Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Paul McCartney: The Lyrics - a book review


Paul McCartney is never going to write his autobiography.   However, he has given us his authorized biography, Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, and now we have The Lyrics.     In this pair of books, Paul goes through most of his hit (and many non-hit) songs and explains his thoughts behind writing them while telling a bit of his own personal history along the way.     The book is organized alphabetically by song instead of chronologically.   So you could easily read a song written in the 1950s, and then the next song be written within the past five years.   I am accustomed to reading through the history of Paul McCartney in order, and it was a different look at his life and his music to go in alphabetically. 

Paul obviously did not "write" the book in alphabetical order.   He repeats some of the same stories throughout both volumes.   I think we read about Paul meeting John for the first time 3 times.   

Most of the stories told here are well-known and well-loved by those of us who have followed Paul's career during the past 60 years.  It is nice to have them all together in one place.   There are also a lot of little nuggets of information to discover.   I learned that Paul sees the days of the week as different colors.  I also learned that when he writes or sings a song, he sort of feels like he channeling a particular performer, such as Little Richard or Fred Astaire.    So he doesn't feel as if it is Paul McCartney performing, but this other person.   He got a lot of inspiration for lyrics or names in his songs from such a wide variety of places:  old songs from his childhood, plays he has seen, Greek mythology, artwork he has seen, etc etc.   The majority of his work is the influence of his mother and father.  

Paul really holds John in high esteem.   He obviously was very hurt when John asked for a "divorce" from the Beatles.  He was especially hurt because John seemed to have been so happy when he asked for the divorce.   One thing I didn't know was that they met together in 1972 and in-person decided to stop fighting with one another.    After that, John and Paul remained friends until John died.  Since John has died, Paul still thinks about him whenever he is writing songs and wonders, "What will John think of that line..."    I found all of the things he had to say about his relationship with John to be very fascinating.  

Paul made plenty of mistakes in the book.   It isn't a history book.  It is based on Paul's memory of the songs he wrote and the life he lived as of the year 2020.   One of the biggest errors he made was saying that after John asked for a divorce from The Beatles, he and John got together and recorded "The Ballad of John and Yoko."   We all know that was NOT how it happened.   Will anyone ever have the courage to correct him?  I don't think so.    He also made a statement about how the Beatles all decided to stop touring AFTER the concert at Candlestick Park.   He used to claim that it was after the St. Louis show, and in my book I discovered that it really happened on August 20, 1966, in Cincinnati after leaving the stadium after sitting around for hours for the concert to be postponed to the next day due to rain.   Regardless -- it was NOT after Candlestick.   I know in Paul's mind it doesn't really matter, but to Beatles history, it is sort of a big deal.   

What was the biggest surprise?   Paul REALLY does say "polygon" in "Hi Hi Hi."   I swore he said "body gun" and just claimed to say "polygon" to cover up the more racy lyrics.   But Paul talks about this misunderstanding and how it was really polygon all along.  Then you see the original hand-written lyrics, and sure enough -- it is polygon!    

That reminds me -- the photographs and other items in this book are amazing!  

Overall I wasn't super knocked out with The Lyrics.   A lot of the same old stories that we've heard Paul tell during interviews and concerts.   Yet it is an extremely important book for Beatles fans. 

This is one of those books that is now part of "The Beatles book canon" along with the Anthology, Mark Lewisohn's books, Hunter Davies book and a handful of others.   If you didn't buy one for yourself or get one for Christmas, you do not want to miss out.

1 comment:

  1. That's a very good, and objective, review. Thanks!