Released: 21 May 1971 (UK), 17 May 1971 (US)
Seemingly written about his feelings about The Beatles and his new-found freedom, 3 Legs was the second song on Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 album Ram.
While John Lennon and, to a lesser extent, George Harrison, were happy to write openly about The Beatles, Apple and their associated troubles, Paul McCartney preferred to couch his objections in metaphors and ambiguities. So, while it is tempting to see 3 Legs simply as an allegory for his transition from Beatle to solo artist and family man, it is far from certain.
Studio engineer Eirik Wangberg said the song was inspired by a picture drawn by the young Heather McCartney. Her father originally titled the song A Dog Is Here, according to his handwritten lyric sheet.
Regardless of his intentions, McCartney would have known that lines such as “When I thought you was my friend/But you let me down/Put my heart around the bend” and “My dog he got three legs/But he can’t run” would be analysed by legions of Beatles-watchers the world over. And he cannot have failed to recognise that the lines would be interpreted as a commentary on his former band.
Perhaps ironically, Lennon professed a liking for the song, listing it as one of the better recordings on Ram.
I thought it [Ram] was awful! McCartney was better because at least there were some tunes on it, like ‘Junk’. I liked the beginning of ‘Ram On’, the beginning of Uncle Albert and I liked some of My Dog’s Got Three Legs. I liked the little bit about ‘Hands across the water’, but it just tripped off all the time. I didn’t like that a bit!
The song was recorded on 16 October 1970 at Columbia Studios in New York City. More instruments were then overdubbed at Sound Recorders Studios in Los Angeles the following year.
3 Legs was one of the last songs in the Ram sessions on which guitarist David Spinozza played. Soon after he was replaced with Hugh McCracken.
There’s one track, which a cute thing, a blues tune, which I had fun doing. 3 Legs, it’s called. We both played acoustic and sometimes Paul played piano but never played bass while we were there. He overdubbed the bass later. It was a bit weird, because bass, drums, and guitar would have been more comfortable.
Two promotional films for Ram songs – 3 Legs and ‘Heart Of The Country’ – were made in support of Ram. They were produced by McCartney and edited by Ray Benson, who had previously worked on the Magical Mystery Tour film.
The film for 3 Legs consisted of the McCartneys riding horses on their land in the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland. Both clips were screened on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops on 24 June 1971.