I hate to say it, but Paul McCartney is 72 today. There is something about him as a human being that I just don’t like. He strikes me as arrogant in a way that annoys me. But he has reason to be. He is an excellent pop singer. But above all, he is one of the greatest pop songwriters ever. This really can’t be overstated. If he had just been a songwriter, we would place him with the very best—people like Cole Porter.
Most of my friends are much bigger fans of John Lennon. And I understand this. Lennon was the cool one. Lennon was the searcher. Lennon was the one who struggled with understanding the world. And Lennon wrote a few great songs—most notably “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the verses of “A Day in the Life,” and the bizarre “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” But he was nowhere near the talent that Paul McCartney was.
Let’s start with “Yesterday,” which is one of the best pop songs of the 20th century:
Of course, lyrically this song is right on the edge of being as awful as McCartney often was in songs like “The Fool on the Hill”—although musically that one (like pretty much everything he ever did) was fine. But it is wrong to say that McCartney wasn’t a good lyric writer. He was simply lazy at times. His lyrics were often excellent as they were in his straight blues tune “Get Back”:
And let’s just finish the Beatles period with what is probably my favorite McCartney tune, “Penny Lane”:
As a solo artist, McCartney continued to produce great work. Yes, some of it is terrible. But as a solo artist, he didn’t put out nearly as much dreck as the other three former Beatles. And some of it holds up as well as anything he did with the Beatles. Finally, I hate to continue year after year pointing this out, but his tribute song to John Lennon was far better than anyone else’s. It also happens to be a great song in its own right. It’s a great example of how a piece of art can be deeply personal and yet universal.
Happy birthday Paul McCartney!