McCartney’s Interview with Radio Luxembourg | 20 November 1968

Paul McCartney Interview with Radio Luxembourg promoting “The Beatles” album | 20 November 1968


About the Interview: After The Beatles had completed The White Album, Paul McCartney gave an exclusive interview to Radio Luxembourg in which he discussed his opinions of select tracks from the new double LP. When the interview was aired, it was interspersed with tracks from the new album. The official UK release of The White Album was just two days away.


Q: “Paul, I’d like you to talk about the LP in general.”

Paul: “What do you want me to say about it, Tony?”

Q: “The songs I think are perhaps a surprise to some people, because I think alot of people expected another step from ‘Sgt Pepper.'”

Paul: “Well it is another step, you know, but it’s not necessarily in the way people expected. Uhh… On ‘Sgt Pepper’ we had more instrumentation than we’d ever had. More orchestral stuff than we’d ever used before, so it was more of a production. But we didn’t really want to go overboard like that this time, and we’ve tried to play more like a band this time– only using instruments when we had to, instead of just using them for the fun of it.”

Q: “Is this for any sort of concept of being able to do the things live?”

Paul: “Uhh, yeah. And also for the concept that we like playing together. That’s the main concept.” (laughs)

Q: “The first track on the LP is ‘Back In The USSR.’ Could we just talk about this particular track… because it’s a wild, rocking thing.”

Paul: “Yeah. Umm, that’s a track which… it just sort of came. Chuck Berry once did a song called ‘Back In The USA,’ which is very American, very Chuck Berry. Very sort of, uhh… you know, you’re serving in the army– And when I get back home I’m gonna kiss the ground– and you know– Can’t wait to get back to the States. And it’s a very American sort of thing, I’ve always thought. So this one is like about… In my mind it’s just about a spy who’s been in America a long long time, you know, and he’s picked up… And he’s very American. But he gets back to the USSR, you know, and he’s sort of saying, ‘Leave it till tomorrow, honey, to disconnect the phone,’ and all that. And ‘Come here honey,’ but with Russian women. You see, what it is… It concerns the attributes of Russian women.”

Q: “Obladi Oblada.”

Paul: “I like most kinds of music. So I haven’t got a ‘bag’ as they say… (jokingly) except the big black one in the hall outside. And ‘Obladi Oblada,’ and ‘USSR,’ and ‘Martha’ are three different songs altogether. And in fact all of mine are on the LP. I’m pretty diverse because I mean, I haven’t got ONE sort of thing. So this– I’ve no idea why it’s Jamaican or anything. Just ‘cuz I like that kind of thing.”

Q: “Did you write this song on your own? I mean, is this a combination of Lennon/McCartney?”

Paul: “I think it was mainly me. Mainly me. (jokingly) John’s a bit more Nigerian influenced.”

(laughter)

Q: “‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun.’ This is a ballad that’s very interesting. Perhaps although you didn’t sing this particular song you’d like to talk about it, Paul.”

Paul: “I’d like to talk about it ‘cuz I like it, you know. It’s a favorite of mine. Umm, the idea of the ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ thing is from an advert in an American paper. It said, Happiness is a warm gun, sort of thing, and it was ‘Get ready for the long hot summer with a rifle,’ you know, ‘Come and buy them now!’ It was an advert in a gun magazine. And it was so sick, you know, the idea of ‘Come and buy your killing weapons,’ and ‘Come and get it.’ But it’s just such a great line, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ that John sort of took that and used that as a chorus. And the rest of the words… I think they’re great words, you know. It’s a poem. And he finishes off, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun, yes it is.'”

Q: “It sounds like he’s probably fairly serious about…”

PAUL: “Oh, it’s as serious as anyone ever gets, you know. It’s not deadly serious, you know what I mean… It’s just words, and if you sort of really taxed him on it and said, ‘Would you be willing to die for these words,’ I’m sure he wouldn’t. I’m sure it’s not REALLY serious but they’re good words. I’d stick up for anyone who’s sort of worried about ‘em, you know. It’s just good poetry.”

Q: “‘Martha My Dear.'”

