Paul McCartney

I can’t remember the exact quote, but Chris Connelly (the MTV/ESPN one, not the Revolting Cocks one) once said that he wasn’t embarrassed to see Mick Jagger’s elderly-man gesticulations onstage because rock stars of his era are like Italian race car drivers from the ’60s: They all died. With that in mind, let’s think about Paul McCartney on his 70th birthday. You don’t have to be a Beatles Guy to agree that McCartney is probably, from a historic perspective, the single most important living musician on the planet, even if he owes that importance almost entirely to stuff he did between the ages of 22 and 17. (Jagger and Richards may be more important in tandem, but McCartney is more important than either one of them. You could probably also make a case for, like, Iggy Pop or Prince or Tony Iommi or DJ Kool Herc, but that would be incredibly difficult and just serve to piss off all of your friends.) McCartney managed to reach this particular milestone with mental and physical health completely intact, which is more than Brian Wilson, his closest living peer, can really say. He’s richer than God. He’s still got his dignity. He’s still working, and he’s still got the accumulated goodwill of a few generations of listeners. All of these things are reasons for celebration.

Thinking about McCartney, I keep thinking about an interview I did about about five years ago with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. Murphy is a music dork par excellence, and he was making a point about how musicians these days don’t try hard enough. In the process, he said that he thinks Coldplay’s Chris Martin is “as talented as Paul McCartney”:

Paul McCartney’s a hack. The difference is that Paul McCartney was a pop star in an era when the single would come out and then the Rolling Stones would put one out and you had to step it up. The Who would put one out, and you’d step it up. The Beach Boys would put an album out, and you’d be like, “Oh my God, we gotta take this all seriously.” They wanted to be everything to everybody, and there’s something really beautiful about that. It’s impossible, but there’s something magical about that. Whereas now, Chris Martin by his own admission will be like, “Oh, my lyrics are kind of dumb.” And it’s like no, come on, don’t say that! Fucking go try! Fail! Go face-down! Listen to the Paul McCartney records; he went face-down a lot, but you don’t get Ram, you don’t get “Temporary Secretary” if you’re not willing to go face-down.

Amazingly, McCartney is still willing to go face-down. In recent memory, he’s released a goofy electronic-collage album with Super Furry Animals, made an even-goofier music video with Michel Gondry, and, most recently, released an album of himself singing ancient songs that he loved as a kid. Even if he ever needed the money, none of these are cash-in moves. And even when he plays some fabulously expensive stadium show where he mostly just sings Beatles songs, or plays the Super Bowl Halftime Show that’s not for the money. He’s a legit billionaire, and he doesn’t need it. He’s doing it so people can hear him singing these songs, so he can see his legacy taking shape in real time, and there’s something terribly noble about that.

McCartney obviously isn’t going to retire anytime soon, so, people of the Stereogum community, what would you like to see the man do? Is there anything he really has left to offer? Are there places where he hasn’t gone, where he should go? Or is it enough for him to continue being who he is, in full public view?

Comments (30)
  1. Chris Martin is “as talented as Paul McCartney” hahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahaha

  2. Here’s what I wish for Paul McCartney’s birthday: that people would stop treating him like a John Lennon’s ball-and-chain. Prefer which Beatle you prefer (I may even prefer John’s songs myself), but let’s all stop acting like he wasn’t an absolutely stunning pop songwriter. Whoever said “The Beatles are dying in reverse order of coolness” should be disbarred from discussing music in any context.

    (James Murphy is a genius, but Chris Martin isn’t “as talented as Paul McCartney.” Just because Martin happens to write music in an era of ubiquity doesn’t make “Yesterday” or “Helter Skelter” any less amazing.)

    • Amen to that! *Like*

    • The majority of the Beatles’ hits began with one of Paul’s ideas (by a slim margin), and it has been documented multiple times that John was actually jealous of Paul’s easy way with a tune. Paul was also responsible for a lot of the quirky or artier song ideas in the Beatles’ final years. The medley idea for the second half of Abbey Road was Paul’s, and John was initially against it. The White Album is Paul at the height of his powers, where he writes pretty much every kind of song that could fit under the banner of “rock.” Yes, Paul’s solo output has been hit and miss (which is what happens when you never stop writing and releasing music for 50 years), but man, did you hear that album he released a few years ago under the Fireman pseudonym? It was really, really good, and everyone should own it.

