77-year-old – which included a night in London alongside fellow ex-Beatle Starr.
Off stage, meanwhile, McCartney has been involved in celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road. And the star has also turned his hand to writing, having penned kids’ book Hey Grandude!. The publication is based on his own life and times as a grandfather.