Paul: “You see, I just start singing some words with a tune, you know what I mean. I don’t ever write a song thinking, ‘Now I’ll write a song about…’ I do sometimes, but mainly I don’t. Mainly I’m just doing a tune and then some words come into my head, you know. And these happened to be ‘Martha My Dear, though I spend my days in conversation.’ It doesn’t mean anything, you know, but those just happened to come to my head. So that’s what this song is about… it is about my dog. I don’t mean it, you know. I don’t ever try to make a serious social comment, you know. So you can read anything you like into it, but really it’s just a song. It’s me singing to my dog.” (laughs)

Q: “Paul, how long a time has it taken you all to get this whole LP together– I mean, write the songs?”

Paul: “Well, since we were in India we started writing this batch of songs. And we’ve written a few since. And this is mainly the Indian batch that we’ve sort of finished.”

Q: “‘Blackbird’ I think is quite a beautiful song.”

Paul: “Thank you, Tony. Well, it’s simple in concept because you couldn’t think of anything else to put on it. And that’s what I was saying about the ‘Sgt Pepper’ thing– Maybe on Pepper we would have sort of worked on it until we could find some way to put violins or trumpets in there. But I don’t think it needs it, this one. You know, it’s just… There’s nothing to the song. It is just one of those ‘pick it and sing it’ and that’s it. The only point where we were thinking of putting anything on it is where it comes back in the end…. sort of stops and comes back in… but instead of putting any backing on it, we put a blackbird on it. So there’s a blackbird singing at the very end. And somebody said it was a thrush, but I think it’s a blackbird!”

(laughter)

Q: “‘Rocky Raccoon.'”

Paul: “I was sitting on the roof in India with a guitar– John and I were sitting ’round playing guitar, and we were with Donovan. And we were just sitting around enjoying ourselves, and I started playing the chords of ‘Rocky Raccoon,’ you know, just messing around. And, oh, originally it was Rocky Sassoon, and we just started making up the words, you know, the three of us– and started just to write them down. They came very quickly. And eventually I changed it from Sassoon to Raccoon, because it sounded more like a cowboy. So there it is. These kind of things– you can’t really talk about how they come ‘cuz they just come into your head, you know. They really do. And it’s like John writing his books. There’s no… I don’t know how he does it, and he doesn’t know how he does it, but he just writes. It’s like any writer, you know. I think people who actually do create and write… you tend to think, ‘Oh, how did he do that,’ but it actually does flow… just flows from into their head, into their hand, and they write it down, you know. And that’s what happened with this. I don’t know anything about the Appalachian mountains or cowboys and indians or anything. But I just made it up, you know. And the doctor came in stinking of gin and proceeded to lie on the table. So, there you are.”

Q: “I suppose the idea to do the thing with some sort of a American-Western accent also happened this way, did it?”

Paul: “Oh that. Yeah, that was just a joke, you know, as most of it is.”

Q: “Also, another one of yours called, ‘I Will.’ We’ve covered the areas where the songs just seem to come to you, and just happen this way, and you get ideas. Obviously this particular track happened the same way. The twangy guitar is used again on this one. Umm, there’s a slight influence…”

Paul: “We’ve always been a rock & roll group, I suppose, you know. It’s just that we’re not just completely rock & roll. That’s what I was trying to say before about ‘Obladi,’ ‘USSR,’ they’re all different kinds of things. We’re not just completely one kind of group. ‘Cuz like, when we played in Hamburg, we didn’t just do rock all evening ‘cuz we had to have these sort of fat old businessmen coming in and saying… (jokingly) or THIN old businessmen, as well, were coming in and saying ‘Play a mambo. Can you do a rhumba?’ And we couldn’t just keep saying no, you know, so we had to get into mambos and rhumbas a bit. So this kind of thing is like a pretty sort of smootchy ballad– ‘I Will.’ But we have to do that kind of stuff, you know, so we always played alot of kind of things. I don’t know if it’s getting off the subject, but that’s why there’s great variety in this LP– ‘cuz in everything we do, you know, we just haven’t got one bag, The Beatles, you know. And ‘cuz on one hand you’ll get something like ‘I Will’ and then you’ll get ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,’ you know. Just completely different things– completely different feelings and… But it’s me singing both of them. It’s the same fella. Uhh, and I’ve wrote both of them, you know. So you can’t explain it. I don’t know why I do ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’ shouting it like that… and then do this sort of smootchy laughing American ‘Girl From Ipenema.'”

