Beatles Songs: How John Lennon and Paul McCartney Wrote the Hits (2023)

In the earliest days of The Beatles, the fact that John Lennon and Paul McCartney began composing their own material as opposed to using songs provided by other songwriters was highly unusual. In fact, at the time — the early 1960s — it simply wasn’t done. Undoubtedly in the beginning it was probably seen more as an oddity rather than an indication of the duo ultimately being credited as one of the great songwriting teams of all time.

“It wasn’t the norm,” Bill Harry, editor of Liverpool’s Mersey Beat, the first and most recognized newspaper devoted to the local music scene, and lifelong friend of The Beatles, explains in an exclusive interview. “In America you have the Brill Building and things like that, with professional songwriters like Carole King and different people. That was the situation. The songwriters wrote the songs and the artists were given songs by the songwriters. It was similar in Britain with the A&R men. For instance, [producer] George Martin virtually insisted that The Beatles do ‘How Do You Do It’ by Mitch Murray for their first single, and they eventually had to talk him out of it. He finally agreed. When they first said they wanted to do their original numbers, he said, ‘When you do a number as good as this, I’ll let you record your own stuff.’ So that was the situation at the time; few artists of any kind wrote the numbers, whether they were groups or solo singers. It was the time of the professional songwriters and, of course, The Beatles brought about the end of that era.”

Beatles Songs: How John Lennon and Paul McCartney Wrote the Hits (1)

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Spencer Leigh, the author of a number of Fab Four-related books, including The Beatles In Hamburg and The Beatles In Liverpool, emphasizes to us that initially, The Beatles performed cover songs, though they began hitting their stride once they started writing their own material. “Billy Fury, who came from Liverpool, was about the only British performer at the time who could write really decent rock and roll songs,” Spencer explains. “Even then he was a very modest performer; he did an album called The Sound of Fury in 1960 and he actually thought that he’d look too big-headed if he had his name writing all of those songs, so he invented a psuedonym for himself and half the songs are credited to Wilber Wilberforce. He did that deliberately. It’s indicative of the times, really. The Beatles, when they started writing songs, weren’t performing them at first, and some of the songs go quite a few years back. I think ‘Love Me Do’ was written in 1958, but they didn’t start performing their own songs until toward the end of 1961, bringing them into the set. I think they were encouraged by performing in Hamburg, because they had to work such long hours. When you get to your fourth hour of the night, you’re desperate to put anything out there just to fill the time. So they started to do the songs and found that people liked them.”

(Video) John Lennon’s Favourite Paul McCartney Beatles Songs

According to Bill, John and Paul made the decision to collaborate soon after they met. “Paul had played John a number he’d composed called ‘I Lost My Little Girl,’ which inspired them to try writing as a team. It was during the school holidays in 1957, prior to John enrolling at Liverpool College of Art, that they began meeting to compose songs, mainly at Paul’s home in Forthlin road. When terms began and Paul returned to Liverpool Institute and John began his studies at the Art College, they would both take time off school to meet up at Paul’s house, while his father was away at work. They also met to discuss their ideas in the Art College canteen or Life Rooms. Their Forthlin Road sessions usually lasted for three hours and took place between 2:00 and 5:00, before Paul’s father, Jim, returned home from work.”

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As Paul himself explained it in the pages of The Beatles Anthology, “Well, first I started on my own. Very early on I met John and we then, gradually, started to write stuff together. There’s a lot of random in our songs — writing, thinking, letting others think of bits — then bang, you have the jigsaw puzzle.”

Added John, “When we started off, we were uncertain as to exactly where our writing would take us. Paul was a rocker with one eye on Broadway musicals, vaudeville and s— like that. I, on the other hand, was inspired by Buddy Holly’s songwriting and was determined to show I was as capable as any Yank. To me, Buddy was the first to click as a singer-songwriter. His music really moved and his lyrics spoke to us kids in a way no one ever bothered before.”

(Video) Can A.I. REALLY Write a Beatles HIT?

A Complementary Approach

In a piece entitled “Two Of Us,” from Slate which looks at the relationship between John and Paul and their songwriting, it offers, “How did John Lennon and Paul McCartney make magic together? On the surface it seems simple — they covered each other’s deficits and created outlets for each other’s strengths. Paul’s melodic sunshine smoothed out John’s bluesy growls, while John’s soulful depth gave ballast to Paul and kept him from floating away. These points are true as far as they go. John and Paul did balance and complement each other magnificently, and we can pile example on example. When they were writing ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ Paul offered this opening verse: ‘She was just seventeen/Never been a beauty queen.’ ‘You’re joking about that line,’ John shot back, ‘aren’t you?’ He offered a revision: ‘She was just seventeen/You know what I mean.’ There it is: Innocence meets sin — an inviting simple image takes a lusty, poetic leap.”

