John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s final song is a dark classic

The Beatles’ song “Baby’s In Black” is the ultimate encapsulation of “Saudade”, a Portuguese word which in English translates as bittersweet or happy-sad. Behind the tinkling of the beat era and the rhythm of the waltz, the lyrics speak of deep sadness, mourning and melancholy. So the song – taken from the band’s fourth studio album Beatles for sale – is a perfect reflection of the burgeoning sadness and isolation that began to sideline John Lennon and Paul McCartney during this time. However, as you will find out, it also acted as the antidote to both of these things.

By 1964, Lennon and McCartney had started writing on their own. At first, The Beatles’ setlists were almost entirely made up of songs Paul and John had written together, tracks that had been meticulously crafted from the opposing sides of cramped hotel beds and tourist buses. But with success the pressure increased and, by the time they started working on Beatles for sale, the songwriting duo only helped each other finish songs when the need arose. ‘Baby’s In Black’, however, is one of the few songs from this period that was entirely a joint effort. It was written, as Lennon once recalled, “Together, in the same room.”

“It was very co-written and we both sang it,” Lennon said. “Sometimes the harmony that I wrote in sympathy with John’s melody would take over and become a stronger melody. Suddenly, a magpie rabbit came out of the hat! When people wrote the score they would ask, “Which is the melody?” because it was so co-written that you could actually take one or the other. We rather liked this one. It wasn’t so much of a working job, there was a bit more credibility about it. He has a good background.

Upon release, listeners were struck by the depth of the song’s lyrics, which seemed to convey a surprisingly tearful new side to the Beatles. “I’d better explain what John and I meant by that title, right?” Paul once said. “The story is about a girl who wears black because the guy she loves is gone forever. The man singing the song loves it too, but he’s not getting anywhere. We originally wrote it in a waltz style, but it ended as a mix of waltz and rhythm ”.

It is likely that the woman Paul was talking about was Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer and artist whom the Beatles met and befriended during one of their residences in Hamburg. Around this time, she started dating Stuart Sutcliffe, the original Beatles bassist, whom she later became engaged to. Tragically, however, Sutcliffe died of a cerebral hemorrhage in April 1962, leaving Kirchherr in a state of suspended animation, unsure of how to proceed or how to mourn.

For Lennon and McCartney, this image of Kirchherr became the center of a surprisingly dark song. “Oh my God what can I do? / Baby is black and I feel blue / tell me, oh what can I do? Lennon sings, urging Kircherr to escape the grief that defines her. Maybe that’s why the upbeat 3/4 rhythm of ‘Babys In Black’ works so well. It’s almost as if Lennon and McCartney are trying to bring a ray of light into a place almost completely covered in darkness.

As McCartney later recalled, “’Baby’s In Black’ we did it because we like waltz time – we used to do ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’, something. cool 3/4 blues. And other bands would notice it and say, “Shit, you’re doing something 3/4”. So we were known for that. And I also think John and I wanted to do something bluesy, a little darker, more grown-up, rather than just pure pop. It was more ‘Baby’s In Black’ than in mourning. Our favorite color was also black.

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