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Songs mentioned in this interview
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[…] From Zan: “It’s been 25 years since Macca toured Australia, so his visit here is special. We chased him for months, and in news that was music to my ears, we got word he was keen to Take 5. I hope you love this conversation as much as I did. From a man who’s songcraft has changed the game, and whose endless curiosity has shaped modern music. This is Paul McCartney Taking 5.“
The Beatles – ‘Blackbird’
“I wrote it when I was up in Scotland and I just heard about the Civil Rights movement going on in America, in Little Rock. That was contemporary then, it’s that long ago. I think a lot of people were shocked to see the black students not being allowed into the school and loads of white people jeering and spitting at them. We didn’t have that kind of prejudice in Liverpool, there’s quite a black population [there]. I had mates, particularly in music, who were black. It didn’t occur to us, so when we all saw it we were all pretty shocked. I wanted to write a song that would somehow give the people going through the struggles maybe just a little bit of hope.
“…So, I was writing this song called ‘Blackbird’, which I thought could have the double meaning of black woman and blackbird and this idea of broken wings but you learn to arise was kind of symbolic of the struggles people were going through. So, that was my Civil Rights song, really.“
Paul McCartney and Wings – ‘Band on the Run’
“The thing is, you kind of go with fashions sometimes. You can’t help it because it’s in the air, it’s what people do and what people are thinking, so you get affected. At that time there was a lot of records about desperados, renegades, that king of thing. Particularly coming out of California, there was a lot of that stuff about.
“I thought yeah, it’d be quite nice to write a song about a prison break because it’d be quite dramatic and, again, you could use it as symbolism – talking about breaking out of your boring life… It was an American thing, really, that I got caught up in.“
Paul McCartney – ‘Temporary Secretary’
“[Recording by yourself is] like a hobby, it’s like you’re just doing it as a bit of fun, so you don’t worry about it quite so much. If you’re recording something you think ‘Oh, I’m going into the studio next week, there’s going to be engineers and this better be good.’ It just gives you a certain kind of freedom. That album [McCartney II] I was into experimentation, so there were electronic sequences you put in a little program and you could loop it. So, I played around and eventually got that ‘Temporary Secretary’ loop that I liked. I started off with that, put some drums on it and stuff, and wrote the song over that. It was a nice way to write.”
“…It’s nice when something like that is ahead of its time. At the time, it’s too ahead of its time and a lot of people don’t like it but you think, it’s got something. It came and went at the time but then years later someone said ‘Oh, there’s a DJ in Brighton and he’s playing the hell out of this song of yours.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ and they said ‘Temporary Secretary’. Because, you know, it works in a club. It’s a good beat and the riff sounded very modern, so yeah, we revived it based on that.“
Paul McCartney and Wings – ‘Jet’
“Yeah it was [named after a puppy]. There’s no telling where you’ll get ideas from and we happened to name this little black puppy Jet. Again I was noodling around, looking for an idea and thought that’s a good word ‘Jet’. So, I wrote the song about that. Not about the puppy, just using the name. And now it’s transformed into a sort of girl.
“It was kind of — a little bit about the experiences I’d had in marrying Linda. Her dad was a little old fashioned and I thought I was a little bit intimidated, as a lot of young guys can be meeting the father figure. And if the dad’s really easy-going, it makes it easy. It wasn’t bad but I was a bit intimidated, probably my fault as much as his. Anyway, the song starts to be about the sergeant major and it was basically my experience, roughly translated.
“I never do a song with the actual words that actually happen, because then that’s like a news story. Oh Linda, I was going to see your dad and he was intimidating. A bit boring. So, I mask it and mould it into a song, something you can sing reasonably.“
The Beatles – ‘Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End’
“They were separate. That’s one of the things we did on [Abbey Road], we put together separate ideas and this one — I was very lucky — it fitted together very neatly. As you say, I didn’t think of [‘The End’] as the end of The Beatles. I think of it mainly as the end of an album. But I just had that little couplet: ‘And in the end / The love you take / Is equal to the love you make’. I liked that as a sentiment and I liked it as a mini poem. That came on the end of the album and that song, quite luckily.
“It is good, as you say, everyone got to do their bit. I don’t analyse my stuff but if I was to, that’d be a good one to analyse. You’ve got John, George, Ringo — that’s sewing it all up.“
Oozing charm and history, Macca spoke with shining wit and wisdom. From examining his relationship with John Lennon to reinventing himself after The Beatles and getting robbed of demos in Lagos, here’s some highlights. Beginning with Paul’s collaboration with Kanye West…
Separating noodles from spaghetti
“I was sitting around with Kanye for a couple of days and I didn’t think we’d written a song, ‘cause I was just playing around, noodling. I was expecting for an idea to come out there and then, but his way of working is he takes all these little noodles away and he makes spaghetti. …He’ll play with it and curate it and do this with it and get somebody else to do another bit. So, it was months later when I got a track in the post and it was ‘FourFiveSeconds’ and I listened to it and it’s Rihanna singing. I thought ‘This is great, I love her singing it’ but I had to ring up and say ‘Am I on this?’, you know. Yeah, they said ‘You wrote all the guitar parts and that inspired us’. I said ‘Okay, great thanks’.
