August, 1980: John tells Playboy writer David Sheff why he can never let it go with Paul – specifically with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Across The Universe’. (Note: This is how hurt/bitter/resentful-John perceives the past, and as most comments by John, should not be regarded on its own as a temporally objective reality.)
JOHN: It’s a Beatles song that was – because of whatever reason, The Beatles didn’t make a good record of it. And I think subconsciously, sometimes, we – I’ll say we, although I – I think Paul did it more than the rest of us – Paul would sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song. [long pause] Okay? And he subconsciously tried to d– destroy s— Meaning that we’d play experimental games with my great pieces, like ‘Strawberry Fields [Forever]’, which I always thought was badly recorded. It got away with it, and it worked, but it wasn’t what I’d – allowed it to have – this stuff on, that should have never been on. And it was usually we’d spend hours doing little detailed cleaning-ups of Paul’s, and when it came to mine – especially when it was a great song, like ‘Strawberry Fields’, or ‘Across The Universe’ -– then somehow [there was] this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and you know, “Let’s try a few experiments on this.”
It was a lousy track of a great song, and I was so disappointed by it, it never went out as The Beatles – I gave it to the Wildlife Fund of Great Britain, and it went out there – because it was so bad. And then when Spector was brought in for Let It Be – that’s the album it got on – he dug it out of the Beatle files, and overdubbed, and tried to put me in tune, and the group in tune, which is all out of tune on the original track – because the guitar’s out of tune, I’m singing out of tune, because I’m psychologically destroyed, and no one’s supporting me, or helping me with it…
And, uh, the song was never done properly. But the words stand, luckily, by themselves, and the words were purely inspirational. They came and were given to me as – “boom,” like that, except for maybe one or two where I had to resolve a line or something like that. It was a pure – it’s like I don’t own it, you know. It came through – like that. I mean, I’ve tried to repeat the meter, even. I don’t know where it came from, what meter it’s in. And I’ve sat down and looked at it, and said, “Can I write another one with this meter? It’s so interesting – words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup, they dribble on and doddle doddle down the universe…” It’s such an extraordinary meter, and I can never repeat it, you see. So it’s not a matter of craftsmanship. It wrote itself.
I think I heard that when Lewisohn was writing the recording sessions book he said that there was no evidence that Paul had tried to subconsciously ruin Across the Universe in particular, or any other song for that matter, but I think he’s missing the point here, what I think John’s referring to here is his belief that the Beatles and particularly himself and Paul being able to read each other’s minds.
You have the Get Back sessions where John isn’t talking as much and there are times, especially when they have the meeting after George leaves, when Yoko is speaking for John. We have that great audio when Paul’s talking about how they screw each other up when they don’t speak to each other and that they’re not ready for vows of silence but I think John thought that they could communicate psychologically and was testing his theory out here.
If we follow John’s thinking that they could all read each other’s minds then Paul should have known what his vision for Across the Universe was, so given that Paul knew what John’s vision was and was probably better equipped than anyone else to communicate this to George Martin/Glyn John the fact that the song that John envisioned never materialised must be down to Paul subconsciously sabotaging it.
I already made a post about how I think communication, or a lack thereof, was one of the biggest factors in the break up of the Beatles and the breakdown of the relationships in the band. There are so many examples across the band’s career when John gets upset at Paul for doing something where I think he assumes that Paul should known better or understand his feelings but chooses to ignore them. Paul doing the Family Way alone when John thought Paul should have known he wanted to do it with him, Paul writing Eleanor Rigby when the other Beatles, Mal, Neil and Pete were around when John thought Paul should have known to come to him and only him for help on the lyrics, Paul doing Why Don’t We Do It In The Road with only Ringo when John wanted to help out with the song etc etc.
Going back to Across the Universe, I think this is where John’s approach or facility in the studio hurts him as opposed to Paul. Because John found it harder to communicate exactly what he wanted on his songs, especially more ambitious songs like Strawberry Fields, Tomorrow Never Knows, Across the Universe etc. the rest of the band, George Martin and Geoff Emerick had to experiment to try and get the outcome that would best serve the song and come closest to what John had imagined. The band would always be less experimental with Paul’s songs because he was much better at communicating what he wanted to the rest of the band and George Martin, which caused friction within the band (see infamous clip of George and Paul “arguing” in the Let it Be film) but meant that Paul was always happy with the outcome of his songs and never criticised how any of the songs came out in later years, with the exception of the Long and Winding Road but that was ruined by Spector after the fact not whilst it was originally recorded. Whereas with John, the rest of the band may have been more free to bring whatever they wanted to his songs but, after the fact, he was more likely to slag off the outcome as seen here and evidenced with him apparently saying to George Martin that he wanted to re-record every Beatles song again “especially Strawberry Fields”.
