Paul McCartney, in spite of characterizing himself as a composer of “silly love songs,” is in fact a superlative lyricist. In my opinion, McCartney’s best lyrics set very comfortably in the company of John Lennon’s and Bob Dylan’s. And perhaps in some ways they’re even better than his two contemporaries.
The acclaimed lyrics of Dylan and Lennon don’t usually survive contact with an unadorned piece of paper. Dylan’s phrasing of his lyrics on the recordings make them valid but they sure sound nutty when someone like Joan Baez covers his songs respectfully and pronounces the lyrics carefully. Ditto for John Lennon. Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life, Across the Universe…lovely and meaningful songs but what we’re talking about is lyrics here. Isolate John’s lyrics and all you’ve got is gobbledygook.
In no particular order, here are a few Paul McCartney lyrics–coherent, evocative and quotable–that surpass Bob Dylan’s and John Lennon’s.
From I’m Looking Through You: I’m looking through you/ Where did you go? / I thought I knew you/ What did I know?
From Rocky Raccoon: Her name was Magill/ And she called herself Lil/ But everyone knew her as Nancy.
From Back in the USSR: Show me round your snow peaked mountains way down south/ Take me to your daddy’s farm/ Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out/ Come and keep your comrade warm.
From Get Back: Wearing her high-heeled shoes and a low neck sweater/ Get back home Loretta.
From Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: P.C. Thirty One/ Says we’ve caught a dirty one.
From Helter Skelter: You may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer.
From Her Majesty: I want to tell her that I love her a lot/ But I gotta get a bellyful of wine/ Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl/ Someday I’m gonna make her mine.
From Two of Us: You and I have memories/Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.
From I’ve Got a Feeling: All I was ever looking for/ Was somebody who looks like you.
From She Came in Through the Bathroom Window: And so I quit the Police Department/ And got myself a steady job/ And though she tried her best to help me/ She could steal but she could not rob.
From You Never Give Me Your Money: One sweet dream/ Pick up the bags and get in the limousine.
From Lady Madonna: Friday night arrives without a suitcase/ Sunday morning creeping like a nun/ Monday’s child has learned to tie his bootlace/ See how they run.
From Hello Goodbye: You say yes/ I say no/ You say stop/ And I say go – go – go/ Oh no/ You say goodbye/ And I say hello.
From Let It Be: And when the night is cloudy/ There is still a light that shines on me/ Shine until tomorrow/Let it be/ Let it be.
From The End: Oh yeah !/All right !/ Are you gonna be in my dreams/ tonight?
Do you see what I mean? These are phrases that can punctuate casual conversations. They’re useful hi-lights for everyday use. They have a classic touch. You’d be surprised how handy it can be to drop “You may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer” into some cocktail party chit chat. Or get folk’s attention by an impromptu quoting of “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.”
Remember, you heard it here first.