Monday, June 18, 2012

Paul McCartney at 70: Honoring His Musical Legacy

Today, Monday June 18th, 2012, is Paul McCartney's 70th birthday. Paul McCartney is my favorite musician of all time, of any genre. He is the most successful songwriter in history, one of the greatest bass players of all time (probably second only to John Entwistle), and a member of the greatest band of all time, the Beatles. With John Lennon, he formed the greatest songwriting team ever.

Recently, Rolling Stone Magazine listed their top 500 albums of all time. The Beatles have four albums in the top 10 of all time, including Sgt. Pepper at #1. Eleven of their thirteen albums made the list, a testimony to the greatness not only of the Beatles as a band, but to Lennon and McCartney as a songwriting team. Paul's Band on the Run also made the list.

Paul McCartney has written some of the most memorable music of all time. Although Lennon-McCartney were a team, they wrote most of their songs separately, sometimes with small contributions from the other partner. So songs like In My Life, Strawberry Fields Forever, Help!, Don't Let Me Down, I am the Walrus, are identified with John Lennon, and songs like Hey Jude, Let it Be, Yesterday, Michelle, the Long and Winding Road, are identified with Paul McCartney. Some songs, such as We Can Work it Out, are a product of the songwriting partners sticking two separate songs together; its considered a Paul song, but John wrote the bridge.

The Beatles had 20 number one songs on the billboard charts, all Lennon-McCartney compositions (Something by George was a double A-side along with Come Together by John). Paul's Yesterday is the most recorded song of all time.
Paul as a solo artist and with Wings enjoyed another nine number one songs. Paul's band Wings had the second most top ten singles in the 1970's, with only Elton John having more (27 to 26). When Paul goes on tour, he has an amazingly strong and expansive catalog to draw from. He has not only all the Beatle classics, but solo and Wings classics like Maybe I'm Amazed, Band On the Run, Jet, Coming Up, Venus and Mars/Rock Show, and many others. Paul cannot even include all his classic hits on each tour. I have all his live albums, and although there are a core group of songs that show up on each one, there is vastly different song list in total for each tour and live album.

The Wikipedia article on Paul McCartney neatly and concisely summarizes Paul's objective success as a song writer by the numbers: "McCartney has been described by Guinness World Records as the "most successful composer and recording artist of all time", with 60 gold discs and sales of over 100 million albums and 100 million singles, and "the most successful songwriter" in UK chart history. His Beatles song "Yesterday" has been covered by over 2,200 artists—more than any other song in the history of recorded music. Wings' 1977 release "Mull of Kintyre", co-written with Laine, was one of the best-selling singles ever in the UK. He has written or co-written thirty-one songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and as of 2012 he has sold over 15.5 million RIAA-certified units in the United States."

In my view Paul McCartney has made some of his best music in his golden years. At a time when many artist would be retired or doing a modicum of work, Paul is still selling out stadiums, releasing top 10 albums and receiving gold and platinum certifications for CDs and DVDs. I think some of his recent albums, such as Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, rank among his best.

A recent U.K. Guardian article criticized Paul for honoring the Queen, and not being more socially conscious with his songwriting. But I say nonsense. Paul has written social conscious material (Give Ireland Back to the Irish, Looking for Changes, How Many People?), but also, people need music that is simply enjoyable and life affirming. There is nothing wrong with filling “the world with Silly Love Songs” as Paul once sang. Life is hard, we can't always be serious all the time. Paul's music has a lot of joy in it. It is very life-affirming. We need that, I need that.

Paul has a great voice. He is known for his vocals on ballads such as Yesterday, Michelle (for which he won a Grammy in 1966), the Long And Winding Road, Let it Be. He is known for his gritty rock vocals on songs like I'm Down, Long Tall Sally, Get Back, I've Got A Feeling, and Helter Skelter (for which he won a Grammy in 2011 for Best Male Rock Vocal for the Live In New York City CD version of the song).

I remember a teacher in my Grad School talking about popular culture and the individual psyche, and she related how as a young teenage girl, she was enthralled with Paul's vocals on And I Love Her.

Billy Joel, who had Paul join him for the last concert at Yankee Stadium, was amazed at how good Paul's voice still was, how he could still sing I Saw Her Standing There in E, and do the Little Richard “Wooos” at nearly 70.

Paul has received high marks for his skillful, light vocal touch on his most recent album of jazz standards, Kisses on the Bottom. 
Paul is considered one of the best bass players in music. Bass Player Magazine had him ranked #3 behind John Entwistle and Flea. I have seen other polls where he has been ranked #2 only behind John Entwistle.

Paul's bass playing is very melodic. Good examples of his melodic bass playing can be heard on Silly Love Songs, Lucy in the Sky Diamonds, Savoy Truffle, Hey Bulldog, Paperback Writer, Goodnight Tonight, and Something.

Paul's trademark Hofner Violin Bass has accompanied him on every Beatle tour and every solo tour since 1989. He has used other basses on stage and in the studio, such as the Fender Jazz, Wal 5 String, and the Rickenbacker. On the 1976 Wings Tour, Paul's blond Rickenbacker became as much a signature for him as the Hofner Beatle bass was in the 1960's. Paul also played the Wal 5 String, a gift from Linda, on stage during his 1989-1990 tour as well as his Hofner.

I still at my age aspire to be as good a bassist as Paul is. My bass teacher said that no one holds a band together like Paul McCartney does on bass.

Paul is not only a great bassist, but a solid guitarist and keyboard player as well.

His piano playing on Lady Madonna, Let it Be, and George's For You Blue is superb. Billy Preston was really impressed with Paul's playing in the Let it Be sessions.

Paul also has done some great guitar work, including memorable solos on George's Taxman and his songs Sgt. Pepper, Helter Skelter, Drive My Car, and The End from Abbey Road (in which Paul, John, and George all take turns soloing).

Paul is also an accomplished drummer. He played drums on some of the Beatles songs, such as "Back In The USSR", "Dear Prudence", "Wild Honey Pie", and "The Ballad of John and Yoko". He also played all the drum parts on his first and second solo albums McCartney and McCartney II, as well as the Wings album Band On The Run and most of the drums on his solo LP Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

Paul is a musician's musician, and a great band leader. When I think of “professional musician,” Paul comes to mind instantly.

A Fan of Paul
I am a big Paul McCartney fan. The Beatles are my favorite group, and Paul is my favorite musician of all time.
Some of my earliest memories as a child are watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was barely four years old. My young hip mother took me to see A Hard Day's Night at the Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids Iowa and I made her stay and watch it twice.

I am a bass player in part because of him, he made it cool to be the bass player in the band.

I have all the Beatles, Wings, and solo Paul McCartney albums in electronic form, and the great majority of it on vinyl as well. I have seen Paul play live several times the last 20 years, and each show has been memorable.

I want to recognize such a marker as Paul McCartney's 70th birthday.


Paul performs Helter Skelter at Citifield, which is included on the CD, Live in New York City. Paul won a 2011 Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal for this performance.

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