Updated: Oct 7
As mean as a pinch of salt, sometimes just enough is all you need.
The recognition of your work in someone else’s eyes. The repeated chuckle seven steps away from a joke. Memory’s repetition of an admirers confession of love. Even your partner sneaking in an admission that they were wrong half way up the stairs about that thing you’d spent the previous three days arguing about. These are precious moments in time, a fleeting second that bears the fruit of all that came before.
It's easy to forget that at the time of writing, Sir Paul of McCartney, King of Kintyre, High Lord of Vegetables, Duke of Doobie and the Mother of Dragons was viewed as a junior partner in the Beatles. Junior to John that is, a rung or two above latest and last recruit Ringo and that kid that was always nine months younger than he.
It was not a popular notion to the more equal amongst others that the uppity musical polymath begin to flex his melodic and commercial muscle just as the wind was getting beneath the Beatles’ Wings. Not only did the natural and chemical hierarchy of the band leave no question as to their de-facto leader, into the third phase of the band’s career (if you count the Quarrymen skiffle stage as phase one and Hamburg/Cavern pre-fame as the second), Lennon had stolen a march on the writing and recording limelight. At least from an artistic and performance standpoint, though Paul always had the eyes.
Their debut single was written largely by an adolescent Paul, and though sung in harmony, it was John’s harmonica that stuck. Their first number one was penned by John in its entirety and though the arrangement was a group effort, no one noticed. For all intents and purposes, it was John. The Please Please Me album with its rather stark and bold mix of covers and original material was marked by John’s savage vocals and darkly undertoned ironic delivery, making much more out of what was being played; here was a new voice amongst new voices. This despite Paul’s brilliance dripping all over the album. I Saw Her Standing There (never a UK single), P.S. I Love You (early McCartney whimsy) and those astounding crotchet laden, syncopated bass lines spilling behind the tuneful harmonic Paul presence wasn’t enough to draw the focus he desired, despite the blinding spotlight that was pouring onto their collective faces.
John always had a way of dealing with McCartney and that way was mainly a brotherly ridiculing of Paul’s more ridicule worthy tendencies. No one was ever as able to keep Paul’s winsome McCharmley confidence in such check. With an increasingly frequent delivery of the goods, Lennon was no longer relying solely on brute force to do so, his leadership was evolving and Macca was having to push to keep up.
Where did this leave Paul? Thankfully for him, his public adored him. Housewives, teenage girls, interviewers, broadcasters, critics. This was still a craw for John to stick something in, vacuous as it seemed, and Paul knew it. John’s dominance continued, and leading into With The Beatles Lennon again had the lion’s share of the best cover material, the rousing crescendo of Money (that’s all I want) and the thrillingly poppy (It Won’t Be Long), sultry (All I’ve Got To Do) opening album songs. Then came All My Loving.
Written, for the first time, words first, Paul was pushing himself. Here he found himself no longer relying solely on instinct and natural ability but angling for something new. He found it. Lyrics scribbled on a tour bus in between gigs on the Moss Empire tour circuit (old cinemas, now all Mecca Bingo halls or empty post-capitalist voids), Paul found an old piano backstage upon arrival and felt for the chords to meet his inspiration. A template and destination already in place, he found a joyous trip around the E major scale that he’d later splash with a fast becoming trademark wide ranging walking bass line, impossibly hard to simultaneously sing along to and play except for people as naturally gifted as the writer (him, not me). As with McCartney’s best original work, the singular chordings sounded natural and obvious and found a place to bring out some of the best ensemble playing thus far from the club band that was now finding their studio feet.
George found a way to incorporate his range of ‘crumbly and western’ influences into a very hooky, singable pop guitar solo, likely his most distinguished to date and an early spotlight on the young man searching for his own creative voice. Ringo exudes joy in every beat, swinging the hell out of a smiled performance and John rises to the bait by adding a rapid rhythm of triplets that lay an early cornerstone for his reputation as a rhythm guitar player of some distinction, regardless of his perceived lack of technical ability. They all play to the song as it becomes a sum of more than its parts. Paul had written, sung and performed his first pop standard and so quickly were things starting to move, and so ingrained was John’s dominance, it swiftly got relegated to album status, never considered for a single release. Inferior contemporary bands must have had a collective intake of breath at the affluence of tunes this band had not to consider this a smash hit single.
So, out goes the album that knocks its predecessor off the top spot in the UK charts, and is swiftly followed by megamonstersmash non album single I want To Hold Your Hand a week later. Again, although a 50/50 true Lennon/McCartney composition, sung in tandem, it has the feel of a John led song so strong was his vocal prowess at the time of recording and an in part due to McCartney’s crucial but secondary vocal role of interchanging harmony with melody.
#IWTHYH was of course the single that finally broke through the flood defence of indifference to the Beatles in America, ultimately climbing to the top of the singles charts and paving the way for their cultural JFK moment on national television, with marionette host, Ed Sullivan. By that time however, something unexpected was happening…
All My Loving was getting serious airplay, even by Beatles single standards.
“I remember him [David Jacobs} singling it out on his radio show…it became a big favourite for people and I heard it differently. ’Til then I’d heard it as an album track…but it went over to however many million people on network BBC, it was like ‘Whoah!, that is a good one.’ I always liked it. - Paul to Mark Lewisohn, ‘Complete Beatles Recording Sessions’
As far as The Beatles were concerned, All My Loving was already in the past. With the Beatles was a British Beatles album, now they were a pandemic. What lay ahead was what was in sight and McCartney resigned it to the ‘good little tune, that’ pile. Regardless, so was the clamour for Beatle singles (the 86 a year they released barely whetted the appetite) that All My Loving was put out as a special E.P. release on the 7th February 1964 backed with Ask Me Why/Money (that’s what I want)/P.S. I Love you and went promptly to number one in the UK, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.
This would undoubtedly have been enough to jolt Lennon into a snide remark or two, had his stewardship not also had the Machiavellian nuance of benign pragmatism to allow him and those around him to choose the right path. That All My Loving was deemed just the ticket to sell the band by opening their historic first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on 9th February showed that now, there were two head Beatles, publicly and politically. And thank the Lord there were, because this chemistry, this admirers confession of love amidst a battle, gave us all this.
Much, much later, Paul chuckled remorsefully on a few occasions that Lennon gave scant praise of his work. During their entire time together, he only confessed to liking his partners material once, face to face. Upon hearing Revolver’s Here, There and Everywhere, Lennon admitted to McCartney that ‘I probably like your stuff more than mine’, to which Paul fell down three flights of stairs and into his own heart. That was as good as it got until Lennon, three days before his death said to David Sheff of Rolling Stone magazine:
“All My Loving is Paul, I regret to say…It’s a damn good piece of work. But I play a pretty mean guitar in back”
By the time Paul read this, his brother was dead, but sometimes just enough is all you need.