When Sir Paul McCartney screamed his woos all over those first Beatle hits, you never thought about him one day being 80. And you might assume that he wasn’t thinking that either. But Paul has been dreaming of 80 for a long, long time. First, he imagined himself at 64, and then there was Your Mother Should Know, arriving nearly nine months later – the perfect baby to that tune.
When Paul was approaching 50, he became a jukebox, dedicated to spreading the good words of The Beatles, the great tunes nestled in the hills of his solo years, the full flight of Wings, and not too many curios from the weirdness that has always been there. (You find those treats on the albums; he’s not looking to replicate that live). This has been about the gospel. Banging out the hits to generations of fans. And he’s been doing that now for over 30 years, and if you’re lucky you got to see him once – or even twice. Some of you might have paid the price for the pilgrimage many, many times. And only Bob Dylan is as dedicated to the cause. But where Dylan is something of a master of hide and seek, burying new songs inside the old, Paul prides himself on always being found.
McCartney is a ham. McCartney supplies the cheese. People that only know a few of the hits say this. They forget – or never knew – that Paul brought the avantgarde to The Beatles before John met Yoko; that Paul connected John with Yoko. They never remembered – or forgot to know – that Paul has plenty of beautiful, insightful lyrics too. He does moon in June, he loves choppin’ broccoli, he plots long, winding roads along pathways that just let it be. But he also shows he’s got a feeling when he gives you more than he could ever know in a single line to sum-up like, “You may be a lover, but you ain’t no dancer”. There’s Fool On The Hill which you could take a different read from every time. There’s also the way that we get a different read and find something profound in what he meant as the ultimate form of prosaic. Eleanor Rigby’s face that she wears but keeps in a jar by the door – it’s some ultimate form of sadness and grieving since we link it to the “lonely people” line, but Paul was just memorialising his mother’s Nivea cream. Paul was always memorialising his mother. Mother Mary. That’s one of his great kindnesses.
Paul McCartney is one of my favourite drummers. Don’t believe me? It’s true!
And he was the best guitarist in the Beatles. I think that’s the reason George always hated him.
I know people love to pick sides, are you a John person or a Paul person, they ask. Well, why not both? John was great. And he died, was killed, and beyond the utter tragedy of that we also ponder what was still to come. Particularly when he left us with one of his very best albums, one of the greatest comebacks, such a return to form.
A theory I have – and I love Beatles theories – is that Paul doesn’t anthologise so well. You listen to a solo/post-Beatles Greatest Hits and it’s like overdosing on the cheese plate. Whereas John’s lean and mean very best songs always make a wonderful compilation. With Macca, the magic is in the discovery of the weirdness, the very best of his work is sometimes so oddly un-commercial. But the very best of his work is also, sometimes, right there in his biggest, most obvious pop gems.
So, happy birthday Paul. I am choosing 80 of my favourite Paul McCartney songs in honour of the astounding brilliance. It is but a drop in vast oceans. And it is some of the greatest music I will ever know.