Beatles Songs: How John Lennon and Paul McCartney Wrote the Hits (3)

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John’s friend Pete Shotton, who would go on to write the book John Lennon In My Life, notes to us, “Paul’s presence did serve to keep John from drifting too far into obscurity and self-indulgence, just as John’s influence held in check the more facile and sentimental aspects of Paul’s songwriting.”

“Basically, John and Paul were completely different in the type of music they liked and the things they wanted to write,” points out Bill. “Paul’s father had been a jazz musician with a band. Paul loved Fred Astaire and Hollywood musicals and all that. He did numbers like ‘Till There Was You’ and ‘A Taste Of Honey,’ which John hated. John, of course, was an Elvis Presley freak and he loved rock and roll. They complemented each other because they had the two completely opposite musical influences, but they blended them together in a way. And of course with John, he was always trying to make a self discovery and expand things. He started by drinking pints of ale and things like that. Next it was amphetamines, then after that it was LSD and with LSD, of course, that led to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and all of that. But it was all of that that made them competitive with each other as well. They’d race each other to get the lead song or as many songs on the album as possible.”

(Video) Who was the better songwriter John Lennon or Paul McCartney?

Remembered producer George Martin in a video interview, “John sneered at a lot of things, but that was part of the collaboration between the two of them. They tended to be rivals. Their collaboration as songwriters was never Rodgers and Hart, it was always Gilbert and Sullivan. If John did something, Paul would wish he’d thought of it and go away and try to do something better and vice-versa. It was a very healthy spirit of competition.”

Beatles Songs: How John Lennon and Paul McCartney Wrote the Hits (4)

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In analyzing what each brought to the creative table, John reflected, “My contribution to Paul’s songs was always to add a little bluesy edge to them. He provides a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes. There was a period when I thought I didn’t write melodies, that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock ‘n’ roll, but, of course, when I think of some of my own songs — ‘In My Life,’ or some of the early stuff, like ‘This Boy’ — I was writing melody with the best of them.”

“Most of the time we wrote separately, not in the same room together, not even aware of what the other was working on at any given time,” said Paul. “If I was stuck, I’d see what John thought. He’d do the same, bringing stuff to me for comment. If the other half of the team gave it the go-ahead, that was great. Otherwise we’d accept honest criticism from each other… The second opinion was always very important. Often it only led to lines being changed here and there. Occasionally one of us would go away and start again, but more often it was a matter of getting into the recording studio and making last-minute changes there and then on the studio floor before a session got underway. If there were things we disliked about a song, we were open with one another. It was the only possible way to make the relationship work.”


Interestingly, when John and Paul decided that they would make songwriting a priority, it ultimately led to an end of their first band, The Quarrymen, and, it seemed, performing. The duo went off to write while George Harrison joined a band called The Les Stewart Quartet.

Beatles Songs: How John Lennon and Paul McCartney Wrote the Hits (5)

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“Paul would say things like, ‘We’d like to write songs for people like Frank Sinatra,” smiles Bill, “and he wrote a song at the time with Frank Sinatra in mind called ‘Suicide.’ That’s when he was about 16. Many years later when the Lennon/McCartney and The Beatles thing were very, very big, Frank Sinatra contacted them and said, ‘I’d like a Lennon/McCartney number,’ and they sent him ‘Suicide.’ Sinatra was insulted and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ He thought they were making a fool out of him.

“But, yes, The Quarrymen broke up because John and Paul wanted to write songs,” he continues. “It wasn’t because they thought original material would make them stand out from everybody else, but more because in America there were many songwriting teams. They thought of themselves as songwriters like that. When they originally started writing songs and had finished with The Quarrymen, I don’t think they originally thought of writing songs for themselves. They were thinking of writing songs for other people.”

(Video) Paul McCartney Picks the Best Song He’s Ever Written

History is undoubtedly grateful that they changed their minds.


Beatles Songs: How John Lennon and Paul McCartney Wrote the Hits? ›

While Lennon composed most of the songs for the Beatles (by a low margin) and had the most number-one hits in the UK (29), McCartney has the highest percentage of hits reaching the top chart (49%) and most number-one hits in the US (32). But as we all know, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What songs did John Lennon and paul McCartney write? ›

Pages in category "Songs written by Lennon–McCartney"
  • Across the Universe.
  • All I've Got to Do.
  • All My Loving.
  • All Together Now (Beatles song)
  • All You Need Is Love.
  • And I Love Her.
  • And Your Bird Can Sing.
  • Another Girl.

