Behind the Song: “Two of Us” by The Beatles

For Paul McCartney’s 78th birthday today, a look at this tender ballad sung in perfect harmony with his oldest friend

One of the sweetest moments in the movie Let It Be, and the album, is this song. “Two of Us.” It’s a beautifully tender ballad written by Paul with a gentle lilting melody, and rendered with acoustic guitars and Ringo’s galloping drums. But it’s the way Paul and John sing it in perfect harmony, just as they sang so many songs through their time together, that makes it so poignant especially now. It came during the sad dissolution of the dream, the breakup, and yet shines with that perfect Lennon and McCartney harmony. Despite all the dissonance between them, John and Paul sang this beautifully, free of any rancor, allowing the music to unite them again.

That sound – John and Paul singing as closely as the Everly Brothers – still stands as hopeful proof that human harmony can prevail. Some things do remain.

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And it all starts after some delightfully British gibberish as exhorted by John, discovered among recorded studio chatter by Phil Spector and spliced to the opening of the song:

I Dig A Pygmy’ by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats!”

Recorded on January 31, 1969, and used as the opening track of Let It Be, it’s a song which Paul wrote for his wife Linda in the early stages of their romance. The line “two of us going nowhere” referred to Linda’s delight in going on car rides in the country and intentionally getting lost, something which Paul found utterly confounding at first.

“When we first met,” Paul wrote in Many Years from Now, “it would be late at night after a session and I would be trying to unwind and so we would go for a drive around London in the late-night clear streets, two in the morning. And [Linda] would say, ‘Try to get lost.’ “And I’d say, ‘That goes against every fiber in my body! As a driver, the one thing you never try and do is get lost!’

“She said, ‘Try it.’ And I’d try it. So I’d turn off little streets ’round Battersea and down little back streets – ‘Hey, this is great’ … that kind of freedom was part of our thing.

“We’d just enjoy sitting out in nature. And this song was about that: doing nothing, trying to get lost. It’s a favorite of mine because it reminds me of that period, getting together with Linda, and the wonderfully free attitude we were able to have. I had my guitar with me and I wrote it out on the road, and then maybe finished some of the verses at home later, but that picture is of me writing it.”

In Steve Turner’s A Hard Day’s Write, Linda spoke of the song. “It’s about us. We just pulled off in a wood somewhere and parked the car. I went off walking while Paul sat in the car and started writing. He also mentions the ‘postcards‘ because we used to send a lot of postcards to each other.”

Yet like most songs, it works on more than one level. To this day it resounds like a song of an old friendship, written from Paul to John. That closeness, going back to the pre-toppermost days. is brought home by the sound of their voices together, harmonized so closely. As in other songs, it’s hard to discern which voice is which, like the sound of a shared soul.

Though in rehearsals, they did it first in what McCartney called a “chunkier” rock fashion, they decided instead on a more gentle, organic approach, which matches the tender warmth of the lyric. They recorded it with John and Paul both playing acoustic Martin D-28 guitars. George Harrison played the bass on a six-string Fender Telecaster, and Ringo played the drums, using mostly tom-toms on the final track.

Though it might not sound like it, “Two of Us” has the distinction of containing the most time-signature changes of any Beatles track. Mostly in 6/4, it also goes to “waltz-time,” as Paul calls it, which is 3/4, and in and out of 2/4 and 4/4.

When Phil Spector took all the tapes for Let It Be and transformed them into the album we know, he chose a version of the song from the film he liked best, and more than the one which had been designated by Glyn Johns, who originally attempted to produce the album. Spector maintained its gentle, pure form, sparse and acoustic, and felt it was the perfect opener for the album.

First he added some choice Lennon linguistics, as already mentioned. Yet so oddly funny is the sight of these words in print, words we heard and loved so many times through these decades with no clue what they meant, that they are deserving of sharing once again.

On this, the momentous 14th anniversary of Paul McCartney becoming 64, here’s some distinctively inspired Lennon whimsy in tribute to the birthday boy:

“I Dig A Pygmy’ by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats!”

Two of Us

Two of us riding nowhere
Spending someone’s
Hard earned pay
Two of us Sunday driving
Not arriving
On our way back home
We’re on our way home
We’re on our way home
We’re going home

Two of us sending postcards
Writing letters
On my wall
You and me burning matches
Lifting latches
On our way back home
We’re on our way home
We’re on our way home
We’re going home

You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead

Two of us wearing raincoats
Standing so low
In the sun
You and me chasing paper
Getting nowhere
On our way back home
We’re on our way home
We’re on our way home
We’re going home

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