Paul McCartney Breaks Down His Most Famous Songs and Answers Most-Asked Fan Questions in Two New Videos

Paul McCart­ney has played it safe for decades, rely­ing on the bril­liance of his song­writ­ing and musi­cian­ship, which no one ever doubts and so he nev­er has to prove. His songs usu­al­ly fall into a for­mu­la famil­iar from Bea­t­les’ days: “sil­ly love songs,” writes Stephen Ear­lewine at Pitch­fork, “mini-suites… polite polit­i­cal protests, and old-fash­ioned rock­ers.” But while the Bea­t­les had each oth­er, the exper­i­ments of George Mar­tin, LSD, tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion, and a moment of per­fect cul­tur­al kismet to twist and warp their music into all sorts of weird shapes, McCartney’s solo releas­es tend to stick to his estab­lished strengths, some­times to the detri­ment of what can hap­pen when he moves out of his com­fort zone to get deep­er and more vul­ner­a­ble.

Yet as near­ly every crit­ic has so far not­ed of his newest album, Egypt Sta­tion—which he heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed, for exam­ple, with an appear­ance on Car­pool Karaoke and a “secret” show at Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion—McCart­ney lets lis­ten­ers in on some sur­pris­ing con­fes­sion­al dark­ness. The Nick Drake-like lyrics of open­er “I Don’t Know” show him earnest­ly con­fronting aging, mor­tal­i­ty, and depres­sion, with­out any of the usu­al sun­ni­ness or comedic turns of phrase: “I got crows at my window/Dogs at my door/I don’t think I can take any­more.” The can­did admis­sion, Erlewine writes, “would be star­tling in any con­text, but what stings most is the tac­it acknowl­edg­ment that 76-year-old McCart­ney real­izes he’s near­ing the end of his long, wind­ing road.”

In inter­views, like his lat­est with Rolling Stone, how­ev­er, McCart­ney sounds as upbeat as ever. He describes sit­ting in Apple meet­ings after the breakup of the Bea­t­les as “like see­ing the death of your favorite pet,” but he also enthus­es about his patched-up rela­tion­ship with Yoko (“Now it’s like we’re mates”), love for his band—who have now been play­ing togeth­er longer than both the Bea­t­les and Wings—and his pride in his musi­cal lega­cy (“It’s a damn good job I did”). He sounds just as pleased to be onstage in his mid-70s as he was in his 20s—the gen­uine love of per­form­ing and engag­ing with fans hasn’t dulled one bit with age, just as his abil­i­ty to write and sell hit records remains sol­id.

As for his time-test­ed for­mu­la, Erlewine com­ments, it only “makes the moments where Paul attempts some­thing slight­ly new seem all the more appar­ent.” One new thing he’s game­ly tried in recent years is mak­ing online videos for fans. A few years back, he dropped a few lessons show­ing how to play the bass and gui­tar parts on “Ever Present Past” from 2007’s Mem­o­ry Almost Full. This year, McCartney’s fan ser­vice includes the two videos here. First at the top, he spends almost a half an hour dis­cussing the best-known songs in his 60-year-career for GQ: “I Lost My Lit­tle Girl,” “Yes­ter­day,” “I Saw Her Stand­ing There,” “And I Love Her,” “Eleanor Rig­by,” “A Day in the Life,” “Hey Jude,” “Hel­ter Skel­ter,” “Black­bird,” “Let It Be,” “Hi Hi Hi,” “Here Today,” “Jet,” and Egypt Sta­tion’s “I Don’t Know.”

Above, McCart­ney accept’s Wired’s “auto­com­plete chal­lenge,” answer­ing the internet’s most searched ques­tions about him­self, such as “Why is Paul McCartney’s nick­name ‘Mac­ca’?” and “Why did Paul McCart­ney write ‘Let it Be’?” (Answers: “Cause I’m from Liv­er­pool, and they abbre­vi­ate every­thing in Liv­er­pool” and he was “a bit stressed out”—and a lit­tle high—and his moth­er came to him in a dream with the advice: “just let it be.”) Is there always more learn about Paul McCart­ney? Yes, appar­ent­ly there is. But even when he repeats him­self, he’s still great fun to watch.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Chaos & Cre­ation at Abbey Road: Paul McCart­ney Revis­its The Bea­t­les’ Fabled Record­ing Stu­dio

The Genius of Paul McCartney’s Bass Play­ing in 7 Iso­lat­ed Tracks

Paul McCart­ney Offers a Short Tuto­r­i­al on How to Play the Bass Gui­tar

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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