Who wrote more hits for the Beatles Lennon or McCartney? ›

While Lennon composed most of the songs for the Beatles (by a low margin) and had the most number-one hits in the UK (29), McCartney has the highest percentage of hits reaching the top chart (49%) and most number-one hits in the US (32). But as we all know, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

How many songs did John Lennon and paul McCartney write for the Beatles? ›

John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote lyrics and music for almost 200 songs and The Beatles have sold hundreds of millions of albums.

How did the Beatles write so many hits? ›

Lennon and McCartney co-wrote the majority of the songs for The Beatles. This meant that one person would start the songwriting process and take what they had to the other person. Then the other person would contribute a lyric or two, or help re-shape the composition with new ideas.

Who really wrote most of the Beatles songs? ›

Let's start by looking at song counts: out of 208 songs recorded by the Beatles, 71 were written mostly by John, 68 mostly by Paul, 22 by George, 21 were cover songs from their early days, 16 John+Paul songs (songs in which they contributed equally), and 10 that were sung by Ringo, out of which 2 he wrote himself (Don' ...

What did John Lennon think was his best song? ›

John Lennon's 5 favourite Beatles songs:
  • 'Strawberry Fields Forever'
  • 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'
  • 'I Am The Walrus'
  • 'Girl'
  • 'Across The Universe'
Feb 9, 2021

Who was a better artist Lennon or McCartney? ›

McCartney was more melodic and covered a broader range of topics in his lyrics. Lennon was more musically raw and his lyrics more personal. If that analysis failed, the song's lead vocalist was usually the primary writer.

Who was the most talented Beatle? ›

Paul McCartney without a shadow of a doubt. Put it this way. If the Beatles had never met, he is the only member I could definitively say would have become successful on his own. He had focus, technical ability, self-discipline, a competitive/perfectionistic nature and phenomenal songwriting ability.

What is the most listened to Beatles song? ›

"Here Comes the Sun" is not only the first Beatles' song to hit a billion, "it's also the first from the '60s," Vieira said, though it could be joined by others soon.

What songs are credited to all four Beatles? ›

In addition, "Flying" and "Dig It" were credited to all four Beatles. The rest of the catalogue came from Lennon and McCartney. Lennon and McCartney gave songs to Starr to sing, and to Harrison before he started writing his own material.

Who wrote the most songs? ›

What singer wrote the most songs? Dolly Parton has written over 3000 songs. The country icon is known for hits like Jolene and I Will Always Love You, but Dolly has many more songwriting credits including having penned tunes for musical theatre shows, TV and films.

What song did Paul McCartney wrote for John Lennon's son? ›

The writing and recording of "Hey Jude" coincided with a period of upheaval in the Beatles. The ballad evolved from "Hey Jules", a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon's young son Julian, after Lennon had left his wife for the Japanese artist Yoko Ono.

What was the biggest selling Beatles song? ›

Today, 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' remains The Beatles' highest-selling physical single of all time, with no less than 12 million copies sold worldwide.

Which Beatles song spent longest at number 1? ›

"Hey Jude" was The Beatles' number one hit that spent the longest on the charts. "Hey Jude" reached No. 1 on September 28, 1968, and spent 19 weeks on the charts.

What was The Beatles biggest number one hit? ›

At Number 1 on The Beatles' Official Top 50 is, of course, She Loves You. Released in 1963, the track - written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney - logged six non-consecutive weeks at Number 1 is the best selling single of the 1960s in the UK.

Who owns John Lennon's music? ›

Unfortunately, the copyright will only belong to McCartney in the US. While the bassist's half of the songs will return to him, Lennon's will not belong to his estate. Yoko Ono sold the rights to his music to Sony/ATV Music in 2009, those rights lasting the entire copyright's lifetime (70 years).

Did any of the Beatles read music? ›

The Beatles

None of us could read music… None of us can write it.” John Lennon admitted this about the band in a 1980 Playboy interview, “but as pure musicians, as inspired humans to make the noise, they [Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr] are as good as anybody.”

Which Beatle was the best musician? ›

Paul McCartney was the best musician in The Beatles. He had brilliant bass skills, was the best pianist in the band and could also play great rhythm and lead guitar. His compositional skills were more melodic than the others. He also went on to play plenty of other instruments.

