Oh!Darling is one of the most visceral, hopeless, high-pitched voice song Paul McCartney ever wrote, and it’s not a coincidence he was able to write such a masterpiece after a long journey of songwriting with The Beatles, and mostly with John Lennon, which was sadly coming to an end.

The song is included in the ‘Abbey Road’ album, placed 14th in the Rolling Stone magazine ranking of the gratest albums ever made. Most of the standout tracks from the album came from John and George, but Paul contributed with “Oh, Darling!”, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” and “The End,” which fittingly was the last song all four Beatles ever played or recorded together. Among these, “Oh! Darling” is a pastiche of overwrought soul singers like Jackie (‘Reet Petite’) Wilson, an early example of the 1950s nostalgia soon to flavour most British pop.

The Beatles began to play this song during the Get Back rehearsals. Modeled on black rhythm and blues performance, Paul has never commented on the meaning of this song, but he sings the lead, and has made only proprietary comments on its performing. In an early interview, he said that when he was recording the vocals, he came to the studio early every day to sing it by himself, as he wanted his voice to sound strained, “as though I’d been performing it on stage all week1Compton, Todd M. “Who Wrote the Beatle Songs?: A History of Lennon-McCartney” p.287.”

“I mainly remember wanting to get the vocal right, wanting to get it good, and I ended up trying each morning as I came into the recording session. I tried it with a hand mike, and I tried it with a standing mike, I tried it every which way, and finally got the vocal I was reasonably happy with. It’s a bit of a belter, and if it comes off a little bit lukewarm, then you’ve missed the whole point. It was unusual for me, I would normally try all the goes at a vocal in one day.” – Paul McCartney, Many Years From Now, Barry Miles.

The first rehearsing took place on 27 January 1969 at the Apple Studio in London’s Savile Row. As there wasn’t a lot of melody or “chordal magnificence” in the song, McCartney felt he had to turn in a really good performance to bring it to life.

“Paul came in several days running to do the lead vocal on Oh! Darling. He’d come in, sing it and say, ‘No, that’s not it, I’ll try it again tomorrow.’ He only tried it once per day, I suppose he wanted to capture a certain rawness which could only be done once before the voice changed. I remember him saying, ‘Five years ago I could have done this in a flash,’ referring, I suppose, to the days of Long Tall Sally and Kansas City.” – Alan Parsons, engineer, The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn.

With Billy Preston on keyboards, the somewhat ragged recording turned into an improvised jam, ending with John Lennon’s announcement that “I’ve just heard that Yoko’s divorce [from Tony Cox] has just gone through. Free at last!”

As preserved on Anthology 3, Lennon then sang, to the tune of Oh! Darling:

I’m free
This morning
Baby told the lawyer it’s OK
Believe me when I tell you
I’ll never do you no harm

One person who frankly thought that Paul had failed in singing the song was exactly John, who said that Paul “didn’t sing it too well. . . . He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it. If he’d had any sense, he should have let me sing it. [Laughing]2Compton, Todd M. “Who Wrote the Beatle Songs?: A History of Lennon-McCartney”, p.287” .

Despite the little jealousy about the composition, John confessed that he really liked the song: in fact, he rated the song highly, though he was characteristically guarded in his praise.

“Oh! Darling was a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well. I always thought that I could’ve done it better – it was more my style than his. He wrote it, so what the hell, he’s going to sing it. If he’d had any sense, he should have let me sing it. [Laughs.]” – John Lennon All We Are Saying, David Sheff.

Maybe John would have done a better job, maybe not. Truth is that Paul wrote it, and composed a melody which was the typical rock’n’roll-blues style he and John grew up with, and that John will later recall with his album “Rock and Roll” of 1975 in which he’ll make an homage to his music idols of his teen years.

On July 17 Paul added his lead vocal to ‘Oh darling’ at Abbey road studios. Some takes of the recordings show how Paul tried to change (perharps, inconsciously) the line ‘Oh!Darling’ with ‘Oh!Johnny’:

On August 8, 1969, after shooting the Abbey Road album cover in the morning, John went back to Paul’s house to wait for their afternoon recording session to begin. This is the last record of John and Paul socialising together for more than 2 years. Later Paul, unhappy with George’s guitar playing on Oh! Darling, replaced it with his own.

The Beatles’ Abbey Road recording session, 1969: Paul McCartney doing his vocal track for “Oh! Darling” He would come in before the others almost every day and try the vocal once.


Without any doubt, “Oh!Darling” was the hardest song Paul McCartney ever performed, and despite he never revealed the meaning of the lyrics, the roughness and desperation that comes from his voice is very telling. While “Hey Jude” was a subtle exhortation from Paul to John to ‘go and get her’ while hiding his concern that Yoko might substitute him in the future, “Oh!Darling” don’t mince words, and it’s a rough, clear, desperate reach from Paul towards a reconciliation for what appears to be an imminent break up, doing his best to convince his devote other to take a step back and reconsider their relationship. In “Hey Jude” Paul still had a chance, or at least, he thought he had it. With “Oh!Darling” time’s up, nothing can be fixed anymore, and Paul had probably realised it too late, now trying desperately to take the last shot.

