Film and Documentary

McCartney 3,2,1: A Documentary

Paul McCartney is simply ageless. Although his face may have a few more lines and wrinkles, he still doesn’t present as a man who is pushing 80 next year. His energy and drive are that of a man a third of his age.  This documentary, produced by Rick Rubin, is 6 parts of utter magic, strung together in compelling 30-minute segments. Rubin is also the interviewer for the piece.

In segment one, Paul immediately praises John on All My Loving, and how intricate his playing was on the song. He also points out what a clown John was. Always pulling a face or doing some silly thing that made everyone laugh. He speaks so fondly of John, and their undeniable chemistry and bond.

He talks about writing “Michelle,” and how it came about from going to John’s art school parties and pretending to be French to try to catch the ladies’ interest. Years later, John said, “You remember that French song you fiddled with? You should finish that.” And Paul did.

The Beatles were very heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers, and later, the Beach Boys. Paul states that listening to The Beach Boys Pet Sounds influenced him to write Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He was particularly fond of bands/groups with harmonies. Watching Paul dance around, invigorated by each song is pure magic. He rarely sits, rarely at rest. He speaks of how quickly the band put together material, and how that made it all the more joyful. His face gives away just how much that meant to him.

He also speaks very fondly of George, and how proud he was of George’s development as a songwriter. He also speaks of Eric Clapton and his immense talent, particularly on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, stating “it was typical of George to give away solos, that was George – very giving.” He also points out how multi-dimensional George truly was.

He talks about how the critics spurred the Beatles on, which rushed their creative process along with each album. Producer George Martin was instrumental in perfecting the harmonies so quickly. When you look back at their albums, they cranked out a massive amount of music in a very short period of time. From 1962 until 1970, The Beatles released 21 studio albums, 5 live albums, 54 compilation albums, 36 extended play singles, 63 singles, 17 box sets, 22 video albums and 68 music videos. Add in 5 movies plus soundtracks, and you have a feat that is totally unthinkable by today’s standards.

Watching Paul listen to the music he created or co-created is so pure. His face transforms with each note. His total recall of various moments is truly amazing. Talking about writing and recording Penny Lane, and how he was inspired by a Bach concerto he’d seen on the telly the night before, it’s almost like you can see the wheels turning in his mind. He takes you right into the moment, and you can feel what he’s feeling. He weaves in and out, from song to song so effortlessly.

When he switches gears into Wings and his solo career, he does it so seamlessly, you barely realize it. What few holes there are, Rubin fills in effortlessly. He tells the harrowing story about how they recorded the first Wings album in Lagos, and they (Paul, Linda and guitarist Denny Laine) were held up at knifepoint by a carload of thugs, who stole all the demos Paul had recorded, including the pre-recorded material for the Band on the Run album. They had to re-record a lot of the parts in the studio, but Paul was determined to put out a quality product. In fact, McCartney plays bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, piano and keyboards, as well as over 40 other musical instruments.

Just as seamlessly, he flips back into Beatles mode, recalling songs and events from their golden years. He speaks of working with Little Richard in Hamburg, and how inspirational he was. He also speaks about how they loved American music and were greatly influenced by it. He returns to the Everly Brothers, and how their harmonies were key in the Beatles early material, such as Baby’s In Black.

Other artists they admired were Roy Orbison, specifically how all his songs had big endings. Or the Kinks, and how their songs had such driving guitars. Or Bob Dylan, and his acoustic sets.  Or Jimi Hendrix, and how truly mesmerizing his guitar work was.

McCartney also speaks about how intertwined art and music was in the 60s. He speaks of writing Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and how the song was inspired by Julian Lennon’s friend Lucy. As the story goes, Lucy made Jules a drawing at school, and Jules added twinkly diamond stars to it, saying “It’s Lucy in the sky.” Also, Paul speaks of how they were influenced by the Maharishi, and his spiritual Indian ways, particularly on “Dear Prudence.” The song was influenced by Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, who wouldn’t come out of her hut.

Segment 4 starts off with Paul talking about The Beatles, and how easily bored they were, which led to more than a few escapades. He speaks of how, with success, came their ability to really push the envelope. Particularly in the editing phase, where they’d have the engineer (usually George Martin) experiment with various sounds to elevate the music.

He also reveals that some of the “flashier” segments on piano were actually George Martin playing. Paul states, “I can play piano, but I’m not that good.” He also talks about how “Mr Moog was just upstairs,” and they’d add in synth parts to various songs to add more color. So much of their music came from pure experimentation in the studio, which Martin was very adept at.

Paul also gets into ‘his mate’ Ringo, and his “malapropisms,” or strange ways of phrasing things, which is how A Hard Days Night came about. He jokes about how Ringo had a way of saying things backwards, so much so that even John would turn to Paul and say, “what’s that he’s on about?” for clarification. In reminiscing, Paul’s expressions change and reflect just how much this all meant to him.

Just as quickly, Paul changes gears and fast forwards several years to writing theme songs for movies as a solo artist with Wings. Live & Let Die became a huge hit for McCartney and Wings. At times, the quick change comes across as slightly disjointed, and Rubin as the interviewer/narrator really does nothing to dispel that interpretation or lead the dialogue back on course. He seems content to let McCartney drive and sits back to enjoy the ride.

Paul talks about songwriting, and how he wrote his first song at 14. When he met John, and they discovered they both loved songwriting, their fates were sealed, and they started writing together. I also loved when they isolated voices in several songs, particularly John’s in This Boy, or George’s in Something. You can feel the passion, the intensity.

Back to the Beatles days, and how certain songs were influenced by other popular songs of the time, such as Come Together. Paul remains animated and energized by each song, truly loving every second. He reveals that his favorite Beatles song he wrote is Here, There and Everywhere. Paul also reveals that A Day In The Life was originally two separate songs, one by him and one by John that they combined.

When Paul talks about the breakup of the Beatles, he tears up slightly, and his voice catches several times. You can feel just how deeply that wound went, despite all the years that have passed since. He poured his pain into his first solo album, McCartney. He also talks about how it took him years to integrate any Beatles songs into his live show. That wound is still very evident.

I’m not going to lie. I went into this with barely mediocre expectations as Paul was my least favorite Beatle, but I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted with the outcome. McCartney is so much more of a creative genius than I ever gave him credit for. For a rabid Beatles fan like me, this was 3 hours of pure and utter bliss. McCartney exudes such energy and feeling. You actually feel like you’re re-living the moments with him. Even noted producer Rick Rubin is simply in awe and comes across as a true fan as well. Well done, you.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]