    • People who bash another Beatle in favor of another should not be considered a real Beatles fan. Even Ringo doesn’t deserve all the ridicule he gets. Sure, he was never a great songwriter but he’s a fantastic drummer and he puts on a hell of a show (I just saw him live with his All-Starr Band a few nights ago). The Beatles were never John vs. Paul or Paul vs. George. Sure, there was some competition but it was friendly competition and in the end, the song belonged to all of them. It was and will always be John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They each had their own strengths but it was what they did together that made them the Beatles.

      • One of my friends once said that if John Lennon were alive today, he’d probably be driving around with Michael Moore in the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile, criticizing strangers for their fashion decisions.

      • There’s a great radio interview with Lennon (who was clearly high) from WNEW (I think). The interviewer was asking about Ringo, and asked John if he was the best drummer in rock. John laughed and said that Ringo wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles.

    • Quite frankly, I think John has had an advantage in being the “favorite” Beatle because he had less post-Beatle years to embarrass himself.

      Also, I believe that James Murphy quote speaks more to Chris Martin not trying (and being rewarded by an environment that does not require him to try very hard) than it does to an actual comparison of talent between Chris Martin and Paul McCartney.

  3. Paul McCartney can pick up almost any instrument and play it competently. He can write rockers, classical and tender ballads. There is nothing he cannot and has not done. And his concerts do not consist of “mostly Beatles songs,” rather, they’re a good mix from the 60s through his latest releases. And he plays a mix to satisfy all of his fans. And his ego is always in check; to wit, I witnessed Eddie Van Halen – arguably the greatest/most influential guitarist of the last 30 years – throw a temper tantrum on stage when his monitor mix was not to his liking while I also witnessed Paul live at the Apollo (thrill of a lifetime, read about it here: http://joeschilp.blogspot.com/) laugh off a complete failure of the house PA that included deafening feedback (watch it here: http://youtu.be/qF_qa9an5mc). And to compare him to Iggy Pop? Utterly ridiculous.

  4. Murphy’s comments are obviously hyperbolic, although the larger point is one echoed by Lennon and Harrison in the 70′s – namely that McCartney takes the easy route at times, however the idea that arguably one of the greatest pop music composers – ever – is a hack is just silly.

    Regardless, I’d like to see McCartney work with James Murphy, Kenye West, and Daniel Rosen – possibly at the same time.

  5. I’d like to see a McCartney-Roots collab, because those guys are just such music nerds that it would be so much fun to watch them enjoy the hell out of it

  6. I’d like to see him release an album full of the kind of quiet little homey campfire songs he’s written; the Mother Nature’s Sons, the Heart of the Countries, the Calico Skies.

    And I want him to grow another beard.

  7. I’d like to see McCartney play in Cincinnati again. Totally missed my chance to see him last year and I’m still salty about it.

  8. By the way, My Valentine is a damn fine song.

  9. Well, he’s written symphonies and oratorios. I would love to see if he could pull off a musical. With the right collaborator, that could be potentially awesome.

  10. I did not interpret that Murphy comment the same way you interpreted it. Weird how words can do that.

  11. 6 years later, Paul is still being needed and fed.

  12. He should record an album with Metallica and hail it as the greatest work of the last twenty years.

  13. I’ll just say it right now, Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey is a brilliant track.

  14. I wonder if Paul ever imagined he could sing “When I’m 64″ as a reflection…

  15. ummm…most important living musician? bob dylan? anyone? bueller?

  16. I would love to see him continue on with these slightly more experimental “Fireman” albums that he’s done with Youth. “Sing the Changes” (http://bit.ly/utrsa) is as good as any song in his solo cannon. His roots rock album “Run Devil Run” is also one that everyone should own, but I’m not sure if he can/should redo that. The best thing about that album is that it was recorded right after Linda died, so he’s freaked out and panicked, and that comes across in the music. As for the future, it’d be cool if he made a Neil Young/Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash style “mortality” album, but I don’t know if that’s really his thing to be that introspective. It does make you wonder what the legacy of the Beatles will be once he has died. Will the Beatles still mean as much once Ringo and Paul are dead?

  17. //he owes that importance almost entirely to stuff he did between the ages of 22 and 17//

    Typo — 27.

  18. Everyone who loves Paul McCartney should read Rob Sheffield’s fantastic Paul tribute in chapter 15 of ‘Talking to Girls About Duran Duran’.

  19. Simon & Garfunkel are 70 this year too. I really want to take pictures of them sitting on a parkbench like bookends. I emailed Art, but never heard back.

  20. I’d like to see Paul, Jagger, Dylan and Brian Wilson form some sort of awesome old man superstar supergroup. It would probably suck but I’d buy it because duh.

  21. My wish is to see him perform and maybe doing a record with Julian Lennon (Julian sounds almost identical to John).

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