80 Artists Pick Their Favorite Paul McCartney Song For His 80th Birthday
Every time the Beatles come up, there’s the inevitable danger of hyperbole. But at the same time, it’s sort of hard to be that hyperbolic considering the scope of the group’s impact. Pop music and pop culture as we know it incubated in the ’50s, and then really blossomed in the ’60s — and the Beatles were at the very top of a feverishly, rapidly changing medium in tumultuous, transformative times. All these decades later, they still influence up-and-coming artists; new generations are still falling for them (on TikTok, they’re worshipped as if they were a currently active band); and their songs can still surprise and disorient no matter how long they’ve been in the atmosphere. Nobody really thought pop music was supposed to have a 60-plus year shelf life back then. But the Beatles proved everyone wrong.
The Beatles were, of course, built on the songwriting partnership/rivalry of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. When the band fractured, McCartney embarked on what would become a five-decade post-Beatles career strewn with solo albums, Wings releases, and all manner of experiments and detours. He wrote so many immortal songs after the Beatles. He made classic albums, too, like McCartney II — once a cult oddity, now seized upon as a major inspirational touchstone by younger generations of musicians.
There are a lot of iconic musicians out there, but a very, very tiny handful who could be said to have shifted the entire history of pop music. McCartney did that a few times over, both in the wild left turns of the Beatles’ existence, and in simply writing songs that seemed to beget entire subgenres on their own. Sir Paul turns 80 this Saturday. As we did with Bob Dylan last year, we decided to turn to artists themselves — to discuss their favorite Macca composition, the undying legacy of the Beatles, or even personal anecdotes about McCartney. Happy birthday Paul! —Ryan Leas
Our big Paul McCartney birthday bash is presented in partnership with the music streaming and download service Qobuz. Qobuz is designed to meet the needs of demanding music fans and audiophiles, with a focus on hi-res audio and editorial content, providing human-curated playlists, artist interviews, liner notes, and unique articles. If you’ve never used Qobuz, you can try out a one-month free trial here.
Annie: "Say Say Say," 1983
Listening to Paul McCartney’s music makes me a bit nostalgic. He’s sort of been with me ever since I was a kid, listening to the Beatles. And I remember my mum was listening a lot to the Wings singles.
“Say Say Say” is such a classic. Extremely catchy, so good… in every way a “good feeling” kind of track. It came out in ’83, but had a modern sound. I heard it for the first time in the late ’80s… and it turned out to be one of my favorite pop songs. And of course we loved the video too.
And these days my daughter Lilly is listening to “Little Willow” every evening before she goes to sleep… makes her fall asleep. Such a wonderful track.
Arooj Aftab: "Temporary Secretary," 1980
The first time I heard “Temporary Secretary,” I was in my late twenties somewhere in Brooklyn. I immediately thought I was listening to Aphex Twin, or some underground electronic artist with a moniker that had more webdings than letters. I was absolutely floored when my friend sighed and said, “I love McCartney.” I made him eject the CD and show me it was in fact the Englishman behind “Hey Jude.”
I’ve always respected Sir Paul McCartney, but I had no idea he could summon this type of masterpiece; a cantorial mix of slime and crunch. On the album artwork, Paul looks whimsically puzzled — I wore the same expression when I first heard this bouncy 1980 anthem.
Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys): "Eleanor Rigby," 1966
I was raised on the Beatles. Beatles over the Rolling Stones. My dad played them always. I had all those records memorized. I love every Beatles song. I don’t think there’s one I don’t like. The Beatles set the bar for creative LPs. When I talk about how I want my records to be like a mixtape, that’s basically how I felt about Beatles records. They had so much variation.
I was totally addicted to “Eleanor Rigby” when I was a kid. It has that magical quality. You don’t have to be a musician to connect with it. It has that pop thing. That’s what I think about pop — it’s the part of music where you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate it. It goes beyond that. Those guys just did that so often. They made it seem easy.
We played Jools Holland and McCartney was on there. I was so shocked. They do those three-part harmonies, and they just use wedges. Everybody else has the fancy in-ear monitors and a special monitoring guy, and they’re super old-school with it. He was super nice, shook our hands. I told him I was shocked he was using floor wedges [as opposed to in-ear monitors] and he looked at me like, “What else would I do? Why is that interesting to you?”
As told to Stereogum
Katie Ball (Just Mustard): "In Spite Of All The Danger," 1958
Happy birthday Paul McCartney. I got into the Beatles a lot later in my life than a lot of people I know. My family were more into Elvis and the Irish show bands, so I had to find them myself, and I did so when I started learning guitar. I was always singing as a child, then as a teenager my shyness got the better of me and you couldn’t pay me to sing in front of people. The first song that got me singing again was “In Spite Of All The Danger” by the Quarrymen. Myself and my brother learnt and sang it to our friends and it opened me back up to singing. It’s a beautiful song, and I love how caring the lyrics are. The recording of it I’ve heard is very of the time, and it transports you like you’re in the room with them, which makes it feel very personal and brings you closer to the song. This song is special for me, so thank you Paul for that.
Kate Bollinger: "Martha My Dear," 1968
It’s difficult to overstate the influence of Paul McCartney. Even before I was old enough to be aware of it, his songs were all around me in different ways. My best friend, Maddie, sang an a cappella rendition of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” for our fifth grade talent show and my dad and I rode around countless times listening to Help! (as it was often one of albums we could agree on). When I was young, my oldest brother played the same music hall piano tune constantly and over the course of many years, which I much later recognized as “Martha My Dear.” I’ve chosen this song not because it’s my all time favorite (there are so many) or even because it’s my favorite at the moment, but instead because it’s the melody that scored my childhood. Once I realized that my brother hadn’t composed the nameless song I’d known for so many years, I became aware of and fell in love with the infectious songwriting of Paul McCartney, words and music that I will grow old with. Happy birthday Paul!
Lindsey Buckingham: "Here, There And Everywhere," 1966
One of my favorite McCartney songs is “Here, There and Everywhere.” Along with Paul’s other ballads on the Revolver album, it significantly broadened the landscape of the Beatles’ music. The melody and chord changes are transcendent, and the production values, while largely defined by Paul, remain rooted in the collective, evolving sensibility of the Beatles. Revolver was perhaps the group’s high watermark in terms of composition, and “Here, There And Everywhere” is a paragon among many masterpieces on that album.
John Carpenter: "You Won't See Me," 1965
It’s on Rubber Soul, and it hit me at the right time, when I was an adolescent. I just love the song. It’s not as flashy as his other stuff, and it’s not really as memorable as his other stuff. But I love it, I love the way they arranged it, with the harmony in the background. I used to listen to it over and over again.
They were the definitive thing for me. It didn’t start that way. But I got curious — who are these guys, what is this band about? Then I got into it. I started listening to their songs and they were so great. I just fell in love with them. I was a raving maniac all the way to the end.
My first love was movies, and that’s the love that is the most powerful for me. But second was rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles, they were gigantic for me. It was a great time for music back then. It seemed like every week something new and incredible came out. It still amazes me. I listen to them now, watch some of the videos they did. There was a particular time in their music, and it’s before Sgt. Pepper. That’s when I fell in love with the Beatles, and Paul’s ballad-y stuff. There’s nothing like that now. And nothing can replace it. But those days are gone, and here we are.
As told to Stereogum
Channel Tres: "Arrow Through Me," 1979
I never knew Paul McCartney had an extra group. This song was kind of my intro to getting into Paul McCartney as a songwriter, when I learned about songwriting. I think it’s the closest to a soulful song from him — I mean, all his shit is soulful, but you know what I mean.
I like it all. As an artist, once you’ve been around for a long time you start to leave a trail of different personalities you have, different things you can write about. “Hey Jude” is one of my favorite songs too. When you’re 10 or 12, you haven’t really gone through a lot of things. You grow up, you start traveling the world and seeing different things. You start relating to different music more. I was in my early twenties when I started to listen to him more.
He’s still doing it. One thing I picked up from him is you can never stop learning no matter what age you’re at. You can always reinvent yourself in different ways. When the group broke up, he started making his own albums and writing for other people. That song he did for Michael Jackson on Thriller, I really like that one. There’s so many things you can do to stay in it and be a part of great music. When I would hear his songs, I could see his songs. I think that’s very powerful.
As told to Stereogum
Circuit Des Yeux: "Temporary Secretary," 1980
I initially gravitated toward it because Paul recorded it in his home studio, which I’m sure is way nicer than any other home studio — but also he played every instrument. I’m such a fan of his production work and the way he can play so many instruments and expand on a song. I think it encapsulated some of his talents that are maybe less celebrated. I love the fact it was so overlooked.
The Beatles were later in life for me. My mother loved the White Album so that’s the only Beatles I’d heard, and in hindsight it’s such a weird one. I didn’t come into the Beatles until after I’d even found McCartney’s solo stuff as a personal interest. McCartney II led me back to Rubber Soul in a convoluted way. To me, the Beatles were… when you’re young you have blue or pink, there’s the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. I didn’t have any interest in it. It wasn’t until I heard McCartney’s solo stuff that I was like, “Wow, there is some wild stuff happening in the Beatles’ music.” I definitely lean more towards McCartney songs than John’s, personally.
My personal growth through music started with recording. I was really into the Bee Gees, and I came across Robin’s Reign, Robin Gibb’s solo venture. It’s really parallel to McCartney II in that he played all the instruments himself, in a home studio situation. I’m really into these renaissance people musically, who just do everything. What is interesting about Paul is he’s so well-documented. There are so many artifacts of him in different parts of his life. Taking care of his kid in front of a mixing board. To me, domesticity, and making records in a home or private situation — that’s where magic happens.
I know Paul traveled a lot and was really into ethnomusicology, which has always interested me as well. Incorporating mysterious messages left behind into your own art. Bringing home unique snippets trapped in sound, and reincorporating it and not setting boundaries for himself. He tried everything fearlessly.
As told to Stereogum
Jarvis Cocker: "Martha My Dear," 1968
It’s difficult to pick out a single song by Paul McCartney because, as a member of the Beatles, he was responsible for a general atmosphere of benevolence that I benefitted from as a child. “She Loves You” was number #1 the week I was born and they split up the year my dad left home (in my seven-year-old mind it was the very same day but I’m sure it wasn’t really). Between those two dates it was the Golden Age — thank you Paul.
The song that most vividly brings back that Golden Age is “Martha My Dear” from the White Album. There isn’t a specific memory attached to it — it’s something to do with the sound of that song. The piano and McCartney’s voice blend together to create an acoustic effect that I can only describe as “sunlight shining through French windows in a wood-lined room” and, for as long as the song is playing, I am in that room and everything is right with the world. That’s the McCartney Magic.
Wayne Coyne (The Flaming Lips): "Magical Mystery Tour," 1967
Paul’s “Magical Mystery Tour” is the perfect “non-song” song. It positions itself as an introduction (similar to the opening track on Sgt. Pepper’s) but in the end is so catchy and full of life and energy that you don’t really care to wait for what it’s introducing… you’re already satisfied.
Paul works great this way. He’s one of the greatest songwriters ever but he can really make a throwaway song into something amazing. I say throwaway… I always got the sense that “Magical Mystery Tour” was kind of like a TV show theme song. The song has a lot of info it’s trying get to you and it’s not that concerned with emotional context. But in Paul’s hands he can’t help but make it, along with the rest of the Beatles and George Martin, one ecstatic moment after another. Three minutes of ear candy that leaves you (like all great candy) wanting more.
The opening where (I think it’s Paul) he’s saying “Step right this way…” It’s the kind of thing a singer would do (I say that cause I’ve done it) when he’s just having fun saying whatever is coming into his head as he imagines the setting he’s crafting for the audience. And we also are reminded of Ringo being possibly the greatest drummer of all time. Man!! It’s exciting even if you don’t really know what they are excited about.
Maybe this was meant to be a way that the Beatles, who had stopped touring and playing live shows, could kind of perform with an audience in mind. It seems Paul, more than the the rest of the Beatles, missed the energy of Beatlemania even if he was also trying to get away from it. And, unlike some of the struggles we see in the Get Back doc, the rest of the group seem to gladly jump right in and lend a special charm wherever needed. It’s hard to say what George Harrison is actually playing (maybe it’s maraca) but just a little texture or little rhythm can add a uniqueness that is subtle but full of flavor. I always say it’s like adding salt to french fries. The french fry is doing most of the work… but in the end, without the salt, it’s kind of bland. Ha!!
So… “Magical Mystery Tour” the song is not bland!! Not even for one second!! And… the Beatles with their collective endless imaginations kind of saw a future where going to see your favorite band is a big (joyous, zany, drug-fueled party on wheels) adventure. Which a lot of young, and not-so-young music lovers do every summer. Travel around (flying In airplanes or driving themselves) trying to meet some eccentric freaks, eat some freaky food, see some wondrous sights, be sleep deprived, fall in love, see your favorite band for the fiftieth time. I think Paul meant it as the Beatles are on a Magical Mystery Tour. But nowadays it’s the audience that wants to be on a magical mystery tour of their own design.
Elvis Costello: "For No One," 1966
It might seem a little obvious, but I would pick “For No One.” Rubber Soul was the first album I remember thinking, “This is something about a world I don’t know.” Up until then, all the Beatles songs had seemed very happy. Then there were darker things, more grown up things on Rubber Soul. Paul’s songs tended to remain quite joyful, but Lennon’s songs like “Girl” and “Norwegian Wood” had grown dark. Then Revolver comes out. That’s still my favorite of all Beatles records. It has both things. It has incredible choruses, but wild, innovative stuff. Not just the obvious things like “Tomorrow Never Knows.” One of the most swinging tracks in all of rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s such a subtle swing, is “I’m Only Sleeping.” Aside from how great Lennon sounds, the band, Ringo’s drumming, the bass-playing, the way it swings. Americans have a different record, so I’m talking about the UK record.