Q: “‘Birthday.’ This next track is back in the old rock and roll style, which I guess we’ve already really covered, but once again this is a very loud type, if you like discoteque type…”

Paul: “There’s a story about that, Tony. What happened was ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ was on television. That’s an old rock film with Little Richard and Fats Domino and Eddie Cochran and a few others… Gene Vincent. And we wanted to see it, so we started recording at five o’clock. And we said, ‘We’ll do something, just do a backing track. We’ll make up a backing track.’ So we kept it very simple– twelve bar blues kind of thing. And we stuck in a few bits here and there in it, with no idea what the song was or what was gonna go on top of it. We just said, ‘Okay. Twelve bars in A, and we’ll change to D, and I’m gonna do a few beats in C.’ And we really just did it like that… random thing. We didn’t have time for anything else, and so we just recorded this backing. And we came back here to my house and watched ‘The Girl Can’t Help It.’ Then we went back to the studio again and made up some words to go with it all. So this song was just made up in an evening. Umm, you know. We hadn’t ever thought of it before then. And it’s one of my favorites because of that. I think it works, you know, ‘cuz it’s just… It’s a good one to dance to. Like the big long drum break, just ‘cuz, instead of… well, normally we might have four bars of drums, but with this we just keep it going, you know. We all like to hear drums plodding on.”

Q: “‘Mother Nature’s Son’ is another track in which you use acoustic guitar. And there’s probably more acoustic guitar used in this set of tracks than you’ve ever used before.”

Paul: “Yes. Well, it’s the same thing again. We wrote them with guitars. And, on alot of his, John picks the guitar because he learned off Donovan when we were in India– Donovan showed him how to fingerpick. So he sort of stuck it in everything then.”

Q: (laughs)

Paul: “And while he was learning fingerpicking, I was sort of playing acoustic as well, you know. That’s it– That’s why they’ve crept in like this. We decided not to try and cover them up like we might do normally, and just use acoustic guitar instead of, say, a piano or electric guitar or anything. So, the only thing about this one, however, it says ‘Born a poor young country boy’ and I was born in Woolton hospital actually– so it’s a dirty lie.”

Q: “‘Helter Skelter.'”

Paul: “Umm, that came about just ‘cuz I’d read a review of a record which said, ‘And this group really got us wild, there’s echo on everything, they’re screaming their heads off.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be great to do one. Pity they’ve done it. Must be great– really screaming record.’ And then I heard their record and it was quite straight, and it was very sort of sophisticated. It wasn’t rough and screaming and tape echo at all. So I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll do one like that, then.’ And I had this song called ‘Helter Skelter’ which is just a ridiculous song. So we did it like that, ‘cuz I like noise.”

Q: “‘Honey Pie.'”

Paul: “My dad’s always played fruity old songs like that, you know. And I liked ‘em. I like the melody of old songs, and the lyrics actually as well. There’s some old lyrics, like, you know– the woman singing about the man, and she’s saying something about ‘I wanna have his initial on my monogram.’ You know what I mean? There’s good lyrics and just good thoughts that you don’t sort of hear so much these days, you know. And so, I would quite like to have been a 1920’s writer, ‘cuz I like that thing, you know. Umm, you know, up in top hat and tails and sort of coming-on to ‘em. So this kind of number, I like that thing. But, uhh… So this is just me doing it, pretending I’m living in 1925.”

Q: “The final track I suppose is a wrap-up to the LP, and to the show tonight. And I would imagine that alot of people are probably going to record this track.”

Paul: “Yes. Umm, it’s very much that kind of track, you know. John wrote it, mainly. It’s his tune, uhh, which is surprising for John– ‘cuz he doesn’t normally write this kind of tune. It’s a very sweet tune, and Ringo sings it great, I think. The arrangement was done by George Martin, uhh, ‘cuz he’s very good at that kind of arrangement, you know– very sort of lush, sweet arrangement. And that’s all I can say about it. It’s very sweet. And in fact, it’s ‘Goodnight.'”

Source: Transcribed by www.beatlesinterviews.org from audio copy of radio interview