Paul McCartney was booked to headline Glastonbury Festival in 2020. At The Barrier was honoured to be asked to be a judge for this years Emerging Talent Competition for the festival. Sadly, the festival has been postponed, but there was still plenty of chat over the headliners, as always.
As a part of the pop group Portable Radio, ‘Mof’ runs Wilderness Records in Manchester and after a chat at this fine establishment, we were discussing Paul McCartney’s scheduled headline slot at Glastonbury 2020. It was clear who his favourite Beatle was. So…we invited him to put pen to paper/finger to key, and tell us why Paul McCartney, Macca, is the greatest.
Originally, this piece was going to be called ‘In Defence of Macca’, but honestly, a Beatle doesn’t really need the help do they?
That said, there’s been an uptick in anti-Beatle sentiments amongst the oh-so-hip, who like most people who think they’re too cool for school, prefer to slag off a band they could quite easily not listen to rather than hype up the bands they do like. Of course, those very bands they could be talking up have virtues that are absolutely indebted to the Fab Four, as they laid the foundations for pretty much all of alternative rock and pop.
We could go into the debt the Beatles’ have to ‘50s R&B acts and girl groups, but that’s another chat – but there’s absolutely no doubt that all of our favourite bands post-Fabs, exist in a landscape that was largely created by those four lads from Liverpool.
With that, we know George is the coolest Beatle, Ringo the daftest, and John the one you like most when you’re a teenager but we’re here to talk about Macca, and why he’s the greatest.
Over the years, we’ve seen McCartney derided for a host of things – his activism, his part in breaking up The Beatles, his sentimentality, and more. However, the naysayers have him all wrong.
Let’s start with his Beatle-work; Paul McCartney was the primary creative force in the Fab Four, lifting the other member’s tracks from good to great, as well as going off on his own and making masterpieces all by himself while still in the band. The other member’s input into songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Yesterday’, and ‘Blackbird’ are trace.
That’s not to diminish the other members’ input when they did get a look in, but if you’ve heard the demo of John’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ before Paul and his tape-loops got involved, you’ll realise that Macca is so bursting with ideas, that he’s afforded the chance to be as generous as musician as he is a talent.
While the band pouted about having to tour in the face of a legion of screaming fans, it was Paul who went away and came up with the idea of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – which just so happens to be one of the most significant cultural moments in human history. While the band got married, got into smack, got jaded and started being depressed about what it means to be a Beatle, Macca pushed for the fans to get a look into the inner-workings of the group with ‘Let It Be’. Sure, it was ugly, but they still put it out. The narrative that surrounds the film is that of Paul trying to mother and harangue the rest of the lads, but the reality is, that the group were floundering and bored, and Paul was there to try and inject some creativity into proceedings.
That’s because, above all, Paul McCartney just can’t stop his love of pop music. Post Beatles, John made some decent records, but never hit the road, and famously had a ‘lost weekend’ with Harry Nilsson, before half sacking everything off to be a dad and make amends spiritually for his wayward ways as a young man. George again, made some LPs and basically invented the charity concert when raising money for Bangladesh, but he was more into paying for Monty Python films and doing his house up. And Ringo went into acting and gave us the fabulous ‘Don’t Come Easy’, before evaporating into a meme with his whole “peace and love” schtick.
Now, to Macca.
He was the person coming up with the movie ideas, the documentaries, the idea that a band at the height of their popularity could just stop touring, and therefore make the studio itself one of the instruments a band could employ, rather than a mere thing to capture the sound of a band playing live.
When he moved into solo work and his band Wings (“the band The Beatles could’ve been”, A. Partridge), his creativity continued unabated. His life, still largely private, wasn’t without incident – his drug bust in Japan, his family turning the world onto vegetarian food, film scores, the best Bond theme, massive tour after massive tour, and hits in each decade since the Fabs split. Even his ‘Frog Chorus’ isn’t bad, when you consider it’s meant for 7-year-old kids, not boneheaded know-it-alls who think children should be listening to the Velvet Underground for some ‘real’ musical education.
And all of this, recorded under a cloud of weed smoke that would make Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson blush.
So regularly stoned out of his mind, you can hear through McCartney’s solo work, just how distracted his brilliant mind is. If you listen to ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ from the ultimate Shed Pop album, ‘Ram’, you can see Macca glorious way with a tangent. Like some kid in class distracted by a squirrel outside, one of life’s great joys is Macca being distracted and messing around in the studio.
