All About the Music
A closer look at and companion to the music we play on the show, written by the Prairie Home music librarian, Kathryn Slusher.

The Music of Lennon and McCartney
By Kathryn Slusher

July 2003

Much has been said about the 1960s phenomena of the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. If I were to encapsulate their career, I would simply be restating tired rock 'n' roll clichés. Not only were they the greatest rock and roll band of their time, they also profoundly influenced the people around them, and those that came after them. What is unique for me to appreciate about The Beatles is that they were the best at what they did, but what's more, they were appreciated for it during their time. They are artists that actually were able to enjoy the fruits of their labors and were able to combine integrity with mass appeal. They were ahead of their peers creatively, but still managed to communicate their genius to an international audience, and for this they will always be cherished and revered.

As someone who was not around for Beatlemania, I have learned to love the Beatles through the example of others. I enjoy hearing people talk passionately about their favorite song from their favorite band, and being enlightened by their memories. The songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney bring out the best in people in this regard, especially people backstage at A Prairie Home Companion. It's no wonder that the melodies of Lennon and McCartney have worked their way repeatedly onto the show. As composers, their melodic and harmonic inventiveness was extraordinary.

Kate McKenzie performed "Things We Said Today" on the April 5, 1997, show from St. Paul.


This song was first released in the U.S. in July 1964, on Something New. It's also on the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack. Paul McCartney reportedly wrote it while vacationing in the Caribbean with Ringo Starr and their girlfriends.

Pat Donohue performed his version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" on April 17, 1999. It fit into the show as something we call a "mono-out" backstage, a piece of music, usually instrumental, appropriate to follow the News From Lake Wobegon, and take us "out of the monologue."


John Lennon wrote Strawberry Fields Forever in 1966, on the set of the Richard Lester directed film How I Won the War, in which John had a role. Strawberry Fields is a real place—a Salvation Army orphanage on Beaconsfield Road, just down the street from where he lived as a child with his family. The song isn't really meant to literally be about the orphanage, though; it's more of a fantastical state of mind, where, as the lyrics state, "nothing is real." It was recorded on the soundtrack for their British television special Magical Mystery Tour. In 1967, when the album came out, it was widely believed that John says at the end of the song "I buried Paul," lending further credence to the rumor that Paul McCartney was killed in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced with an imposter. It turns out that John was actually saying "cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce."

Incidentally, Pat's performance of "Strawberry Fields Forever" is available on his latest CD release, Radio Blues.

We did a show in December of 2000 at the Town Hall in New York City, around the time of the 20th anniversary of John's tragic death. This of course brought up discussions that maybe this occasion should be memorialized on APHC, and it was decided that a quiet, meaningful expression was in order. Rich Dworsky performed one of John's most well-known songs, "Julia," as the mono-out on December 9, 2000.


John Lennon wrote "Julia" for his mother. It is the only recorded Beatles song in which John sings solo.

On January 10, 1998, we did a show that was referred to as "Piano Day." Music director/Shoe Band pianist Rich Dworsky was joined by pianists Julia Elkina, Irina Elkina, and regular favorite Butch Thompson. Rich was asked to play a song that would impress a date. After polling the single ladies backstage, and probably some of the married ones too, it was decided that Rich needed to play a song that was sensitive in nature, but also flashy enough to stand out as impressive. Rich found the perfect song in "Blackbird."


Paul McCartney was inspired to write this while he was in India, after a bird woke him up in the morning. It was first released on The White Album. The late Linda Eastman McCartney once recalled that Paul played "Blackbird" to the fans that were perpetually stationed outside of his house the very first night that she stayed over.

The music of Lennon and McCartney finds its way into scripts often. "I Will" has made appearances in two "Married Life" scripts this past season:

On October 12, 2002, with Garrison and Lynn Peterson singing:


And March 8, 2003, where Garrison sang alone:


Paul wrote "I Will" for Linda. It was the first song he ever wrote for her, and it reportedly took him around 70 takes in the studio to get it right when the Beatles recorded The White Album.

The familiar guitar motif in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, seems an appropriate choice to serve as the theme music that ends "American Pharmaceuticals" scripts. It was widely believed that the song was an advocation for using hallucinogenic drugs, as the title spells out "LSD," but John Lennon always maintained that this was merely a coincidence and that he took the title from a drawing his young son Julian did at school. "Lucy" was apparently a girl in his class. Many of the lyrics are inspired from a chapter in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and stands as a model for the psychedelic.

May 12, 2001: Listen

May 19, 2001:

June 23, 2001:

March 23, 2002:

I'm very curious as to what will be said about the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the next century and beyond. Like the rags of Scott Joplin, the ballads of Irving Berlin, Mozart's symphonies, and Puccini's arias, these songs should live on, and will influence future magic.

Past Articles
  • Winding Down at Wolf Trap (5/27/04)
  • Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew (3/26/04)
  • California, I'm Coming Home (11/26/03)
  • The Songs of Johnny Cash (10/23/03)
  • The Music of Lennon and McCartney (07/01/03)
  • A Tanglewood Lollapalooza (06/01/03)
  • Marvin and Mavis Keep Smilin' (05/01/03)
  • Classical Parodies (04/01/03)
  • Good Cookin': the Songs of Memphis Minnie (03/01/03)

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    Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

    Old Sweet Songs

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