You get to “For No One.” The cliche for Lennon and McCartney is that Paul is the sweet one and John is the edgy one. It’s not so true, is it? Paul wrote “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I’m Down,” “She’s A Woman,” “Helter Skelter.” Come on. There are whole swathes of music that follow that that couldn’t exist. It’s true, they are very influential and different periods are influential on different music that followed. I remember thinking, in the ‘90s, that the White Album had obviously become the blueprint. I’m talking the pre-experimental Radiohead, the OK Computer Radiohead. That couldn’t exist without the White Album. And I’m sure Thom would admit that. They went such an interesting way with almost compressing their melodies under all this experimentation, almost to the point of disguising how beautiful some of those melodies are. The Beatles did the same thing a generation earlier. That’s what Get Back shows us. A band playing these beautiful melodies but through these horrible sounding Fender amps. It’s so shrill and the studio doesn’t really work and somehow it’s still magic.
You think about the moments that contradict everything we know. “For No One” is everything that’s great about Paul McCartney in one song — except for the fact that it isn’t a rock ’n’ roll song, which he can do great. But it’s a really beautiful melody. He’s like a fantastic movie actor who doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t over-dramatize. The way he sings, so the slightest hint of emotion in the timbre of his voice — I know this is going to sound weird, but I hear it sounding like records from the ’20s and ’30s almost. There’s no vibrato. There’s some timbre, and I suppose the word people would use is “wistful.”
To me it’s his best lyric, not that there aren’t many others after that and before. It’s the one where, I think, you could make a case for how unique a lyricist he is. It’s not a song anyone else has written. Not even remotely like a song I can think of. And not really many since, the way it’s laid out. And yet, aside from all that, the telling of the story is like that of a playwright. It sets a scene: “Your day breaks…” The same as “She’s Leaving Home,” but it’s much more economical. “… all her words of kindness linger on…” “And in her eyes you see nothing/ No sign of love behind the tears/ Cried for no one.” I mean, that is very, very devastating. The beauty of the McCartney tune is you could just sing along and it not occur to you, but the minute it does occur to you, it’s inescapable.
The arranger side comes in. That is nearly impossible, that solo. It’s right outside the range of that instrument. I did one concert, when Paul got a fellowship from the Royal Academy. It was quite a formal event. There were some pieces from the classical repertoire done in chamber form. The Brodsky Quartet accompanied Paul. He did, back-to-back, “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday,” “For No One,” and “Here, There And Everywhere.” It wasn’t really rock ’n’ roll. To hear him play those with a string quartet, which he hasn’t often done, and to have the French horn player — I heard that guy practice all day to do that. That’s a top classical soloist. It’s so difficult. He played it really beautifully. It’s about as perfect a record as you could make.
As told to Stereogum
David Crosby: "Eleanor Rigby," 1966
Nobody else wrote about those people. Nobody else had the heart to write about the lonely, old, frozen-in-place people that are the main part of the population. Nobody writes about them. We write about glorious, brave, bigger-than-life. We write about people who are in terrible pain. We write about very dramatic things. But we don’t write about small, cold, old, painful, lonely stuff like that, man. It was a very brave piece of writing. It’s a kind song, it’s a song of compassion in a quiet and very beautiful way.
A friend of mine, an English guy named Clem Floyd, brought the very first Beatles record home and said, “You won’t believe this.” We put it on and it absolutely freaking floored me. It was the first rock ’n’ roll that had that kind of feel to it. Paul just wrote differently than other people. He could write “Paperback Writer” and stuff like that without even thinking about it. It was so different. Everybody else was trying to write about some girl’s tits or some bright, shiny experience that they had. This was dark and mysterious but kind. I just didn’t think anybody else was doing that. I didn’t think anybody else had the balls to do that kind of stuff. I thought it was an immensely courageous piece of writing.
I was stunned, man. I didn’t know they could grow that fast. I didn’t realize what would happen when you gave guys like that acid and pot. They said, “Oh, well, look at this.” And they went crazy. They went beautifully fucking nuts. They expanded their world drastically the same way their consciousness had been expanded. They were my inspiration for consciousness expansion on a lot of levels, not just taking psychedelics. Becoming aware of human beings in a different way than I had been.
You know, if I’m driving on a sunny afternoon I want to hear “Day Tripper.” But if I want to be moved emotionally, man, “Eleanor Rigby” really does it for me. I love “She’s Leaving Home” also. I think that’s another very brave song from around the same time. Very emotionally mature, very grown-up, very beautiful. He dealt with very emotional stuff very bravely.
As told to Stereogum
Julia Cumming (Sunflower Bean): "Ram On," 1971
My favorite McCartney song at this point in my life is “Ram On.” I didn’t discover it until I was a teenager. At the time I was in my first band, writing songs on ukulele myself, and “Ram On” was one of the songs that showed me how beautiful that instrument could be. The song itself contains so much mystery and magic, and a defiant refusal to fit into a world that Paul built for himself in a way. As a lifelong fan it was mind-blowing to hear something so lush and psychedelic and simple at the same time, an idea that has influenced my songwriting a lot and a lot of other indie music made today. A song before its time!
Mac DeMarco: "The Back Seat Of My Car," 1971
I was 14 or 13 maybe. My sister got me a job — I was kind of the janitor at this veterinary clinic in the west side of Edmonton, where I grew up. She gave me a Paul McCartney compilation. I don’t know whether it was a greatest hits or from a certain era. I used to take the bus from junior high school to this job every day. I had a little Sony CD player and I used to blast this CD on the bus every day. “The Back Seat Of My Car” was on there. I think a lot from that era was.
For me, that era of Paul is maybe my favorite recording or production fidelity. There’s something about that, something about the arrangement, something about the way the tone shifts. Before it gets there, it’s very floaty. I feel like a lot of Paul stuff is very fun-loving, whimsical, who knows what these lyrics are even about. But it’s less about the meaning to me than the melody and the harmony. It’s always stuck out to me.
There’s a part of that era of his work — there’s all these stories like he had this old tape machine and he would just plug the mics right in the back. This guy is one of the biggest, craziest musicians of all time. He was in the Beatles. And he’s like, “Ehh, I’m just going to get a tape machine and do it at the crib.” It’s like, “Hell yeah, Paul! Respect!”
It was absolutely a touch point for me. I always have to keep in mind — he has a tape machine at his house, but at the time it was probably the nicest, most insane tape machine. He probably had the best microphones and mixing console. But, that all being said, he did just engineer a lot of this stuff by himself. Regardless of whether or not the Beatles were the biggest band ever or he was one of the biggest songwriters ever, there is some DIY ingrained in there. I’ve always appreciated it.
I’m a bit of a fanatic. Hugely, still now. There’s a song on my last record that’s the most blatant Paul ripoff of all time. I love John, too. I love George. I love ‘em all. But it’s an interesting thing to look at that group and see not only their personalities or whatever, but that they each have their own musical voice that pokes through. You can hear it, because they’d swap around and play this or that. They’re a great band. What can I say? I think most people would agree.
My mom used to say, “I love John, I was in love with John as a teenager.” And I’d say, “What about Paul?” And she’d say, “Eh, Paul’s a little too milk-and-cookies for me.” I appreciate the milk and cookies. I think that’s why the Beatles worked. Paul has this… not necessarily softness, but John is more jagged, George is on a completely other tip, then you got Ringo singing “Octopus’ Garden.” Paul has a lot of music that was very meaningful, but he also has a lot that was very fun. Happy birthday Paul!
As told to Stereogum
Ian Devaney (Nation Of Language): "Let Me Roll It," 1973
This is currently my favorite song by Paul. If I was to think about an all-time favorite Paul song I’m sure it would be Beatles-era, but there’s something about the fact that Wings songs weren’t formative for me — never a part of my musical upbringing — that makes them pop all that much more when I get stuck on them as an adult. Hearing “Let Me Roll It” just instantly transforms the world around me into a slow motion scene from a movie, and makes me replay memories from my life as slow motion scenes from movies. There’s very little here in the way of lyrics, but the track is all the better for it because it lets you fill in your own story without even thinking about it. The song washes over you and colors everything in the most beautiful way.
Madi Diaz: "The Long And Winding Road," 1970
“The Long And Winding Road” is one of my all-time favorite Paul songs. It is a lullaby open-armed and resolved to a charged and present unrest. Paul gently demands change when It feels like nothing will ever change, but we listeners somehow also feel some hope that just by making the demand that everything will be changed irreversibly forever. The melody trudges onward climbing endlessly up… teasing a climax that is never quite freed from the torment of monotony. It is chained to the hook in a neverending return. There is a relentless catch. We will always only go back over and over. On top of the mountain of metaphor, the chordal/melodical/musical prowess is just as it has always been, and forever will be: totally heart-wrenching and undeniable. Isn’t it just clear as damn day that we as human beings are lucky af to share this earth time with Sir Paul McCartney? Happy birthday Sir Paul. Thank you for everything.
Steve Earle: "Every Night," 1970
My favorite stuff was when they were writing with each other or competing with each other and they knew it. Beatles For Sale is my favorite Beatles record. There’s a lot of John, but McCartney is starting to catch up — starting to get the idea of something more impressionistic. I love McCartney though, his first solo album. He was still competing with John Lennon when those songs were written. They were written for a fragmented Beatles, but the Beatles nonetheless, and it shows.
My dad wouldn’t let me have an electric guitar, so I went towards the acoustic stuff. That’s the deal. “Every Night” — there’s something about that. I’ve wrestled with a 12-string to get that to work. It took me years to learn how to play it correctly. It’s so simple because he played everything on that record. I emulated it a lot later on. It’s acoustic. But, it’s still rock ’n’ roll. When McCartney did that on that record, even more that when they tried to do “One After 909,” it felt more like skiffle than anything the Beatles recorded since they were a skiffle band.
It’s a love song. That’s what he was writing. I got a guitar to get girls. That song worked. I had a little falsetto, so I could sing it in those days. I tried to play it as best I could. I loved his stuff. There are very few Beatles songs I don’t listen to. Mostly, his stuff was so interesting melodically and harmonically that it really influenced what I did. I could’ve said “Hello Goodbye.” “We Can Work It Out.” The only Beatles song I ever recorded was “I’m Looking Through You.”
I met him once, and I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. When he first started touring with this band, we were in England touring. The publicist on the McCartney tour was evidently a fan, and he invited us. The promoter who was doing my show in Sheffield, he seemed to be a nice guy. That night, he got himself and his wife on the guestlist as well. When we went and picked our tickets up, I thought we’d just be going to our seats. Instead we were ushered into a backstage where there was a row of several rooms where he could go say hi to people. We were part of the itinerary. We were thrilled. Paul walks in, and we start talking, he’s making jokes. I look behind me as I’m talking to Sir Paul, and this promoter and his wife are hauling out records for Paul to sign, which is abusive. I never worked with the promoter again. Great show though, and he opened with “Hello Goodbye.”
As told to Stereogum
Joe Elliott (Def Leppard): "Little Lamb Dragonfly," 1973
With the greatest respect to everything he’s ever written in the world ever, and the obvious “Live And Let Die”s and “Band On The Run”s and “Jet” and etc., I’m going for “Little Lamb Dragonfly” off Red Rose Speedway. When I first heard that song, I was 13 or 14. There was something very melancholic about it that just sucked me in. It sounded like someone doing poetic license on phrases, sat on a blanket at some country field having a picnic. It sounded the furthest away from what you’d expect the Beatles to be doing. It wasn’t “Helter Skelter” or “Strawberry Fields Forever,” where they were pushing boundaries. It was just a guy, a gentle guitar part, really beautiful melodies. Still, to this day when I hear it, I get all kind of … squidgy. It’s a beautiful lament, almost like a nursery rhyme.
I’m told by relatives that when I was three, four years old, I was pretending to be Paul McCartney with a plastic Paul McCartney guitar, stood on a little stool singing “Love Me Do” to whoever would listen. I was obviously well aware of who the Beatles were, and was a huge fan of the singles as a kid. And I’m a huge fan of them now with the new perspective from my sixties. But becoming a teenager, I wasn’t listening to the Beatles anymore. They were gone. We had Marc Bolan and David Bowie. I was well aware of who McCartney was. I think it was probably “Live And Let Die” and “Jet,” all the stuff from around ’73 when he was rockin’ again. The Band On The Run album, it’s fantastic, my favorite McCartney album. It depends what mood I’m in. If I want to rock out and I want to listen to McCartney, I’ll be listening to Band On The Run. If I want to sit in the bath with the candles on, I’ll pick Red Rose Speedway. These are mood albums.
When punk kicked in, I wasn’t listening to McCartney anymore. London Town and all that stuff wasn’t exactly “Anarchy In The UK.” When I was 16, that’s what I wanted to hear. But with hindsight, you go back and listen to these albums. I love Back To The Egg, that “Rock Orchestra” thing where everyone and their grandmother played on it. John Bonham, Pete Townshend, you name it. It’s a fantastic piece of rock. It goes to show how much variety he has, he’s so versatile in what he wants to do. But I’ll always harp back to things I remember, when I was a 13 year old, where I was the first time I heard it. You know a song has made an impression if you can rewind to a place and a smell and the weather and you get these phantom images of where you think he played the song. For an acoustic type of song, it has everything. When you don’t want to hear “Live And Let Die” and “Band On The Run,” it’s an awesome alternative.
As told to Stereogum
EMA: "Veronica," 1989
When I was younger and more rebellious I used to have a sort of “fuck the Beatles” attitude, mostly to piss off the boys who thought that was sacrilege. But the truth is, it’s impossible to imagine popular music minus the Beatles, and the songwriting of Paul and John. The thing I appreciate most about the Beatles is that they were funny, and they made music about music, using tropes to make jokes. So they would write these meta-songs and then turn around and write something as sincere and timeless as “Let It Be.” I love how much variation is on their records and I’m sure it had an effect on how I write and structure my albums. Paul McCartney is just a FACT. Whether you like it or not.
It’s very hard for me to pick a favorite song, although “Veronica,” his duet with Elvis Costello, gets stuck in my head the most. Listen if you dare.
