All the way to the Paul McCartney concert in Vancouver BC last week, my family listened to old Beatles and Wings songs in the car. That was when it occurred to me that this one person has the song catalogue of a thousand of us menial songwriters out there, and not only that, but SO MANY of them were hits and became classics over almost six decades of writing and performing. And even beyond that, at the age of 70 he can still go out there and outperform even the youngest and spryest of artists and bands. The guy barely stopped for a full 3 hours. He continually and genuinely appreciated and acknowledged each and every one of the 40,000 or so of us there who were equally as thrilled to see him come to Vancouver for the first time since 1963. It was an epic and unforgettable experience.
There were almost 40 songs on his playlist that night, and I don’t think I was disappointed in any of them, not even the newer ones that I didn’t recognize. When you listen to them one after the other, you realize what a truly great songwriter McCartney is and always has been. His knack for beautiful melodies and distinct lyrical meters, coupled with his seemly simple chord progressions (which often actually aren’t!) are his gifts, all wrapped up in a spirited, sometimes comical but always generous on stage presence, never letting you down for a moment. There is no other like him.
I was 6 years old when I first experienced “Beatlemania” on the Ed Sullivan Show. I saw them but I can’t say I heard much of them…the girls in the audience were screaming so loudly that I barely heard a thing! It was the beginning of the British Invasion and although I was just a little kid, I felt the rush of excitement along with my friends as we listened to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” on our local radio station time and again as the Beatles’ music took off in North America.
I was a teenager when Paul McCartney’s band Wings suddenly took his music in another direction with classics like “Band On The Run“, “Jet” and “Listen To What The Man Said”, adding to the soundtrack of my high school years. I could imagine his devastation when John Lennon was shot and finally, when George Harrison died of cancer. Ringo is still around, but he doesn’t do a lot of performing, and so Paul McCartney is left to bring these wonderful songs back to the people for as long as he can, or wants to. He must love it, because he surely doesn’t have to!
All week since, I’ve been pulling out Beatles’ songs and either just playing them myself or having my guitar students play them. And once again I marvel at the song craft and musicianship, and the uniqueness of Lennon/McCartney, and Harrison, who came later into the songwriting fray. There aren’t many songwriters out there who could lay claim to having influenced SO many others after them. They were simply musical pioneers.
So if you want to study great songwriting; the craft, the talent and the imagination of the Beatles would be a very good place to start.