In The Beatles' Song Writing Factory

The following article appeared in Melody Maker on July 16, 1966, page 10.

Take apart that phenomenal song factory that's called The Beatles and what do you find?
A precision organization with songs of all kinds constantly in stock? A closely planned music and lyrics team responsible for the fantastic output of hits?
No. More often than not the songs are roughed out in the head of one of the three songwriting Beatles, scribbled onto anything from a sheet of toilet paper to the back of a Peter Stuyvesant packet, or just laboriously put together on a battered portable tape recorder.
For The Beatles' approach to songwriting is faintly haphazard. Which could perhaps be the secret to its success.
MM asked The Beatles recently just how they approached the problems of producing 14 new songs for a new album.

"The first thing that happened with the new album," said John Lennon, "was that Paul and I decided we'd have to get together. We'd been seeing each other socially, but we decided we'd have to get down to some serious work. Getting together is the first step-and it's not always the easiest.
"Then when we've got together either at my place or at Paul's house, we start thinking about songs. One of us thinks of a musical phrase or part of a tune in our heads-like Paul did with 'Paperback Writer'. He thought that out in the car on the way to my house."
The Beatles approached the problem of their new album - titled 'Revolver' - by writing and recording the songs over a period of about 11 or 12 weeks. John and Paul kicked ideas, musical bits and pieces and words around until they had a basis for a song, and then took it into the studio to work on it with George and Ringo.
The 14 tracks on the new LP were created in this way and, in fact, the last track was written only a short time before it was recorded in the studios.
It is without doubt the fertile creativity of John and Paul that's responsible for most of the mass of musical expression that's flowed from The Beatles.
George contributed some numbers in the past. But it is comparatively recently that he's expanded his songwriting talents into anything approaching a regular flow. Now, with three tracks on the new album bearing his name, he's also emerging as a songwriting force within The Beatles' coterie. But not without a lot of painstaking effort on his part.
"I've been writing songs all the time," George told MM. "But when you're competing against John and Paul, you have to be very good to even get into the same league.
"How do I write a song now? I turn on a tape recorder and play or sing phrases into it for perhaps an hour. Then I play it all back and may get three or four usable phrases to runs from it.

"When I just had one tape recorder, I'd finish a song and put it onto the tape recorder. Then I'd often throw it away because it sounded awful. Since I've bought all the taping and mixing equipment, I can add things and do a lot more. So what seemed on one machine to be a waste of time, sounds possible when mixed and recorded and perhaps dubbed."
What about the lyrics?
"This is the hardest part for me. I write them slowly, a word or phrase at a time, changing them about until I get what I want - or as near to it as I can. When the thing is finished, I'm usually happy with some part of it and unhappy with others. So then I show it to John and Paul, whose opinion I respect.
"They usually like the part I don't like, but think that the other part is all wrong."
But all three Beatles agree that there comes a stage when you have to stop changing things around and settle for the song as it stands.
John Lennon said: "There comes a time when you've got to stop fiddling about with the song. If you didn't, you'd never get a record out at all.
"Later, you think of things you could have done with it, but unless you call a halt you'd spend a whole year doing just one track."
John also said that to ignore commerciality in records was fatal.
"I write things that I like. But you have to consider the commercial aspect. It's no good writing stuff that no one wants to listen to."
Well, that's one thing the Beatles won't have to worry about for a long time yet.

Return to Beatles Vintage Articles and Interviews


Hosted by