From ‘Yesterday’ to Today
What’s Paul McCartney’s favorite Paul McCartney song?
“The obvious choice is ‘Yesterday’ because it’s (my) biggest song ever,” the former Beatle says on page eight of a 100-page retrospective program that’s given free to everyone who attends concerts on his current world tour.
“(But) . . . ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ is another one I love. And ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Fool on the Hill,’ ‘Let It Be.’ ”
These remarks suggested that McCartney might be the exception to the rule that songwriters hate to nominate their favorites from their own songbooks. But when it came down to it, McCartney proved as elusive as most writers who have been asked to do so. He even suggested that his choice of “Yesterday” in the program is subject to revision.
“The thing is,” he said in an interview the day after his fourth and last Amsterdam concert, “your feelings change a lot.”
While declining to supply his own list, McCartney did agree to react to a list of my 10 favorite McCartney songs.
Though McCartney and John Lennon shared writing credit during the Beatles days, most of the classic Lennon/McCartney numbers were the work primarily of one writer.
My 10 favorite McCartney songs--drawn from both his Beatles period and subsequent solo days--are listed chronologically with his comments.
‘All My Loving’
Though never a hit single in America, the song--from the Beatles’ 1964 debut album, “Meet the Beatles”--was one of the four tunes the group performed during its first Ed Sullivan TV show appearance that year.
“Most people probably wouldn’t put this one on a list of 10, but it is special for me. I remember writing the words on a tour bus and when we got to the gig, I found a piano and put a bit of a tune to it. When we got to the studio, one of the guys--John or George--had a great idea to do that danga-da-danga thing on the guitar and it worked great.”
Probably the most successful ballad of the rock era, the song was No. 1 for four weeks in the U.S. in 1965 and has since been recorded by more than 2,500 artists, from Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles to Marvin Gaye.
“It’s got to be right near the top for me. The strange thing is that I actually did dream it--and I know people always kinda raise their eyebrows when I say this. But that’s really what happened. I used to go out to cabarets a lot at night after shows because it was hard for me to go right to sleep. I’d listen to music, have a meal and have a drink because it helped calm me down. And one morning, I just woke up and the melody was in my head. For a while, the only lyrics I had were . . . ‘Scrambled eggs / I love your legs.’ But I knew it was a more serious song than that and it eventually evolved into ‘Yesterday’. “
From 1966’s “Revolver” album, the melancholy song was the flip side of the “Yellow Submarine” single, but attracted enough radio exposure to climb to No. 11 on the U.S. charts.
“I think it is one of my best songs. It reminds me of the time I tried to take piano lessons. I was already in the Beatles, but I thought it would be cool or have some formal music training. I had taken lessons twice before, but never went very far with it. Around the same time, I wrote the melody for ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and played it for the teacher, but he just blanked it (went right past it). But I liked the tune and later wrote the words.
“The first thing that came out was this image of a wedding and the rice on the ground, and that led to this woman who picked it up--and the rest of the song just proceeded from there . . . the loneliness in the people’s lives. That’s the way it happens a lot of times. The first line often tells you where to proceed.”
The “A” side of one of the Beatles’ most remarkable singles (the “B” side was Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever”). The song went to No. 1 on the U.S. charts in 1967.
“That’s about Liverpool . . . a bus depot near where I used to live--which you should know if you’ve read your Beatles mythology. Beatles fans are now always stopping by Penny Lane to take pictures of the place, but I used to actually stand there as a kid, waiting for a bus in the rain. It’s been fascinating to me how a place that was just a part of your own life can be used to relate to so many other people. I guess we all remember special places in our childhood.”
‘The Fool on the Hill”
Though this track from 1967’s “Magical Mystery Tour” album was never released as a single, it was such an FM-radio hit that it remains one of the Beatles’ best-known works.
“It’s something I wrote at my dad’s house at Liverpool one weekend. It’s good to do it in the concert now because I enjoy the way it seems to reflect the spirit of the ‘60s. I sense it having a great relevancy at this point in time because a lot of the ideals of that period seem to be coming to pass. . . . The Berlin Wall coming down . . . the events in China . . . the interest in protecting the environment. That’s what we’re are trying to do with the concert program-draw attention to environmental issues. There’s even a coupon, so that you can join or get information about Friends of the Earth. All that started in the ‘60s. There were liberals before that, but it seemed to galvanize then.”
The most successful of all Beatles singles, “Hey Jude” spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. charts in the fall of 1968. Lennon once described it as McCartney’s best song.
“The more we go through this, the more I think Dylan was right when he said all your songs are like your children. I understand why fans want to know what is really your fave, but the truth there are things I like equally about all the songs you’ve mentioned, but I feel like I’m going to come across as stuck on myself if I keep saying, ‘Yeah, I really like that one too.’
“Of the songs so far, ‘All My Loving’ is probably not as good a song as the later ones, but it still means a lot to me. The thing is, you never know at the time you are writing a song just how much it will mean, either to you or other people. The songs have a strange way of taking on a life of their own--and it’s amazing to watch how they grow. ‘Hey Jude’ has been one of the most amazing.”
‘Let It Be’
A No. 1 song in 1970, “Let It Be” was also the title tune of a film that documented the tension among the four Beatles during the group’s final days.
“People sometimes ask if the song has painful memories for me because of what was happening at the time, but it doesn’t at all. Time is a wonderful healer. The painful memories fade quickly. Like a bad holiday, you tend to remember the best things.”
‘Maybe I’m Amazed’
The first song on the list from McCartney’s post-Beatles period, the 1970 tune was on McCartney’s solo album debut.
“It’s a very sort of basic, honest song about me and Linda getting together in the early days . . . a documentary of how I felt.”
‘Put It There’
A gentle expression of love from a father to a son that is on McCartney’s latest album, “Flowers in the Dirt,” and adds a touch of intimacy and warmth to the concerts.
“This choice does surprise me a bit because I can see that it might be considered just a nothing song unless you are someone who has had a kid--or can relate to that experience--or unless you are someone who liked your father.
“The chorus (‘Put it there if it weighs a ton . . . / That’s what a father said to his young son / As long as you and I are here, put it there”) is what my father, who is now dead, used to say to me. The thing the song always reminds me of is how very fragile life is--and how it’s important to let the people who are important to you know how you feel about them.”
Another song from “Flowers in the Dirt,” this song is a warm statement of romantic devotion.
“Another surprise. It’s another very personal song, which seems to be one factor in common with most of the songs you’ve picked--and it’s sometimes hard to talk about things that are personal. That’s why you put them into a song. ‘This One’ is about relationships. If you love someone, you want to be really great for them. But I don’t know hardly anyone who pulls it off all the time--certainly not me. I can be great for like a week, but then I bum out and blow it. This is about trying to explain how you wish you could always be. It’s about your best impulse.”
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