Following the completion of the White Album, The Beatles spent several weeks apart, on holiday or working on their own projects. With the group unable or unwilling to pull together to promote the album, Paul McCartney gave an interview on this day to Radio Luxembourg.
Conducting the interview was Tony Macurthur. He expressed surprise that the album was not a progression from Sgt Pepper, to which McCartney explained “It’s another step, but it’s not necessarily in the way people expected.” He also said the songs were easier to perform live, hinting at a potential return to the stage after two years away.
The show was first broadcast on the following night, 20 November, from 7.30pm in a special two-hour show on the album. It also contained contributions, recorded separately, from Judith Simons, the Daily Express newspaper’s pop correspondent.
Tony Macarthur: Paul, I’d like you to talk about the LP in general.
Paul McCartney: What do you want me to say about it, Tony?
TM: The songs I think are perhaps a surprise to some people, because I think a lot of people expected another step from Sgt Pepper.
PM: Well it is another step, you know, but it’s not necessarily in the way people expected. On Sgt Pepper we had more instrumentation than we’d ever had. More orchestral stuff than we’d ever used before, so it was more of a production. But we didn’t really want to go overboard like that this time, and we’ve tried to play more like a band this time, only using instruments when we had to, instead of just using them for the fun of it.
TM: Is this for any sort of concept of being able to do the things live?
PM: Yeah. And also for the concept that we like playing together. That’s the main concept.
TM: The first track on the LP is ‘Back In The USSR’. Could we just talk about this particular track, because it’s a wild, rocking thing.
PM: Yeah. Um, that’s a track which… it just sort of came. Chuck Berry once did a song called ‘Back In The USA’, which is very American, very Chuck Berry. Very sort of, er, you know, you’re serving in the army, and when I get back home I’m gonna kiss the ground, and you know, can’t wait to get back to the States. And it’s a very American sort of thing, I’ve always thought. So this one is like about, in my mind it’s just about a spy who’s been in America a long, long time, you know, and he’s picked up, and he’s very American. But he gets back to the USSR, you know, and he’s sort of saying, ‘Leave it till tomorrow, honey, to disconnect the phone,’ and all that. And ‘Come here honey,’ but with Russian women. You see, what it is, it concerns the attributes of Russian women.
TM: ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’.
PM: I like most kinds of music. So I haven’t got a ‘bag’ as they say… except the big black one in the hall outside. And ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ and ‘USSR’ and ‘Martha’ are three different songs altogether. And in fact all of mine are, on the LP. I’m pretty diverse because I mean, I haven’t got one sort of thing. So this, I’ve no idea why it’s Jamaican or anything. Just ’cause I like that kind of thing.
TM: Did you write this song on your own? I mean, is this a combination of Lennon/McCartney?
PM: I think it was mainly me. Mainly me. John’s a bit more Nigerian influenced.
TM: ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’. This is a ballad that’s very interesting. Perhaps although you didn’t sing this particular song you’d like to talk about it, Paul.
PM: I’d like to talk about it ’cause I like it, you know. It’s a favourite of mine. The idea of the ‘Happiness is a warm gun’ thing is from an advert in an American paper. It said, Happiness is a warm gun, sort of thing, and it was ‘Get ready for the long hot summer with a rifle,’ you know, ‘Come and buy them now!’
It was an advert in a gun magazine. And it was so sick, you know, the idea of ‘Come and buy your killing weapons,’ and ‘Come and get it.’ But it’s just such a great line, ‘Happiness is a warm gun’ that John sort of took that and used that as a chorus. And the rest of the words, I think they’re great words, you know. It’s a poem. And he finishes off, ‘Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is.’
TM: It sounds like he’s probably fairly serious about…
PM: Oh, it’s as serious as anyone ever gets, you know. It’s not deadly serious, you know what I mean… It’s just words, and if you sort of really taxed him on it and said, ‘Would you be willing to die for these words,’ I’m sure he wouldn’t. I’m sure it’s not really serious but they’re good words. I’d stick up for anyone who’s sort of worried about ’em, you know. It’s just good poetry.
TM: ‘Martha My Dear’.
PM: You see, I just start singing some words with a tune, you know what I mean. I don’t ever write a song thinking, ‘Now I’ll write a song about…’ I do sometimes, but mainly I don’t. Mainly I’m just doing a tune and then some words come into my head, you know. And these happened to be ‘Martha my dear, though I spend my days in conversation.’ It doesn’t mean anything, you know, but those just happened to come to my head. So that’s what this song is about.
It is about my dog. I don’t mean it, you know. I don’t ever try to make a serious social comment, you know. So you can read anything you like into it, but really it’s just a song. It’s me singing to my dog.
TM: Paul, how long a time has it taken you all to get this whole LP together – I mean, write the songs?
PM: Well, since we were in India we started writing this batch of songs. And we’ve written a few since. And this is mainly the Indian batch that we’ve sort of finished.
TM: ‘Blackbird’, I think, is quite a beautiful song.
PM: Thank you, Tony. Well, it’s simple in concept because you couldn’t think of anything else to put on it. And that’s what I was saying about the Sgt Pepper thing – maybe on Pepper we would have sort of worked on it until we could find some way to put violins or trumpets in there. But I don’t think it needs it, this one.
You know, it’s just… there’s nothing to the song. It is just one of those ‘pick it and sing it’ and that’s it. The only point where we were thinking of putting anything on it is where it comes back in the end, sort of stops and comes back in. But instead of putting any backing on it, we put a blackbird on it. So there’s a blackbird singing at the very end. And somebody said it was a thrush, but I think it’s a blackbird!
Also on this day...
- 2009: BBC screens Paul McCartney’s Children in Need appearance
- 2009: Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney to reunite? Y Not!
- 1981: UK album release: Stop And Smell The Roses by Ringo Starr
- 1966: Brian Epstein holds a party for The Four Tops in London
- 1964: John Lennon films a sequence for Not Only… But Also
- 1963: Live: ABC Cinema, Manchester
- 1962: Live: Floral Hall, Southport
- 1960: Live: Kaiserkeller, Hamburg
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.