Tell me, Beatles fans, which do you prefer: yet another rehash of John Lennon bullshitting interviewers post-breakup, dismissing The Beatles and their music, writing off songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing” as “throwaway” and generally pissing over the band and the music you love; or yet another Paul McCartney interview in which he patiently explains how he woke up from a dream with “Yesterday” in his head and thought he must have nicked it, or sings George’s praises, or talks with complete sincerity about his love for John and the rest of his band?
It’s become a joke, a meme, that McCartney will trot out the ‘Let it Be’ story or the ‘Yesterday’ story, at the drop of a hat. But it takes two to tango. When Rick Rubin asks him about his songwriting process, or how he came to play the guitar solo on “Taxman”, it’s presumably a choice made between them by producers, (inc. Macca) director, writers, and Rubin himself. So let’s not lay all the blame on Paul. And anyway, these are parts of the Greatest Story Ever Told, as much a part of our culture as Dickens and Shakespeare. Nobody heckles Macbeth for going on about the dagger that only he can see.
I would add that, actually, we don’t get all the usual stories: just a couple of them. Sure, “Yesterday”, but not the one about “Hey Jude”, nor “Let it Be.” So, you know, there.
Filmed in tasteful black and white, McCartney 3, 2, 1 (Disney+ in the UK) sees Macca and Rick Rubin surrendering to the void, an inchoate and ill-defined space with a small mixing console, an upright piano, some seats, a couch, an acoustic guitar, all of which are called into play by the vastly talented and yet still somehow underrated McCartney. The musician illustrates his processes on these instruments, stopping occasionally to remark that even he is sometimes astonished at how well things turn out. The 14-year old boy who instinctively knew, writing his first song, that it would sound more musical if the bass line went down as the melody went up, is an unnervingly precocious individual. We are asked to appreciate that Jackson Browne wrote “These Days” when he was 15, but Paul McCartney? *gestures*
Ian McDonald’s bias, in Revolution in the Head is stunningly obvious, as he sings the praises of the lyrically bland LSD-infused “Rain” and sniffs dismissively at the lyrically bland LSD-infused “Hello Goodbye”. In McCartney 3, 2, 1, Macca reveals that one of his own favourite songs is the perfectly simple “Here, There, and Everywhere”, dismissed by McDonald as “cloying”, and never has the gulf between blinkered critical assessment and popular appreciation been more starkly illustrated.
Rubin has lengths of sticky draped all over the console, labelled with the parts from the Beatles’ multis, so he can pull up faders and reveal the genius underneath. And, this being McCartney 3, 2, 1, very often the genius is in the bass line. A great moment, during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as Rubin opines that the bass sounds like it comes from a different song, and McCartney spontaneously sings a raucous bluesy melody over the bass line he laid down 53 years ago. Another great moment, the faders pulled down during the middle 8 of “This Boy” and Lennon’s raw, emotive vocal rings clear, a reminder that The Beatles were always great, always wonderful, their early stuff and their late stuff, no matter what Lennon said in 1970 and onwards.
Perhaps the nicest moment of all was when Rubin read out a quote complimenting his bass playing, something Paul said he had never heard, and then revealed that it was from John. Even that compliment (in the 1980 Playboy interview) was a bit back handed, but it was nice to hear, and lovely to see how much Rubin appreciated McCartney, and continued to be amazed at what the Beatles achieved.
To answer my opening question, I know which I prefer. Thank goodness for Paul McCartney, and two thumbs up for appreciating him while he’s still with us.