So to conclude my latest armchair psychoanalysis of the band, I think this is a typical case of John not being able to communicate his vision properly so instead of recognising that as a cause of Across the Universe not being what it could have been, he blames Paul instead because if they can literally share dreams (again see the Get Back sessions) they can share thoughts so Paul knew what was needed, he just never did it…
I find the idea that John didn’t know what he wanted in the studio or that he absolutely needed his God of Music partner to do the heavy lifting for him upsetting. It’s widely circulated for some reason but I’m not really on board with it.
Maybe John did know what he wanted but, insecure as he was and under the influence of drugs, wasn’t confident enough in a control room of guys slobbering all over Paul, the golden child. There is a reason he never wanted to work with these people again. I doubt George felt any differently, by the way.
The fact John was abstract minded and open to TRUE collaboration with others does not mean he didn’t have a vision of his own. In fact, his desire for partnership was in some ways his downfall because then people started demanding credit for stuff that didn’t belong to them, without barely acknowledging John’s contributions to anything. Not naming any names, *wink wink*.
People forget (or ignore) how involved John was in the production of his own albums. He co-produced POB/Imagine/STINYC and did Mind Games/Walls and Bridges/Pussycats by himself. That’s leaving out Unfinished Music I and II and the Wedding Album he did with Yoko. Richard Perry remarked on what a good producer he was. Jack Douglas and the session musicians all said he knew exactly what he wanted for Double Fantasy. One might argue about the artistic merit of each one of these works but the point is that John had no problems putting his ideas out there after the Beatles. So did George and Ringo. Connect the dots and you’ll find the common denominator between them.
To be quite frank, I actually would’ve loved if John had done his Beatles songs again, if only for the novelty of it. The clean quality of many of those tracks shine through in the demos and in the final version you get this wedding cake mix with layers of decoration on the top of each other. The abomination that became Help! (that would’ve been so much better in the lines of his 1970 short home demo) and the ridiculous mix of George’s Old Brown Shoe are enough reason for anyone to complain. I could go on and on. The White Album is my favorite album of all time by any artist but as far as John is concerned, I take the simple, unpolished Esher demos every time.
the first response to this is a little uhh….
there’s this saying that there’s three sides to every story: “your side, their side, and the truth”. i find the people in beatles fandom have a hard time detaching how they personally feel about the music from the testimony of whatever band member is on the other side of their personal taste. you see this often in “boomer” fandom, where disinterest in george’s solo work has dudes tearing into him for being a petulant, talentless liar for feeling like john, paul and george martin disregarded and under-estimated him as a songwriter despite that fact that it’s…….. indisputably true. like, you can think george sucks, was embittered, and deserved to be ignored or whatever, but the way he *felt* arose from things that actually *happened*, and to dismiss it entirely as unfair misperception on his part is to erase an important part of the story.
nothing john said up there is “delusional” the way some of the weirdly condescending responses to this thread seem to think – and i admit, i think he said some pretty wack things after the breakup. but here? he’s not even saying that he thought paul was intentionally ruining his songs; the meat of the statement is that he felt like his songs were treated differently by the production team, and that his partner wasn’t helping him develop his artistic vision the way his own artistic vision was being carefully cultivated. like the stuff with george, you can believe that paul was the greater talent of the two so this was “better” for the band in the long run, and we can all probably agree that john definitely… Made A Choice In How He Dealt With It, and i certainly believe that paul was fairly-to-completely oblivious that john felt this way, but the way he felt was still based on things that verifiably happened.
honestly, by taking seriously his complaints that he felt his music was over-produced, de-personalized or spoiled as the band’s production aesthetics began to lean increasingly towards paul’s developing preferences – bolstered by a production team who both preferred his emergent style and his hyper-specific vision – you can gain some insight as to *why* he could say something like this, and why he acted in such an extreme fashion in 68-72 (esp once he was surrounded by people with professional or social incentive to drive that wedge between him and paul as hard as possible) beyond “weeeeell! you knooooow, he was just a crazy person 🤪 lol”.
I think the frustration with John’s comment is that these are some of John’s most famous songs – and they are renowned for the production. Everyone brought their A game and worked incredibly hard on these songs! In other words it isn’t that the production isn’t good, it’s that it didn’t match John’s vision. But if John didn’t get the result he wanted he should have pushed them until he did. John was apparently not as prescriptive about what he wanted and that is what led to the need for experimentation. I’m sure if John had come in with a clear vision then everyone would have happily complied! I have no idea why the poster above is blaming Paul?!! (Personally I wish Paul had allowed a little more experimentation on his songs!) Also I think Paul and/or George Martin’s contributions often elevated John’s songs to the next level. What would Tomorrow Never Knows be without the drum bass and tape loops? What would I Am the Walrus be without GM’s contributions or ADITL be without Paul’s half + his production! As the original poster mentioned I think he blames Paul because he counted on Paul to translate his ideas for him bc John can’t imagine the production in the way that Paul can. John complains of this in Let It Be (he can’t hear the violins). AND the idea that he expects his mind to be read is a real thing – he himself said that they don’t talk because it takes too long but Paul complains (in Let It Be) that they aren’t at the level of telepathy! So this insight about about John’s desire for telepathy is real! 🙂
And to some extent I get John’s desire. He and Paul had such a close creative relationship and they relied on each other to help realize their vision so I get why expected Paul to KNOW him. But Paul can’t necessarily intuit original thinking! Nevertheless I think Paul LOVED SFF and brought his best. It’s too bad John couldn’t see that -and assumed the worst.
