Paul McCartney doesn’t really want to stop the show

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His father Jim was a cotton seller and an amateur jazz musician. Although Paul grew up in a workers’ housing estate in Liverpool, Paul went to good secondary school where he took an interest in literature from his teacher Alan Durband, who had studied with FR Leavis in Cambridge. But after a “pretty idyllic” childhood, the death of his mother threw a veil over the house for months. Paul could hear “those kind of muffled sobs from the next room, and the only person in that room was your father.”

His own room filled with music. On “The Lyrics,” McCartney talks about his early delight in pairing a descending chord progression (G through G7 through C) with an ascending melody, speculating that he may have caught such maneuvers from listening to his father, who led Jim Mac’s jazz band – and from his “aunts” who sing at Christmas parties at home. However, back then it was unusual for a child to play their first chords on a guitar and secretly write their first lyrics. In order to make something bigger out of this lonely occupation, he had to go looking for a friend and a band.

On July 6, 1957, McCartney, now fifteen, rode his bike to a nearby fair to hear a local skiffle group called the Quarry Men. He paid three pence entry and watched them play “Come Go with Me” by the Del Vikings, as well as “Maggie Mae” and “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie”. He noticed that there was a kid on stage who had real presence and talent. After the set, McCartney got an introduction; the boy’s name was John Lennon. McCartney nervously asked about his guitar while playing a believable version of Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock”.

They had more in common than talent and ambition. Lennon’s mother Julia died in 1958 when she was hit by a car. (His father left the family when John was a child.) Lennon, more than a year older than McCartney, covered his wound with a confident wit. And now he was doing a crafty, history-changing calculation. “It crossed my mind that if I let him, I would have to keep him in check,” Lennon said years later, “but he was good so it was worth having.” McCartney was now part of the band.

Not long after, McCartney got a school friend, George Harrison, a junior guitarist. “George was the baby,” says McCartney. In 1960 the Quarry Men renamed themselves the Beatles and two years later they stole a crack drummer from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes named Richard Starkey, who started out from Ringo Starr. All were working class Liverpudlians (though John was gentler and Ringo poorer). They grew up with Frank Sinatra and Billy Cotton on the BBC. They heard their first rock and roll performers – Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ivory Joe Hunter – on Radio Luxembourg, a commercial station that broadcast American music. They liked what McCartney calls the “sleek and elegant” form of Chuck Berry’s songwriting. Together they figured out guitar chords as if they were ancient runes. When Paul and George heard that someone from all over town knew the fingering for the B7 chord – the must-have E and A chord for every blues-based song in rock repertoire – they got on a bus to meet the guy and to learn him.

First in Liverpool and then for seven or eight hours at night in Hamburg, the Beatles cut their teeth, learned countless cover versions and built a reputation for themselves. When they got bored of singing other people’s songs and wanted to avoid overlap with other bands’ set lists on the bill, they got more serious about their own songwriting. At first the songs weren’t anything special. McCartney heard Joey Dee’s hit “Peppermint Twist” and responded by writing “Pinwheel Twist”. But the seeds of originality were there. By the time he was around fifteen, Lennon had worked out “One After 909” which ended up on the album “Let It Be”. “Fancy Me Chances with You,” a hilarious song they clapped together in 1958, landed on the “Get Back” tapes, complete with exaggerated Scouse accents. It was clear from the start that the writing would be Lennon and McCartney’s responsibility.

“I remember going through Woolton, the village John was from, and saying to John, ‘Look, you and I should be the writers,'” McCartney recalled. “We never said, ‘Let’s keep George out of this,’ but it was hinted at.”

As the Beatles gained a following, the sophistication of their songwriting deepened. McCartney, for example, loved letters like Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” In a tour bus he thought of the compelling phrase “close your eyes” and continued from there. “We got to the venue and with all the hustle and bustle around me – all the different bands and tour crews running around – I went to the piano and somehow found the chords,” he recalls in “The Lyrics”. At first it was “a pure country and western love song,” but then Lennon gave the verses a unique pizzazz by strumming his guitar in a tricky triplet rhythm. The result was “All My Loving”. The Beatles recorded the song in 1963, and when they came to New York the following year, they played it on the Ed Sullivan Show. More than seventy million people watched. Within two months they had the top five songs on the poster Charts and Beatlemania was underway.