“They’d sped it up. That’s what I’m saying, I would do something one way that I’d recognise and – hang on – I’ll show you! I was doing this [plays guitar] and doing some chords and he brought a ‘I think I’ve had enough’ but what happened was he took it up to D. That’s where it is on the record. So, no wonder I didn’t recognise it.”
Paul’s wife didn’t exactly approve of ‘All Day’
“He uses the ‘N’ word about 40 times and when I played it, first of all, my wife Nancy said ‘You can’t be involved with that!’ I said, ‘Well it’s not me saying it – it’s Kanye’. It makes a difference because he’s using it in a completely different way from how a white person might use it. So, I liked it. I thought it was a good record. It got nominated for a Grammy. But that’s the kind of way we worked: I bring up this pretty little tune and he translates it into this great big urban riff.”
On writing with John Lennon
“It was quite competitive because if I wrote something he’d try and better it and then I’d try and better that, so it’s a good system. It means you’re going up a staircase and each time you’re trying to make it better, so if that works it can make the song very good… and in our case memorable. That was the trick because we couldn’t put it down, we couldn’t put it on a recording like today, you just had to remember it. So that was a good restriction too, it meant if you forgot it, too bad.
“So, it had to have a hook and nearly always, even if you forgot it in the evening, you’d go out for a drink and say, ‘what was that bloody song’. You’d wake up in the morning an go ‘oh yeah, I remember!’ It would just come back.“
On going solo and re-inventing himself after The Beatles
“It was either that or quit. And that was the decision at the time but I realised I liked music too much and if I quit, I’d still be doing it as a hobby.
“…If you’re a good cook, and they suddenly say ‘Ok, you’ve won MasterChef’, it’s not like you’re going to stop cooking. It’s something you love doing, same for me, it’s something I love. I’m always surprised when a song comes because I started with nothing and suddenly get a little idea I’m chasing and go ‘ah, is this good?’. If you write something decent, you feel good. It’s all part of the same thing. It can be a little bit of a therapy thing to.
“I think that’s the thing – you get hooked, on this idea you can sit down, noodle around, and maybe something magical will happen. And you don’t know how it happens, that’s the nice thing. Songwriting is really quite mysterious. With cooking, you know kind of what these ingredients are going to make. You don’t know how good it’s going to be, but you have a rough idea. Songwriting it can go in any old direction, you can suddenly have something, hopefully good that you’ve never done before. It’s quite addictive.“
Songwriting isn’t journalism
“[Jet is] a little bit about the experiences I’d had in marrying Linda. Her dad was a little old fashioned and I thought I was a little bit intimidated as a lot of young guys can be meeting the father figure… Anyway, the song starts to be about the sergeant major and it was basically my experience roughly translated.
“I never do a song with the actual words that actually happen because then that’s like a news story. ‘[singing] Oh Linda, I was going to see your Dad and he was intimidating.’ A bit boring. So I mask it and mould it into a song, something you can sing reasonably.“
On being robbed in Lagos, Nigeria
“I got held up at knifepoint and one of the things they took, among cameras and tape recorders, was this cassette, which I don’t think the robbers would be interested in. My theory is they probably recorded over it, ‘What’s this? Just some rubbish’. So, I just had to remember all the songs, I had lyric sheets for them… so I did. But it was quite hairy getting held up one dark night in Lagos. The joke was, I thought these guys – five local black guys in a car – I thought they were offering me a lift and we’d been warned, me and Linda, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go walking late at night. Because it’s a little bit dangerous.’
“I thought ‘Nah, we’re from Liverpool, we don’t worry about that’. So we’re walking along, the car comes up, the guy jumps out and he’s about to say something and I go ‘That’s so nice of you… It’s ok, I know, I know – we’re walking.” They stopped about a 100 yards later and tried again. I completely thought they were just offering us a lift but one of them had a knife. It became clear they weren’t giving us a lift. And that’s when I lost the cassette to ‘Band on the Run’.“
On ‘The End’ being a fitting swansong for The Beatles
“I didn’t think of it as the end of The Beatles, I think of it mainly as the end of an album. But I just had that little couplet: ‘in the end, you love you take/is equal to the love you make’ I liked that as a sentiment and as a mini-poem. That came on the end of the album and that song, quite luckily.”
“It is good as you say, everyone got to do their bit. I don’t analyse my stuff but if I was to, that’d be a good one to analyse. You’ve got John, George, Ringo, – that’s sewing it all up. You get Ringo, does his drum solo, which he would never do we had to really persuade him to do [a] drum solo.”
Last updated on March 21, 2021