What were John Lennon's last words to Paul McCartney? ›

Although their intimate conversations remained private, Paul's wife Linda McCartney once revealed John Lennon's last words to his former band mate. As Ultimate Classic Rock reveal, they were: “Think about me every now and then, old friend.”

What was Lennon's favorite song? ›

1. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” Buddy Holly (1956) Originally written and recorded by Chuck Berry—whose 1964 rock hit “No Particular Place to Go” also made Lennon's playlist—”Brown Eyed Handsome Man” was first released as a B-Side to “Too Much Monkey Business” and later on Berry's 1957 debut After School Session.

What was Paul McCartney's biggest hit? ›

5 in April 1971. He went on to chart 22 more top 10 smashes, and a total of 46 hits on the list. McCartney's biggest Hot 100 hit is Wings' “Silly Love Songs,” which ruled the weekly chart for five non-consecutive weeks in May, June and July of 1976.

Who is more famous than The Beatles? ›

Top-selling artists worldwide as of August 2022, based on certified sales (in million units)
CharacteristicUnits sales in millions
The Beatles183
Garth Brooks157
Elvis Presley139
9 more rows
Dec 8, 2022

Who was John Lennon's favorite guitarist? ›

Lennon's appreciation for Clapton was so great that when Harrison temporarily left the band in 1969, Lennon thought the best replacement was Clapton.

Was John Lennon a better guitarist than George Harrison? ›

George Harrison was a better guitarist than John Lennon because George Harrison was more technically proficient than John. John Lennon was a good guitar player but he was not than technically proficient because John didn't pay much attention to technical proficiency.”

Who was the least liked Beatle? ›

In the ranking of least favorite band members, McCartney (21%) and Starr (18%) are a distant second and third to Lennon, while George Harrison is the least favorite of only 12%.

Who was the most peaceful Beatle? ›

He was dubbed the “quiet one,” the Beatle who made music on his own gentle terms. If John was the headline-grabbing radical, he was the press-shy recluse.

Which Beatle did the best on their own? ›

Despite Harrison's accolade, Paul McCartney achieved the greatest chart success through the sheer quantity of music he has released. Macca was the most prolific Beatle whose solo career outlasted the other Beatles, especially both John Lennon and George Harrison, whose lives were taken from them far too early.

Who has more 1 hits than The Beatles? ›

Elvis' 14 chart-toppers spent a combined total of 62 weeks at #1 on the “Top/Hot 100,” while The Beatles' 20 #1s spent a total of 59 weeks in the top slot.

Which Beatles album was the biggest hit? ›

1. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – 32 million copies sold.

How many number 1 song did The Beatles have? ›

Over the years, many artists have topped the list of the country's most popular songs at the time, but none did so more often than The Beatles. With 20 no. 1 singles on the Hot 100 charts, the iconic British rock band are just one hit ahead of Mariah Carey, who has 19 notches in her belt.

What is the only song credited to McCartney and Harrison? ›

"In Spite of All the Danger" is the first song recorded by the Quarrymen, then consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, pianist John Lowe, and drummer Colin Hanton. McCartney wrote the song and Harrison provided the guitar solo, and so the song is credited to McCartney–Harrison.

Did the Beatles ever have the top 5 songs? ›

It is a feat that will never again be accomplished in music. On this day in 1964 The Beatles had the Top 5 Songs on the Billboard Top 100 Singles of the week. The closest any other artist ever got was 3 songs in the Top 10.

What was the last song all four Beatles played on? ›

Although "The End" stands as the last known new recording involving all four members of the Beatles, one additional song, "I Me Mine", was recorded by three members of the group (Lennon being absent due to having privately left in September 1969) in January 1970 for the album Let It Be.

Who has the longest number 1 song ever? ›

"Old Town Road" holds the record for the longest stretch at No. 1 with 19 weeks. It also became the fastest song in history to be certified diamond. "The Box" charted at No.

Who has the most #1 song of all time? ›

The Beatles have the most No. 1 hits of all time: 20.

Is Paul McCartney the greatest songwriter of all time? ›

Sir James Paul McCartney, MBE (born 18 June 1942) is an English musician, singer-songwriter and composer. Formerly of The Beatles (1960–1970) and Wings (1971–1981), McCartney is the most commercially successful songwriter in the history of popular music, according to Guinness World Records.

What song was written about John Lennon's death? ›

"Here Today" is a song by Paul McCartney from his 1982 album Tug of War. He wrote the song as a tribute to his relationship with John Lennon, who was murdered in 1980.

