It would be easy to fill the rest of that critical space with less than print-worthy lyric titles from McCartney’s extensive catalog. We can’t fault him for not including wacky doggerels like “Oo You”, “Mumbo” and “Bip Bop”. McCartney is also not to be blamed for the pride he takes in the lyrics selected for these books, though some are also treacherously close to the doggerel. (I am thinking of “My Love” and “Live and Let Die”, the latter has been rewritten from the original published score to eliminate “this ever-changing world we live in”, although the modified lyrics are still terribly unremarkable. To read the lyrics of these 154 songs is to be impressed not only by McCartney’s productivity, but also by the fertility of his imagination and the power of his casual, no-frills style. The best of the songs collected here (“For No One”, “She’s Leaving Home”, “When Winter Comes”, “On My Way to Work” and many others) reflect with your eyes fixed on the small intricacies and curiosities of everyday life. . life and a mind that bounces freely, taking childlike pleasure in that freedom. “The Lyrics” makes it clear that McCartney wrote at a high standard well beyond his Beatles years, and even the weakest lyrics in the books have a character of their own: a sense of dizzying playfulness and experimentation. unattended. They are a joy to read because they breathe the joy that their creator took in their making.
Like most pop lyrics, the lyrics of McCartney’s songs are considerably more effective with the music they were written for. With the addition of melody, harmony, instruments, human voice, and studio electronics, a recorded piece of music can come together like, say, “Come Together” – a song by Lennon that McCartney has transformed into the studio by radically altering the music. “The Lyrics” does not, however, present a partial view of McCartney’s songs; he presents a different view of them. In the absence of music, the books add new accompanying elements to the lyrics: photographs, reproductions of manuscripts, images of memories and artifacts related to the songs or the time of their creation, and lengthy commentaries by McCartney. . These materials are far from auxiliary and in fact constitute the major part of the content of “The Lyrics”. (Only 156 of the 874 pages of the books are used for lyrics.)
The commentary was constructed with the help of Paul Muldoon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who also happens to be a rock musician and songwriter. In 24 sessions (face-to-face before the pandemic, then via video conference), Muldoon led McCartney in conversations about the songs and then edited McCartney’s language to produce the first-person prose in the books. The text is loose and ruminative, and it reveals a lot about what McCartney thinks about life and music, and what he would like us to think of him.
Time and time again, McCartney shows how deeply rooted he is in literary history and how much his output as a songwriter has in common with the works of Dickens and Shakespeare. “John has never had anything like my interest in literature,” he announces at the top of his commentary on “The End,” before pivoting to a mini-lecture on couplet as a form. “When you think about it, it has been the workhorse of poetry in English until the end. Chaucer, Pope, Wilfred Owen. Of ‘Come and Get It,’ the trifle he wrote and produced for Badfinger, McCartney notes: ‘When you write for an audience – as did Shakespeare or Dickens, whose serial chapters have been read to the public – there is this need to attract people. Aaaah … we realize: Paul is truly a man of words, the more literary and cerebral Beatle.
As one would expect from the pop star who posed with her baby tucked in his coat on his farmhouse for his post-Beatles debut album, McCartney speaks with ardor and respect for his parents, his extended family in Liverpool, and the traditional values of the home and the house in general. He attributes the dynamic positivity of his music to the happiness of his family life and, by extension, attributes the biting and cynicism that distinguish much of Lennon’s work to the domestic upheavals of John’s early years. For McCartney, a dark view of humanity is a failure and must be a mark of suffering, rather than an attribute of thought.