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Paul McCartney Borrowed the Lyrics to Climactic ‘Abbey Road’ Song From a 400-Year-Old Poem

By Lucille Barilla,


Paul McCartney drew inspiration from many different sources as a songwriter. It is a technique he still employs over 60 years after starting his music career. However, the ideas for some of Paul’s songs came from unlikely origins, including a 1789 poem published by Elizabethan poet Thomas Dekker that he used to write a climactic Abbey Road song.
Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon | Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Paul McCartney is a very pragmatic songwriter

Of all The Beatles, Paul takes a very pragmatic approach to songwriting. He viewed it as a job, a means to an end to a new song. It was an approach he used when first writing songs with John Lennon .

“If I were to sit down and write a song, now, I’d use my usual method: I’d either sit down with a guitar or at the piano and just look for melodies, chord shapes, musical phrases, some words, a thought just to get started with,” he said in an interview with NPR .

“Then I sit with it to work it out, like writing an essay or doing a crossword puzzle. That’s the system I’ve always used that John [Lennon] and I started with,” he continued.

Paul concluded, “That system is just playing the guitar and looking for something that suggests a melody and perhaps some words if you’re lucky. Then I fiddle around with that and try and follow the trail where it appears to be leading me.”

Paul McCartney borrowed the lyrics to a climactic ‘Abbey Road’ tune from an Elizabethan poet

In the book And In The End: The Last Days of The Beatles , author Ken McNab discussed the band’s recording of Abbey Road . He spoke of the band’s songwriting and Paul’s inspiration for one of the album’s closing songs.

McNab wrote that “Golden Slumbers,” the intro to “Carry That Weight,” was written at the tail end of 1968. He explained that Paul drew inspiration for the lyrics after seeing a ballad by Elizabethan poet Thomas Deckker atop his father’s piano.

Most of the words remained unaltered except for the intro to the song, said Paul in a passage from The Beatles Anthology book.

“I was playing the piano in Liverpool in my dad’s house, and my stepsister Ruth’s piano book was up on the stand,” he explained. “I was flicking through it and came to ‘Golden Slumbers.’ I can’t read music, nor did I remember the old tune, so I just started playing my own tune to it.”

He continued, “I liked the words, so I kept them, and it fitted with another bit of song I had.”

What was the name of the poem that inspired this classic Beatles tune?
Paul McCartney | Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

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Per the website, The Paul McCartney Project , the poem that inspired this classic Beatles tune is called “Cradle Song.” The song is a lullaby by the dramatist Thomas Dekker. The writer was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.

“Cradle Song” first appeared in the play “ The Pleasant Comedie Of Patient Grissil, ” written by Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle, and William Haughton and first printed in 1603. McCartney uses the first stanza of the original poem with minor word changes throughout. The Beatles’ bassist then added to it a single lyric line.

In the book Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, Paul discussed his interpretation of the lyrics. He said, “I remember trying to get a very strong vocal on it because it was such a gentle theme. So I worked on the strength of the vocal and ended up quite pleased with it.”

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