Treasured material from Paul McCartney’s personal archive, including the original handwritten lyrics to songs such as Hey Jude and Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five, is going on public display for the first time at the British Library.
Paul McCartney: The Lyrics, which is free to the public from Friday, celebrates one of the world’s most successful songwriters and performers.
Lyrics, printed photographs and original memorabilia spanning McCartney’s career reveal the process and people behind some of the most famous songs of all time. Highlights include previously unseen lyrics for Pipes of Peace, Jenny Wren and Tell Me Who He Is, an unrecorded song found in a notebook in McCartney’s archive and accompanied by additional items suggesting that it was written in the late 1950s. The lyrics, written in blue Biro on lined notebook paper, begin: “Tell me who he is, tell me that you’re mine not his, he says he loves you more than I do, tell me who he is.”
All the material has been immaculately kept by McCartney. The exhibition coincides with the release of his book, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, which recounts his life and art through the prism of 154 songs from all stages of his career.
Also on display is an original drawing by McCartney for the Put It There single, an early Beatles songlist, a postcard of The Beatles in Hamburg and George Martin’s score for Yesterday. Additional highlights include a selection of print photographs taken by McCartney’s brother, Mike, his late wife, Linda, and his daughter, Mary. All this is set to audio from the British Library’s sound archive to accompany each lyric on display.
Andy Linehan, curator of popular music recordings at the British Library, said: “The British Library is more than just books; we also hold one of the most extensive collections of popular music in the world. It is great to be able to showcase some of our handwritten lyrics and sound recordings alongside previously unseen material from Paul McCartney’s own archive in this display.
“Handwritten drafts of song lyrics have a special quality – they show that initial spark of creativity – and this is a chance for everyone to see the workings and learn the stories behind the songs of one of the world’s most successful songwriters and performers.”
Linehan added that he hoped the display inspires new audiences “young and old”.
Other lyrics by McCartney and The Beatles, including a draft of A Hard Day’s Night scribbled on the back of a birthday card, can be seen in the British Library’s permanent treasures display alongside works by some of McCartney’s literary inspirations including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf.
McCartney, who has been busy promoting the Lyrics in recent weeks, has said writing the book “kind of turned into a therapy session”.
In the book, he talks about his process of songwriting and compares it to solving a puzzle. Each song, he explains, “would illuminate something that was important in my life at that moment, though the meanings are not always obvious on the surface.
“A lot of songwriters draw merely on their day-to-day autobiographical thoughts, but I like to take flights of fancy. That’s one of the great things about being an artist of any kind. I like songs and poetry that take off in unexpected ways.”