Oh! Darling, please believe me
I’ll never do you no harm
Believe me when I tell you
I’ll never do you no harm

Oh! Darling, if you leave me

I’ll never make it alone
Believe me when I beg you
Don’t ever leave me alone

When you told me you didn’t need me anymore
Well you know I nearly broke down and cried
When you told me you didn’t need me anymore
Well you know I nearly broke down and died

Oh! Darling, if you leave me
I’ll never make it alone
Believe me when I beg you
I’ll never do you no harm, no harm

When you…

When you told me you didn’t need me anymore
Well you know I nearly broke down and cried
When you told me you didn’t need me anymore
Well you know I nearly broke down and cried

Oh! Darling, please believe me
I’ll never let you down
Believe me when I tell you
I’ll never do you no harm

In “Hey Jude” Paul McCartney could still play with words and double meanings, now there’s not time to do that anymore: he is begging his significant other to believe him, to not leave him, and to come back together. He feels like a scrap, abandoned to himself, and desperation surfaces when the tone of his voice increases and he sings his emotions as he hardly ever did in his songs: breaking down and crying, feeling like to die, and not be able to make it alone. “Oh!Darling” is one of the very few songs in which McCartney is not afraid of revealing his deepest emotions, as a last cry for help to make things work again. It’s hard to imagine such emotional song could come out from a figment of McCartney’s imagination, and not from real-life experience.

So what happened in Paul’s life to write such dramatic, heartfelt song?

His relationship with Linda McCartney was in full bloom, they didn’t show any friction, they soon got married and Paul adopted Linda’s daughter Heather. Cracks in their relationship didn’t (still) exist. Looking somewhere else, the only possible solution is to take into account what was happening between McCartney and Lennon in that period. The Beatles were breaking up, but the sour moments had already begun years before, around 1968, soon after their return from India, when Yoko Ono immediately started to visit the studios everyday, never leaving John alone and making his relationship with Paul more difficult to handle.

A tape recorded by the director of ‘Let it Be’ Linsday Hogg shows how John and Paul hardly talked to each other anymore, making it hard even to write songs together:

MICHAEL LINSDAY-HOGG:  How long has she [Yoko] been around? Just for a year?

LINDA:  But that’s not it, it’s about the four of them getting together.

PAUL:  But it’s not far off it, you know. Yoko’s very much to do with it, cos she’s very much to do with it from John’s angle. There’s only two answers. One is to fight her, and try to get the Beatles back to four people without Yoko. The other is just to realise she’s there, and he’s not going to split with her, just for our sakes. Then it’s not even so much of an obstacle. Really, it’s not that bad. They want to stay together, those two. So let the young lovers stay together. But it shouldn’t be “Can’t operate under these conditions, we’re coming out.”

MICHAEL:  Does John talk about it at all?

PAUL:  No, but for John, if it comes to a push between The Beatles and Yoko, it’s Yoko.

MICHAEL:  The other day, he said he didn’t want not to be a Beatle. He didn’t want that screwed up.

MAL:  Whever John talks these days, it’s like Yoko talking through him. Or he shuts up and let her do it for him. You can’t talk to him like I’m talking to you now. I know I’m talking to Paul, not Linda. You tend to think you’re talking to Yoko more than you’re talking to John.

PAUL:  That’s why I say writing a song with him… is a bit embarrassing, because I do think it–sort of–you know, that I’d start examining my emotions, with Yoko there. But it’s probably silly of me. It’s probably silly, because Yoko’s not what we all think she is.

MAL:  I wouldn’t mind if she just wouldn’t say much.

[…]

PAUL:  Well, I told him I didn’t like writing songs like that.

MICHAEL:  Were you writing together much more before she came around?

PAUL:  Oh yeah.

– Abbey Road, January 1969.

This happened during the “Let it be” sessions, but it’s not hard to imagine that it already existed during the “Abbey Road” moments as well, or probably much earlier.

McCartney’s frustration was mainly due to his inability to communicate with John, who chose to not open mouth anymore and let his soon-to-be wife talk for himself. This drastic John’s change of attitude towards his bandmates and particularly towards Paul, increased the tension and, most of all, Paul’s anger who realised it was now impossible to reconcile with John again. It was too late.

Looking at Paul’s personal events from this point of view, it seems logic that the song is a witness of his feelings and problems he was facing in that period, which was without any doubt one of the most problematic and hard to bear in his life. His reactions didn’t just flow into sad lyrics and chords, but McCartney fell into depression as well, daily drinking high amount of alcohol with brief moments of anger and cries. The photos we have today from that period shows a pale man, distraught, letting himself grow beard and hair with fashion clothes of dark and grey tones. In this difficult personal moment, Linda Eastman was an angel who guided McCartney and made him survive the tunnel of drugs, alcohol and depression. Without her, we don’t know if Paul could have been able to get through the separation from John and the break up of what he considered a family.

