John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote so many songs together that it has always been quite difficult to know which one was the first. To make things more complicated, they both never had good memory about which were the very first lyrics they began to pen together after the historical, groundbreaking meeting at Woolton Festival on July 6 1957.
However, it’s possible to trace a timeline of some of the demos they recorded in the early years of their songwriting partnership. Some of these have been produced later in Beatles special albums, like The Anthology.
“You’ll Be Mine” is a demo of John singing (drunkenly) when the band still had Stuart Sutcliffe. It’s a parody of the US vocal group The Ink Spots.
When you burnt that toast the other morning
I, I looked into your eyes
And I could see that National Health eyeball
And I love you
Like I’ve never done
Like I’ve never done before
Despite the scratching sound, the demo gives a glimpse of the early years of the band which is undoubtedly priceless. The audio is damaged due to the cheap recording equipment the Beatles had at the time. But Paul, George and Ringo decided to include it in The Anthology anyways.
There are other demos that weren’t included in the 1995 Beatles album: “Friendship” is a rare, unrevealed song written between 1958 and 1959:
Although it wasn’t included in the album, the documentary “The Anthology” mentions it and also includes a 1969 videoclip in which The Beatles, during the Get Back session, start an improvisation in which John Lennon sings it. Probably due to the lack of lyrics, the song wasn’t included in The Anthology, but it was added in the “Final River Rhine Tapes.” and got mentioned in the Beatles official documentary.
“Just Fun” is another song written by Paul and John between late 1957 and 1958. We had no audio trace of it or it’s lyrics for 40 years. Only recently Paul McCartney appeared in an interview in which he confessed that “Just Fun” was one of the very first songs he wrote with John.
This song got framed during, again, the Get back session, along with “Too Bad About Sorrows” which was included in the Get Back bootlegs. At the time it was considered an improvisation of the Beatles, but it turned out to be an actual song Paul and John wrote in the first years of their songwriting partnership.
When Paul McCartney admitted that “Just Fun” was one of the very first songs he wrote with John, he also released the lyrics:
Paul McCartney strums an acoustic guitar on a sofa in his London office, humming to himself as he tries to recall a melody from his adolescence – one of the first, never-recorded songs he wrote with his teenage friend John Lennon, on their way to starting the Beatles in Liverpool. “It was like …” McCartney says, then hits a rockabilly rhythm on his guitar and sings in a familiar, robust voice:
They said our love was just fun
The day that our friendship begun
There’s no blue moon that I can see
There’s never been in history
Because our love was just fun.
“‘Just Fun,’” McCartney says, announcing the title proudly. “I had a little school-exercise book where I wrote those lyrics down. And in the top right-hand corner of the page, I put ‘A Lennon-McCartney original.’ It was humble beginnings,” he admits. “We developed from that.” – Paul McCartney Looks Back: The Rolling Stone Interview, August 10, 2016.
It is interesting that the original lyrics begin with: “They say that our love is just fun / the day that our friendship begun”. These lines sound like they could be self-referential, and if so, they precede later McCartney numbers concerning his relationship with Lennon.
All these unfinished songs, demos, and unreleased tracks written in the early years by Lennon and McCartney have been mentioned at least once in The Beatles oeuvre, in official Beatles albums, Bootlegs, or in Paul McCartney’s interviews. They all have been mentioned at least once.
“I don’t know (Johnny Johnny)” is a unreleased song that John and Paul wrote in the early years of their songwriting partnership, probably around 1960. Like the other demos, the sound is quite damaged. But surprisingly, it has full lyrics, a complete-full written song, and it’s not complicated to hear the lyrics and understand the song and its meaning.
This song was written at Paul’s house, most probably in the his living room, where John and Paul used to write together. The lyrics are easily to decipher, and here is the full transcript of the song:
Paul: Well Johnny Johnny, oh Johnny Johnny, Oh Johnny Johnny, Johnny, oh god Johnny boy
What we gonna tell ‘em, what are we going to keep on holdin’ ….
What are we gonna tell ‘em
Oh Johnny, well you got me, you be my boy
John: Oh little darling, I’m packing my shoes, and….. I’m losing you.