Mikey Erg: "Run Devil Run," 1999
The memory is still fresh in my mind. Walking into Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ and happening upon a brand new Paul McCartney record, his first since the death of the love of his life Linda. I recognized a few of the song titles but wasn’t aware of the concept yet, A quick and dirty cathartic rock and roll record. I was NOT prepared for the level of ROCK that flowed out of my speakers. “Run Devil Run” is one of three original songs on the record and it might be the most primal rock and roll song Paul made since “Helter Skelter.” Paul is screaming his fucking head off. I didn’t think I could be more of a fan but this song just made me dive in to the cult of Paul 10 times harder. I could say more but your best bet is to just go on your favorite streaming device of choice and turn the volume up to 1,000 and crank this bad boy. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks Paul.
Erick The Architect (Flatbush Zombies): "From Me To You," 1963
There are so many good Beatles songs, but this was probably the story of the first song I fell in love with. The commercial for the Beatles 1 album would come on TV all the time and I’d find myself singing the words to all the songs because it came on ALL the time.
As we were entering a new wave of technology and futuristic sounds, my mom reverted to the classics. She bought me that CD one day after work and I played it thoroughly! “From Me To You” was my favorite and I remember I couldn’t get to the end of the album because I ran that one back over and over. That song will always hold a special place in my heart because it reminds me of my childhood. I soon grew to become a young adult and truly appreciated how great the Beatles really are.
Spencer Fox (Charly Bliss): "FourFiveSeconds," 2016
There was this weird sect of people my age in seventh or eighth grade, I remember it being very cool to say “I don’t like the Beatles.” It was this anarchist contrarian way of rebelling against our parents’ generation to say the Beatles sucked. At that point, I didn’t know the Beatles, but it felt cool to say that. There was a chunk of time where I refused to listen to them. But when I was a sophomore in high school, the music department put on a performance of the entire second half of Abbey Road with a 50-person choir, and I got to play guitar. That was a transformative experience in a number of ways, a pivotal experience with live music but also being able to play Beatles songs live with that sort of accompaniment. Just playing them makes you understand how immaculate and bulletproof they all are.
I think it took me a really long time to get into all the Beatles’ respective solo projects. I’ve still yet to have my true deep dive with any of their non-Beatles work, just because I did only get into the Beatles discography in a way that felt genuinely immersive much later in life, late high school and into early college. In the past several years, it’s been really big for me, just revisiting a lot of those pivotal Beatles records. I think with people like that, who are just pioneers of pop music and made music that feels so intuitive, I’m less interested in the avant-garde or strange corners of discographies like that. I just want to listen to those pivotal songs until they sound like gibberish. That’s my favorite thing. Just listening to him at his best.
First off, just conceptually, a song with Kanye, Rihanna, Paul McCartney, written by Ty Dolla $ign and Dave Longstreth — it sounds like something that’d only happen in the ’80s. “We Are The World”-core. It’s so grandiose and maximalist and strange. I think we started listening to it in the van a lot, maybe with a bit of a smirk like, “How crazy is this, isn’t it silly?” You listen to it the first time and it’s like “Whoa it’s Kanye and now it’s Paul McCartney!” But the more we listened to it, that song would come on shuffle in the van and we’d all get misty-eyed. It started affecting us really deeply.
It’s so simple and it kind of has this radio pop feel to it but the more you listen to it the more you realize it’s very intricate and a lot’s going on and there’s that gospel bridge. I think Dave Longstreth wrote that entire bridge. It’s really this incredible, sprawling song once you get into it. It’s like an algorithm just took in a bunch of information from the last 50 years and was asked, “What would be a lucrative thing for the music industry to churn out?” It would be that. Which would lead one to think the song itself would be vapid and hollow. The first listen would maybe give that impression. But there’s some real emotional depth on that shit. That song hits me hard.
As told to Stereogum
Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie): "Here, There And Everywhere," 1966
The song that holds the most meaning for me is “Here, There And Everywhere.” You could choose cooler stuff or psychedelic stuff. That song just holds a lot of sentimental value. My dad always had this nylon string guitar leaned up against the wall, and he would entertain himself and to a certain extent us by playing through this Beatles fake book. I remember being 10 or 11 years old and hearing my dad play this song. He would always play it to my mom as a torch song of sorts. The melody is very beautiful.
It might come as a shocker that I lean towards the more sentimental songs, but I think there’s this particular earnestness that weaves through his work and it started to really become apparent in the Rubber Soul/Revolver era, as the Beatles progressed and John went in a more art-forward approach and Paul tended to, at times, lean into some very heavy Anglo kind of nostalgia and sentimentality. It’s a turn off for some people, and at times it’s a turn off for me, but his hit rate is higher than pretty much anyone ever, so you can’t complain.
Paul doesn’t get a lot of credit as a lyricist. But tucked within all his songs there are all these great little moments. They’re usually very simple sentiments and lyrics, but they’re very clever. I also love “Let Me Roll It.” That chorus of “I can’t tell you how I feel/ My heart is like a wheel/ Let me roll it/ Let me roll it to you.” The way he holds back that “to you” element is just fucking great. Someone like Paul McCartney or Neil Young or anyone else — at a certain point you’ve been around a long time and everything you make isn’t going to be great. But you’re going to have moments of transcendence. To have one song that has affected someone’s life or weaved its way into the public consciousness is a remarkable achievement in a world that is just drowning in music and content. But to have a body of work that continues to grow and add to this essential playlist, it’s phenomenal. He’s one of the greatest ever.
As told to Stereogum
Margaret Glaspy: "Maybe I'm Amazed," 1970
While I know I am not alone here, for me the song “Maybe I’m Amazed” shines very bright in Paul McCartney’s incredible catalogue. Since I was a little girl, I was struck by the fact that McCartney’s fame didn’t stop him from being vulnerable in his songs — this one in particular shows his humanity and love in a way that always inspired me as an artist but really inspired me as a person. To make art that says “I love you” and “I’m human” all in the same breath feels like such a gorgeous feat. Happy 80th Birthday, Paul. Thank you for all of the life-giving music.
S.G. Goodman, "Heart Of The Country," 1971
The impossible task of picking one’s favorite Paul McCartney song can only be solved by applying filters most true to yourself. My favorite year in music is 1971, which arguably produced the largest volume of transcendent albums to date. I hold the belief that a song about the country can apply to a girl on her back porch in Western, KY as much as a British rocker who changed music as we know it. Which leads me to McCartney’s tune, “Heart Of The Country,” a song that just so happens to check all the important boxes.
Lande Hekt: "Jet," 1973
I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I heard that “Jet” is a dog, and that rumour warmed me to the song even more. Especially during the moments when he’s really having it large vocals-wise. A great example of his brilliant rock voice. When I was trying to establish which of Paul McCartney’s songs was my favorite, my friend referred me to her five-hour playlist named “Macca Megamix.” I listened through some knowns and unknowns, some highs and lows, but “Jet” was the song that I realized was my favorite all along. The best line is “Jet, I thought the only lonely place was on the moon” — and I imagine a child saying that to their dog.
Haley Heynderickx: “Junk,” 1970
Happy birthday Paul! You’ve inspired us effortlessly in many conscious and unconscious ways.
One of my favorite tunes is “Junk” from his debut solo album. It’s a short sneaky one which quickly shows off his melodic virtuosity. Making magic out of the mundane inspires me and hearing him talk about odd things in his attic somehow delights me. It’s hard to describe, just good magic.
Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers): "Here Today," 1982
“Here Today” was McCartney’s farewell song to John Lennon, written shortly after his murder. Short and sweet and very direct, it has long been one of my favorite songs of Paul’s solo years. I love how the song addresses their differences in temperament and styles as one of the fundamental strengths of their friendship and musical partnership.
“You’d probably laugh and say that we were world’s apart / If you were here today.”
Musically, the song evokes McCartney’s classic “Eleanor Rigby” with its stripped down arrangement and strings (and wonderful George Martin production). Clocking in at barely over two minutes it says a lot in a very minimalistic way. The lyrics are very conversational. No chorus and only six short verses (or perhaps four verses and a two-part bridge), it manages to address their initial meeting and their long term friendship, their fundamental differences and their breakup. It has laughter and tears and an abundance of love. In fact it is a love song above all, while still acknowledging that such displays of their emotion would have probably been something that John would have ridiculed, at least on the surface.
In the end, the song is filled with an aching longing, saying goodbye to a friendship and partnership that was definitely one of the defining ones of the 20th century.
Billy Joel: "Yesterday," 1965
I believe it was released in the States around late ’65. The Beatles had had a few albums before that. This was a completely different type of Beatles song. This was one guy, no drums, no electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, with a string quartet. I think I was about 15 or 16 when this came out — you know, at the height of puberty. I recognized that this was something dark, troubling, sad. Not like their other uptempo happy stuff like “Please Please Me” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” This was more of a grown-up song. A lot of people in my age group related to that song in the same way. It was kind of a rite of passage. Life isn’t going to be all roses. It’s going to get dark, and sometimes you’re going to be sad, and you’re going to have to deal with adult feelings.
I think George Martin contributed a great arrangement to it. It was a combination of a great songwriter and a very musical producer. The combination of those two, in a very simple recording, was very effective. It was almost a reintroduction of the Beatles in a different way. I had heard other people doing sad songs, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. But the Beatles were a band. To hear, all the sudden, one solo voice and one solo guitar with a plaintive melody — almost baroque type of music, not like Bach, but like Scarlatti. Very simple, very profound. It just cut through everything else.
I suppose I was at an emotional age. When you’re in your mid-teens, everything hits you heavier. The ‘60s were an interesting time. They were a coming-of-age time for most baby boomers. I imagine most people in my age group remember that song distinctly. Even Sinatra covered it. He wasn’t a big fan of a lot of pop music. The fact he did that was very significant to some people who didn’t take the Beatles seriously. Like, “Wait a minute, this must be a pretty damn great song if Frank is doing it.”
I like most of the stuff Paul’s ever done. He’s an extremely musical guy. It’s in his bones. He can’t write a bad melody even if sometimes the lyrics aren’t everything you’d hope they’d be. I don’t care. I’m essentially a music guy, and if I hear a good piece of music, lyrics aren’t as important to me. It’s all about melody, chord structure, and performance.
I met him on Long Island. He lives out in the Hamptons during the summertime. Actually, we have the same attorney. He’s got a good lawyer, and I needed a good lawyer. This was in the ‘80s. I had been a fan for a long time. It was definitely a “Holy shit, it’s Paul” moment. I found it hard that I was face-to-face with one of my idols. I remember stammering out to him, “I want to thank you for doing what you did, because I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t for you.” And he recognized that it was an awkward moment for anybody to say this. He goes, “I know what you mean, I felt the same way when I met the Everly Brothers” in his Liverpudlian accent. He said that he said the same thing to Phil Everly. That made me feel a lot better, actually. Like I’m not the only asshole in the world. He put me at ease right away. He’s a very charming guy.
I’ve played with Paul at a couple of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame quote “jams” — which are usually pretty ridiculous, because everybody’s playing all over everybody else and you really don’t know what’s going on. I got to play with him onstage with his band. He played with me with my band at Shea Stadium. He actually came to my house once to hear some of the classical stuff I was working on, because he was working on symphonic music as well, and we wanted to share what we’d been writing with each other.
We used to play Beatles songs all the time in my teenage band. We used to play “I Saw Her Standing There.” The first song I got to play with Paul was “I Saw Her Standing There.” I knew what key it was in, I knew all the chords, I knew all the lyrics. It was like, “Which one are we gonna do Paul?” And I guess he figures everyone knows that one. It was great. It sounded great to me. It was a real thrill. A teenage dream realized.
As told to Stereogum
Jordana: "Wonderful Christmastime," 1979
It’s the best Christmas song ever. Whenever Christmas time rolls around and this song comes on, I’m like, “This is the one.” I do love Christmas music. I love the vibe of the season, the feeling of it. This is just a jolly, jolly tune. I always heard it on the radio growing up. The opening synth? This is it. The sleigh bells? That smacks.
It was always in the atmosphere, but I also had my Beatles phase when I was 13 or 14. I’d watch the ’60s live videos. But this one is just the best one. I’d say they were an influence, with song structures and the way they wrote their songs. I was a big fan of the song “Day Tripper.” There’s a couple hits, and the blueprint for writing hits is Paul.
It’s a peak Christmas song, I can’t think of a better one that sums it up. I think I will write a Christmas song. I’ve never done one before. But how can I beat that!?
As told to Stereogum
Dara Kiely (Gilla Band): "The Night Before," 1965
I was going to go for “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number),” because I was always blown away by how weird Paul is, in particular, on that track. The humor of the Beatles really translates. I watched that Rick Rubin thing McCartney 3,2,1 and they played “Check My Machine,” and I was blown away by a different aspect of him. I did so much research for this, I had a big Wings phase: There’s “Bip Bop,” which sounds like a mad demo he did that made it onto the album. I was going to talk about when he played “New” at Roskilde and I thought, “Paul still has it, that’s fucking great, that’s a good Paul song.”
I don’t remember my life without the Beatles. When I was a kid, we only had five video cassettes, and there were two Beatles films in that: Help! and Magical Mystery Tour. Help! was always this massive staple, engraved in me. If my memory is correct, I used to watch that every day pretty much from when I was four until about eight. Just comfort food.
I think the scene that “The Night Before” is played at is when they are recording in the field, and there’s a glass window for the engineer, but they’re just in a field surrounded by loads of army people. It’s a wild story. I always just loved the way it starts. I’m never not in the mood to hear that tune. It can be sad: “We said our goodbyes/ Ah the night before.” But it’s so upbeat as a song. It’s a beautiful relationship between the music and the vibe. His bassline just kicks it off. It’s still exciting to me. I love the guitar parts. I love the harmonies — I could say that for any Beatles tune. My nephew’s gotten really into the Beatles and loves the film Help! I can see him having a similar reaction to that tune as I did, and it’s re-energized my love for it.