Some Beatles scholars have noticed in “Oh!Darling” the same tone and atmosphere of other heartbreaking songs written by Paul, like ‘Two of Us’ and “The Long and Winding Road.” Surely the songs that Paul produced in that period reflects his state of mind and feelings: sorrow, sadness, desperation and loss.

For Joshua Wolf Shenk it was all due to John:

“John had broken Paul’s heart, but, for a time, Paul still had John to make music with him about it.” – Shenk, Joshua Wolf. Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity.

Aside from the legal affairs that the band went through and caused Paul many discussions with his ex-bandmates, what upset him most was his separation from his soulmate Lennon, that happened, as the stories and rumors of the time tell, in the worst way possible.

Mojo Magazine of March 2007, for example, asserts that “Oh!Darling” had a specific reason to be written: after Paul had a quarrel with John, a peak moment that will turn into the Beatles’ official break up:

“Paul wrote ‘Oh! Darling’ after John telling him that he was leaving The Beatles… he actually cried the rest of the day after being driven home by Mal Evans”- Mojo magazine, March 2007.

Another story told by Linsday Hogg, the director of ‘Let it be’ movie who followed The Beatles for months in their studios in Abbey Road, described how John, after having played a tape of him and Yoko making love to his bandmates, turned to Paul to say that he wanted to show him “where I and she are now. I don’t want to hold your hand anymore”:

“As the meeting was drawing to a weary close, John, not this day with Yoko, who hadn’t seemed particularly connected with what was going on, said he wanted to play us a tape he and Yoko had made. He got up and put the cassette into the tape machine and stood beside it as we listened.

The soft murmuring voices did not at first signal their purpose. It was a man and a woman but hard to hear, the microphone having been at a distance. I wondered if the lack of clarity was the point. Were we even meant to understand what was going on, was it a kind of artwork where we would not be able to put the voices into a context, and was context important? I felt perhaps this was something John and Yoko were examining. But then, after a few minutes, it became clear. John and Yoko were making love, with endearments, giggles, heavy breathing, both real and satirical, and the occasional more direct sounds of pleasure reaching for climax, all recorded by the faraway microphone. But there was something innocent about it too, as though they were engaged in a sweet serious game.

John clicked the off button and turned again to look toward the table, his eyebrows quizzical above his round glasses, seemingly genuinely curious about what reaction his little tape would elicit.

However often they’d shared small rooms in Hamburg, whatever they knew of each other’s love and sex lives, this tape seemed to have stopped the other three cold. Perhaps it touched a reserve of residual Northern reticence.

After a palpable silence, Paul said, “Well, that’s an interesting one.”

The others muttered something and the meeting was over.

It occured to me as I was walking down the stairs that what we’d heard could have been an expression of 1960s freedom and openness but was it more likely that it was as if a gauntlet had been thrown down? “You need to understand that this is where she and I are now. I don’t want to hold your hand anymore.” –  Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond” by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

Most certainly John caught the meaning of the song Paul wrote, but didn’t spare him sour tones which made Paul fall easily and miserably into an irreparable depression that gave birth the longest series of heartbreaking songs of his career. John’s apparent insensibility and harsh tones in that period will later be excused in the song ‘Jealous Guy’. But in that moment, he was adamant, and this drastic separation caused nothing but miscommunication and misunderstandings which will flourish later in the early 70s with the first back-and-forth songs they wrote in their solo years, like “How do you sleep” from John’s side and “Too Many People” from Paul’s.

If anyone would like to picture what was the situation in the Beatles’s circle and mostly between John and Paul in late 60s, there’s no better song than “Oh!Darling” to give a rough, fresh sign of what was Paul McCartney’s state of mind in that period with John firmly moving away, leaving the group and embracing his new life with Yoko. Paul McCartney’s desperate reach toward John will be unheard, and it’ll take many years before their wounds will be healed, and the tension resolve into apology songs and face-to-face meetings.

Whoever nowadays talks about a combative McCartney who sneakily wanted to put end to the band and happily leaving Lennon, should try to listen to this song over and over (or the others mentioned in the “Let it be” album) just to have a glimpse of what a disastrous event was his separation from John, with whom he lived with and stayed with together for more than ten years, and now for the first time had to be alone in the music world, without a songwriting partner. Despite his personal concern, “Oh!Darling” is one of McCartney’s last songs that showcases his versatility and gives a great glimpse into the stunning solo career that was on the horizon for him once The Beatles officially disbanded.

A valid and playful recommendation is to play this song out loud, to enjoy McCartney’s hoarseness and desperation at its fullest, and reading the tearful letter he wrote in form of lyrics just to realise that Paul McCartney never wrote such a heartbreaking song for his (many) lovers and wives.

 

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