For a musician who has long held the conviction that revealing too much in an interview is wrong (save that for your songs, right?) the 73-year-old Paul McCartney was stupendous on Mastertapes (28 May, 10am). Even when the presenter, John Wilson, asked boldly bald questions about the breakup of the Beatles (“Were you depressed?”), McCartney – usually so nimble with placatory answers – answered equally straight and more. Yes, he was bloody depressed and took to his bed in Mull, always Linda’s favourite place because “she loved the Argyle socks”.
Every detail revealed about family was good. Recalling the hours in the delivery room at the birth of their eldest daughter, Mary, Paul described a Picasso print of a guitarist on the hospital wall, and how he thought to recreate precisely the chord held by the fingers in the painting – which he then played for us, explaining that it ended up, last year, sampled in a song by Kanye West (“All Day”).
Yet the consistent brilliance of the interview lay in Wilson patiently encouraging McCartney to follow long trains of thought, like a hummingbird poised over a flower. So, a question about whether Paul tires of forever being asked to play Beatles songs (quick answer: not really) led to an anecdote about saving up for months as a schoolkid to see Bill Haley live, and exploding with happiness when the Comets struck up the opening chords of “Rock Around the Clock”. He talked about how fast he and John wrote music when they were kids (“a quick ciggie, a quick coffee, a quick tune-up”) and the enabling rivalry between the two (“I’d think, OK, let’s be brillianter”). Hence the excess of good songs, hence the Beatles always putting out decent B-sides; they believed the well would never run dry. Apparently, Phil Spector used to complain “You’re wasting stuff!” (I confess this has crossed my mind too, especially first hearing “She’s a Woman”, the B-side of the 1964 single “I Feel Fine”. “She’s a Woman”! A B-Side!)
But that, concluded McCartney, was the whole point. Good A-side plus good B-side equals value for money. Like Bill Haley gave on stage when Paul was in short trousers. And that was just one of his answers.
This article appears in the 01 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, How men got left behind