Every generation, there’s been some sort of collaboration or rebirth that keeps him interesting. The Kanye thing, obviously. The fact he’s on Thriller. He’s always up-to-date with stuff. I recently heard the first few Wings albums and knew there’d be at least one track, if not more, that would take me by surprise; I know McCartney II has undergone a resurgence. It’s going to be a lifelong discovery with him. I can see that happening in my lifetime of being a massive Beatles fan. I don’t think he’s finished. I think he’ll just keep discovering.
As told to Stereogum
Femi Kuti: "Let It Be," 1970
This was the first song by the Beatles I ever knew. In those days we had a record player. The Beatles were my mother’s favorite band and she always played this particular record nonstop. Every time I listen to this song by myself or hear it somewhere by chance it reminds me of the events that had taken place during the period this song/album was released. The civil war in Nigeria had ended, Fela had just returned from his American tour, and a lot of other things — but this is why it is my favorite song by the Beatles.
Laura Lee (Khruangbin): "Golden Slumbers," 1969
Whenever I had the opportunity to ride shotgun on mornings my dad would take me to school, he’d put on a Beatles cassette tape and quiz me on which Beatle wrote each song. Paul’s were always the easiest for me to recognize at a wide-eyed four years of age. These were the days that I’d come home from Montessori school after a long drive back to the suburbs, where I’d eat dinner with my parents and brothers around in the dining room, hush everyone while I practiced piano, and spend the evenings lining up my stuffed animals in a single file line around my bed while singing one of Paul’s songs in a nasally out-of-tune little kid voice.
A few years later, the home I knew and loved fell apart and I spent most of my childhood and adolescence clinging onto what I knew of it. “Golden Slumbers” became the anthem of my life. For years I’d listen to it every time I needed a hug or felt lost. It consoled me; it rocked me to sleep; and it put into words things I didn’t yet know how to articulate. It’s the gorgeous thing about music. The one minute, 32 second song managed to encapsulate an entire childhood’s worth of feelings in a beautifully nostalgic and painfully hopeful way.
As a grown woman and musician, I still tear up when I hear it, but it’s one of those sweet single tears that happens as you smile, wiping it away as you laugh at the beauty of life and the beauty of memories being held in the arms of a song.
…And this is just the personal emotional attachment I have to the song. It’s also the perfect breath within arguably the greatest medley of all time. Sandwiched in between the much fuller songs that surround it, it feels like a heart-shaped locket in the middle of rock ‘n’ roll. The greatest things in music and in life are almost the simplest but difficult to achieve. “Golden Slumbers” is just that. I love you, Paul. Thanks for keeping me company all my life.
Hamilton Leithauser: "And I Love Her," 1964
“And I Love Her” is my favorite Paul song. It’s perfectly easy-breezy and pretty without any saccharine aftertaste. The melody, instruments, and song structure sound effortless. While I’d concede that “Hey Jude” is undoubtedly his masterpiece, this song never gets old for me, and I think the unassuming, even-tempered tone is far more difficult to strike than the listener might grasp without a little reflection… in fact, that’s exactly why it’s so good. Bob Marley and the Wailers do an absolutely fantastic version of this song too… in fact, I think Bob Marley’s version is actually what brought me back around to the original.
Kenny Loggins: "Hey Jude," 1968
I think the ballads were his more special tunes to me. With “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude,” he wrote lyrics that mattered. If you look at something like “Get Back,” they’re doing all these disposable lyrics. They’re using a lot of double entendre, oblique images, stream-of-consciousness imagery that really doesn’t do much. It’s not like, “Oh my God, that meant so much to me I left my wife.” It’s not that kind of tune! But with “Hey Jude,” it’s clear to me this stuff mattered to him.
As a singer, I was always impressed when McCartney would go off in his Little Richard voice. In a beautiful ballad, I would never expect someone to start doing Little Richard on the vamp. It’s so Paul. He’s schizophrenic. It brings a level of emotion to the tune that’s beyond the song itself. I was probably just joining the Electric Prunes when “Hey Jude” came out. I was writing with a keyboardist named Jeromy Stuart. He was really ready to try to knock the Beatles off their throne. I think it was “Hey Jude” because the vamp went on and on and on. He was like, “This isn’t good as their early stuff.” I said, ” …I don’t know. I think it is.”
“A Day In The Life” was another one. Some of my music friends were going, “They’ve blown it now, nobody can stick with this level of deconstruction on a song.” To me as a writer, it was like, “Oh my god.” It shows the strengths of both Lennon and McCartney. You had that real Lennon beginning, and then they had to speed the tempo up to get McCartney’s bridge in there, then drop it back again. The beauty of that duo was the way they could balance off each other. I remember when McCartney did his Elvis Costello collaboration, it was similar in that Elvis was bringing that salty, edgy thing to McCartney’s real sweet, sometimes saccharine approach. I think it was the balance between the two that brought out the best in McCartney. You’re lucky if you can get a collaborator who is so different from you as Lennon was from McCartney, but still have that combination where one and one is four.
I graduated from high school in ’66. I was right there on the back edge of the Beatles. I was a folk guy, Bob Dylan was my main hero — up until I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. When Lennon and McCartney showed up, it was a whole different atmosphere. My mother told me about the Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night. I never took advice from her on what music to see — she’s my mother! But she said, “There’s this group I heard of, everyone’s talking about them.” Something pulled me to that to see who that was. It was life-changing for every musician I’ve ever spoken to from that era. The folk music thing faded out. I bought an electric guitar and tried to write in their style.
As told to Stereogum
Megan Louise (Desire): "You Never Give Me Your Money," 1969
The opening piano line just immediately sweeps you away into a memory that’s quickly disintegrating as the rest of song races toward you like chapters of a novel flying by. The lyrics in the second half of the song carry hope in the midst of uncertainty. “Oh that magic feeling… nowhere to go.” He helps us escape all the chaos and look at the open road of possibilities that come with starting something new. “Step on the gas and wipe that tear away.”
Shirley Manson (Garbage): "Venus And Mars (Reprise)," 1975
It was Scotland in the ’80s and four of us schoolgirls were huddled around a record player, pouring over one of our dad’s record collections. We were all short skirts and long legs thrust into tucker boots, smoking Winston cigarettes and drinking weird mixtures of sneakily appropriated alcohol from our parents’ drink cabinets.
That was when I heard “Venus And Mars” for the first time. I’ve never really figured out what the lyrics mean. I don’t care. I just like how the words sound together and the gorgeous, wistful melody.
As the evening wore on, we ran out of booze and even more devastatingly, we ran out of cigarettes. Being the resourceful teenagers we were, we came up with the less than bright idea of squeezing the inside of the butts from the ashtray onto three layered pieces of baby pink toilet paper. We then rolled the whole sorry mess into something that resembled a chubby cigar and attempted to smoke it. The whole thing disintegrated in our hands and we very nearly started a small fire.
Whenever I hear “Venus And Mars” this is what I recall. Teenage bodies and teenage dreams.
Venus and Mars are alright tonight.
Andy McCluskey (OMD): "Thank You Girl," 1963
I have a very, very fond memory of a song called “Thank You Girl.” In the UK, it was the B-side of “From Me To You.” I was born in ’59, so I grew up in the ‘60s, and to me singles were small, round, black objects and had a silver 45 and Parlophone on them. My mother had all these Beatles singles. I didn’t know which was the A-side or the B-side when I was five, six, seven years old, so I would just play these things whichever way over, and I just really liked this B-side.
It was very, very catchy. Lennon and McCartney sing in unison for parts of the song and they split into harmonies. When I was a kid, my mother had a mono record player that just stacked all the singles and they all dropped down. I only knew it in mono. I did a cover version of this song for a charity record, it’s never been released. It was great fun to take it apart and analyze it and I got hold of a stereo version, one of those great early stereo versions where all the instruments are on one side and the voices are on the other. You could isolate them, and you could hear Lennon and McCartney on their own, and you could hear they sang the wrong words sometimes. It’s just so cool. It goes by in a flash when you listen to the whole record. It was great for me to work out how to do it, because if I hadn’t been able to isolate those vocals I wouldn’t have been able to work out the harmonies.
I think the song has a joyful energy. I remember reading about it, subsequently, that they were actually being quite contriving. They said they consciously wrote songs that had the word “girl” in it, because it would appeal to all their female fans. They would adopt it and say, “Oh, he’s singing to me!” They were quite conniving and clever from the early days, really.
I very much rediscovered the Beatles later on in my life. I come from Merseyside, I’m from the other side of the river from Liverpool. Whenever we would travel the world, people would say “Oh, you’re from the Beatles’ hometown, were they an influence?” As a kid who was trying to establish his own musical identity in the ‘70s, in the days when music was considered to be a linear progression — now we live in this atomized postmodern era where you can pick and mix from anything you want, but back then I was looking for something new. In my head, the Beatles were “That was so last decade.” There’s nothing more out of fashion than the last decade. It takes time for it to be reappraised. The Beatles were very much what I didn’t want to do.
I often had a laugh with people in Germany: My influence came from Dusseldorf. The funny thing is, I got to meet the guys from Kraftwerk, and they were influenced by the Beatles. Who knew Kraftwerk were influenced by the Beatles? I had to take a couple of them to Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane and places like that when they came over. It was only later, when I was in the music business myself, that I started to reappraise the Beatles catalog. As a songwriter, and knowing how busy I was at the height of our success in the ‘80s, I thought, “How did they write so many incredible tunes in such a short period of time?” It was so condensed, and they were gigging everywhere and traveling and everybody wanted a piece of them. How did they find the time to do that and have such an incredible quality control?
I have met Paul, I didn’t really have the opportunity to go into too much detail. I was being made a companion at his Liverpool Institute Of Performing Arts. He comes every year to hand out the degree, the papers and everything. He’s the only one who ends that day without sore hands — everyone else is clapping for 2,000 people coming up to get there certificates. He was great. He was absolutely lovely. As one of the most famous people in the world, he was switched on. He was being very charming and very kind but he he had to split himself amongst a million people who all wanted 10 seconds with him and I was just one of those. When I reflect upon the music he’s made, his output is just undeniably brilliant. He’s a genius.
As told to Stereogum
Michael McDonald: "Martha My Dear," 1968
One of my all-time favorite Paul McCartney songs was “Martha My Dear.” I always loved the melodic structure and the chord progression, the overall harmonic sensibility of that song. “Lady Madonna” was another one. With that and “Martha My Dear,” I always fantasized those were influences Paul heard early in his life. I kind of felt an imagined kinship, in that sense, with him. I grew up playing a lot of ragtime with my father, popular songs from the ’30s and ’40s. That music impressed me greatly at that age, and it’s a musical sensibility that’s remained with me throughout my life and career. My ear was easily taken by that part of McCartney’s writing style.
Tom McGreevy (Ducks Ltd.): "Coming Up," 1980
It was super hard to choose a song for all of the obvious “Macca is a genius” reasons, but I think it’s gotta be “Coming Up” for me. There’s something that I really like about post-Beatles McCartney where it seems like he isn’t really trying very hard. He is absolutely resting on his laurels as a very very rich guy who has already accomplished everything he could possibly accomplish, and I think it ends up just making it even clearer how good he is. He’s basically fucking around in his garden shed on this track, and yet it’s utterly brilliant. He’s clearly having so much fun and his sense of melody shines through. There are so many fun little touches in the mix, and I particularly adore Linda’s pinched and weird backing vocals. The video is a delight too!
Aidan Moffat (Arab Strap): "Blackbird," 1968
When I was young, like any teenager, I would rebel against what my mom loved. But my mom had some really, really cool records. She doesn’t know this, but I have quite a bit of her old Motown records and she’s never getting them back. She used to go on about the Beatles and how she’d seen the Beatles. When I was in high school, I just hated all that shit. I thought the Beatles were for old people. My friend’s dad went away on holiday and he had the White Album, which I’d never heard — it wasn’t one of the ones my mom had, her interest dies around Revolver or Sgt. Pepper. I never knew this existed, and my friend insisted we play it. He said, “Honestly, you’ll love this record.” So we cracked open his dad’s very expensive brandy and laid down on the couch and I listened to the White Album.
It’s still my favorite Beatles record. Especially from Paul McCartney’s point of view, it’s got the absolute worst of his indulgences — like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” He’s even putting on the fucking Jamaican accent. That wasn’t cool even then. But then there’s things… “Blackbird” just totally took me by surprise. This beautiful folky song. It seems to just stick out. There was so much variation, and out of all of them this gorgeously quiet moment stopped me. I think it’s because of the complete surprise of the whole thing when I heard it — that whole album is a complete surprise, an intense and claustrophobic listen. But “Blackbird” was like, “Is that Paul McCartney?” I know he’s good at the quiet songs. Who can deny the beauty of “Yesterday.” This was a whole new side for me to see of the Beatles. At that point in my life, McCartney was either writing the Beatles songs I pretended not to like because my mom was into them, or he was writing really shitty Wings songs.
Years later, I would find McCartney II with that song “Temporary Secretary.” I used to go to this club Optimo that used to be in Glasgow. This was in the last 20 years — I had never heard “Temporary Secretary” before, and they played it. I couldn’t believe it when they told me. It sounded like some long-lost electronic post-punk track. That’s why I wanted to talk about the White Album. He’s a lot more adventurous than people like to give him credit for, which is why I like “Helter Skelter” too. What an idea. The story is he wanted to make something that would rival the Who. Then he just did it.
To me, I like records that take you to a different place as soon as you start, and you feel like you can’t escape. The White Album was the first record I heard like that, that I felt transported to a different world. It imprinted that idea for me, like Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs or Slint’s Spiderland. I have a lot of records I love that are collections of great songs. But I think the White Album was the first time I heard something I felt was greater than that, deeper than that. Even if the White Album is famous for having certain infamous madmen picking it apart and trying to find meaning in it. Which is patently ridiculous. They were all on drugs! But it definitely gave me the idea you can get totally absorbed for an hour or two in someone else’s music.
