It was written in the Hamptons in Long Island, where Linda McCartney’s father Lee Eastman had a property. Linda had died of cancer in April 1998, and Paul wrote ‘You Tell Me’ about her.
Because Linda’s father had a place in the Hamptons, I started going out there with her. That’s way over forty years ago – could be over fifty. I think that’s also where I wrote this, sometime in the early 2000s, and perhaps where the line about the red cardinal came from too, since you see them out there. ‘When was that summer of a dozen words?’ When everything’s going really well, nobody needs to talk, so you may just be sitting around with someone and reading books, or reading a newspaper, and you hardly even speak because there’s no need to; you’re in such a comfortable situation. ‘When was that summer when it never rained?’ I like that I’m not even going to try and remember what year it was.
There’s an old Maurice Chevalier song from Gigi called ‘I Remember It Well’, which goes, ‘We met at nine, we met at eight, I was on time, no, you were late/Ah yes, I remember it well’. I love that. A great little routine. The man in the song doesn’t quite remember, but the woman does, and ‘You Tell Me’ is a little bit like that.
This is just memory. Often I think, ‘Oh my God, I really met Elvis Presley. I was really in his house, and it was a moment in time that really happened.’ That’s all there is to it. It just happened. Sometimes I pinch myself and think, ‘Was I really on the same couch as Elvis, talking about this stuff?’ I want to remember it three hundred per cent more; I want to bring it back: ‘We we there, was it real?/Is it truly how I feel?/Maybe/You tell me.’
The song was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, with McCartney laying down his lead vocals in a single take.
David Gilmour and Paul Weller, a couple of musicians whose opinion I value, independently sent me messages to say, ‘Wow, I like that one’ – to say that this song was one of their favourites of mine. Your main feedback is generally from critics, so it’s nice to get responses from people who’ve heard the song, especially real musicians, and were affected enough that they can be bothered to actually write to you.