The song is supportive of animal rights. Paul and Linda McCartney had been vegetarians for a number of years, and often used their public platform to promote the cause.
When Linda and I met we discovered that we’d both been nature lovers as kids, and still were. Then we became vegetarians, which makes you even more aware of animals and their rights, and makes you want to explain to other people how you feel about seeing animals being carted off to the slaughterhouse. Protest songs are quite hard to do. Love songs come easier, at least to someone like me, but in this case I’d been looking through magazines like The Animal’s Voice and Animal Agenda, pretty heavy magazines that show some of the experimentation that goes on in the name of cosmetics, and started to write the song after I saw a picture of a cat with a machine implanted in its head. They just took off the top of its skull and plugged in a machine to find some data. I’m not sure what they were expecting to find inside a cat’s head. So I started to write the song and came up with the line ‘I saw a cat – with a machine in his brain’ and just made it up from there – how the bloke who fed him didn’t feel any pain so I’d like to see him take out the machine and stick it in his own brain. You know, if you need the information so badly, do it to yourself.
The rest came quite easily. I had another couple of verses about rabbits and then used a bit of poetic licence about monkeys being taught to smoke. They normally use beagles for smoking experiments but it doesn’t matter – it’s still some poor defenceless animal with no rights in the world. Then I got the hook looking for changes, which sort of sums it up in my mind. It really is my feeling that we are all here on this little ball in the universe, humans are the dominant species and we tend to despise everything else. I think it’s ‘change or die’ time for this planet.
Club Sandwich, Spring 1993
The song contains the line “The bastard laughed his head off”. McCartney rarely used profanities in his songs, and the word was reportedly suggested by the poet Adrian Mitchell.
I don’t usually use swear words in a song because it can sometimes seem a bit gratuitous, like you’re just trying to shock, but then again I don’t normally go for songs about animal experimentation and when you’re in that hard area these words start to creep in. I’m certainly not a great user of swear words in front of the kids but occasionally – like in ‘Looking For Changes’ – it’s essential to the plot.
The only strange thing is that I haven’t done it before. I mean, I played ‘Big Boys Bickering’, with the ‘f’ word, to Paul Simon and he said ‘Have you ever used that word before?’ and I said no. But that doesn’t matter – I think I’m allowed to use it once in every 50 years, don’t you? Once in every 50 years I’ll use that word – stick around for the next time.
Club Sandwich, Spring 1993
I thought I’d better try to write a protest song. And that’s not easy. I’ve shied away from it. Rock ‘n’ roll’s much easier, the straight ahead thing like ‘I’m Down’ way back. But I thought I’d try something more pointed. I looked at animal experiments and took three of them — using a bit of poetic licence, I’m not sure the lyrics are technically accurate.
The first verse is about a cat with a machine in its brain. The image comes from a photo I’d seen of a perfectly ordinary tabby cat with the top of its head removed and this piece of metal stuck in it for the purposes of some scientific experiment.
Then there’s rabbits with tears in their eyes — which is about those companies who are testing perfumes and cosmetics by dropping the stuff in animals’ eyes. When the animals go blind they say, Oh that’s enough, and draw their scientific conclusions. These Belsen/Auschwitz experiments on animals are going on in our name.
Then the final image is of a monkey smoking — I think it’s normally beagles the labs use, but that doesn’t matter. I thought at least I could play that one to me mates at PETA and they’d say, Right on, man. I mean, the worst thing is that animals can’t speak, they can’t say, I want a lawyer.
New World Tour programme
‘Looking For Changes’ was performed throughout McCartney’s New World Tour in 1993. A recording from the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on 31 May was released on the album Paul Is Live.
In 2019 McCartney donated ‘Looking For Changes’ to PETA to support its campaign against animal experimentation. PETA issued a new animated video for the song, with a shorter edit of the song lasting just 1:45.