The Story and Meaning Behind “Dear Boy,” Paul and Linda McCartney’s Message to Her Ex

Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 album Ram represented Paul’s effort to do a more ornately produced album than his first post-Beatles effort McCartney had been. “Dear Boy,” featuring a cacophony of intertwining vocals, epitomized the efforts he was making.

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What is the song about? How did Linda’s musical experience, limited as it was, help define this song? And was it about John Lennon, as Lennon himself claimed? Let’s look back at this gem of a track from that short era for Macca between The Beatles and Wings.

Linda’s Contributions

When The Beatles fell apart towards the end of 1969 (even though it wasn’t known to the rest of the world until 1970), Paul McCartney felt rudderless. After so many years of his life spent putting everything he had into the group, he struggled to understand how it had fallen apart. But his wife Linda helped him get through it, encouraging him to make music again.

When he recorded McCartney right after the breakup, he did just about everything himself and kept it purposely simple and unadorned. Although that album’s reputation has grown tremendously over the years, much of the initial critical reaction focused on how it felt underdone. McCartney would rectify that with Ram, auditioning players to contribute and recording the songs in professional studios (as opposed to doing so on a 4-track recorder like on the McCartney album).

He also decided that he would utilize Linda’s help. Although she wasn’t an experienced musician, she had sung in glee clubs in high school. You can hear some of that influence in “Dear Boy,” as the vocals of Paul and Linda form all kinds of countermelodies and harmonies that create tasty aural candy.

Everything Isn’t About You, John

While McCartney was recording Ram throughout 1970 and 1971, he and John Lennon were having to answer questions about the state of their relationship following the breakup of The Beatles. And their answers to these questions weren’t always complimentary to the other person. Perhaps to skip the middle men, they started delivering their messages in song.

On Ram, McCartney made a couple of sly references to the Lennons on the opening track “Too Many People,” and there were also a few visuals in the album art that could have been construed as hidden digs. Lennon, however, felt that about half the songs on Ram were directed at him, including “Dear Boy.”

McCartney kept mum on the song’s actual intent for years, before finally explaining to Mojo in 2001 who it was about and why he had kept silent:

“’Dear Boy’ wasn’t getting at John, ‘Dear Boy’ was actually a song to Linda’s ex-husband: ‘I guess you never knew what you had missed.’ I never told him that, which was lucky, because he’s since committed suicide. And it was a comment about him, ’cause I did think, ‘Gosh, you know, she’s so amazing, I suppose you didn’t get it.’”

A year prior to that interview, Joseph Melville See Jr., Linda’s ex-husband, had indeed taken his own life. Nonetheless, at the time of Ram, Lennon said he heard messages in the song directed at him. Perhaps that’s why he responded so vehemently with his nasty riposte “How Do You Sleep?” on his 1971 album Imagine.

What is “Dear Boy” About?

While McCartney comes at “Dear Boy” from the perspective of someone chiding the titular character for missing out, he doesn’t get all too nasty about it. Instead, he tries to get in his headspace: I guess you never saw, dear boy, that love was there / And maybe when you look too hard, dear boy, you never do become aware.

McCartney also devotes some time to praising his wife for what she gave to him: But her love came through / Got me up and about. In the final verse, he actually shows sympathy for this guy, believing that one day, the loss of his ex is going to hurt: I hope you never know how much you missed, dear boy.

All those voices seem like they’re surrounding the title character, as if there’s no place left for him to run. “Dear Boy” stands out as one of the finest songs on Ram, yet another Paul McCartney release that didn’t get the appreciation it deserved till well after its release had come and gone.

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Photo by Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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