Book Review: The Lyrics, by Paul McCartney

In June of 2022, Sir James Paul McCartney will celebrate his 80th birthday. It is hard to imagine a man who has had more of an impact on songwriting and beyond than the man affectionately known as “Macca”. His story is well known. He grew up in Liverpool to loving parents and then in his late teens he met another Liverpudlian called John Lennon. They realised that they worked well together at writing songs and eventually they formed a band with Paul’s friend George Harrison and, after a number of other drummers, Ringo Starr. And an iconic outfit called The Beatles began to set the world on fire.

This magnificent volume (900 pages across two hardcover books in a slipcase weighing in at 4 kgs) is the closest we are ever likely to get to an autobiography from the man himself. And what a way to tell his story.

The Lyrics takes 154 of Paul’s songs across his career and, through many interviews with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, the man himself tells us the wheres, whys and hows of each song. From early demos with Lennon, through his many wonderful numbers with The Beatles and then his subsequent career (including his album McCartney III released last year and his foray into classical music, the Liverpool Oratorio) we get to know a lot about what makes the man tick.

It is tempting to only read about the songs one knows but this reviewer actively encourages the reader to digest this whole set. Like any old man reminiscing on his past, you hear the same story a number of times. For example when Lennon and McCartney would get into an argument, Lennon would lower his glasses and look at Paul and say, “Don’t worry Paul, it’s only me”. Lennon, understandably, is a prominent figure in this volume both within and out of The Beatles. Of special note is Paul’s entry on the song Too Many People where he talks about the swipe Lennon had made in his own song How Do You Sleep? The song Here Today was written as a farewell to Lennon after his untimely death and that entry is a very sobering one.

There are plenty of fascinating anecdotes involving his wife Linda and his current wife Nancy. He clearly loves them both and this is reflected in the affection in which he speaks about them. He also speaks with great adoration for producer George Martin as well as the other Beatles.

Not every song is loved by him and some, like Venus and Mars, he finds to be “a little embarrassing now”. Along the way he discusses issues about politics, religion, rights, freedoms and, of course, vegetarianism—which he has been practiced for nearly 50 years (“I believe all life should have the same opportunities that I did” he proudly states).

There are some notable absences from the lengthy list of songs. The Beatles classic Hello Goodbye is strangely absent as is his solo hit C Moon. That being said, fans will not be disappointed at the selection of songs. The complete lyrics are included which is helpful if you decide to listen to the songs as you read about them.

This is a beautifully written and presented volume and one that every Beatles fan will salivate over. It is not just the words of McCartney himself but the many wonderful pictures that adorn this volume that have never seen the light of day before. It is a pricey investment but worth every cent. Don’t pass this by and let it be.

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