“You know, it’s not too late to go back to school, honey, and become a statue of the law or medicine.”
Cartoon by Liana Finck

The Beatles not only enjoyed their music, but also the fun, the camaraderie just for us, the inside jokes. “I don’t really want to be a living legend, ”McCartney once said. The idea was fun. “I came here to quit my job. And to draw birds. And I pulled some birds and quit my job. ”Lennon compared her tours to Fellini’s“ Satyricon ”.

What was striking about the Beatles was the ingenuity of their melodies and chord progressions. Each month, it seemed, they were different from everyone else. Developing from album to album – from teenage three-chord love songs to intricate ballads to the tape loops and synthesizers of their psychedelic moment – both captured and created the zeitgeist. And they had a corresponding sense of style: the suits, the boots, the hairstyles all became time-defining. Even classic connoisseurs were impressed. Leonard Bernstein went on television to analyze the structure of “Good Day Sunshine”. Ned Rorem, writing The New York Book Review, compared a “minute harmonic change” in “Here, There and Everywhere” with Monteverdi’s madrigal “A un giro sol” and a skillful key change in “Michelle” with a moment in Poulenc.

McCartney dismisses such lofty talk, but he does not claim that the Beatles worked with a wider range of musical languages ​​than their peers – not least the Rolling Stones. “I’m not sure if I should say this, but they’re a blues cover band like the Stones,” he told me. “I think our network was a little wider than yours.”

The Beatles were working at a breakneck pace. Her producer, George Martin, brought deep experience to the process, along with an unerring ability to help the band turn their ideas into reality. McCartney recalls, “George said, ‘Be here at ten, wake up, have a cup of tea.’ You’d start at half past nine. ”Two songs were recorded until lunch, and often two more after that. “Once you get into this little routine, it’s hard, but then you enjoy it. It’s a very good way of working. Because suddenly at the end of each day you have four songs. “

In 1966 the Beatles were fed up with the streets. The fans who shouted their hysterical admiration at night sounded like “a million seagulls” to McCartney. Since the band viewed themselves more as artists than pop stars, they saw performing in stadiums as a humiliation. “It kind of brewed up, you know, this reluctance to lug around and play in the rain with the risk of electricity killing you,” McCartney told me. “You just look at yourself and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a musician, you know. I’m not a rag doll that kids can yell at.’ ”

On August 29, 1966, the Beatles played in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The band stood on a stage at the second base, far from their fans, and ended their half-hour set with Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”. “It was just a daunting show, we just played it all through,” McCartney told me. They came off the stage, he said, and “we were loaded into a kind of meat cart, just a chrome box with nothing but doors. We were the meat. ”The Beatles never played again in front of a paying audience.

The divorce rate among musical collaborators is high, and the breaking point is difficult to predict. In 1881, Richard D’Oyly Carte, a leading West End impresario, built the Savoy Theater on the Beach to showcase the comic operas that made WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan famous. Nine years and many triumphant openings later, the librettist Gilbert took offense at the extravagance of the carpet that Carte had put up in the lobby of the Savoy and got into a heated argument with the composer Sullivan. After the inevitable exposure of other resentments, Gilbert wrote to Sullivan: “The time to end our collaboration has finally come.” They fought miserably for a while and fell silent with a mediocre “The Grand Duke”.

The Beatles never sank to mediocre work; They mastered “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road”. The breakup of the band didn’t have a single trigger either – no carpet. But perhaps the problems started when her manager Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose in August 1967. Although Epstein was only thirty-two years old, the band saw him as a unifying, even fatherly figure. Eventually, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr hired the Stones’ manager Allen Klein to run the group’s affairs; Sensing that Klein could not be trusted, McCartney insisted on doing business with Lee and John Eastman, father and brother of Linda Eastman, his future wife.

The creative core of the band also drifted apart. Lennon-McCartney was no longer an “eyeball-to-eyeball” collaboration. They used to work in constant proximity – in coaches or in shared hotel rooms. Now Lennon was writing at his suburbs property, McCartney at his North London home. They still got together to polish up each other’s latest songs or suggest a different line or bridge – the “middle eight”. The results could be sublime as McCartney added, “Woke up, fell out of bed, pulled a comb over my head. . . ”To Lennon’s“ A Day in the Life ”. But the process had changed. And Harrison, who developed as a songwriter, grew increasingly frustrated with his modest number of songs per album. After hanging out with The Band in New York State, he believed he had seen a more communal and fairer version of musical life.


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