At least once a tour, that song just gets me. I’m singing it, and I think I’m OK, and I suddenly realise it’s very emotional, and John was a great mate and a very important man in my life, and I miss him, you know? It happened at the first show, in Gijon: I was doing fine, and I found myself doing a thing I’ve done in soundcheck, just repeating one of the lines: ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ I did that and I thought, ‘That’s nice – that works.’ And then I came to finish the song, to do the last verse, and it was, ‘Oh shit – I’ve just totally lost it.’
‘Here Today’ was composed less than a year after Lennon’s death. The song took the form of an imaginary conversation between the two former Beatles, and contains some of McCartney’s most heartfelt and honest lyrics.
I was kind of crying when I wrote it. It’s like a dialogue with John. One of my feelings even when he used to lay into me was that he really didn’t mean it. I could always see why he was doing it. There was this spectrum of me, which I understand because he had to clear the decks just like I did. In the song, John would hear me saying that and say, ‘Oh, piss off! You don’t know me at all. We’re worlds apart. You used to know me but I’ve changed.’ But I feel that I still knew him. The song is me trying to talk back to him, but realising the futility of it because he is no longer here, even though that’s a fact I can’t quite believe, even to this day. The ‘I love you’ part was hard to say. A part of me said, ‘Hold on. Wait a minute. Are you really going to do that?’ I finally said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to. It’s true.’
A verse in ‘Here Today’ refers to an incident during The Beatles’ first full American tour, when they had a day off in Key West, Florida. Much of the day was spent drinking alcohol and jamming with members of the tour’s support acts.
We were in Key West in 1964. We were due to fly into Jacksonville, in Florida, and do a concert there, but we’d been diverted because of a hurricane. We stayed there for a couple of days, not knowing what to do except, like, drink. I remember drinking way too much, and having one of those talking-to-the-toilet bowl evenings. It was during that night, when we’d all stayed up way too late, and we got so pissed that we ended up crying – about, you know, how wonderful we were, and how much we loved each other, even though we’d never said anything. It was a good one: you never say anything like that. Especially if you’re a Northern Man.
Recording began in the summer of 1981 in the loft of The Mill at his Sussex home; the building was later renovated and became Hog Hill Mill studio. A string quartet, arranged by George Martin, was subsequently overdubbed onto McCartney’s acoustic guitar backing, although both men were wary of the song sounding too similar to The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’.
I thought, well, this is stupid, it’s like saying because you’ve used a guitar once in 1980 you should never use a guitar again. It’s silly condemning the format of a string quartet just ’cause we’d used it once on a famous record – you know, ‘Yesterday’. So I then said to George look, let’s just try a string quartet, let’s get it all worked up, let’s do it. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep using string quartets till we drop.
‘Here Today’ was never released as a single, although it reached number 46 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts in the USA. It became a core part of McCartney’s live shows after being added to his set for the Back In The US tour in 2002.
I was worried that it might not be good enough and that someone might think I was trying to cash in on it or something. I was kind of crying when I wrote it. I’m sure you understand why without me going into it all. His death is something that the three of us find very difficult to talk about, even to each other.
The lyrics to ‘Here Today’ appear in McCartney’s poems and lyrics anthology Blackbird Singing, where they are given the title “Here Today (Song for John)”. It also appeared in 2021’s The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present.
It’s a very charged experience to perform this song in concert. It’s just me and a guitar. In the current show, I do ‘Blackbird’ and then ‘Here Today’, and I’m stuck in the middle of a great big arena with all these people, and a lot of them are crying. It’s always a very sentimental, nostalgic, emotional moment.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present