As I write this piece, I’ve just finished watching the Paul McCartney interview, filmed as part of BBC Radio 4’s Mastertapes series. The interview was broadcast on Saturday 28 May 2016 and featured a 45-minute long conversation with the legendary entertainer, focusing primarily on his post-Beatle career. The interview was presumably intended to coincide with the imminent release of McCartney’s compilation album, Pure McCartney (scheduled for 10 June 2016), which chronicles the former Beatle’s extensive solo catalogue, including the massively underrated Wings material that emerged following the break-up of The Beatles in 1970.
As a massive Beatles fan, I devour anything remotely connected to the group, and was therefore eager to hear the latest musings from the evergreen McCartney. Most encouraging, though, is the fact that Macca is still busy as ever, planning the next phase of a career that’s seen him scale every conceivable height. I know it’s hard to believe, but the Liverpudlian musician turns 74 next month. For Beatles’ fans, the interview is certainly worth a look, and although it understandably finds Paul in nostalgic mood, there is no indication that McCartney is hanging up his guitar just yet.
I came to the Beatles relatively late, and it’s fair to say I found their music from a position of acute scepticism. Despite the fact that many of my favourite bands cited The Beatles as an influence, my younger self struggled to see the appeal. Back then, I knew a handful of the Beatles’ hits and although they seemed okay, the music didn’t strike me as particularly earth shattering. And the image of mop topped young men performing to hordes of screaming teenage girls didn’t seem especially cool either. Yet, for all that, the Beatles just wouldn’t go away; their music proving enduringly popular across several generations. Why? And why did respected figures like Noel Gallagher insist this band was the greatest thing since sliced bread? I wasn’t sure.
Out of curiosity as much as anything else, I decided to find out what the fuss was about. In 2009, The Beatles released remastered versions of their albums, and this seemed as good a time as any to get better acquainted with their music. I purchased all thirteen original albums, from Please Please Me to Let it Be, and from that moment I was hooked. I immediately got it. It was all there: the beautiful melodies, simple, yet profound lyrics, and a diversity of musical output that I hadn’t heard from any other recording artist. What particularly struck me was how fresh and original the music sounded, 40 years after its original release. This was supremely inventive music, captured in extremely creative albums like the experimental Revolver and the psychedelic Sergeant Pepper. At once, I saw how virtually every band that had emerged since had been influenced (either directly or indirectly) by these sounds.
The biggest revelation, though, was Paul McCartney. Although I was familiar with the genius of John Lennon, I was genuinely shocked and delighted to discover how brilliant Paul McCartney is. I suspect, like many others over the years, I had been fooled by Macca’s amiable and genial image. I probably thought he was a bit naff. What a pleasure, then, to find out the extent of McCartney’s magical, mercurial talent. Of course, it shouldn’t really surprise that the man who wrote Yesterday, Let it Be, and Hey Jude was worthy of celebration, but I was legitimately taken aback by the sheer breadth and quality of his work. I’m fairly sure that perceptions of McCartney have been coloured by the Beatles’ break-up and the rancour that briefly ensued in the following years. When Lennon compared McCartney’s work to Muzak in 1971’s How Do you Sleep?, the idea became embedded in popular consciousness, I think. It now seems quite absurd to suggest that McCartney can’t rock (he wrote Helter Skelter for goodness sake!), but such sniping must be viewed in the context of the time. Break-ups are rarely civil after all!
The Mastertapes interview shows McCartney as the legendary, iconic figure he is, respected and admired in equal measure by generations of his fans. Kindred spirits like Gallagher and Paul Weller remain keen to show their appreciation. For a time, it seemed that McCartney hadn’t got the kudos his talent deserved; but at long last the former Beatle is consistently cherished for what he is, an international treasure. Beatles’ fans have long understood the genius of Paul McCartney, and we can only be thankful that his importance as an artist is celebrated in his lifetime. One hopes Sir Paul performs long into the future, but alas none of us can go on forever. It is heartening, therefore, that perhaps the most successful songwriter of all time continues to enjoy critical acclaim as well as commercial success. Because McCartney is the master. Long may he reign. We are extremely fortunate indeed to experience his enduring genius.