Sir Paul McCartney admits to having ‘impostor syndrome’ sometimes when he thinks about how a boy from a working-class Liverpool family became a world-renowned musician, performer, singer and songwriter. “I always feel like I’m just playing.” He describes his life as “a puzzle” in which “every song is part of the solution”.
McCartney is arguably the greatest living songwriter of the modern era. In his collaboration with John Lennon in The Beatles, he transformed popular culture, while in his subsequent hit-making career (both solo and with Wings), he continued to create global hits for decades.
Despite the slightly imposing nature of this massive two-volume career retrospective presented as Paul McCartney: The Lyrics, the great composer takes his talent lightly. “With most of my writing, there’s a simple trick, because I’m not very good at it,” he admits of Paperback Writer. “For example, I couldn’t always go and play the right notes on the piano. So there is always a kind of waiting position. I just vary it. I move around a bit on the surface, but I don’t stray too far from the anchor.
His composition methodology reveals itself as a kind of innocent and endless curiosity, “to find which chords work well next to each other, which progression suggests a new melody”.
The same goes for the lyrics, which invariably follow the melody (the one exception in all of his work being All My Loving, which he scribbled on a tour bus). “I had this belief that you could mix words together and they would get meaning,” he said, discussing a Wings trifle called Spirits of Ancient Egypt.
That’s a disturbing admission for a book that focuses on these lyrics, many of which don’t quite stand up to scrutiny. “To tell you the truth, I’m a little embarrassed by this song,” he admits of Rock Show by Wings, which features the immortal lines. “It’s silly with the group Philly / Might be, oo-ee. “
Retailing at £ 75, this powerful tome is billed as the closest thing to an autobiography McCartney will ever write. It includes 154 songs, with hundreds of compelling photos and handwritten lyrics from McCartney’s collection, and informal, thoughtful text assembled from conversations with famed Irish poet Paul Muldoon.
Despite all the hype surrounding its release, there aren’t any big reveal, and nothing that wouldn’t surprise a fan who has delved into the vast wordage spent on The Beatles in the five decades since their breakup. There is nevertheless a considerable charm in hearing McCartney tell familiar stories in his own way.
Lennon’s memories take center stage, as he remembers his closeness to his original co-writer and reflects on the tensions between them. “John has always had a lot of boastfulness. It was his shield against life.
“We were arguing about something, and he was saying something [caustic]; so I was a little hurt, and he would lower his glasses, look at me and say, “It’s just me, Paul. It was Jean. ‘It is only me.'”
McCartney contrasts Lennon’s unhappy childhood with his own upbringing, gathered around his father at the piano to sing as a family. The book is filled with warm memories of his mother Mary and characters like Uncle Albert and Aunt Jin who appear throughout his songs. “As a boy, I thought everyone’s family was like this, until I met people like John and realized that wasn’t true, and maybe it was. the contrast of our different perspectives that produced a kind of magic.But I was born into this way of thinking, that everything will be fine in the end.
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This underlying positivity permeates McCartney’s art of what he calls OSS (Optimistic Song Syndrome). “The situation would have to be rather Blade Runner, rather bad, so that I could not think: ‘Let’s sing a song …'”
The songs are listed in alphabetical order, leading to a declining and chatty text.
Part of the book’s charm is that the more obscure songs often trigger deeper, less familiar memories.
A veritable army of accredited fact-checkers overlooked some important mistakes. McCartney speaks proudly of being influenced by Jimi Hendrix for his use of comments on Paperback Writer, which was actually written and recorded months before Hendrix arrived in London. More squeaky is his flippant claim to write a line about Tara Guinness’s death in a car crash on Day in the Life, which was primarily the work of Lennon.
But perhaps we can forgive a clouding of McCartney’s memory. It was a long, eventful and fulfilled life. What is most intriguing are the omissions. These are not McCartney’s complete works, about 350 other songs are missing, many of which are of such sloppy lyrical quality that they perhaps lowered the company’s slightly pretentious tone (there is no in-depth analysis of such palpable nonsense as Biker Like an Icon).
And while McCartney speaks politely of his sixties girlfriend Jane Asher, very affectionately of his late wife Linda Eastman and romantically of his third marriage to Nancy Shevell, there is no mention at all of his short-lived disastrous marriage. with Heather Mills, presumably the “queen of my heart” mentioned in the 2001 song Heather (not found in these pages).
There is a tendency to avoid conflict, grief, or anything that could harm him, such as his incarceration in 1980 for 10 days in a Japanese prison for possession of cannabis. Like his songs, McCartney’s reminiscences lean towards the light, with a jubilant penchant for seaside postcard roguery. From the famous phrase “What do you see when you turn off the light?” With a little help from my friends, he happily admits that the answer should have been, “Your d —. But it just doesn’t scan.
He admits that Girls’ School by Wings was inspired by Japanese pornography, including a lecherous line about an 18-year-old girl who “knows what she’s expecting.”
“The MeToo movement is really what she expected, but nobody knew it at the time,” he notes.
McCartney is a playful and brilliant blacksmith, but his popularity is based on rich melodism and harmony. His lyric book is charming, but doesn’t support Muldoon’s pretentious assessment that he is one of the great literary figures of our time.
As McCartney admits of the little song Pretty Little Head, “Sometimes when I block a song, I kind of hear a word and think, ‘Well, that doesn’t mean anything’, and I keep going. to try to change it. but it keeps coming back, and at the end of the day I’m like, ‘Oh, shit, it doesn’t matter. It fits.'”
Some puzzles may never be meant to be solved.
Paul McCartney: The Lyrics (Allen Lane, £ 75) released today