I Wanna be Your Man
How Lennon & McCartney gave the Stones their first Top 20 single
In an interview with Playboy (1980) John Lennon, gave his account of how Lennon & McCartney came to write ‘I Wanna be your Man’ for their nearest musical rivals, The Rolling Stones.
Paul and I finished that one off for the Stones. We were taken down by Brian to meet them at the club where they were playing in Richmond. They wanted a song and we went to see what kind of stuff they did.
Like seasoned Tin Pan Alley professionals, John and Paul then provided a song to order with minimum fuss.
Paul had this bit of a song and we played it roughly for them and they said, ‘Yeah, OK, that’s our style.’ But it was only really a lick, so Paul and I went off in the corner of the room and finished the song off while they were all sitting there, talking.
Clearly there was an element of performance in this virtuoso display of songwriting speed and efficiency.
We came back and Mick and Keith said, ‘Jesus, look at that. They just went over there and wrote it.’ You know, right in front of their eyes. We gave it to them. It was a throwaway.
But Paul says…
McCartney’s account of the song’s genesis differs in crucial details. He maintains that most of the song, earmarked for Ringo, had already been written when they met Jagger and Richards by chance — in central London, rather than Richmond.
According to this version, Lennon and McCartney were strolling down the Charing Cross Road on their way back from an award lunch when they were passed by a taxi containing two rowdy Rolling Stones:
…they shouted from the taxi and we yelled, ‘Hey, hey, give us a lift, give us a lift,’ and we bummed a lift off them.
What sounds like one of Richard Lester’s wacky setups from A Hard Day’s Night then became more surreal still:
So there were the four of us sitting in a taxi and I think Mick said, ‘Hey, we’re recording. Got any songs?’ And we said, ‘Aaaah, yes, sure, we got one. How about Ringo’s song? You could do it as a single.’
According to Mick Jagger
Neither Beatle version of this story quite tallies with the recollections of Mick Jagger.
We knew [the Beatles] by then and we were rehearsing and Andrew brought Paul and John down to the rehearsal. They said they had this tune, they were really hustlers then…‘Hey Mick, we’ve got this great song.’ So they played it and we thought it sounded pretty commercial, which is what we were looking for…
The ‘Andrew’ was The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham. A former Beatles publicist. Oldham was an unashamed music business hustler — and it is feasible that he approached his old clients for new material. But a combination of hazy memories and Chinese whispers have blurred details.
Who was in that so vividly remembered by McCartney. Was Oldham also on the back seat? And how could the two (stoned?) Stones simultaneously holler out of the window of their taxi on the Charing Cross Road while rehearsing at De Lane Lea Studio in Dean Street, Soho.
Sounds like quite an afternoon.
For all their hobnobbing in taxis and/or groovy London clubs, The Beatles and The Stones were fiercely competitive. In 1967 John and Paul sang on ‘We Love You’ in apparent solidarity following a notorious drugs bust. Lennon would later complain bitterly that this masked increasing resentment.
what we did and what the Stones did two months after on every fuckin’ album. Every fuckin’ thing we did, Mick does exactly the same — he imitates us. ‘Satanic Majesties’ is ‘Pepper.’ ‘We Love You’ that’s ‘All You Need Is Love.’”
For his part, McCartney later conceded that limited creative energy had been expended on the composition of the ‘very simple’ I Wanna Be Your Man.
We often used to say to people, the words don’t really matter, people don’t listen to words, it’s the sound they listen to. So ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ was to try and give Ringo something like ‘Boys’; an uptempo song he could sing from the drums. So again it had to be very simple.
In other words good enough for a Ringo album filler or the Rolling Stones but never a Beatles single. Lennon makes this explicit in the Playboy interview, ‘We weren’t going to give them anything great, right?’