He was sixty-four long ago, now he’s eighty. Paul McCartney shaped pop music as a singer, as a songwriter and as a technically savvy producer. The audience loves him like an old friend.
When the others come, he’s usually already there. Guitar in hand or bass in hand, he sits in front of a microphone and labors over a few chords or a half-finished song. Sometimes he also sits down at the piano or, just for fun, on the drums.
Paul McCartney actually cuts a fine figure on any instrument. This is due to his effervescent musicality. When a melody runs through his head, he soon has ideas about the right groove and the tonal clothing. But sometimes his pieces also arise from a sound. He picks up a guitar, his fingers get entangled in the strings, and the casually plucked arpeggio already shows the relief of a new song.
The Band Mom
This is how «Get Back» came about. In 2021, the Beatles hit from 1970 became the theme song of a British documentary series about the production of the last Beatles album “Let It Be”. Paul McCartney appears in it as a busy musician, as a self-confident artist who has to scratch his makeshift beard to find an answer to all musical questions.
It is not uncommon for him to come across as obtrusive, like a kind of band mom or, even worse, like an overambitious team leader who annoys his colleagues with his schoolmasterly attitude. “I always hear myself annoying you” – Paul McCartney can be heard complaining in the series “Get Back” that he notices how he annoys her with his advice. He actually wants to help with that.
For years, the success of the Beatles was based on the congeniality of the two band founders and songwriters; the Lennon/McCartney brand adorned most of the repertoire. Quite a few fans and critics have projected a hierarchical difference into the sequence of names. In McCartney, that softie, they wanted to see the musical artisan who had to stand by the rocking genius John Lennon.
There were reasons for this assessment, but they were wrong. Lennon’s intelligence and nonchalance recommended him as a rock rebel. His myth was fueled again by the dramatic death. But the fact that he very quickly recognized McCartney’s exceptional talent speaks for John Lennon’s importance. In 1958 he engaged the musician, who was two years his junior and who particularly impressed him with his piano playing, for his then skiffle band The Quarrymen.
Born in Liverpool in 1942, Paul McCartney spent a carefree childhood, which his father Jim, who worked in the cotton trade, accompanied musically by playing the piano and trumpet. Paul was also given a trumpet, but he immediately exchanged it for a guitar. When his “mother Mary” died of breast cancer in 1956, he composed his first song on the instrument: “I Lost My Little Girl”. When John Lennon’s mother also died in 1958 – she died in a car accident – the shared fate cemented the relationship between the young musician friends.
The two met regularly for duo sessions in which they developed their compositional skills. The more Paul got involved with songwriting, the lower his grades dropped in school. That didn’t bother him much because he dreamed of a future as a composer in which stars like Frank Sinatra would interpret songs like “When I’m 64”. In fact, he would later help other musicians to break through – he had written “It’s For You” for Cilla Black and “A World Without Love” for Peter and Gordon.
The majority of the Lennon/McCartney pieces went to the Beatles, who shaped modern pop music in the 1960s. Together with their producer George Martin, the Beatles discovered the possibilities of the studio. In March 1963 the debut album “Please Please Me” was released, the single “From Me To You” became her first number 1 hit in the British charts – and triggered Beatlemania.
Paul McCartney’s musicality was inspired by his broad tastes and interests. So he didn’t just direct his antennae to American pop and rock music. His songs are also influenced by old folksongs, ballads and British brass bands. At the same time, he was fascinated by new, adventurous sounds – from musique concrète to free jazz. This led to him being involved in the production of classic Beatles albums such as “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper’s” or “White Album” undogmatically experimented with new techniques and processes.
McCartney’s aesthetic open-mindedness was also evident in other arts. A bohemian in Swinging London, he helped found Indica Gallery, the hotspot of the British avant-garde (where John Lennon would later meet Yoko Ono).
McCartney’s artistic flexibility and openness correlated fruitfully with his formal instincts. As a perfectionist and workaholic, he didn’t give up until the tonal or lyrical ideas in the song were bundled and processed in a pointed manner. The singer-songwriter alternated between ballads like “Yesterday” or “Eleanor Rigby” and the harder tone of pieces like “Helter Skelter” with a voice that was at times flattering, at other times smoky-rocking.
McCartney’s legendary relationship with Lennon sometimes makes one forget how important his collaboration with the Beatles producer was. His discipline and attention to detail made him a direct ally of George Martin. Martin is said to have once suggested to manager Brian Epstein that the band be renamed “Paul McCartney and the Beatles”. The two shared a penchant for perfectionism that could sometimes pose a problem for other musicians. This was evident in the early years when McCartney pushed bassist Stuart Sutcliffe out of the band in order to play bass himself. It also took a while for the Beatles to find a drummer who met the requirements in Ringo Starr.
In the late phase of the Beatles, however, McCartney’s know-it-all attitude reinforced the signs of dissolution in the band. Ultimately, it was the quarrel over the new manager Allen Klein that brought about the final separation. Paul McCartney was the only one who rejected Klein – with good reason: the manager soon became notorious for enriching himself at the expense of rock stars.
The end of the Beatles was an opportunity for George Harrison – he was able to distinguish himself as an independent songwriter in the coming years, while John Lennon became the idol of the peace movement alongside Yoko Ono. Paul McCartney also found his way into a fruitful solo career, and he also founded the new band Wings with his second wife, Linda Eastman-McCartney.
Still live musicians
For a long time, however, his work remained imprisoned by a certain ambivalence. On the one hand, the rocking nonchalance and the missionary urgency that John Lennon was able to inject into the songs they developed together were often missed. After all, Paul McCartney continued to have a few hits with sweet titles such as “Mull of Kintyre” (1978) or “Ebony And Ivory” (1982). His musical enthusiasm manifested itself in the composition of an oratorio as well as in the electronic project The Fireman. Then, two years ago, he surprised everyone with his solo album “Paul McCartney III”, on which he not only demonstrated amazing creativity, but also a musicality like in the best Beatles years.
Sir Paul hasn’t let the eighty years under his belt keep him from performing live either. He was just on tour in the USA. At the end of June, 200,000 visitors will be waiting for the performance of Paul McCartney, one of the most important singer-songwriters in pop history, at the legendary Glastonbury Festival in England. And when he sings “Yesterday” or “Hey Jude”, he will not be celebrated like a star, but like an old acquaintance, a friendly uncle or a distant friend.