Paul McCartney: The Beatles wrote memorable songs ‘because we had to remember them’

‘McCartney 3, 2, 1’ explains why the early Beatles tunes were so supernaturally hummable

Rick Rubin and Paul McCartney

Rick Rubin and Paul McCartney

 

Paul McCartney has been making the most of lockdown. First he recorded the third in his trilogy of “McCartney” albums. Then he arranged for famous friends such as St Vincent and Beck to remix the LP. And now, here he is on McCartney 3,2,1 (Disney +, Wednesday), mucking about with super-producer Rick Rubin and talking, with undisguised enthusiasm, about the glory years of The Beatles.

At 79, McCartney’s effervescence is remarkable. He is surely fed up with questions about his humble upbringing in Liverpool. His early days playing with John Lennon. His relationship with unofficial younger brother, George Harrison. These are anecdotes that must haunt his dreams. 

But no – he can’t get enough of it. It helps that on McCartney 3, 2, 1 he has an opportunity to nerd out. He is “in conversation” with producer and hit-maker Rubin in six 30 minute episodes – though in reality they’re just larking about together in a studio. And this proves the best possible environment in which to get the most out of Macca.  

Rubin is one music’s ultimate “song doctors” . He masterminded the early success of the Beastie Boys and presided over the autumnal reinvention of Johnny Cash. Clearly he’s a Beatles nut, too. And the fanboy within surges to the surface as McCartney, with puppy-like eagerness, bashes a piano and mimes along to Ringo’s drums. 

The grand concept is that the duo are breaking down some of McCartney’s greatest smashes – Beatles and otherwise – at a mixing desk. And there are some genuine insights into the Macca process. Those early Beatles scorchers were supernaturally hummable for a very specific reason, says McCartney.

“We were writing songs that were memorable, not because we wanted them to be memorable but because we had to remember them,” says McCartney. “It was very practical.”

Rubin is an expert but he isn’t a music bore. This becomes obvious as they break down While My Guitar Gently Weeps. There are, Rubin observes, two songs unfolding. Harrison and his friend Eric Clapton are engaged in a psychedelic wig-out. Then Rubin isolates McCartney’s bass and it sounds like proto-heavy metal or an early version of the White Stripes’s Seven Nation Army riff. 

“I’ve never heard a bass sound like that before,” Rubin exclaims. “Very unusual … Almost like two songs happening simultaneously … either one great. And then, right on top of each other.”

McCartney 3, 2, 1 is filmed in slightly pretentious black and white. It’s an unnecessary flourish. And yet it doesn’t matter. McCartney and Rubin’s ebullience comes through in gleaming Technicolour in a documentary that is absolutely fabulous from beginning to end.