The Story and Meaning Behind “Dear Friend,” the Wings Song Paul McCartney Used to Send an Olive Branch to John Lennon

Even as he was starting up a new band, Paul McCartney was still thinking a bit about his old one. “Dear Friend,” found on Wild Life, the 1971 debut album by Wings, was an attempt by McCartney to send an olive branch in song to his former songwriting partner John Lennon.

Videos by American Songwriter

What was the song’s meaning? How did it differ from the rest of Wings’ debut? And what was the nature of the rift between Lennon and McCartney the song references? Here are all the details on the sad but lovely “Dear Friend.”

Winging It

Paul McCartney’s post-Beatle career began with the homemade, do-it-yourself McCartney, before moving on to the more highly produced Ram (which was credited to him and wife Linda). In 1971, he made the decision to start up a new band, which, in its earliest incarnation, featured former Moody Blues’ member Denny Laine and drummer Denny Seiwell, who had played on Ram.

McCartney seemed in a mighty hurry to get something in the can by his new band, which, after some deliberation, was dubbed Wings. They recorded Wild Life in just a couple of sessions in the summer of 1971. There was an improvised sort of feel to much of the material, which didn’t exactly wow critics when the album was released in December of that year.

But one exception, in terms of the feel of the songs, was “Dear Friend.” Although McCartney’s piano dominates the proceedings, strings and horns eventually come seeping into the picture. It certainly doesn’t sound as tossed-off as the rest of Wild Life. Perhaps that’s because McCartney didn’t want his message to be missed.

Back and Forth with Lennon

Bad blood among The Beatles spilled into the public sphere in the years immediately following the band’s breakup. Lennon and McCartney, who had for so long epitomized musical harmony, were throwing haymakers at each other in the press. In particular, McCartney was stung by criticism Lennon had leveled at Macca’s post-Beatles musical output.

McCartney had at first responded with snark on the song “Too Many People” from the album Ram, with the telling line aimed at Lennon: You took your lucky break and broke it in two. But by the time of Wild Life, McCartney decided to pen a more thoughtful and conciliatory song aimed at Lennon. That was “Dear Friend.”

It’s fair to wonder if McCartney would have struck that tone had he known what was coming. In the interim between the recording and release of “Dear Friend,” John Lennon’s Imagine album arrived. And that album contained the infamous “How Do You Sleep?” a nasty takedown of McCartney’s music and lifestyle that suggested Lennon wasn’t nearly as keen to bury the hatchet.

What is the Meaning of “Dear Friend”?

On “Dear Friend,” McCartney tries to take Lennon’s temperature about the status of their friendship. He wants to know if they are really so far down a bad road that there’s really no chance for reconciliation: Dear friend, what’s the time? / Is this really the borderline?

Perhaps the key line in the song is when McCartney sings, Are you afraid, or is it true? He seems to be saying there there are one of two possibilities: Either Lennon is lashing out because of his own struggles with the breakup, or he legitimately has had it with his old friend. The second verse also references a marriage. This could be Macca’s way of implying that even though wives have entered the picture for the two men it doesn’t mean that their friendship has to implode.

The good news about all this is that John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while never quite as close as they were in their Beatles heyday, did eventually come to a better place as friends. Did “Dear Friend” have anything to do with it? Probably not. But it was definitely a sign that an informal treaty was on the horizon to cease their musical Cold War.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

Leave a Reply

Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 13, 2024 in New York City.

Carrie Underwood Says It’s Disappointing When Singers Don’t Sound Like They’re “Supposed to” Live, Stresses the Importance of Consistency

Remember When John Denver Topped the ‘Billboard’ 200 and Hot 100 Charts for the First Time 50 Years Ago

3 Eternal Songs by John Denver that Have Stood the Test of Time