I’ve done a nice job (if I say so myself) splitting the difference between John’s songs and Paul’s songs in this Beatles-themed sermon series—with the understanding, of course, that the two often collaborated. (Post-breakup, the two argued over “In My Life”: While John said that he wrote both words and music, Paul claimed he wrote the music. At least one musicologist I read detects the styles of both in the vocal melody.)
Even when they didn’t collaborate, however, near-sibling rivalry and pride motivated them to do their best work. Iron sharpens iron. Therefore, in my mind—I have no idea if this is how it happened—John writes his childhood reminiscence, “Strawberry Fields Forever”; Paul hears it and thinks, “I can do better than that!” Then he writes his childhood reminiscence, “Penny Lane.”
This Sunday, however—Mother’s Day—the two featured Beatles songs both represent the work of Paul: “Lady Madonna” and “Your Mother Should Know.” Sorry. John wasn’t much for domesticity back then. His bittersweet “Julia” was written to his deceased mother, but the lyrics are vague. He could be singing about any lost love. John saved his best motherhood song for the devastatingly sad “Mother,” from the Plastic Ono Band album.
But Paul also wrote and recorded his best motherhood song after the Beatles split: “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” the B-side to his 1979 hit “Goodnight Tonight.” I promise I would have the Vinebranch Band perform this song if it were in keeping with the series theme!
“Daytime Nighttime Suffering” is “Lady Madonna” without a sense of whimsy. Like the Beatles song, McCartney says that motherhood is incredibly difficult—except there is no “music playing in your head” to ease the pain of regret, failure, and distress.
What does it pay to play the leading lady
When, like the damsel in distress,
Daytime, nighttime suffering is all she gets?
Nice reference to “damsels in distress”: McCartney goes on to say that motherhood is “no fairytale anymore.” It’s a strangely pessimistic song, not only for Paul the family-man, but for the exuberant melody and vocal arrangement—surely one of his sunniest and best. Maybe he’s communicating through the music that motherhood isn’t as bad as it seems? There is hope.
What these mothers need, McCartney says, is for people—well, including fathers like himself—to give them all the love and compassion they deserve. The singer asks the “mighty river” of love to flow through him. The river in this case is likely a metaphor for God: pour out your love on these women who suffer for their children. Pour out your love through me—a fitting prayer for any occasion.
This is easily one of my favorite McCartney songs. Wikipedia even tells me it’s one of Paul’s as well. For mothers everywhere, here it is. Enjoy!