What song did Ringo write about John Lennon? ›

For this new record, titled What's My Name, he and Paul McCartney have collaborated on a cover of John Lennon's 'Grow Old With Me'. Ringo discovered the song when producer Jack Douglas, introduced him to a demo version from Lennon bootleg The Bermuda Tapes which before recently Starr had been blissfully unaware of.

What are the 3 listed Beatles songs that McCartney wrote? ›

Beatles songs written by Paul McCartney:

'P.S. I Love You' 'I Saw Her Standing There' 'Hold Me Tight' 'All My Loving'

Has anyone outsold The Beatles? ›

In a decade that produced countless hits for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Cliff Richard and many more, Ken Dodd's track outsold them all – except for two songs by The Beatles: She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand, both released in 1963.

What was the first Beatles #1 hit? ›

1, 1964: The Beatles Score First Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 With 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' Forty-nine years ago today, the Fab Four rode the Beatlemania wave to their first of a record 20 Hot 100 leaders.

What was the last Beatles song to hit the charts? ›

"The Long And Winding Road" became the Beatles' last official U.S. single, topping the charts for two weeks just two months after McCartney announced the group's split on April 10th, 1970.

What were the Beatles first 5 hit songs? ›

On April 4, 1964, The Fab Four owned the Billboard charts, as they held the top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100. After only two weeks on the charts, "Can't Buy Me Love" hit No. 1, while "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me" round out the top five.

What was the Beatles first #1 hit in England? ›

"From Me to You" was the first Beatles song to reach number one in the UK and is widely considered to be their first chart-topping song, for although "Please Please Me" reached the summit on almost every chart, it was only number two on Record Retailer's chart, generally considered to be the most authoritative for the ...

What was the first recorded song that John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote together? ›

During the special honoring Lennon's 80th birthday, McCartney touches on the first song he and Lennon ever wrote together called “Just Fun.” Sir Paul says, “There were a few songs that weren't very good … you know, clearly young songwriters who don't know how to do it.

What was the last thing John Lennon said to Paul McCartney? ›

Although their intimate conversations remained private, Paul's wife Linda McCartney once revealed John Lennon's last words to his former band mate. As Ultimate Classic Rock reveal, they were: “Think about me every now and then, old friend.”

What was written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon-McCartney? ›

"Come Together" is a song by the Beatles written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon-McCartney.

What is Paul McCartney's fav song? ›

Of his own songs, McCartney cited “Temporary Secretary,” from his 1980 album, McCartney II. He also gave a nod to “Calicoe Skies” from the 1997 offering, Flaming Pie, and “Spiral,” which he composed for the London Symphony Orchestra. But enough of Paul on Paul.

Was Paul McCartney in love with John? ›

Sitting beside him on stage, Muldoon suggested to McCartney that what came across in their conversations, despite the occasional “wobble” in the relationship, was McCartney's love for Lennon. “It's very true,” said McCartney. “You say that I loved him and as 17-year-old Liverpool kids you could never say that.

How many songs did Paul McCartney wrote for the Beatles? ›

During his time with the Beatles, Paul McCartney wrote 71 songs as the main composer and some of those tracks rank among some of the band's most famous.

What was the last song John Lennon and paul McCartney wrote together? ›

But, in fact, there was one more number that saw them share credit and also pave way for the future. The truth is, however, that 'I've Got A Feeling', which appeared on the band's Let It Be album, marked the final partnership John Lennon and Paul McCartney ever endured.

Did John Lennon forgive Paul McCartney? ›

Paul McCartney says his bitter rift with Beatles bandmate John Lennon may have drawn headlines, but their real story at the end was one of forgiveness, as the two put aside differences to bond over fatherhood and “bread-making recipes.”

What was John Lennon's last words to Yoko? ›

“I said 'shall we go and have dinner before we go home? ' and John said 'No, let's go home because I want to see Sean before he goes to sleep',” Ono, 73, told Kirsty Young on 'Desert Island Discs'.

What song is credited to Lennon and Harrison? ›

But the most interesting piece of Beatles trivia to be found behind 'Cry for a Shadow' is the fact that it was the only song to be credited solely to Lennon and Harrison.

Which Beatle wrote in his own write? ›

In His Own Write is a 1964 nonsense book by English musician John Lennon. His first book, it consists of poems and short stories ranging from eight lines to three pages, as well as illustrations.

Did Paul McCartney talk to John Lennon? ›

Thankfully, Lennon and McCartney remained friends for the next few years, and they were able to communicate well after Lennon's death in 1980. McCartney revealed that he and Lennon had a reconciliation before Lennon's death.


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