Paul McCartney Is 8 Years Past 64

Paul McCartneyI 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!

0 thoughts on “Paul McCartney Is 8 Years Past 64

  1. "Penny Lane" is also one of my favorite songs. I heard it as a little kid and loved it; I still love it. That’s pretty amazing when you can create something kids and adults both enjoy in different ways (MST3K did this, too.)

    I think we write off the solo dreck by Lennon/Harrison (who even remembers the Ringo solo dreck) because the best thing about the Beatles was how they surprised people with every new album, and the best solo Lennon/Harrison does that as well. If you were following the Beatles from mop-tops to guru acolytes to cynical, brilliant music makers, you heard a progression of songwriting styles that paralleled the changes going on among privileged honkies during the period.

    Lennon/Harrison’s solo stuff can be horribly bad but the best of it sounded new, like the best of the Beatles always was surprising. Paul’s solo stuff just sounded like more of what he did with the Beatles.

    In a way, I think this can be interpreted as Paul being the least egotistical songwriter from the Beatles (save Ringo.) His solo music wasn’t about "join me on my road to discovery" so much as "here are my new tunes, hope you like them." (Whether or not he was egotistical as a person, not a songwriter, who knows and who, really, cares.)

    Not long ago, I was riding in the car with a friend, listening to their IPod on shuffle, and a song came on that really sounded like it had a unique voice, a bit less cookie-cutter than most new music. I asked the other person to tell me who the artist was. It was McCartney, from his newest album. The song wasn’t much, and I wasn’t blown away by it. But it did sound pretty original.

    McCartney to me represents the shift from pop music songwriting from Tin Pan Alley to more personalized tunes (not necessarily personal — there isn’t hardly a Stones song that feels personal — but from songs that any gifted singer can cover well to songs which are best suited to one artist’s talent, like most of the Stones.) A zillion people have covered "Yesterday," and done so well. Few could do "Working Class Hero."

    That’s not to say one style of songwriting is better than the other — each requires enormous skill. (I admire Cole Porter and Shane McGowan both.) It does seem to me like McCartney, like Dylan, bridged the gap.

  2. @JMF – I give them all their due. It is just that McCartney was distinctly better than the rest. But I don’t recall any of them (other than McCartney) creating a fully satisfying solo album. But they had there moments.

    And there is one person who could do "Working Class Hero" better than Lennon:

    [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2SDRQJrawU[/youtube]

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