I saw him do “Blackbird” live at Hampden Park, I live just beside it in Scotland. He did this massive gig, and of all the things he did, to do “Blackbird” just himself to that many people — it was incredible. You could tell the people who knew the Beatles quite intimately were sat like, “I can’t believe he’s doing this, like this, on this stage.” There was a guy sitting next to me who just talked all the way through it. Very soon afterwards, he played “Ob-La-Di,” and this very same guy was standing up with his arms in the air just screaming. I judge people by how they regard the White Album. They’re either adventurous people or not adventurous people.
As told to Stereogum
Kevin Morby: "Band On The Run," 1973
I think my favorite song, or at least the one I’ve listened to more than any other written and performed by Sir Paul, would have to be “Band On The Run.” I was never a huge Beatles fan off the bat, and it took me getting into John and Paul’s solo careers first and then following the breadcrumb trail backwards. When I first hit “Band On The Run” it hit me pretty hard, and it was the first moment I remember loving this guy Paul McCartney from the biggest band of all time, the Beatles. This would have been when I was in my late teens, and I remember thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know you could do that” the first time I heard it — meaning I didn’t know that you could essentially put three songs into one!
It blew my mind to hear someone so confidently lay out a song in three parts while seamlessly sewing them all together in one. When that horn section hits outta nowhere and the acoustic comes in and that little drum roll leads into Paul singing “Well the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun” …well gotdamn. Look no further than my song “Campfire,” which is also laid out in three parts, to see this song’s influence on me. There’s that scene in Almost Famous where everyone on the bus is singing along to “Tiny Dancer” and while that song, and that scene, are both iconic and great they’re not entirely accurate — bands don’t actually sing along to “Tiny Dancer” while the wind’s in their hair out there on the open road. They sing along to “Band On The Run.”
Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo): "Live And Let Die," 1973
I didn’t like it at first and now I really like “Live And Let Die.” I heard it a few different times, and I love it. Thinking about him writing that after he’d been in the Beatles. Like, who are they? Are they the best pop band that ever happened? A lot of people would say that’s true. I started thinking about the way the song was structured and the lyrics and the instrumentation. I judged everything by the material all those guys made before they split up. I’m hoping the things you heard on their solo records were representative of what they brought to the band. Tomorrow you ask me the same question and I’d give you a different song.
Can I tell you a McCartney story? I got a call, and I think it was because of his son. Paul had been a Devo head. As a matter of fact, he heard our “Private Secretary” song and then he did his “Temporary Secretary” and he used a Midwestern accent when he sang it. I thought that was interesting. But many years later, this was probably six or eight years ago or something — I got asked to put together a playlist for his party. Whatever year it was, I had just found out about YouTube — I had kept ignoring stuff, I was so busy making things I didn’t want to get obsessed with the internet. Then I found out you could go on and pull these songs off. I made this playlist, originally as a joke because Devo was playing in Brazil. I took “One Note Samba” and I was curious how many versions of it there were, and I found 40-50. I put them all on this one CD. I loved that CD and I sent that to Paul, 80 minutes of the song. He called up and thanked me for it later.
The Beatles on Ed Sullivan made me say, “That’s what I want to do.” If you listen to the first song on the first Devo record, I start off “Uncontrollable Urge” with basically the same intro as “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” In the song there’s a deconstructed “yeah yeah yeah.” It didn’t go unnoticed by John Lennon. He came to a Devo show at Max’s Kansas City. The stage is way in the back, you have to wait for everybody to leave so you can pack up your gear and drive home. I remember the night, the second or third show we did there, John Lennon was coming out drunk with Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople, they’re holding each other up. He looks over and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the Econoline I’m going to be sleeping in that night. He comes over and sticks his head right in front of my face and he stinks like beer and he goes “Yeah yeah yeah yeah!” right in my face. I was like… OK, I could die now and I’d go to heaven. Best thing that ever happened. The fact he made note that that was a reference to him.
As told to Stereogum
Graham Nash: "Misery," 1963
The Hollies were playing with the Beatles in the north of England. After the Beatles’ soundcheck, where they did “Little Child” with John on harmonica, Paul came up to me and he goes, “Hey, do you want to hear a new song?” I said, “Are you kidding? Do I wanna hear a new Beatles song?” Nah, why would I want to hear a new Beatles song. I said, “Of course I would! Come on!” He gets John on one side of me and himself on the other, and they sing “Misery” for me, Paul in my left ear and John in my right ear. That was an incredible musical moment for me.
I met them in 1959 — November 19th, I think. I didn’t have any impression of them initially. Here’s what happened. There was a beautiful gig in Manchester. A Canadian promoter called Carroll Levis would come to an English town and find out the 10 most popular performers in that town, have them sing a song, have them all come to a stage after the show, put his hand above each act’s head, and whoever got the most applause won.
Listen to this interesting night, of which I wish to God I had a tape. First of all, it was me and Allan Clarke — in ’59 I was 17. We sang “It’s Only Make Believe” by Conway Twitty. We won that night. Allan and I of course later founded the Hollies. There was a kid called Freddie Garrity who became Freddie & The Dreamers. There was a kid called Ron Wycherley who was kind of an Elvis performer, named Billy Fury. And these four kids from Liverpool called Johnny & The Moondogs. Now then: Me and Clarky won. The Moondogs did a Buddy Holly song called “Think It Over.” They may have won, except for the fact that they had to catch the last bus from Manchester back to Liverpool and the last bus left at 9:30, and the show didn’t end until 10. So they couldn’t come onstage and be judged with everyone else. It’s possible that they would’ve won, but they didn’t, because they couldn’t be there.
It was very obvious the Beatles were going to be incredibly popular. I used to work part time at this club called the Two J’s which later became the Oasis. The Beatles were playing so they came around four o’clock for their soundcheck with their leather jackets on. Every fucking girl threw their knickers at them. I mean, metaphorically, of course. But it was very obvious these four kids had something together. And I mean together. They were hard to separate. They were a band together, and they stayed together.
As told to Stereogum
Keir Neuringer (Irreversible Entanglements): “The Long And Winding Road” (Let It Be… Naked Version), 2003
It’s kind of easy for me to wax nostalgic about the Beatles, and McCartney was the most nostalgic of them, lyrically and compositionally. They were my father’s favorite band, and I think one of the few things my mom and dad agreed on was that Paul was their favorite Beatle. So there was a lot of that music in the house growing up. I remember my mom singing “Rocky Raccoon” with her Maryland accent coming through. Decades later, I remember playing “When I’m Sixty-Four” for her on the piano in her final weeks; she died age 65. My dad’s last concert before he died was McCartney in New York in 2017; he was frail at that point but so determined to be there.
Paul’s songs are among the most covered in recording history. I think one mark of great songwriting is that the songs lend themselves to reinterpretation — that a songwriter doesn’t write their ego into the song. In that light, versions like the recent one of Paul’s “Blackbird’” in Mi’kmaq by Emma Stevens and her high school classmates are truly special. But all that said, I think it’s the stripped down 2003 mix of “The Long And Winding Road” from Let It Be… Naked that hits all the nostalgia buttons for me —McCartney has said he was referencing Ray Charles with the song, and without Phil Spector’s orchestrations (which Paul hated anyway) it’s a straightforward, beautiful, nostalgic rendering of a beautiful, nostalgic song.
Daniel O'Kelly (Silverbacks): "Fool On The Hill," 1967
A lot of my favorite Paul McCartney tracks have a childish quality to them and are songs that I look forward to playing to my children one day.
”The Fool On The Hill” reminds me of the title track to a ’70s French cartoon. This has likely been triggered by the video clip of a young and incredibly handsome Paul McCartney prancing through French fields while a glorious recorder solo bounces along with him. An instrument I learned as a child.
There’s a one minute, four second snippet of Magical Mystery Tour on YouTube where the camera zooms in on a smirking Paul McCartney. Strangers have sometimes told me I look like Paul McCartney. Although I was delighted with the comparisons I never really saw it until I came across this clip. The fields and the smirk all look very Irish.
There’s a boy that lives in the apartment below us who practices the recorder every day. I hear him as I pass his door on my way down the stairs. He’s definitely good enough to play the outro solo to “Fool On The Hill” but I don’t think his parent’s are Beatles’ fans.
Happy birthday Paul McCartney, thanks for the jams.
Elise Okusami (Oceanator): "Dear Boy," 1971
This song is one of the first non-Beatles Paul thing I heard. I actually found this song when I was looking for the song “Young Boy,” which was on the Father’s Day soundtrack, a movie we owned on Laserdisc and that I watched a lot. The movie stars Billy Crystal and Robin Williams searching for a kid they’re both told they might be the father of who has run away to follow Sugar Ray on tour. I went on Napster or Limewire or one of those and couldn’t find it so was like “Oh maybe it’s actually this one called ‘Dear Boy.'” So I downloaded this and was like “Oh okay this is an even better song!” It felt beautifully haunting in a way that most of the stuff I was listening to at that point didn’t. I could get lost in that song for hours at a time.
John Osborne (Brothers Osborne): "Blackbird," 1968
Choosing a favorite Paul McCartney song is an incredibly difficult task. It’s like trying to pick your favorite meal. But the one that I keep coming back to is “Blackbird.” It’s the most distilled representation of what McCartney does best. Being the bass player for the Beatles, he writes a guitar song that guitar players including myself struggle to play. And he does it so fluently. Then on top of that you have him singing a beautiful melody, as he always does, but with such control and conviction thus allowing his lyrics to showcase the story and message. I especially love the cameo appearance of his foot keeping time that is being picked up by the bleeding into the microphone. It drives the song. Every time I listen to it I can almost see a young Paul sitting in a chair in front of me, showcasing his live take masterclass.
Jane Penny (TOPS): "Distractions" (Demo), 1989
I chose the demo for “Distractions” because it’s one of my all time favorite Paul McCartney recordings, but it also demonstrates what I think his greatest contribution to music has been: the combination of studio experimentalism with sincere, poignant songwriting. The same person who could be credited with inventing Pop Music as we know it somehow also managed to contribute to the invention of techno music (see “Temporary Secretary”), making some of the most interesting, introspective, and just generally weird recordings in the late 1970s, before experimentalism was blossoming everywhere, thanks to a huge cultural shift and emerging technologies in the ’80s.
What I really love about Paul’s contribution to this is that it comes from such a personal place. You can really hear the way that these strange new sounds have been accessed by his own explorations in his home studio, purely out of his own creative playfulness. The songs themselves don’t need any of that — the songwriting is bulletproof — which makes it all the more admirable. And the fact that he could be, like, literally in the Beatles, and never lose that spark, is so inspiring to me.
Cameron Picton (black midi): "When I'm Sixty-Four," 1967
This is the only one of Paul’s “Granny” — sorry, Music Hall — songs I don’t immediately skip. It’s became one of my favorites (although not their objective best) through religious Sgt. Pepper’s listening sessions before I slept between the ages of around six to eight.
Listening back then I was fascinated with the idea of what it might be like to be an old, decrepit, wizened 64-year-old (9.6 lifetimes to go for a six year old) with barely any time left — practically a fossil already. It no longer feels like an insurmountable amount of time til I reach that age (1.7 more lifetimes to go for a 23 year old, but only 0.3 lifetimes to go for my 62-year-old Dad), nor the death sentence it seemed when I was a child. It’s a kind of funny look at the strange English Nuclear Fantasy of his and particularly his parents’ generation.
We also had to cover it as part of the first group school project all four of us were involved in. Morgan actually played bass while Geordie drummed, Matt sang, and I played the clarinet part on a MIDI keyboard. It was all part of a themed show where each group had to play instruments other than their “main” one. I thought our version really complemented the bridge — we did an excellent, really beautiful, perfectly arranged, four-part vocal harmony over the “we shall scrimp and save” line. Maybe we’ll have to bring it back for a black midi show sometime, maybe on our normal instruments this time! This was also one of the major reconnections I had to the song and the wider Beatles discography after tossing my Sgt. Pepper’s copy aside for Girls Aloud’s Out Of Control in 2009.
It’s hard to qualify the influence of the Beatles as a songwriter owing to the ubiquity of their songs. Almost every modern songwriter is influenced by them in some way, however big or small. But I think that there’s a lot to be learned from this song, especially taking influence from the music your parents loved and connecting with it in your own way. I wonder how Paul feels about those lyrics and what’s probably now better described as his “Great Granny songs” at 80.
Ruth Radelet: "Waterfalls," 1980
I have been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember, but I will humbly admit I had never gone deep into Paul McCartney’s solo catalog until somewhat recently. He has so many songs that are just beautifully written and deceptively simple, and “Waterfalls” is no exception. I fell in love the first time I heard it, and immediately listened over and over again. I couldn’t believe no one had ever played it for me before. I think “Waterfalls” proves that if the writing is good there is no need for any showy production — the melody and emotion are more than enough to carry you away. There is a rawness and longing in Paul’s voice that gives me goosebumps every time I hear the chorus start. The imagery is so evocative too. The lyrics always make me think of an English garden in the rain. It’s almost impossible to pick just one favorite song, and if I could I would add “Hey Jude” and “Band On The Run.” Paul McCartney has truly written some of the best songs of all time, and he continues to be an inspiration for me.
Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals): "Coming Up," 1980
It was just an incredible track, and maybe an example of the liberty his solo records give him. It combines his more experimental leanings with his sense of melody. He must’ve seen so much by that point, and made records in Lagos and been exposed to so much music. Setting up his own studio and getting free rein. It’s a very uplifting, groovy track. Really euphoric. It really elevates the moment.
John Lennon was shot when I was about nine years old, and they started playing the Beatles movies on TV all that week. This is my memory of it, it might be completely inaccurate. But my memory of it is that that was my introduction to the Beatles. They made a big deal of the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper. I was about 16, at an age to appreciate that record. I definitely had a relationship with the Beatles, they were omnipresent. I’m from North Wales, which is about a 90 minute drive from Liverpool. I also have a kind of hallucinatory aversion to “Mull Of Kintyre,” because when I was six or seven years old it was #1 for a year, or something. The bag pipes solo is really too much, even at that age. It was very easy to dismiss later period McCartney. But even the Frog Chorus, if you zoom into it when it’s playing in a supermarket, some of those synths are visionary. His electronic work is pretty out there. If you peel off the melodic icing that’s on all of them, to the electronic core, there’s something really experimental going on.