I told my Mama I’m gonna to see my sister soon
She don’t wanna see me, I don’t know really what I’m gonna do. I don’t know what I’m gonna do
Paul: Well, Johnny Johnny Johnny
When I call you Johnny boy
Well Johnny Johnny Johnny, when I’m calling you
Well I don’t know what I’m gonna tell the fellas
*unintelligible*….whereabouts for you
Please, Johnny, please, Johnny
John: Well I’ll tell the fellas that I’d follow you
Oh if you go…I shouldn’t be back, be back
And I know it’s true
Paul: I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I tell my father
You love me Johnny,
John: I love you Paul.
Paul: You think you gotta leave, you think you gotta leave, better leave…
Better leave now, oh…..And won’t let nobody down
John: Well we’re gonna be together again
Paul: Get out of town,
We’re gonna leave, don’t care
John: I don’t know I don’t know…I don’t know know know
(Paul: Oh, John, John, John…)
John: I kiss goodbye, turn your heads
If somebody else is good as this, I’m gonna leave
I’m gonna leave you, yeah, someday, yeah, someday, yeah, someday, is okay, is okay.
Paul: Well I tell ya, *unintelligible*, Well I’m gonna get out of town, ahh, oh, we’re gonna move on
Well we’re gonna go away
We’re gonna leave.
The composition is sung with fiery passion by the duo. It also seems a bit improvised: one sings chorus and back vocals as the other keeps singing. Probably not all of the lyrics were written down, unlike Paul used to do for all his other songs. In fact, Geoff Emerick remembered how Paul used to write them:
“Paul was meticulous and organized: he always carried a notebook around with him, in which he methodically wrote down lyrics and chord changes in his neat handwriting.” – Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording The Music Of The Beatles by Geoff Emerick
And as he himself confessed in an interview, Paul had a school-exercise book with “Lennon-McCartney” original songs. “I don’t know Johnny Johnny” is probably still there, at the first pages of that iconic book.
We don’t know for sure if the song was written or improvised. The result, is, however, superb. The rhythm and melody remind of the early swinging’ blues songs which both John and Paul loved and used to listen to: Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent. The simplicity of the melody shows the early stage of their musical genius. But still, the song contains the Lennon-McCartney trademark: the autobiographical lyrics, the classic early rock’n’roll melody they later modernized into classic rock, and the guitar solo they’ll leave to the more expert Harrison in the future.
Another clear trademark is the meaning of the song. They sing about their desire to escape together: Paul is afraid of what to say to “them”, an unspecific group of people. Maybe their parents, maybe their friends. John, instead, sings that he’s already packing, and sings that he’ll tell his mother a lie in order to go away with him, but doesn’t know what to do. Paul replies that he’ll call him “Johnny boy” and he too doesn’t know what to say to the “fellas”. He ends the song singing about how he doesn’t know what to say to his father.
They both seem to be afraid of other people’s opinions about their “escape” and their relationship, but this won’t stop them from going away together. It’s more important to take this trip together than to find an excuse for their friends and relatives.
The song is the symbol of the very beginning of the Lennon-McCartney writing composition: they didn’t add any metaphor, double-meanings to the song, and its interpretation is very simple to understand.
These two teenagers want to escape together and don’t know how to handle it with their band and parents. (They’ll become more talented and sophisticated in the future at hiding their feelings through metaphor and quaint compositions.)
This song was never put in the Anthology, neither any Beatles bootleg. The sound quality is not the best, that’s for sure, but if we think of other crackly, less smooth demos as “You’ll Be Mine”, “I Don’t Know (Johnny Johnny)” had all the qualities to be in any Beatles album or bootleg.
For this specific reason, it has been suddenly forgotten by The Beatles legacy. Over the years, in fact, this forgotten song has received many doubts from Beatles fans that even consider it an unlikely official demo of Lennon and McCartney. Only in the last few years this creative and very passionate song has been added as an official demo the duo recorded. It has been mentioned as a song of the “Forthlin tapes”, added in Beatles websites, as well as in the official website of Paul McCartney. However, Paul doesn’t add specific details, and dedicates only a few lines on the song, commenting that it’s “impossible to decipher1the-paulmccartney-project.com.”
It would be an honor if Sir Paul McCartney could waste some of his precious time to read this article, just to refresh his memory on the lyrics he wrote 50 years ago with his “fella” John at Forthlin Road.
Maybe it’ll come to mind that the song itself was a bit prophetic, if not a real dream of John and Paul, as the two ended their composition wishing to leave and go away from town. Some months later, they did indeed make it real, by escaping to Paris together.