Paul McCartney’s “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present”: A Visual Feast, So Imperfect, For Beatles Fans

Let’s be inescapably clear from the start: Paul McCartney alone is the best singer-songwriter and most accomplished musician of the rock’n’roll era. Sporting an impressive vocal range throughout his career as a member of The Beatles and as a solo performer, he was arguably the most gifted singer in his industry from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s.

Working with John Lennon, his compositions, which include dozens of Top 40 hits, will stand the test of time as the crème de la crème of the pop music repertoire. As a writer and performer, McCartney is comfortable in virtually every style, from rock and country to jazz, R&B and beyond. In terms of musicality, he is quite simply a virtuoso, distinguishing himself time and time again as an inventive, often revolutionary guitarist and perhaps the most innovative and melodic bassist to ever take the instrument.

And maybe the best part? His talent barely began to wane. Witness last year’s “McCartney III”, one of his most convincing albums in decades, reminding us, as I wrote at the time, that at 78, his musical chops were so exquisite and deeper than virtually anyone. Already.

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In short, McCartney’s legacy and dominant influence is assured. Complete stop.

This is why his two-volume retrospective, “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present”, is somewhat disconcerting. On the one hand, we’ve already taken this route with the excellent “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now”, the 1997 biography written by Barry Miles in close consultation with the former Beatle. A valuable and comprehensive study – especially in terms of McCartney’s songwriting practices – “Many Years from Now” has aged well, easily eclipsing the large number of other Beatle Paul biographies.

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Having said that, “The Lyrics” has its own ace in the hole. Edited by the famous Irish poet Paul Muldoon, the anthology is a feast for the eyes. Beatles fans will be blown away by the depth of the never-before-seen photographs, never-before-seen lyrics sheets, diary entries, paintings, and more. Indeed, “The Lyrics” easily represents the finest collection of illustrations associated with the life and work of McCartney. And it’s beautifully rendered, to boot. Breathtaking through the books, “The Lyrics” rivals the finest artistic prints, including the beautiful limited editions of Taschen and Genesis.

Readers will enjoy the deep dives into over 150 songs, and I for one was delighted with the choices. All the required Beatles tunes are on display, and diehards like me will be delighted with McCartney’s attention to a host of Wings-era favorites, including somewhat less famous numbers like “Mrs. Vanderbilt” , “Cafe on the Left Bank” and “Old Siam, sir,” to name a few.

If “The Lyrics” has a primary weakness, it exists in the margins. On the one hand, the Beatles tunes are credited in the anthology to “Paul McCartney and John Lennon”, eschewing the “Lennon-McCartney” brand that ensured that Liverpool’s favorite sons were household names the world over. mid twenties. It’s a long-standing issue for McCartney, dating back to the Beatles’ first two LPs. The cover notes of their 1963 debut album “Please Please Me” attribute their original compositions to “McCartney-Lennon”, to be reversed later that same year on “With the Beatles”.

McCartney blamed Lennon and Beatles manager Brian Epstein for devising the change, remarking in “The Beatles Anthology” (2000) that “I wanted it to be McCartney-Lennon but John had the stronger personality, and I think he worked things out with Brian before I got there. It was John’s way. I’m not saying there is something wrong with that; I wasn’t that skillful. He was a year and a half older than me, and at that age that meant a little more worldliness. ” From the days of “Wings Over America” ​​(1976), McCartney began to attribute his Beatles compositions to McCartney-Lennon, even begging at one point Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, to consider formalizing. “Yesterday” as a composition uniquely McCartney – he composed the song in its entirety, after all – but it held on.

And then there is a series of moments in “The Lyrics”, often literary in nature, that can seem – dare I say it? – exaggerated. As an English major, I couldn’t be more delighted. But as a student of Beatles history, I’m skeptical of those kinds of twilight attributions. Take, for example, the suggestion in the entry “She Loves You” that compares the speaker of the song to the protagonist of the LP Harley novel “The Go-Between”. Or the idea that McCartney could very well have gleaned the phrase “let it be” from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” – but luckily, not the bad quarto, it turns out. To put it another way, McCartney’s contributions are very substantial in and of themselves – they don’t need the help of the Bard of Stratford, thank you very much.

That’s not to say that the anecdotes and the improvised reflections that accompany them aren’t powerful or touching. As always, McCartney’s asides on his parents are simply adorable. And let’s face it: Jim Mac’s influence on his son’s musical education is as great as virtually anyone, including Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, the king of rock’n’roll himself.

All references to McCartney’s late wife Linda are also welcome and abundant, highlighting the incredible imprint she has left on her personal and creative life. In all of our lives, if you really stop to consider the unique place she occupied in her world. At its best, “The Lyrics” highlights these key relationships, highlighting the role that McCartney’s family has always played in his life – and yes, that most certainly includes his created family with the other Beatles and their circle.

At this late date in the band’s history mapping when two Beatles still walk among us, it’s time to put an end to the historical overhaul and beautification. The Beatles story, which is impressive and meaningful in itself, just doesn’t need it. Virtually every minute of every day, a lucky kid discovers for the first time the musical bounty of McCartney and The Beatles. I envy them endlessly, knowing, as many of us already do, that they are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime seasoned by a soundtrack of quality and fame. unmatched.

So, to buy or not to buy “The Lyrics?” That is the question. For music lovers, McCartney’s anthology is a must-see, if only for the illustrations. Please, dear reader, bring me a more exquisite anthology during this holiday season? I dare say you won’t find any.

Despite its flaws, “The Lyrics” is a worthy addition to “Many Years from Now”. And readers around the world – whatever their musical beliefs – will want “The Lyrics” to sit comfortably on their coffee tables when the young ones in their lives inevitably begin their journey with The Beatles. Because they will without a doubt, mark my words, and you’ll want to be good and ready when the time comes.

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