We came across Paul McCartney at an awards ceremony, which is quite a painful environment, so we were drinking our way through that pain. Cian Ciaran, Super Furry Animals’ keyboard player, came across Paul McCartney coming out of the bathroom and immediately started shouting at him, “You’ve got to let me remix your records!” Instead of calling security or something, he really engaged in conversation with him. He responded well to being harassed. He was very generous with his time. He ended up sending us old Beatles material to remix, so we made a collection with him like that.
For whatever reason, he reacted warmly to us. So we felt we were able to approach him for a favor. We’re big Beach Boys fans, so we were well aware of him chewing carrots and celery on the track “Vegetables.” We thought we’d have him reenact that cameo on our record. He went through a selection of vegetables. He was completely up for it. He ended up recording that in his own studio. There was a security alert or something. It seemed a bit like trying to organize a presidential appointment. He had to be careful. We have a recording of him where he names the vegetable, explains his process, and then he chews.
I got to sing backing vocals with him at an Africa Express festival about 10 years ago, which was about a decade after our song. That was a real trip. What was apparent from that meeting is that he had a lot of time for everyone. There’s probably at least a hundred people backstage, and he has a great sense that people are interested in him and want to speak. He created this period of time, three hours or something, where he could hang out backstage and talk to everyone. Then he did the show and disappeared.
As told to Stereogum
Nile Rodgers: "Maybe I'm Amazed," 1970
This one always made me feel incredible. I love double entendre, I love an artist being conflicted over tiny things. I love it when an artist looks in the mirror and says, “Damn, do I wear the blue socks or the black socks?” The fact they can make a story out of it, something that touches you in the heart. When Paul starts out and he goes, “Maybe I’m amazed at the way” — that’s all I need. That question, that moment of indecision. I know, as an artist, resonates on many different levels. You don’t even have to say more than “Maybe I’m amazed at the” — there you go, now you’re off and running.
I remember when I first heard that song — man, I hate to sound like a crabby old person who says “My generation this, my generation that,” but the truth is when we listened to those records back in the day, we would sit around in a circle in a person’s house, play the record, decipher the lyrics and see what they meant to us. We almost had a classroom. This wasn’t a formal gathering. This was how friends discovered music when it first came out on the scene.
Paul’s music made me understand that you not only have the ability to explore the world and take it apart and maybe reassemble it, even if it’s just in your mind — you actually have the responsibility to do that. I was once at a meeting years and years and years ago and Harry Belafonte said, “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth.” They’re also the builders. They construct. In a strange way, they’re the reporters. When you listen to an artist’s music, especially one on the caliber of Paul, I listen differently. I’m expecting a lot. And he gives a lot.
I’ve crossed paths with him many times, but I have to say the most touching one is a silly one. We played President Obama’s final party. I looked out on the dancefloor. It was my very first time meeting Paul McCartney, and he was singing every one of my songs. I was thinking, “How weird is this.” The very first song I ever learned how to play on guitar was “A Day In The Life,” and now I’m looking out at the dancefloor and Paul’s got a dance circle with his wife and he’s singing my songs. Now that we’ve become friends and I know the family… you don’t grow up thinking of Paul McCartney loving to dance. You think of pictures of artists — even ones that are happy seem troubled, because they are pondering issues that most people don’t think about. Most people are busy living their lives and having to make instant decisions. An artist will create time, no matter what, to ponder very, very big and very, very miscroscopic issues. It’s just the life, man. I know I’m not Paul McCartney, but I’ll tell you something, there’s not a minute that goes by where I’m not thinking, “Maybe I should do this, what about that.” In the recording studio, the most important words are “What if?”
As told to Stereogum
Maggie Rogers: "Darkroom," 1980
Early in the pandemic, I got completely obsessed with McCartney II. I’d go for long walks by the cliffs in Maine alone where I was quarantining and oscillate between sobbing and solo dancing. “Darkroom” is an easy favorite. I love how easy and whimsical and loose it is. It sounds like he’s having fun, trusting his instrument, and letting it all flow out. It’s a self-possession that is so inspiring and inviting.
Nandi Rose (Half Waif): "You Won't See Me," 1965
When I was a kid, I was a Ringo fan. I thought he was the absolute funniest in A Hard Day’s Night, and I had a thing for the drums (still do, in fact — I married a drummer). I think my choice in Beatles also had to do with the fact that I wanted to be different. Everyone else loved Paul and John and George, and I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I was insufferable in my quest to stand out (a mystic once called me out on this in Salem, MA, when I was nine and told her my favorite animal was a kinkajou).
Anyway, as I got older and more serious about songwriting, it became harder and harder to deny that Paul was writing all my favorite songs. And then watching the recent Beatles documentary, I was just bowled over by his overall musicality — his musical instincts and choices and ability to whip the very best ideas out of nowhere. It killed me when he was like, “Guys, guys, check out this new one I’m messing around with,” and ever so casually played the opening of “Let It Be.” Pure magic. So I’m now proud to say that I’m just like everyone else, and I love Paul. I could write about any number of his songs, and I considered one of the more melancholic ones like “Yesterday” or “Eleanor Rigby” because I love music that feeds my sadness, but the one that I’ve turned to most in recent times is “You Won’t See Me.”
From the opening chords, this song makes me happy. Kind of kicked back and carefree. I love the broad open melodies, the syncopated chorus, the ascending backup vocal line that chimes in with a chromatic “You won’t see me!” I recently jammed on this song with a couple friends, and we may have re-harmonized it a bit, but getting inside it, I was so taken by the chord progression. Off the bat, the movement from A to B major — when diatonically, you expect a B minor — is so great. It’s like a sly wink, giving me this feeling of being pulled forward onto my tiptoes. I just love the flitting between major and minor modes, which is something Paul does so effortlessly across the Beatles repertoire. It sounds like a smiling face when a shadow of doubt crosses over it, or a sunny day filled with fast moving clouds.
Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice): "Waterfalls," 1980
I don’t have a favorite Paul McCartney song, a testament to his songwriting I suppose. There’s too much to choose from and a song to fit every moment. For the purpose of this article though I have gone with “Waterfalls” from McCartney II. I love songs that wouldn’t sound out of place in a musical but have been roughened round the edges a bit to get rid of a certain musical theatre sheen or whatever. I don’t really know what that means but basically “Waterfalls” fits the bill.
I really remember on one of my band’s first American tours our tour manager, Dana, did a detour so we could drive past the Niagara Falls. As we did so we put McCartney’s “Waterfalls” full pelt on in the van. It was meant as a kind of joke but actually we all fell silent in a collective “moment.” I guess the fact we were witnessing a gigantic, formidable frozen waterfall with a vertical drop of 160 feet had something to do with it, but after a moving four minutes and 44 seconds we all turned to each other and collectively agreed: “That’s a really good song isn’t it.” And now I remember that day as the day I heard Paul McCartney’s “Waterfalls” for the first time…
Darius Rucker: "Let It Be," 1970
I think it’s the perfect Paul McCartney song. “When I find myself in times of trouble/ Mother Mary comes to me” — just the vividness of that line is so McCartney. The thing that really makes it is the amazingly great verse lyrics. It’s all deep, and then the chorus is just three words. It’s huge.
We played so many records in my house. My brothers and sisters were all older than me except for one, and their friends were always bringing stuff over. I was five or six and my brother played “Let It Be” on the stereo. I remember the song for me, growing up as a young kid. It was one of those songs I loved because I knew the chorus as soon as I heard it — I could sing it. I’m a huge McCartney guy, so I love it all. But the ballad stuff is what I’d go to a little more. I think he’s so great at that.
Number one thing on my bucket list was to see McCartney. I’d never seen him play. We got to do a meet and greet. It was a movie. I’m backstage with my family and standing by the door and Paul walks out in one of the Sgt. Pepper jackets. He walks over to me and my daughter looks up to me and she punches me in the leg and goes, “Are you about to cry!?” It was really emotional for me to meet him. He’s such an important entity. He’s such an important part of my musical history. I had a tear, but I fought it back. I just said thanks. I wouldn’t have had any of the success I’ve had if I hadn’t found the Beatles.
As told to Stereogum
Allison Russell: "Blackbird," 1968
I’ve loved the song “Blackbird” since I first heard Caroline O’Neal, an older girl I had a crush on in high school, singing it. I loved it before I knew who Paul McCartney was or who the Beatles were. Pop culturally speaking — I grew up under a rock. The tyrant who ruled our household and who was my primary abuser in childhood — my white supremacist adoptive father — hated pop music. We were punished severely if we ever tried to listen to it. Nevertheless, so ubiquitous and undeniable is Paul McCartney’s oeuvre that I was influenced anyway via a 16-year-old girl covering “Blackbird” at a co-ed high school in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in the ’90s.
“Blackbird” is a song that feels universal and eternal. It seems to pull from the Hidden Canon of Folkloric songs and stories handed down orally and intergenerationally, usually along matrilineal lines. I heard it as secret women’s wisdom and resistance — I felt as though I already knew the poetry and the melody from that first moment. I never forgot them. It reminded me of songs and tales my Scottish grandmother, Isobel, shared with me.
It was many years before I learned that Paul McCartney had written “Blackbird” about the Civil Rights Struggle for Black Americans. That he had written it after reading about Race Riots and an incident in Little Rock, Arkansas. That he had written it sitting at his kitchen table in Scotland with the express intention of giving the people going through the struggle for recognized equality some hope. Mission accomplished, Sir Paul. I felt that hearing it secondhand as an oppressed and abused black child in Montreal back then and I still hear it as freedom and hope to this day.
Sasami: "Junk" (Esher Demo), 1968
It’s a demo from the Esher sessions for the White Album. He ended up doing it for his self-titled solo album. I’m not as obsessed with the final version. I was really, really drawn to the demo version of it. It’s technically a Beatles song, they’re playing on it. There’s something very wholesome about them working through a song and fucking up and laughing in the take, but Paul still trying to keep control of the band while still making up the most bizarre, stupid lyrics. It’s so sweet.
I’m a big everything Beatles fan. Of course I love the White Album. I just grew up on the Beatles, and have gone through phases of being obsessed with all of their solo works. As a young kid, I grew up singing with my family members, making a lot of friendships around the Beatles. I’m pretty sure I learned how to sing harmonies from the Beatles — that and being in choirs as a kid. I have a very long history with the Beatles.
It’s inexplicable. There’s certain songs that stand out to you. It’s almost like, with the demo, there’s so little fluff around it. You can get to the core of the song so quickly. There’s some songs that, when people perform them solo, you think it’s so much better than the fully arranged version. I think there’s something to the whimsy of the Esher demo. They’re still figuring it out. There’s also noise in it, a moment where it kind of descends into chaos. I’d heard the song way before the Get Back documentary, but it’s a little window into what the band’s relationship was like, and what being in the studio with them was like. There’s something nice about how un-buttoned-up it is.
It’s also so Paul. The lyrics are so corny. It’s just a damn good song melodically. When they put out the deluxe White Album a couple years ago, I was listening to it on repeat. Every time this song came on, I was just like, “What is this?” I think it’s such a perfect blend of how good of a songwriter Paul is with how silly and wholesome he is. It really shows that.
It didn’t even stick to me in the McCartney version, it was the demo version. I think what connects a lot of people to Get Back is the humbling experience of knowing that everybody goes through this cumulative process of having a seed of a song and giving your attention to it and being present with it. It makes you realize even genius songwriters have to clock in and be present and commit to being a vessel for the song, no matter who you are. There’s something very humanizing and humbling about seeing the Beatles have to do that — come in six days a week. Hearing a demo is the same feeling. OK, we all have to go through the process of unearthing the gem that’s inside the song. Sometimes people dig it out and shine it up until all the shine is actually wasted from it. That’s why sometimes demos are cooler. You’re seeing a rawer version of the gem.
As told to Stereogum
Amanda Shires: "Let Me Roll It," 1973
I could be in a car, restaurant, shopping mall, or bar — it doesn’t matter where. When the guitar comes in at the top, the world around me stops. I could be mid-conversation, mid-bite, mid-phone call… and up goes my hand, finger pointing towards the sky then, “Sorry, I can’t.”
We were in some little bar in some dive along the way, a long time ago. The song came on and Jason [Isbell] started going into what he loved about it (the tape cut maybe?) and I said, “SHHHHHHHH not now.”
There is some kind of magical wizardry happening in “Let Me Roll It.” The guitar tones or the way the track sounds like its own independent being. It’s going to be forever impossible for me to dissect and analyze it because it entrances me at every listen. And for me, for almost five minutes it’s as if my bones and blood are made of chords and music and some other thing governs my body and nervous system while it plays.
Sinkane: "Check My Machine," 1980
How can you pick just one Paul song?
Has there been a songwriter who has captured the cultural and musical zeitgeist as weirdly and beautifully as this guy?
McCartney II is my favorite Paul album. “Temporary Secretary” and “Check My Machine” (the full version) might be my favorite of his songs. Can you believe this guy? Always had his finger on the pulse! Dub? Post-punk? Early adopter of electronic music? Studio as an instrument? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. All the while, 1000% Paul within those realms. I remember seeing him at Coachella in 2009. He’d finish a song to the longest applause. Take his guitar off his shoulder and wave to the crowd like it was his last song. I’d think, “Yeah… that’s gotta be it. How can he top having fighter jets fly by during ‘Live And Let Die?'” Then he’d start another one. Every song a dinger.
Hey Paul, I hope that you read this. I really do. And, as I’m sure you’ve heard from every single person who’s crossed your path, I love you, man. Thank you for teaching me and damn near every musician out there how to break the rules. And thank you for breaking them time and time again. None of us would be here without you (and John, George, and Ringo too).
