McCartney 3,2,1 Is a Gift For Every Music Fan

Rick Rubin’s gorgeous new documentary on the life and work of Paul McCartney should shut up even the largest Beatles detractors.

McCartney 3,2,1 Is a Gift For Every Music Fan

By

Aaron Chan

7/19/2021 1:40 PM

When people ask me who my favourite band is, I often do not know what to say. This is not because I do not know. Like a good number of audiophiles approaching 30.. it’s The Beatles; because of its commonality, there’s something uninteresting about saying The Beatles is your favourite band. It’s somewhat similar to saying your favourite quarterback is Tom Brady or your favourite movie is The Godfather, you anticipate a few eye rolls from the other heads and a few “of courses” from just about anybody. I honestly don’t care anymore, the fact that The Beatles are the greatest band ever is absolutely undeniable to the point where despite spending the last decade trying to be more understanding of people’s tastes, I question people who try to argue against the merits of The Beatles. And it is absolutely everywhere; meme culture and forums, watercoolers and dinner parties…“The Beatles aren’t even that good…”

It’s only natural that people play Devil’s Advocate against Honest John, earnest Paul, Quiet George, and Ringo. The Fab Four set a new level of stardom in their early American years, and somehow, through the greatest creative transition in pop culture, they became not just the highest selling, but the BEST, a title they still hold on to this day. There will always be detractors to the winning side.

Well if this you, you should honestly shut the fuck up, put your phone down and go watch McCartney 3,2,1 on Hulu and Disney+.

The gorgeously shot six-part documentary miniseries arrived on platforms Friday, predictably to rapturous response. McCartney 3,2,1 involves creative industry titan Rick Rubin and the great Macca deliver “The Gospel of Paul.” Both offer insightful lessons and eye opening trivia in beautiful black and white cut between archival footage presented in colour, making the flashbacks really come alive. Characteristically, it’s chalked full of anecdotes and “coolest grandpa ever” stories about his old bandmates (Wings too), seeing Fela Kuti in Nigeria, and how Eric Clapton (who Rubin subtly decries as unethical) helped Jimi Hendrix tune his guitar on stage.

Most importantly though, the series features Rubin and McCartney dusting off old Beatles masters and describing their relationships to the iconic songs, unheard of at this point in their individual parts. McCartney and Rubin take us through solos and vocal tracks of classics like “Penny Lane,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “Band on the Run,” and many…many others. McCartney offers personal accounts and credits peripheral and major players whose studio wizardry, connections, and promotional innovations took four kids from Liverpool who were just trying to make a buck and revolutionized the modern band.

I’ve been Wiki-wormholing and “on repeating” The Beatles since I was 9. Here are some things I learned after watching McCartney 3,2,1:

 

(SPOILERS, these are a lot better after you watch the series. Read if you don’t care and just need Beatles trivia immediate.)

1. When recording Abbey Road, Robert Moog actually showed up to the studio to demo his newly built synthesizer and had The Beatles play around with his namesake, the powerful and mysterious Moog, creating thousands of permutations within a single instrument. Judging by the archival photos, they were very pleased.
 
2. Aware of the importance of their film debut, George Martin formulated the front-end chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” with the big screen debut of The Fab Four in mind.
 
3. The “And Your Bird Can Sing” solo is a double tracked guitar played in harmony. It would not be possible to play that with one guitar.
 
4. It was George Martin’s idea to use dog whistles on Sgt. Pepper’s, though Brian Wilson had used them a year before on Pet Sounds. They wanted to catch any dog’s attention while the record was played everywhere in 1967.
 
5. Lennon and McCartney wrote 300 songs together. None of them were unfinished, some have been unreleased.
 
6. While recording Band on the Run, Paul and Linda saw Fela Kuti in Nigeria who was seriously making waves within the community for his crack shot funk band, representation of heritage, and relentless live performances. McCartney wept in the audience.
 
7.  McCartney actually sings the phrases for soloists to play. Yeah… George Martin would literally bring in the best studio players who would not receive sheet music since McCartney could not read notation. Paul would then sing the solo and have the players take notation to then play on record. Those are some pretty amazing solos. Aside from the piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane” featured on film, this might also include things like the sax on “Lady Madonna,” the glide piano on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and Billy Preston’s organ solo on “Don’t Let Me Down…” alright fine probably not that one.

McCartney’s storytelling, now legendary after decades of sharpening through massive tours and high-profile interviews, reveals that The Beatles’ catalogue which symbolizes the greatest art made in the 20th century was really a result of circumstance, not some record label or pop teen parent plot to overtake the internet and thus the world.

A lot of the beauty and adventure that came out of their music was rooted in their individual personalities, comradery and almost Harry Potter-like love of mischief. These are things that a lot of kids just won’t understand anymore. That’s right. I’m talking about that select group within the 18-24s who all have Spotifies yet listen to nothing but Post Malone and Lil’ Pump. Who are basing their opinions off of learning “Yellow Submarine” in their fifth grade music class and perhaps a few early hits that popped up in films and commercials. They have supplanted the old man yelling at a cloud. This new Twitterversal-everyone’s-got-an-edgy-opinion connotation that The Beatles aren’t just the most overrated band of all time, they’re in the bottom tier of the entire list..is totally fucking backwards.

I dare even the darkest cynics to watch McCartney 3,2,1 and not get goosebumps.

Paul McCartney is an absolute superhero. He was inarguably the most proficient musician in The Beatles playing everything at a high level with childlike wonder. Hearing McCartney’s individual bass tracks (which I believe he describes as “wacky” a few times in the doc), their hard pick plucking and full melodic scales centrestage, I found myself wide eyed and open mouthed. This guy was a chameleon. Not only was his voice as clear as glass, he is hands down the greatest character singer of all time. The entire 70’s American songbook did all but strive to mimic McCartney who could rant (“Lady Madonna”), swoon (“Here, There…”), ponder (“The Fool on the Hill,” “For No One”), and destroy (“Helter Skelter,” “Too Many People”) and all the while tell a story, sometimes in full, sometimes in parts.

We all wanted John and Paul to get along and they did in the 70’s. Still, hearing any story of them not embattled in a creative or financial fight is very rewarding to Beatles fans. Rubin and his team at Endeavour took this to heart. Paul’s candour towards his deceased friend is reflective and honest, while Rubin’s reading of Lennon’s high praise comments about McCartney’s bass playing proficiency, is a highlight of the series.

Together, Lennon and McCartney invented a new type of songwriter, smart and ambitious and clever and funny who would write a major key verse and a minor key chorus and then start the song with vocals rather than an instrumental intro. Just look at how The Beatles structured their verses, the second often half the length of the first on some of their biggest songs. They made you wait and then they gave it to you quick. Where Lennon was erratic and experimental with his pen and key, McCartney was precise, totally driven to create the greatest pop songs that will hold up until the last man no longer stands.

It’s a gorgeous picture, split neatly by topic. Rubin and Paul McCartney both represent the most important men in music of their respective eras; together they are an ocean of knowledge and insight delivering beautiful testimony on the most storied catalogue in 20th Century pop culture…a true gift for the music obsessive.

Stream it on Hulu or Disney+.

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