Paul McCartney can think of only one song where he wrote the lyrics before the music

Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney / Avalon/GettyImages

Paul McCartney understands that if something isn't broken, don't fix it. The former Beatle has used the same songwriting method for decades and has never thought of changing it. With how many hits Paul has racked up over the years, why would he change how he writes them? Still, there was one time when Paul didn't follow his routine.

Paul McCartney on his songwriting process

Since Paul wrote his first song, "I Lost My Little Girl," at 14, he has continued using the same songwriting process. He usually starts by getting his guitar out or sitting down at the piano and playing a riff or some chords. Then, he works it all out as if he's "writing an essay or doing a crossword puzzle" (per NME). He fine-tuned his methods when he became John Lennon's songwriting partner.

"That's the system I've always used, that John [Lennon] and I started with," Paul said. "I've really never found a better system and that system is just playing the guitar and looking for something that suggests a melody and perhaps some words if you're lucky."

In his book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul revealed that his method surprised even the best songwriters, including Stephen Sondheim. However, after writing songs for decades, most hits, he still isn't sure what he's doing half the time.

He told NME, "You never get it down. I don't know how to do this. You'd think I do, but it's not one of these things you ever really know how to do." Paul doesn't always know what he's doing when writing songs, so we'll never truly understand his process.

However, Paul did reveal what happened when he abandoned his technique once.

The only song where Paul wrote the lyrics before the music

In The Lyrics, Paul wrote that 98 percent of his songs come from a musical idea, not a lyrical one. Sometimes words do come out when he's writing a song, especially if it's around a riff, but they're "dummy" lyrics or placeholder lyrics.

Reflecting on it, Paul can only think of one song where he wrote the lyrics before the music, The Beatles' "All My Loving." He said it was only because he was on a tour bus. Paul pointed out that even his most story-like songs, including "Eleanor Rigby," started with a chord, not a lyric.

Paul wrote 'All My Loving' on a tour bus and in front of Roy Orbison

The opening lines of "All My Loving" came to Paul while he was bored on a tour bus with The Beatles in 1963. They were on a touring circuit with other acts, including Roy Orbison. Paul doesn't know if he was thinking of his then-girlfriend Jane Asher when he thought of the lyrics, "Close your eyes, and I'll kiss you."

"It's probably more of a reflection on what our lives were like then – leaving behind family and friends to go on tour and experience all these new adventures," Paul wrote. When the band arrived at the next venue, Paul went to a piano and found the song's chords.

As always in their songwriting process, John added something to "All My Loving" that made it "magical." He played the chords as triplets. It transformed the tune and gave it "momentum." Paul said, "That driving rhythm of John's echoes the feeling of travel and motion."

"But, it was often like that when we were recording. One of us would come up with that little magic thing. It allowed the song to become what it needed to be."

Thank god Paul and John had each other, even if their songwriting process was sometimes unconventional.

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