Eric Clapton, as a member of the 60’s rock band Derek and the Dominos, wrote “Layla” (“Layla, you’ve got me on my knees. Layla, I’m begging, darling please.”) as an ode to his love for Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend and fellow musician George Hamilton — who, yes, would eventually become Mrs. Clapton.
Piano Man Billy Joel pounded out “Uptown Girl” as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to his then-significant other, 80’s supermodel Christie Brinkley.
But another of rock music’s most influential muses was Jane Asher, one-time girlfriend of The Beatles’ Paul McCartney — whose influence can be found on some of the group’s most famous songs.
The two met in 1963, when 17-year-old Asher, already well-known as an actress, was sent to cover a Beatles concert at the Royal Albert Hall for the British magazine Radio Times (the Brit version of TV Guide).
The finished story would feature a photo of Asher watching the group with a worshipful expression, accompanied by the words, “Now these I could scream for.” Everyone in the group fancied her, but it was Paul who would win her over.
Pretty soon, McCartney and Asher became music’s It couple. A year later, he moved into her parents’ 18th century London townhouse, settling into an attic room.
There, as well as in a music room in the basement, McCartney and John Lennon wrote many well-known Beatles songs, including one particular number the group would perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Asher served as a muse for McCartney, with their somewhat turbulent relationship becoming inspiration for such songs as “We Can Work It Out,” “All My Loving,” “And I Love Her,” “Here There and Everywhere” and “You Won’t See Me.”
In an exclusive interview for the 1997 biography Many Years from Now by Barry Miles, McCartney recalls how he “eventually got a piano of my own up in the top garret. Very artistic. I wrote quite a lot of stuff up in that room actually. ‘I’m Looking Through You’ I seem to remember after an argument with Jane. There were a few of those moments.”
But Asher’s influence would extend beyond song lyrics. While living with her family, the working-class lad from Liverpool was exposed to an entirely different — and upscale — lifestyle. (Jane’s father, Dr. Richard Asher, was the head of the psychiatric department at Central Middlesex Hospital in London; her mother, Margaret, a professor of the oboe at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.) The change of environment broadened McCartney’s cultural horizons, exposing the songwriter to the world of classical music.
Margaret Asher actually gave McCartney music lessons, teaching him to play the recorder, a flute-like woodwind instrument, which would feature prominently on “The Fool on the Hill.” McCartney, becoming increasingly experimental, would later introduce orchestral music into other Beatles’ songs (for example, the violin and cello harmony in “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby,” and the dramatic crescendo in “Day in the Life”).
Three years later, Asher and McCartney moved into a house in London. On Christmas Day 1967 the couple announced their engagement, and in February of the following year Asher accompanied the group to India to meet Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the famous spiritual leader who developed the Transcendental Meditation technique.
Unfortunately, the couple’s relationship was anything but serene. In July 1968, at the premiere of Yellow Submarine, Asher was nowhere to be found. Three days later, in an appearance on the BBC talk show, Asher announced that her engagement to McCartney was off.
Why the two broke up, is up for debate. Some claim that while cleaning one day, Asher accidentally tossed out a notebook containing the handwritten lyrics to a number of early Lennon-McCartney songs, infuriating McCartney and causing their five-year relationship to come to an abrupt end.
Others believe Asher was tired of McCartney’s increasingly wandering eye and hard-partying lifestyle. It’s also quite possible that the independent Asher was tired of being labeled “Girlfriend of a Beatle,” and wanted to break free to resume her acting career. “I haven’t broken it off, but it is broken off, finished,” said Asher, during the talk show interview.
“I know it sounds corny, but we still see each other and love each other, but it hasn’t worked out. Perhaps we’ll be childhood sweethearts and meet again and get married when we’re about 70.”
Not quite. Asher met the political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe in 1971. They married in 1981 and have three children together. Over the years, Asher has also enjoyed a notable acting career, as well as success as a writer (penning both novels and lifestyle books).
Even in today’s “tell all” culture, Asher has steadfastly refused to talk about her relationship with McCartney, making it clear that it is a closed chapter in her life — telling one inquisitive interviewer, “I’ve been happily married for 30-something years. It’s insulting.”
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McCartney has been equally close-mouthed. “I always feel very wary including Jane in The Beatles’ history,” he said in the documentary The Beatles Anthology. “She’s never gone into print about our relationship, whilst everyone on Earth has sold their story. So I’d feel weird being the one to kiss and tell.”