Paul McCartney has admitted to feeling “frustrated” that the murder of John Lennon in 1980 elevated him to the status of a “martyr” – meaning the rest of the Beatles were relegated to the background.
And he argues that the perception that Lennon led the band is usually supported by offsetting his best work against McCartney’s worst.
The 73-year-old tells Esquire: “The Beatles split up and we were all sort of equal. George did his record, John did his, I did mine, Ringo did his. It was as we were during the Beatles’ time.
“When John got shot, aside from the pure horror of it, the lingering thing was, ‘Now John’s a martyr, a JFK.’ I started to get frustrated because people started to say, ‘Well, he was the Beatles.’
“Me, George and Ringo would go, ‘Hang on – it’s only a year ago we were all equal-ish.”
McCartney emphasises that he’s not trying to put down his late colleague’s achievements. “John was the witty one,” he says. “John did a lot of great work and post-Beatles he did more great work. But he also did a lot of not-great work.
“The fact that he’s now martyred has elevated him to a James Dean and beyond. I didn’t mind that – I agreed with it. I understood there was going to be revisionism. It was going to be, ‘John was the one.’
“If you just pull out all his great stuff and then stack it up against my not-so-great stuff, it’s an easy case to make.”
He also deals with speculation that he was never happy with the duo’s work being published under the banner Lennon and McCartney – an agreement he says was reached after he arrived late to a meeting with manager Brian Epstein.
“John and Brian had been talking, and said, ‘We’re thinking we ought to call the songs Lennon and McCartney,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘That’s okay, but what about McCartney and Lennon? If I write it, what about that?’
“They said, ‘Okay, we’ll alternate it – Lennon and McCartney, McCartney and Lennon.’ That didn’t happen, and I didn’t mind.”
But he admits it “became an issue” in certain cases, such as classic track Yesterday. “None of the other Beatles had anything to do with it – I wrote it on my own, sang it on my own,” he says.
“They didn’t mind and I didn’t mind. Nobody minded, but that’s very much mine. So I said, ‘Could we have ‘By Paul McCartney and John Lennon’ – wouldn’t that be a good idea? The original artwork had Yesterday by John Lennon and Paul McCartney’ and a photo of John above it. I went, ‘Come on, lads.’ Anyway, they wouldn’t do it.”
Responding to the accusation of “dancing on a dead man’s grave” he says: “It was nothing to do with a big head. It’s just to do with identifying who wrote what.
“John did a really good interview where he did that: ‘This is mine, this is Paul’s.’ I thought, ‘Just use that – John said it.’ I thought that was perfectly reasonable, and I still do, by the way. But I don’t think it’s achievable for some reason.”