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