James Smith (Yard Act): "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" 1968
I know if I was hard pressed I’d probably have to pick something like “Waterfalls” off McCartney II or, in fairness, “Let It Be” — a song, to its testament, that I’ve somehow never tired of. But I’m sure a cooler artist is gonna namecheck “Waterfalls,” and I’d hazard a guess that some big star will pick “Let It Be,” so I’m gonna plump for “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” off the White Album instead. To me, it’s a song equally as important as the understated masterpiece that is “Waterfalls” and the culturally oversaturated (but still no less beautiful) “Let It Be” simply because it’s a song McCartney wrote after he saw two monkeys doing it in the road and consists solely of the line “Why don’t we do it in the road?” It’s art, it’s funny, and the vocal rips.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: "Dear Boy," 1971
My favorite Paul McCartney song is “Dear Boy” from Ram. I have always loved the pace of newness introduced in the production. It is a fairly simple song structure but it never feels like it repeats. I love the vocal harmony architecture and the vocal dynamics in the harmonies — they feel like they emulate the imploring emotion of the song. I have always appreciated how easy approachable catchy songs seem to flow from him. Not all of them resonate with me but the ones that do bring me into a really sweet nostalgic whimsical mood.
Julia Steiner (Ratboys): "Goodbye," 1969
I heard this song for the first time on the radio one morning, as I was pulling up to Midway Airport to drop off some friends for their early morning flight. It was around 6AM, the sun was just rising, and I couldn’t believe our luck, that fate (or the wonderful minds at MeTV FM in Chicago) had chosen this particular song to soundtrack our moment of parting ways. I heard this whimsical, perfectly circular melody spring from the speakers, and I knew, right away, that this was a Paul McCartney song. And yet, it wasn’t Paul singing. The version I heard that morning was sung by Mary Hopkin, a British performer who — I later discovered after a quick Wiki search when I got home — was one of the first artists signed to Apple Records in the late 1960s.
But, “Goodbye” was written by Paul McCartney, and it’s absolutely apparent. The sentimental, yet extremely compact presentation. The melody driving everything forward. The subtle musings on “what could have been” mixed with the sweet anticipation of what’s to come. It’s all there, and it’s McCartney’s bread and butter. The thing that really blows my mind about this song is something I think about a lot when it comes to Paul — that the sheer volume of amazing songs he’s written inevitably relegates some of them to the margins. But, if this song were written by someone else, by anyone else, it would probably be that person’s best song. It’s astounding that, for a song as wonderful as “Goodbye,” McCartney has said that he has little recollection of writing it and that he wrote it for Hopkin in a great hurry, to bolster her growing success at the label.
Paul is just that extraordinary, that even his most utilitarian compositions feel like magic. That they’re so catchy, and undeniably him. And that his songs are always there to find you, at the exact right moment.
Laura Stevenson: "I Will," 1968
This is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s perfect and sweet and concise. In under two minutes, it gets everything done that it needs to and then it becomes the listener’s job to just play it over and over again to marvel at what a gem it is. I would sing this to my daughter all the time while I was pregnant with her and now, when I sing it to her before she goes to sleep, I can tell that she not only recognizes the melody, but that it lives in a special place in her heart — it’s such a gift that we can share that together, but that’s what music is all about anyway.
Ben Stidworthy (Cola): "You Won't See Me," 1965
In the winter I was asked my favorite Macca track by a Danish friend and Beatles expert. Without thinking I replied “You Won’t See Me,” but I realized I never really thought about why. Growing up, Rubber Soul was missing from the Beatles section of my family’s CD collection, so it wasn’t until I was 17 that I first heard the song from computer speakers in a downtown Portland law firm.
If you want to understand what makes the song special I have an exercise for you. Listen to the track in headphones and at 2:29 begin to sing the A note which fades in on a Hammond organ. As a tip, it’s the same note as the “oos” before the “las.” The harmonic resonance of the drone has almost the same timbre of John Lennon’s voice and it will fill your soul with the emotional yearning that this song conveys so completely. The Hammond organ drone outro is one of my favorite songwriting tricks, which I always believed I came up with myself. An act of folly but I’m quite happy to place myself within the Beatles lineage anyway. The song is ultimately a Motown-shaped breakup song with intricate falsetto vocals, but I have a chemical dependency on descending chromatic lines. Nothing pulls at my heartstrings more. You take that with a psychic three-part vocal harmony and love-themed lyrics and I’ve hit the floor. I just can’t go on, if you won’t see me…
Georgie Stott (Porridge Radio/SUEP): “Paperback Writer,” 1966
Despite many critics seeing the song as disappointing, contrived, and flashy it was the first Beatles song I loved. My dad had Abbey Road and Let It Be but not the earlier ones on vinyl, so I kind of discovered the magic of the Beatles’ earlier songs quite late in the game. Got heavily into them at college, then the love affair snowballed from there. But with “Paperback Writer” I heard it in school, and it’s such a great example of Paul’s storytelling and of the Beatles’ harmonies which, I think — you may laugh — are underrated and unfairly pitched against the Beach Boys in general, although in the case of “Paperback Writer” it is said that they modeled the harmonies on the Beach Boys. “Sloop John B” was in the charts around the same time.
John and George sing the French nursery rhyme “Frère Jacques” under Paul in the third verse — a creative move that I really relate to, bringing in somewhat nonsensical elements, especially in lyrics and vocals, to lift a tune. You can also hear them laughing in the track, which definitely brings added warmth to the single. The bassline in this song as well is such a jam, and I’ve just been reading that Paul used a Rickenbacker bass on this track, which was unusual for him at the time, and that they boosted it further by using a loudspeaker as a microphone. It really sounds so clear and good even now as I am listening out of my phone speaker!
It’s all on G until the end of the verses where it pauses on C, which to me is satisfying for sure. The video that was filmed at Chiswick house in West London depicts the band looking stony faced and bored but obviously very cool, with Paul, George, and John miming and playing guitar and Ringo just standing around, which I think was a perfect aesthetic choice instead of setting up drums and having him play. Looks way better and cheekier. I especially like how, as the video goes on, it looks like Paul is trying not to smile and laugh, making me also want to grin.
I think that some opinions that this song has potential for poignant social observation but misses that mark due to over excitement and studio effects is a trash view. I think that the jokey nature of the song makes the message digestible and more relatable, and frankly it’s just a banger that should get more credit. Not every song has to be a bang on social commentary.
Swamp Dogg: "Rocky Raccoon," 1968
Paul McCartney…………… a bitch of a songwriter! It’s close to impossible to name the songs that I feel are the greatest. So, I’m going out on a limb to rate what I think is his best compositions. First let me say, all of them are great.
I’m not kissing ass. I recorded “Lady Madonna” on my Cuffed, Collared & Tagged album in 1972 on Cream Records. It was a hit throughout the West Indies. They thought I wrote it. I didn’t tell them any different. When I do a cover, it’s because I think it’s great, and I can add another dimension. Thus, I have a recording of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” released on S-Curve. Paul wrote the shit out of that one.
“Rocky Raccoon” is my very favorite. It’s a pop song, it’s a play, it’s a cartoon, it’s a short film. It’s a motherfucker. Yes, I just recorded it in Nashville last month, using all of Nashville’s finest, and it’s looking for a Christmas home.
Kim Thayil (Soundgarden): "Blackbird," 1968
This is such an incredibly difficult task to select a favorite Paul McCartney song. I don’t believe there is a single Beatles song that I disliked, and Paul wrote many of my faves. Even his solo work and recordings with Wings produced singles and hits that, if not immediately appealing to me, I would grow to enjoy. “Blackbird” was this type of song for me. As a child, I would move the tone arm to skip over this track in favor of either a more whimsical and colorful song with a storybook narrative that appealed to my grade school sensibilities such as “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” or “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill”; or, I would gravitate to fast, loud, energetic guitar based rockers like “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,” or “Birthday.”
I would continue to love the guitar rock songs throughout my life, and those songs would also inspire me to play the guitar. “Blackbird” had a strong appeal to other guitar players that I would meet as a teen and young adult. Not me… I was probably still practicing “Birthday.” I did have a respect for the guitar part’s nod to classical musical passages. I appreciated that it also had a folk song feel to the vocals and lyrics. But, it lacked the gallop of a “Ticket To Ride” or “Day Tripper.”
Yet, “Blackbird” was always encountered by me throughout various experiences in life: love, loss, joy, sadness, worry, hope, pride, grief. It was appropriately emotive and meaningfully significant within all of these contexts and many more. This song has an unusual ability to provide depth of perspective both with internal examination, as well as offering external understanding through its flexible application as a metaphor. This song is simply beautiful musically, lyrically, sonically, and emotionally. I’ve grown into this song as much as it attached itself to me.
It shares an empathetic and inspirational tone of hope socially, especially when I reference the civil rights and voting rights issues of its day. It is still relevant to most situations where justice and fairness are lacking, but are being achieved through struggle and work. It lilts in sympathetic acknowledgement, but cheers in reassurance.
It’s a love song to a partner romantically. It’s a love song to a child in its sweetness and encouragement. It’s a love song to oneself, if you’re sourcing your strength. It’s an acknowledgement of hurt, pain, transcendence, and overcoming. It’s elegiac and mournful, and guides one towards acceptance and peace. It could be the soundtrack to a birth, graduation, marriage, or funeral. It is a “hello” and it is a “goodbye.”
All of this manages to be conveyed in under two and a half minutes with a rhythm and tempo that evokes a whistle and skip through the sunshine. But, the melody is melancholic and when coupled with the song’s motion it somehow becomes a lullaby. This is unusual and impressive in how it achieves so much with concision in its arrangement and instrumentation.
“Blackbird” is amazing to me in its mystery, beauty, depth, simplicity, and timelessness. It is not merely one of Paul McCartney’s best, nor one of the Beatles’ greatest… It is one of the greatest songs of any place at any time.
Richard Thompson: "Penny Lane," 1967
“Penny Lane” is a remarkable song, musically and lyrically. It has the notorious key change for the chorus, which goes down to go up, but it’s so natural that you don’t notice how clever it is. It has the melodic and not obvious Sgt. Pepper-era bassline, a strong chorus, and the stroke of arranging genius of the Bach trumpet. The lyrics are very visual, and create a little three-minute drama, an enclosed world of vivid characters that bleed out of the edges of the song into surrealism. It seems less like the real Penny Lane, and more like a remembered dream. I’m not sure there is a true antecedent for all the remarkable threads that come together to make this recording.
George Thorogood: "I'm Down," 1965
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but the Beatles pulled it off. With “I’m Down,” I think they matched Little Richard and Elvis Presley. They may have even surpassed them. That was their goal to begin with. They knew what they were going to be. They were supercharged to be bigger than Elvis Presley. They were going to the biggest thing that ever hit rock. They achieved that. That song, when I heard it, I said, “This is the one song Little Richard didn’t do but should’ve done, this is the one song Elvis Presley didn’t do but should’ve done.” And it was almost like the Beatles said, “OK, you wanna see how this is done? This is how it’s done.” And they did it.
I saw them do it on television. I think they were playing live from Shea Stadium. I will say this: the genius Brian Epstein had when he put the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. They worked really hard to get there. They worked hours and hours for two or three days before they went on air to make it absolutely perfect. They thought, “This is our shot and we’re gonna go for it.” The smartest thing you can do on television is, for the first song, you put the best-looking guy in the band out first so no one will turn it off. When Paul McCartney went up to the microphone on the Ed Sullivan Show and he sang “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you” — at that point, the whole world changed. The next song they did was “Till There Was You” from The Music Man. That won over the adults. It was something more conventional. In that brief period of about six minutes, the Beatles had won over the world. They got all the teenagers with the first song, and all the adults with the second. That wasn’t by accident, I’m sure.
Since that day, Sir Paul McCartney has been a master of planning out what he does for his career. You don’t get up to the top of the Empire State Building by luck. You don’t get up there by accident. And you don’t stay up there just by being lucky. One thing I love about when I go see Sir Paul: I get as close to the stage as I can, because he still has a look in his eye like he’s still in Hamburg. He still has that Beatle edge they were pushing for when they were just really discovering themselves. That hunger, that eagerness, is still part of Paul’s act. I’ve never met him. The first record I ever had was called Meet The Beatles, and I’ve wanted to meet him ever since. Sir Paul, if you’re reading, just give me a handshake and hello and my life will be complete.
I was trying to do an algebra problem in my bedroom and on the radio came a song called “She Loves You.” My sister was on the phone down the hall and she said, “Hey George, turn that song up!” That was the first time I think my sister ever spoke to me. I listened to it. After the song was over, I closed my textbook, and I never opened up another one again.
I’m going to speak for the youth of America around ’67 or ’68. I’m from northern Delaware. A very conservative place. There were a handful of guys who had shoulder-length hair, and I was one of them. There were only a handful of girls who cared for that sort of thing, so it was a small group. At that time, our life was all about the music that was happening. We never talked about anything else. We never talked about sports, politics, girls, booze, drugs, anything. All we talked about was the music. Every day there was a new band coming up. The Who, the Doors, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, one after another. That was our whole world, and the center of that world was the Beatles. They were what the whole thing revolved around. Everybody knows that. If I dare say, they were the Babe Ruth of rock ’n’ roll. They changed it forever. Everything gets compared to the Beatles. McCartney’s going to make sure nobody ever catches those guys. Every time I go out to see him, he’s better than the last time. He’s going to make sure those songs live forever. And they will.
As told to Stereogum
Tomberlin: "Waterfalls," 1980
The melody is so addicting. I hadn’t heard that song until a year or two ago. When I heard it, it was just instantly stuck in my head. It’s like a recurring dream. The melody in particular gets stuck in my head at random points, which is nice because it’s very lovely. It’s very simple but the song is so melodramatic. The addictiveness is why I love it. I’m a big lyric person, too, so it’s funny because I feel like there are a ton more beautifully written Paul McCartney songs. Not that this one isn’t still beautiful lyric-wise, but it’s the melody for me.
