Even though I don’t know Paul McCartney personally, he has been very close to me my whole life – through his music, especially that of the Beatles. A text passage from Paul’s songs comes to mind for almost every situation in life. Paul McCartney even got it so far that I automatically associate the word “Yesterday” with scrambled eggs – because of the story of the most covered pop song in the world: Because according to his own accounts, Paul dreamed the melody of this song, and there he didn’t have any lyrics for it yet, he sang “Scrambled eggs” instead of “Yesterday” to the chorus.
Songs as a diary
“I heard the melody in a dream. When I woke up again, I thought: I like the melody. What is that? Is that Fred Astaire? Cole Porter? What is that? I jumped out of bed, the piano was standing right next to it, and I tried to play the song (…) In order to be able to remember it better, I came up with some nonsense as a placeholder: Scrambled eggs, oh my baby, how I love your legs, scrambled eggs.” That’s what Paul writes in his book “Lyrics” (Publisher CH Beck, 2021), in which he describes his life based on his songs – songs as a kind of diary that remind him of all important and also unimportant events.
But that’s not just the case with him – in fact, each of his songs reminds me of certain events, certain moods in my Life. Because his music has accompanied me all my life.
“Michelle” and “Yellow Submarine” often played out of the speakers of the Pioneer stereo system in the Ottakringer municipal apartment on Sundays while my mother was making breakfast. And it cracked less than usual from the record player, because my father just gave in to a fad and played the vinyl records “wet”. The whole living room smelled of the alcoholic liquid, which – as it later turned out – was more clogging the grooves than improving the sound. I always sang along, even if I didn’t understand the language – it sounded more like “Musch-el” or “Hello Samarin”.
That was in 1979. Paul McCartney was 37 years old and had been with the Wings for a long time. I was five and the Beatles were gone. But for me they were the reason why I wanted to learn to play the guitar as a boy. At the age of 10 I was able to play through the “Beatles Complete Songbook”, at least the chord accompaniments. During this time, from the transition from elementary school to high school, I met one of my oldest and closest friends, with whom I was able to share my enthusiasm. He even had song books of Paul McCartney’s solo projects at home.
We started writing our own songs when we were eleven: he was John Lennon, I was Paul McCartney. He, the cool savage, I the polite Brave – although we had already read the biographies and knew that these stereotypes were not true. We all wanted to be cool and wild – Paul and John really were.
My father’s records quickly moved from the living room to the children’s room – the “Red Album” (1962 to 1966), the “Blue Album” (1967 to 1970), “Rubber Soul” (1965), “Revolver” (1966), “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967), my favorite: “The White Album” (1968), “Abbey Road” (1969), “Let It Be” (1970) etc. And the albums that were missing, were sought, bought, borrowed … and sometimes not returned: “let me tell you how it will be – there’s one for you, 19 for me …” (“Taxman” 1966).
Ottakring instead of Liverpool
Our entire understanding of music – the structure of a song, the tricks of changing from minor to major at the end to make the song more exciting, the unmistakable interval singing, McCartney’s melodic bass playing and the two-finger technique on the guitar, for example with “Blackbird” – we copied all that meticulously. We also learned English with the Beatles songs because we wanted to understand everything – and we had our English professor improve our own lyrics.
We recorded the first songs with a Fostex four-track recorder, for which we had put every penny aside for months. With the “Waterscales” (the creative background of the band name: my zodiac sign is Aquarius, that of my musical comrade-in-arms Libra) we wanted to take off at some point. Not from Liverpool out into the big, wide world, but from Ottakring or Penzing: “Baby, you can drive my car – Yes, I’m gonna be a star – Baby, you can drive my car – And maybe I’ll love you” (1965).
But the fact that you now only know my name because of the above author line of this article already suggests that nothing came of it and that I ended up in the writing guild. “It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few – I’ll be writing more in a week or two – I could make it longer if you like the style – I can change it ’round – And I wanna be a paperback writer – paperback writer” (1966).
Nevertheless, it was John Lennon – and especially for me – Paul McCartney who shaped us musically. And with us many more generations. There are hardly any greats from the light music scene who would refrain from naming the Beatles when asked who influenced them musically. These four musicians were simply absolute exceptions.
Hits for others too
With more than a billion records sold, they are still the most successful band in music history. They weren’t a marketing product designed and thrown together by the record industry, based solely on market demands. They weren’t about luck or a craving for fame, either, because becoming a successful songwriter would have been enough for Paul McCartney. He would have earned enough with that – after all, he has written more than 70 hits.
When they started writing their own songs, Paul and John wanted to be “as big” as Rodgers and Hammerstein – a famous 1950s songwriting team consisting of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Paul and John wanted to become hit purveyors not only for themselves but also for other artists. When their manager Brian Epstein engaged other bands besides the Beatles, the two often jumped into the breach with compositions for which they themselves had no use.
For example, the song “A World Without Love” by the British duo Peter & Gordon (1964) was penned by Paul McCartney. He had written this song when he was 16 but it never seemed good enough to appear on a Beatles record so he left it to his then almost-brother-in-law Peter Asher – who made it into both the UK, as well as in the US charts. McCartney also wrote songs for Carlos Mendes (“Penina”), Badfinger (“Come And Get It”), Cilla Black (“Step Inside Love”) or Billy J. Kramer ( “From A Window”).
Of course, among the most successful compositions credited to McCartney with the Beatles are “Yesterday”, “Penny Lane”, “Hey Jude”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Let It Be”. After the Beatles came world hits like “Ebony And Ivory” with Stevie Wonder, “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson, “Mull Of Kintyre” with the Wings and the James Bond song “Live And Let Die”.
In any case, McCartney was also the Beatles’ most versatile instrumentalist. In addition to vocals and bass, he often played guitar, piano, mellotron (“Strawberry Fields Forever”) and drums on recordings (e.g. on “Back In The USSR” because there was a fight with Ringo Starr at the time, or on “Dear Prudence” and “The Ballad Of John And Yoko”).
John – and even more so Paul – were absolute workhorses, enthusiasts driven by their music. An infinite number of hours on stage preceded her world success. They played on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg for six months, six to eight hours a day (and night) – seven days a week (back then with Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums). “It’s been a hard day’s night – And I’ve been working like a dog – It’s been a hard day’s night – I should be sleeping like a log” (1964). (Anyone who thinks “Eight Days A Week” would have been a better fit here is wrong, because this is more of a love song.)
Right on point
When the Beatles weren’t on stage, they lived together in a very small space. And more music was created there than most professional musicians are able to produce in half their musical life. And the result was an interaction that inspired more people than ever before. The Beatles were the first band to incite mass hysteria at concerts; Performances often had to be ended early because the audience got completely out of control.
Even after the end of the Beatles, Paul always sold out concert halls with the Wings and his own songs and carried the success with him into the present as if he were his big brother.
Even now that he is old, Paul is as active as ever. “If I’d been out till quarter to three – Would you lock the door – Will you still need me, will you still feed me – When I’m sixty-four” (1967). He still feeds the world with his songs. And its power seems inexhaustible. Anyone who saw & heard him in the Wiener Stadthalle in 2020 knows what we’re talking about: three hours full throttle to the end – and even with a clearly audible hoarse voice, he still hits every note exactly on point.
Dear Sir Paul McCartney, even if you don’t know me and will never read this, I would like to wish you – as well as all your millions of fans – a happy birthday. And I would like to thank you personally for your music, which, as I said, has accompanied me throughout my life – and hopefully will continue to do so for a while. “I would like you to dance, birthday – Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday – I would like you to dance, birthday – Dance” (1968).