If there’s one thing McCartney 3,2,1 achieves, it’s to remind the old and wizened beatlemaniac exactly what a let-down the Beatles Anthology project was.
To the bootleg collector, the third Anthology album omitted far too much, even just from George – the Sour Milk Sea Esher demo; All things must pass and Let it Down from the Get Back sessions. There was also far too little studio Beatles chit-chat. The kind of thing that makes a maniac grin from ear to ear.
Clearly the third album was left deliberately incomplete, preserving some treats to help flog future 50th anniversary editions of the later albums. That’s standard enough music industry practice, but here we are and three of the four versions/ tracks above have still not been officially released. Instead the Anthology 3 gave us filler like a nearly identical Glass Onion take, and the strings stuff behind Good Night. I mean do me a favour lads.
Still, the vinyl were pretty things, and they had great moments. In that respect they weren’t half the let down the TV series was.
Those glossy specials leaned heavy on the archive footage, with the Beatles offering occassional comment and memories. Each was interviewed individually in his own chosen setting, with anything resembling interesting comment edited out – presumably by some Beatle committee.
That made it a tremendously sanitised presentation, one where the same old anecdotes were trotted out, and the rather sad and bitter (and therefore fascinating) final period of the band was glossed over.
The worst of this hagiographic approach came out in the interviews with Sir Paul McCartney.
Nothing is real
Not a word that came out of McCartney’s mouth was interesting during the Anthology (except, possibly, the revelation that Lennon’s Magical Mystery Tour spaghetti waiter sequence was based on a dream Lennon had).
Instead, Macca’s segments bordered on the absurd, a cringe-making dad somehow draining the cool out of the sixties in the retelling, and borderline partridge in the settings the chose for his interviews (driving a boat/ stoking a campfire).
McCartney doubled down on this side of his image in the Anthology, more the cheese-bag behind We all Stand Together and Coming Up than the author of the twentieth century’s most immortal anthems.
This was the bloke who claimed Spielberg ‘really paid attention’ to Magical Mystery Tour (Paul, Paul, Paul – Steve is a fan. He gushed at a party. Can’t you tell the difference?) and that ‘wedding bells’ broke up the Beatles (as opposed to, say, greed and resentment).
Look, they were under no obligation to do some great confession to the world with the Anthology. But if they weren’t going to say interesting things about the band’s biography, what was the point? Why interview the Beatles for hours and hours, if all we’re going to see are minute long snippets of rather safe commentary we’ve heard before? If you’re not going to tell all in your documentary, what is there left to do?
Do you want to know a secret?
Rick Rubin has the answer: talk to the Beatles about songs. The writing and making of songs. Play interesting compositions back to the songwriter and ask them about the thought behind a riff or the choice of an instrument. Break the song down into tracks and transport him back to the moment of making music. Talk to him about the studio, not the fame. It’s simple and tremendously successful.
Of course it’s not only the format that that makes 3,2,1 work. Sitting cross legged at his feet and gazing up in adoring wonder will never hurt your chances of opening up McCartney.
Saying ‘amazing’ ‘incredible’ and then ‘amazing’ again to near every tale he tells will also grease the wheels. Paul has never much doubted his greatness or been averse to praise. ‘Looking back I astound myself’ he says. We can be fairly sure Paul looks back a lot, bless him.
And why wouldn’t he? It’s not a criticism of the man to say he has an ego. It is an essential ingredient, part of what makes Paul Paul – as is that falsest of false modesty that came out so much in the Anthology: ‘We were just a little rock and roll band’.
Oh give over, Paul.. You don’t believe that for a second.
Words of love
Watching 3,2,1 one gets the impression that nobody’s ever really interrogated Paul about his songs in this depth before, at least for our entertainment.
Paul enjoys it. His tail is up. He air-guitars his old takes and grins at Rubin’s praise for his craftsmanship with the bass – this is an exciting, unmined avenue for praise. He’s genuinely surprised by tracks Rubin lifts out of songs, and called on to think about his incredible past in a different way to that anecdotal format that has dominated his other media appearances.
So it is that those weaned on the Anthology learn really new things. That the Beatles supported Little Richard in Hamburg. That George created the introduction to And I Love Her. That Paul forsook lead guitar after getting stage fright – but that he played the solo on Taxman (and is clearly still smug about it). That he took up guitar in order to look cool and mysterious at parties – possibly the most human thing that’s ever come out of his mouth.
There’s also a wonderful recurring theme about the importance of memory in his song writing. He has told his Yesterday story before, but Rubin digs deeper into it, and it’s fascinating to think of all the times the Beatles spent humming a tune in their heads, holding it there without the ability to transcribe it to sheet music, needing to find a piano or guitar to hammer it out, to get it down before it was lost.
One thing I can tell you
Paul also claims to have slowed down and funked up Come Together, which is quite a claim, and almost clearly true. If there’s one thing that Jackson’s Get Back tells us, is that throughout ’69 Lennon was either having a dry patch or saving songs for Plastic Ono Band. He probaby did turn up to those last Beatle sessions with nothing but bits and pieces – Polythene Pam, a half-baked Chuck Berry rip off, a piss take of Pink Floyd and I want you (she’s so heavy).
We find out fascinating new rivals and influences – besides obvious ticks like Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers, Paul sites Edith Piaf and the Kinks. Most of all, it’s very touching how often he refers to George Martin, and the band’s debt to him. Paul seems to have considered Martin like an essential limb, continuing to work with him when the other Beatles saw him a a relic of Beatledom.
That’s always been an essential part of Paul’s character. Here is a man who never tired of being a Beatle, as George and John did. Here is a man who couldn’t begin to understand how anyone could want it to end. He doesn’t appear to have ever fel the urge to step away and ‘find himself’ as George and John both did. Fame came naturally to him.
One of the best bits of 3,2,1 is his commentary on McCartney album, which he describes producing in depressed isolation after the break up. Fascinating, too, to see what tracks Rubin plucks from Macca’s solo career – not many, but he clearly likes McCartney 2.
Ram? Not so much…
It is, like Get Back, a moving experience for the Beatlemaniac. Watching it one cannot help but reflect that while Paul is in fine fettle, he won’t be around for ever, and there will not be an era of music such as he ruled again. We should all be indebted to Rubin for finding a fresh way of approaching a remarkable, gifted, vain and glorious human being while he is still with us.
The only thing that is a pity is that we never got the chance to run this exercise with George Harrison. How fascinating a delve into the All Things Must Pass sessions would have been.
Speaking of which…