‘The Lovers That Never Were’ is the ninth song on Off The Ground, Paul McCartney’s ninth solo studio album.

It is one of two songs on the album co-written by McCartney and Elvis Costello, the other being ‘Mistress And Maid’.

A few years ago Elvis and I got together to see if we could write a few songs. First of all, just to see if we could stand the sight of each other, or if we annoyed each other too much, I fixed one of his songs up, then he fixed up one of mine. That led us to find that it was quite easy and we enjoyed it, so one day we decided to write one from scratch. The question then was, where do we start? We had the whole musical universe to choose from – a rock and roll song, a love song, what would it be? – so I said, ‘Well, let’s start with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Let’s think of them’, so we started off and ‘The Lovers That Never Were’ came out. It was our first song together.

We did a nice but very, very rough demo of it, just Elvis and me, but when we tried to record it properly it didn’t really work out. So I ignored it for Flowers In The Dirt and decided to try it again for this album. And we thought of bringing in a 4/4 bass drum over a 3/4 song – this is for the musicians among you – which just makes it swing. It’s an old rhythm trick but it made it come alive, and we then had a version that we liked.

Paul McCartney
Club Sandwich, Spring 1993

McCartney and Costello recorded it in early 1988 during the Flowers In The Dirt sessions, giving it a full orchestral treatment.

It was then revived for Off The Ground, with a more sparse arrangement. Even so, it took various attempts to get right.

It was a waltz and not working, until Paul said, How about putting a 4/4 on top of this thing. And that was so complicated, waltz and 4/4 at the same time, but I tried and Paul’s looking at me saying, You all right? I’m struggling (claps in fours, stamps in threes), but I say, Just give me five minutes. A real head twister, but it was such a groove. Made the song happen
Blair Cunningham
New World Tour programme

Flowers In The Dirt was reissued in March 2017, with all formats containing the demos recorded by McCartney and Costello.

One of the best songs that Paul and I wrote together was written at the piano. It was a sweeping, romantic tune that could almost have been an epic Bacharach ballad. In its first draft, it was a little reminiscent of ‘It’s for You’, a song that Paul had written for Cilla Black in 1964. I’d say the rough recording of ‘The Lovers That Never Were’ is one of the great, unreleased performances of Paul McCartney’s solo career. I know you’ll just have to take my word for this, but I was playing the piano when Paul opened up behind me in a wild, distorted voice that was almost like the one he used on ‘I’m Down’.

I just kept staring down at my hands at the piano, saying to myself, Don’t mess this up, while trying to remember to chime in on the few lines that we’d agreed I’d sing.

Elvis Costello
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink

Although Costello played ‘The Lovers That Never Were’ live on a handful of occasions, it was never performed again by McCartney.

Previous song: ‘Golden Earth Girl’
Next song: ‘Get Out Of My Way’
Published: |