Paul McCartney began writing the song in 1970 on his farm in Scotland.
We were up in Scotland at my sheep farm – which all sounds very lovely on the postcards, until you get to lambing. Of course, a few of them die; it’s life and death and a lot of farmers just don’t want to get involved. They say, ‘Right,’ and just chuck them over the wall. But you can’t help it if you’re a bit sensitive – particularly in a household full of children – and there was one lamb we were trying to save. The young ones get out into the weather and collapse from exposure; you find them and bring them in. We stayed up all night and had him in front of the stove, but it was too late, and he just died.
Paul McCartney Musician, February 1988
Although McCartney was unable to save the lamb, he marked its passing by composing a song in its honour.
Actually it’s a quite heavy story. I was up at the farm, and this lamb was brought in that was very undernourished. We tried to save it but in the next morning it was dead. So I had the happy job of clearing it up. When they go dead, they kind of go like a stuffed toy … these little lambs. It was very early in the morning, and no one was up, and I had my guitar there and I couldn’t really say much to this lamb. But I started, ‘I have no answer for you, little lamb/But I cannot help you in.’ And it came from there. Just not being able to do anything about it was the idea of that song.
Paul McCartney Viva, January 1974
In the summer of 1970 McCartney recorded a demo of the song, listed on his demo tape box as ‘Rupert – Little Lamb Dragonfly’. It was then intended for inclusion on the soundtrack of a Rupert the Bear film.
It was initially recorded during the Ram sessions at New York’s Columbia Studios in November 1970. The orchestral overdubs were added the following February at A&R Studios, again in NYC.
The orchestra was arranged and conducted by George Martin, who was afforded a producer’s credit in the 2018 reissue of Red Rose Speedway.
‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ was completed at London’s Trident Studios in November 1972. The final overdubs were the vocals, by the McCartneys, Denny Laine, and Denny Seiwell.
McCartney was assisted in writing the lyrics by Denny Laine.
I helped him with the words on ‘Little Dragonfly’ [sic]. I was contributing, but I wasn’t credited for that. But that goes for lots of things that I’ve done.
Denny Laine In Conversation With Denny Laine, Geoffrey Giuliano
Denny Seiwell helped arrange the vocal harmonies.
At Trident he broke out ‘Little Lamb’, and he said, ‘We should finish this tune.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a great song, I really love that.’ He hadn’t finished a lot of that song. I said, ‘Come on, let us help you with this.’ I wrote some background harmonies and stuff. I said, ‘On the background vocals why don’t we just do a little answer bit?’ And I sang little parts to him as he was playing it, and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’
Denny Seiwell, 2016 The McCartney Legacy – Volume 1: 1969-73, Allan Kozinn, Adrian Sinclair