The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul McCartney review – a man of words | Music books

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AAt the start of this two-volume book, Paul McCartney says that although he has no intention of writing his autobiography and has never kept a journal, he has been used to it throughout his life from turning life experiences into song lyrics, so here are 154 of them. With that kind of introduction, you’d be forgiven for waiting for them in chronological order. If they had been, most of the hits would be in the first book and a lot of people would barely have opened the second. Chronological was obviously a non-starter.

In alphabetical order, it is therefore with each initial letter a new lottery. F is particularly strong, with Fixing a Hole, The Fool on the Hill, For No One and From Me to You. Unsurprisingly, almost everything under I dates back to the Beatles’ personal pronoun period – I saw her standing there, I wanna be your man, I wanna hold your hand, I’m down, I’ll follow the sun and d ‘others – while the average reader can get a bit lost in the O section once they get past Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. As much space in this book is devoted to Magneto and Titanium Man as Michelle. The latter turns out to have been half written by a teacher friend, which would guarantee him liquidation if that were to happen today.

The lyrics you actually read are for records you don’t know. Most have lived in us since we first heard them, in my case for almost 60 years, so I am unable to read “and the firefighter is rushing” without hearing the precise intonation of how he sang it for December 30, 1966. Paul McCartney’s medium is certainly not manuscript paper. This is what we called wax. It is thanks to this genius of the record that his music is imprinted on us all.

As the other Beatles wrote in spurts after the band split up, Paul kept pulling out his pencil, taking his guitar to a quiet corner and writing another song, less out of inspiration than feeling. that it was a muscle he had to use or lose. It is more than 10,000 hours spent asking the eternal puzzle from the beginning of a song to its end that allowed him to dazzle Dustin Hoffman by writing Picasso’s Last Words in front of him. “Can you write a song about anything?” Hoffman asked. Yes, Dustin, he clearly can.

McCartney with the Quarrymen (George Harrison, John Lennon) and his friend Dennis Littler in Liverpool, 1958. Photography: Mike McCartney

Each song has a commentary taken from conversations with McCartney’s editor-in-chief, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who was presumably the one who introduced words such as “epistolary” and “intertextual” into the conversation. Macca rarely stands up to a high-end comparison. If a Paul wants to point out that the intermediary of She Loves You is like the hero of LP Hartley’s novel The in-between, the other Paul is quite happy to admit that he may have been influenced by this. In the same commentary, he returns forever to the England of his childhood: taking phone calls in the cupboard under the stairs, being sent down the street to pick up horse shit for daddy’s roses, watching Bootsie and Snudge on TV, raising an idea for Mrs. Vandebilt from Charlie Chester’s The Vamp of Bagdad.

The clue recalls the fact that having been actively famous for 60 years, Paul McCartney has met everyone he wanted to meet. Having learned from Craig Brown’s recent book that Malcolm Muggeridge came to see the Beatles play in Hamburg, I don’t blink at the revelation until 1964, Paul unexpectedly swings at Bertrand Russell’s doorstep. . Even at this early stage, her face was undoubtedly what brought her in. “I have a very recognizable face,” he said, rather missing the fact that he also happens to have Paul McCartney’s face.

McCartney pictured at home by daughter Mary, England 2020
McCartney pictured at home by daughter Mary, England 2020. Photography: Mary McCartney

By teasing us with a great story about when he last saw Jane Asher, but without revealing what decade it was, the book falls short of the “unprecedented candor” promised in its publicity. . His second wife is not mentioned at all. He returns to his family regularly, which is clearly the most important thing in his life. That’s probably why the Beatles’ breakup hit him so hard. A seasoned fan will already know a lot – although given the recent headlines about John being the instigator of the breakup, a lot of people clearly don’t really know the story. Neither the lyrics nor the commentary will be studied as closely as the photos of Paul looking fabulous for over 50 years, posing for pre-digital selfies with everyone from Maharishi to Aunt Jin. In the end, you might as well watch rock stars as listen to them, and it’s as much a picture book as anything else.

The problem, which only hits you when lifting the second volume of weight, is how are you supposed to read such a thing? At this point you’re in N, where Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five will be followed by No More Lonely Nights, The Note You Never Wrote, and Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight, and there’s no story arc to go with you. .

You might think the price means it’s for Christmas stockings for lifers like me. In fact, it is more likely to be picked up and examined by that army of forty and fifty years who are today the children of Paul. They don’t really remember The Beatles, but they can’t imagine a world without Paul McCartney. For them, the absence of a chronology of the book will not be a brake. For them, those thumbs are held up for a higher purpose. That’s why he’s here. From his first song, I Lost My Little Girl, which he wrote at the age of 14 after his mother died, to everything he’s munching on as you read this, he’ll try always take a sad song and make it better. It is an honorable vocation.

David Hepworth’s latest book is Overpaid, over-sexed and over there: how a few skinny Britons with bad teeth rocked America

The lyrics: 1956 to the present day by Paul McCartney is published by Allen Lane (£ 75). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply


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