McCartney began writing the song in 1968 in Rishikesh, India, although it was completed upon his return to Britain. A light-hearted – and musically lightweight – tale of a boy whose mother tells him about his soldier father, ‘Teddy Boy’ was clearly disliked by John Lennon, who sabotaged McCartney’s early attempts to teach it to the group.
McCartney eventually recorded ‘Teddy Boy’ for his debut solo album. He recorded the basic track on his four-track home studio in late 1969 or early 1970, with further overdubs added at Morgan Studios in February 1970.
My second cousin Ted is the son of my cousin Betty Danher, who was a big influence on me musically… Ted was their first boy, so that’s partly why I refer to him as ‘Teddy Boy’. It’s an affectionate term, as I’m just over ten years older than him. But the Teddy Boys were also the ruffians of my youth, the guys who wore long frock coats with velvet collars, drainpipe trousers and crepe-soled shoes. Their shoes were known as ‘beetle crushers’ or ‘brothel creepers’. These Teddy Boys were notable in the UK for hanging around street corners waiting for a little aggro.
So, Ted is the jumping-off point for the song, but as usual, it takes its own cues and puts on its own show. The ‘tales about his soldier dad’ are pure imagination. The lines ‘Teddy Boy’s here/Teddy’s gonna see you through’ are what I imagined Teddy saying to his mum when he was trying to support her.
It’s not too much of a stretch to connect this psychodrama to two sources. One is the terrible sense of loss I still feel about my mother. Teddy is then a version of myself, trying to console myself while purportedly consoling my mother. The other is that ‘Teddy Boy’ was written during that oddly productive time we spent in India in 1968. The Beatles actually did several takes of it in early 1969 for the Let It Be film. They were mostly acoustic takes with a little electric guitar from George Harrison, but there was a bit of tension between us all and it wasn’t released until I included it in my first solo record, McCartney, which came out in 1970.
The Lyrics: 1956 To The Present
In the studio
One of the versions from 24 January, lasting nearly six minutes, was mixed by Glyn Johns for the aborted Get Back album. When ‘Teddy Boy’ eventually surfaced on Anthology 3, however, it was an edited version comprising parts of this version and another from 28 January.
We’ve now put together a version, an edit of one of the takes of us trying it, which sounds interesting. You can hear on it that the band wasn’t very interested in it. I don’t know why. Maybe I hadn’t finished it enough or something. Maybe it was just tension coming in. The bit I’d like to keep actually was John sort of making fun of it. He starts towards the end of it, going, ‘Grab your partners, do-si-do,’ so we’ve kept that on. And while it was, in some way, indicative of friction, it was good-humoured friction.
McCartney revived the song on 28 January, taking The Beatles through a further two attempts. The longer of the two was used for the first part of the Anthology 3 edit.
Another version of ‘Teddy Boy’ was recorded the towards the end of the following day’s session, after The Beatles had performed a number of rock ‘n’ roll oldies, McCartney chose to lead the group into a final rehearsal. This arrangement was more rock-oriented, in contrast to the acoustic-based earlier attempts.
On 31 January, during final filming for the Let It Be movie, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg ran through a potential list of songs to include. He suggested filming the group playing ‘Teddy Boy’, but was promptly disabused of the notion by a regretful McCartney.
‘Teddy Boy’ is actually… that’s as far as it’s gonna get. I thought maybe we can come back after a week or something…
But there was no return to the Get Back project. The Beatles moved on to new recordings, and never again attempted ‘Teddy Boy’.
On 10 March 1969 Glyn Johns made a stereo mix of a 24 January performance of the song, considering it a potential contender for the Get Back LP.
Phil Spector also mixed the song. He evidently thought it suitable for the Let It Be album, although it was never used. On 25 March 1970 Spector made two stereo mixes: the first was faithful to the 25 January 1969 recording; the other was an edited version lasting 3’10”.