i think you missed my point, which is that it doesn’t matter if we like how ‘strawberry fields forever’ turned out, john is describing his emotional reality here, or at least what the emotional strains that tore the band apart caused him to believe. i don’t really care who’s right or wrong, or who had more musical vision, or if the songs are Good And Important – that to me exists on a separate axis than this emotional stuff when it comes to analysis and discussion; the music can’t be unmade by us giving credence to the fact that *john* didn’t like how SFF turned out, so there’s no threat in it. i tend to find that john was actually quite cogent and even handed when discussing his own music (or music in general) outside very specific instances, so i think that boiling it all down to “he thought psychic powers were real and unfairly blamed all his musical shortcomings and dissatisfactions on paul because they weren’t” is nearly as skewed a reading as when boomers take ‘Lennon Remembers’ at face value. taking what john says here seriously if not literally reveals a lot about why the beatles cracked apart when they became a studio band, something that i’m interested in and don’t think has been empathetically or accurately analyzed in the literature thus far (which is why i like talking about it!).
as you said: john depended on paul to help him translate his ideas, the way paul depended on him for confidence and criticism he could trust. both of them for some fucking reason believed that they did not need to Have Conversations about serious issues in order to function as long term musical and business partners. this dynamic eventually mutated in ways that made john feel abandoned and left behind. imo, not all of that was false perception, whatever you think about the way he reacted. my issue isn’t that i don’t think the music turned out good or that paul didn’t make good contributions even after he & john fell out of synch (i mean, i love most of those songs the way they are, and i am a bitch with questionable taste so i also LOVE pointlessly layered wedding cake production lmfao). i’m not even saying that i think john is being fair here; my issue is when people use the fact that john had some wack ideas and went through a whole-ass mental break to invalidate everything he ever said as being part of his ~supernatural delusions~ *because* they like the music. i don’t even think people realize that they’re doing it, most of it is definitely done in innocence, but here it’s like… john saying he felt like the production on his and paul’s songs was treated differently in the studio is not a particularly wacky or strange thing to have said or felt, so it just rubs me the wrong way to be like “well this is because he falsely felt betrayed bc of his bizarre ~dream sharing~ beliefs”.
Hmm. John accused Paul of sabotaging his best work. “Subconscious” or not, that’s an extraordinary accusation, and he doesn’t offer any support for this claim other than the fact that the band would “experiment” on his songs:
“Paul would sort of subconsciously try and destroy a great song […] Meaning that we’d play experimental games with my great pieces […] then somehow [there was] this atmosphere of looseness and casualness and you know, “Let’s try a few experiments on this.”
Is John claiming that McCartney (and/or George Martin, Geoff Emerick, et al- although he names none of those people here, so I’m not sure why several posters have included them in this sabotage conspiracy theory) were openly defying his wishes or ignoring his instructions? If so, I’d love to hear more about this! I’ve never heard of a single instance where everyone involved didn’t try their best to achieve John’s wishes.
John doesn’t accuses Paul of being lazy when it came to his songs, or to not showing any interest in them (except possibly and specifically in the case of Across the Universe). He accuses Paul of “sabotage” which absolutely implies that Paul was trying to “destroy” his best work for the specific malicious purpose of making them come out badly. I believe that’s why several people here have pushed back on the idea that the songs came out badly! John may have ended up unhappy with Help and SFF, and that’s fine and valid, but the idea that Paul “sabotaged” them is ludicrous. You can absolutely make a case that Paul influenced them in a way that John didn’t want with the intention of making them the best they could be. But suggesting that Paul was actively sabotaging John’s work (subconsciously or not) IMO requires some evidence that Paul hurt the work or made it unsuccessful in some way. Paul ‘sabotaged me into having #1s’ is pretty weak, and yes, it does sound paranoid.
What possible motivation would Paul have to sabotage his partner’s work? To outshine/outsell him? OK, if that’s where you’re going with this, please make a case that Paul’s meddling experimentation hindered SFF, Help, ADITL, TNK, I am the Walrus, and in any way stopped them from being ranked amongst John’s all-time greatest and best-remembered works.
In any case, if John was unhappy with the results (or unhappy in retrospect after the breakup, which seems more likely), then I agree it would be his responsibility to say so. Especially, since a poster above made a very passionate case that John was a competent producer with strong opinions and the ability to articulate his desires in the studio.
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