While great songwriting is always at the core of everything McCartney does, he has never been afraid to use the studio at the forefront of what he does – a man who can experiment, but still have a hit. ‘Temporary Secretary’ was light years ahead of the game with the use of proto acid arpeggiators, and that production would end up in something easier on the ear.
And when he’s in classic Macca mode, he’s casually knocking out absolute jaw-droppers like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and ‘My Love’, before having smashes with Rihanna, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Stevie Wonder, and Elvis Costello.
Even with his latest release ‘Egypt Station’, Macca had another hit on his hands when he had no right in doing so.
He’s gone through folk, bedroom DIY music, disco, swing, blistering rock ‘n’ roll, ballads, funk, cod-reggae, AOR gems and everything else besides.
Focusing on the hits is not where Paul McCartney’s true joy lies – speak to any Maccahead, and they’ll start foaming on about songs like the gonzo ‘Monkberry Moon’, or the supremely Balearic ‘Secret Friend’ and ‘Check My Machine’, or the gorgeous ‘Jenny Wren’.
Add to all this, the secret projects like ‘The Fireman’ and the wonderfully odd Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington project (a whole other essay on that, here).
What’s the Fireman? That’s Paul making electronic ambient music with Orb-associate Youth (listen to the ‘Rushes’ LP), which is no surprise to fans of Paul, who has been involved with avant-garde music and art-school stuff since the ‘60s. Under his own name, he released the ‘Liverpool Sound Collage’ project, bending electronics out of shape and working with the Super Furry Animals… and there’s still stuff in the can.
With the Beatles, Macca recorded ‘Carnival of Light’, which was commissioned for the brilliantly named ‘Million Volt Light And Sound Rave’ and the Roundhouse in London. Tape loops, noise, backwards ambient stuff, echo-laden field recording weirdness, and a full year before the world would hear ‘Revolution #9’ on the White Album. Macca was the creative sparks and, yep, he’s still got the tapes of it at home.
Whether he’s pottering around making solo LPs that flit from song-to-song, or getting the orchestras out to smack everyone into the sun, there’s a pure joy in pop music that Macca has always had and never lost. The melancholy that runs through his music is the perfect antidote to the blokey, boorish nonsense that blights so many of his peers. His willingness to roll-the-dice and experiment is a refreshing change from the usual ‘we’re still basing all of our music on 12-bar blues’ that so many legends fall into.
Underpinning all of this, Paul isn’t afraid of being a berk. If you go to YouTube, and search for “Paul McCartney Mashed Potatoes”, you can watch a mulleted Macca talking to an oven glove while showing you how he makes his favourite mash. Can you imagine a po-faced Lennon doing something like that, if he were still alive? Absolutely not. Is it a good thing? Course it is!
That’s because, despite being one of the most famous humans who has ever lived, a man with unimaginable pressure on his shoulders, a man who has been in the spotlight for far longer than he was ever out of it, he’s managed to remain self-effacing and not take himself too seriously. You’d expect it of someone like his pal Jeff Lynne who invariably doesn’t get recognised and gasped at every day of his life, but Macca? A Beatle? It really is remarkable that he has not only come through all of this relatively unscathed, but with optimism and a laugh in his throat, especially when you look at what lengthy fame has done to others.
Not bad for someone who is supposed to have died in the ‘60s, eh? You see, that’s another string in Macca’s bow is that he’s the catalyst for the greatest pop conspiracy theory ever, with devotees to the story piecing together all manner of ‘evidence’ that Macca was replaced with a lookalike, and to make matters even better, Paul started planting his own evidence to keep them all entertained.
Of course, not everything Paul touches has been golden, but show me an artist with a perfect back catalogue, and I’ll call you a liar. If his biggest crime is that he’s been a bit too in-love with his wife, that it has resulted in a bit of saccharine, then that’s on the cynical listener, not on our Paul.
When Paul McCartney finally shuffles off his mortal coil, there should be a national day of mourning, so that those who never got him can reappraise him, and realise that in fact, all the Maccaheads were right – he is the greatest to ever do it.
Many thanks to Mof for his time in writing for us. Mof has also curated a hefty Paul McCartney playlist which you can access below.