I think my friend put “Waterfalls” on a playlist I was listening to. I had it playing when I was cleaning my room or something, and I just stopped what I was doing like, “What is this?” I knew it was Paul McCartney’s voice. But I was like, “Where did this come from?” Then I listened to the whole record.
The Beatles have such an expansive catalogue. I didn’t even listen to the White Album until I was on the Pedro The Lion tour. Dave [Bazan] and I were talking about the Beatles and he said something about the White Album and I was like, “Weirdly, I haven’t listened to it” and he was like, “What the fuck!?” There’s just so much. I get addicted to something and I burn it out and I move on to the next thing. I just started listening to the George Harrison solo records this past year too. It’s a joyful thing. I don’t feel in a rush to do it all at once. I want to maintain the joy of discovery. I feel happy discovering “Waterfalls” a year or two ago. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
I bought Help! and Abbey Road and 1 at Wal-Mart when I was 13. That was when I started to get into quote-unquote “secular” music. I had a Beatles poster and Beatles shirt. That was my first band stuff I remember buying that wasn’t Christian. I was listening CCM music, Christian Contemporary Music. Then I was listening to those Beatles records, and they’re screaming basically. It’s definitely about having sex and all these things, but it’s masked in this 1960s vibe of “We’re saying it but we’re not really saying it.” Your parents are down with it because, of course, it’s the Beatles. You’re allowed to listen to this. For some reason it slides and other stuff doesn’t. It was just something to sink into. I have two sisters and we would play it in the car, we’d play it at home. Those melodies, they seem so simple. It’s like anyone could’ve written it, but also no. It’s like Jackson Pollock, where people are like, “I can paint that.” But you didn’t, and you can’t.
As told to Stereogum
Steven Van Zandt: "We Can Work It Out," 1965
I love the fact that it was maybe one of the last things he and John did. I know John worked on the bridge, and I learned from reading Paul’s lyrics book that George suggested the three-quarter waltz time in the bridge. It’s a wonderful combination of those three guys, and of course Ringo as well. It’s something for me that’s sentimental as well as being a great composition. The quality of his voice was just spectacular on a couple of songs around that time. This, “The Night Before,” and “Another Girl.” Maybe it was a different microphone, or whatever he’d been doing that day or night. I love those pre-synthesizer keyboards, too; they had their own personality.
The Beatles were the beginning of my life. I was just drifting around searching for my identity, as one does when you’re young. I was not particularly attracted to any of the options I was offered. No interest in college or military or sports. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. When they appeared Feb. 9, 1964 on a variety show that the whole family would watch on the only TV in the house, it was the introduction of a whole new world. The Beatles were extraordinary. By the time we were introduced to them they were halfway through their career and supremely sophisticated. Everything about them was perfect — the hair, the clothes. The songwriting had gone to a new level by then. They introduced this new world that I desperately needed. They literally saved my life in that sense. Then four months later the Rolling Stones come play another variety show, Hollywood Palace, and they’re more casual, they’re wearing what they feel like. Their hair’s not perfect — except for Brian Jones. They made it look easier than it was. They were sort of the first punk band. The Beatles introduced us to this new world, and the Rolling Stones invited us in.
The Beatles were the first British band that led the way for everyone that followed, and introduced the concept of a band. That was a new idea for us. You didn’t see four or five guys playing and singing. If you went to your high school dance, it was an instrumental group. I missed the ‘50s, so I didn’t know who the Crickets were at that time. Most of them were Somebody And The Somebodies. But the Beatles introduced a new communication to us. It’s what made me want to do it. I wasn’t interested in show business. I wasn’t interested in standing in the spotlight. But this wasn’t about me-me-me as most of the artists were. This was us. This was the gang, the team. That was friendship, community. That’s what attracted me. I wasn’t interested in any individual, ever — other than Bob Dylan. Everything else is a band, for me.
My relationship to his solo stuff is an entirely different thing. By the time the ’70s came, I had all the input I needed for five lifetimes. I wasn’t looking for input. I began that process of really developing my own style and my own career. Finding my way as a producer, as an arranger. The ’60s was all I needed honestly. I’d tune in now and then, but I wasn’t making it a point to study all the solo stuff — that’s true of all their solo records. For me, it was always the band thing that mattered the most and which stimulated my interest.
You’d catch great stuff along the way. He was doing terrific things all along. Not a lot of Paul’s stuff is overlooked, but there’s one song from a video game called “Hope For The Future.” I imagine it’s a song a lot of people haven’t heard. It’s from a game called Destiny, so if you’re a gamer you might’ve heard it — but most of my generation probably hasn’t. I think it’s an extraordinary song. I think it’s one of his best songs ever.
When you meet him, you just have to think of him as a fellow musician. You have to really compartmentalize. Put aside the fact that it was the first album you ever bought, how important he was to your life. I met him briefly at the Hall Of Fame, I think when we were inducted. He came onstage with the E Street Band in Hyde Park, which was quite thrilling — right up until they pulled the plug on us. Paul invited me and Bruce onstage with him at his show at Madison Square Garden.
But one of the great moments of my life is when he came onstage with me and my band, the Disciples Of Soul. It was arguably the greatest moment of my life. For him to endorse my music and come and compliment my band is a whole different thing. It’s in a club. It’s not a big deal. I’m not that famous, my band is not famous, we’re not some big success. We’re a bar band on the road, really. For him to come onstage with no rehearsal, completely trusting me. Luckily, just in case, I’d prepared a Little Richard version of “I Saw Her Standing There” by the chance that he might come onstage. On he came. He had seen the whole show, sat with his wife and my wife. He was enjoying it so much he wanted to come on with us. What an incredible thrill. It was full circle for me. Absolute closure. That’s why I ended my book there — basically, I start and end it with the Beatles. It really feels like that. It feels like I don’t need to do much else. I’m good.
As told to Stereogum
Laura Veirs: "Blackbird," 1968
“Blackbird” holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first song that my brother Scott taught me to play on guitar when I was 18 years old. It’s a pretty ambitious first song to learn and it set me on the path towards becoming a person very interested in and excited by finger style guitar. Despite the relative simplicity of the words and the music there are surprises and depth in both (not everyone may know Paul wrote the lyrics inspired by the Black liberation protests in the US). The structure of the song is unusual and there is a cool intensity to the double vox choruses. It’s also wonderful when someone can write a song that holds up so beautifully with just a guitar and voice — Paul is a master of this. I’m happy my brother chose this song to get me started!
Kurt Vile: "Martha My Dear," 1968
When I was in Boston in 2003, the Beatles were my favorite band. At the time, Paul was my favorite Beatle. I like the pop sensibility he has. Songs like “Junk,” you first hear it on the anthology and those kinds of things creep up. I got his first solo record just to find “Junk” on there. Band On The Run, I’ve been listening to that lately — that song with the piano, “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five.” For me, he’s undeniable.
“Martha My Dear,” that’s the most beautiful polished pop song. Turns out it’s about his dog, you know? The way he plays the piano, it’s so in the pocket, so melodic. The bridge, where he says “Take a good look around you,” and that guitar and horn section stabs in — sublime. If I had to say, his best song is “Martha My Dear.” That’s the first album that grabbed me fully. That was the gateway. I had Beatles CDs as gifts from friends, Rubber Soul or whatever. But once I got into the White Album, that was the gateway for them becoming my favorite band for sure.
As told to Stereogum
Diane Warren: "She's Leaving Home," 1967
I have so many favorites it’s hard to choose one. But I picked one for an interesting reason: “She’s Leaving Home.” I remember running away from home and writing out the lyrics. It was such a picture, that song. You could just see this unhappy girl running away from home. It was almost like watching a movie, the way it was written. I ran away from a home a couple times. I was probably 13 or something. I wanted to almost literally live out what that song was saying — leaving a note at the top of the stairs, even though we didn’t have stairs. I listen to it again, and the craft of that song is phenomenal. The way he used words, aside from the melody being genius. The alliteration.
Like millions of other kids, I remember seeing them on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was like lightning. I made my mom buy me Meet The Beatles the next day, I think it’s the first album I ever had. I think the whole world went out and bought a Beatles album as soon as the sun came up that next day. I have two older sisters — I got to see the Beatles twice in concert when I was little, at the Hollywood Bowl and Dodgers Stadium. That was a pretty lucky thing, right?
The Beatles were a huge influence on me musically. When I started learning guitar, teaching myself basically — my dad told me I had no future in music because I didn’t want to learn scales. I was too busy learning Beatles songs and trying to make up my own.
The coolest thing that ever happened to me is that Ringo asked me for a song and I did “Here’s To The Nights,” which he and Paul McCartney are on. I have two Beatles on a song of mine. The shutdown had already happened, it was in 2020. I’d done a song with Ringo before, years ago. He asked me for one again, and I had this song called “Here’s To The Nights” that I always thought was this great singalong, just in my catalogue. I thought, “What if it’s Ringo with his old and new friends.” My whole thing was I wanted Paul McCartney on this. He went to Paul and Paul was the first person to say yes. Then Joe Walsh and Chris Stapleton and Lenny Kravitz, the Black Pumas. It’s great they’re all on there, but I thought two names in my mind. There’s a video with Paul and Ringo singing together. I pinch myself, still. What can be cooler than that? Two Beatles were harmonizing on a song I wrote. It’s full circle. There’s still the little kid in me that goes, “Fuck, the Beatles are on my song, what the fuck!?”
As told to Stereogum
Joe White (Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever): "Oh! Darling," 1969
It’s connected to an old memory of my first car and having Abbey Road on the CD player. Just driving around my old suburb with it absolutely cranked. There’s lots of good Paul McCartney songs on that record, but “Oh! Darling” — you could really get busted by someone you knew if you were singing along to this song at the top of your voice driving around, really trying to hit all those notes. He’s an incredible rock ’n’ roll singer. He’s good at everything, obviously. But maybe his voice is one of those things people don’t talk about as much. His range, he’s so diverse in how he can use his voice. “Oh! Darling” is just a big belting soul song. Songs like “Back In The U.S.S.R.” or “Helter Skelter,” he uses that big rock voice and it’s epic. If he was in a punk band he might only use that voice and it might get a bit old. But because he pulls it out now and then, it’s awesome.
As told to Stereogum
Nancy Wilson (Heart): "Tug Of War," 1982
I’m completely happy to be asked about my favorite Paul McCartney song. However, the only problem here is that there are way way way WAY too many insanely amazing songs to try narrowing it down to only one. All this greatness!
Now I ask you. How do you compare “Fool On The Hill” to “Let It Be” or “Hey Jude”? “Love In Song” to “Blackbird” or “Martha My Dear”? “Maybe I’m Amazed” to “Let Me Roll It” or “Here Today”? And the faves just keep on coming! It’s unreal. These songs are locked into the DNA of my own cellular memory. Like my own skin. I think that’s true for more than just my generation.
But with one arm tied behind my back, I could be tricked into picking a single moment in time that brought me to tears the first time I ever heard track one of Tug Of War. It was Paul’s lead song on the Tug Of War release after his beloved John had been murdered. It was like a deep global emotional sigh to hear Paul return wounded yet victorious with this beautiful album and title song. You truly felt his grief and could hear him fighting his way back to himself in a brave new chapter of his life. It was so wonderful that he had Linda there to help get him through possibly the greatest loss of his life much before he lost her too.
I was lucky enough to see Wings live at the Seattle Superdome in the late ’70s and it was one of the best top five openings of a rock show I’ve still ever seen. Out of the blackness came the intro to “Venus And Mars.” When the song kicked in, the lights went up to reveal a million bubbles floating down like snow through the giant atmosphere. I took that concept along for the Love Alive Heart tour in 2019. The bubbles floated in the atmosphere to announce the encore and it was always a magical moment in our show.
Every Paul show has been unforgettable and transcendent. I was lucky to see his current lineup now three times including at the Oakland Coliseum just this past Mother’s Day. What a gift! He brought an incredible brass section and world class stage production. Though I was hoping for bubbles he projected a large image of John from the rooftop Beatles concert singing “I’ve Gotta Feeling” and proceeded do a “duet” with John from the stage.
I was super lucky to see the Beatles in 1966 at the Seattle Coliseum with our all-girl high school band. It was insanely exciting. We’d coerced our mom to sew uniforms that matched the Beatles uniforms. We were the only four girls not screaming. Instead we were taking notes and intently studying them through binoculars.
In my humble view, the creative input of Paul’s expansive musical work given to the world, with his encyclopedia of incredibly timeless songs, can be summed up as nothing short of genius.
Kelly Zutrau (Wet): "Arrow Through Me," 1979
I discovered it a couple years ago on tour. We were touring with the band Ink, and the bassist Daniel was like, “This is the best song,” and put it on. It made me think of Paul McCartney differently. It’s just this funky, fun song. It starts with a great bassline. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated him more and more as a songwriter. I know he’s an obvious, great songwriter, and I think for that reason sometimes I didn’t do a deep dive. It’s just like, “Yeah, OK, the Beatles.” It was obviously groundbreaking at the time, but you hear it so much that you’re seeking out different stuff. But then as I got older, I really learned to appreciate him as a master of the craft.
I went through a bit of a phase, just realizing how much music he put out. The Beatles, under his own name, with Wings — he’s so prolific. Wings is a different sound from the Beatles, from what I knew as a younger person. It’s funny, “Arrow Through Me” almost reminded me of Thundercat’s “Them Changes” at the time — just such a good piano and chiming piano and synths. It felt timeless to me.
I also remember when “FourFiveSeconds” came out, thinking that was such a simple and good song. How stripped-down it was. Hearing a song he wrote with Rihanna and Kanye with an acoustic guitar — that was also refreshing, that also reframed him for me. Hearing it sung by relevant, new, popular people who aren’t old white people. It was an interesting lens. Like, oh, yeah, he is a legend.
As told to Stereogum
Listen to a playlist of everyone’s picks on Qobuz.