Paul McCartney never forgot a song he should have remembered.
In the early days, he and John Lennon would work on songs for a few hours and write down some lyrics on a “bit of paper” then forget what the song was by the next morning. But nothing was ever truly lost.
“Me and John were very excited to work with each other,” said McCartney, during a recent chat with Annie Clark (St. Vincent) on Instagram Live. “I could fill in anything he needed, he could fill in anything I needed, so I don’t really think we had too many forgettable songs.”
On the eve of the release of his McCartney III Reimagined, McCartney took to Instagram for two impromptu chats with St. Vincent and Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, two artists handpicked to remix the original tracks off McCartney III, his 18th solo album, released in 2020, and ended up reminiscing on The Beatles, his deep connection to Lennon, and the power of a song.
Remembering the earliest days writing for The Beatles, McCartney says there was never anything lackadaisical about the songwriting process. “There was none of this ‘well, I’ll see you tomorrow, and we’ll see what we can do,’” said McCartney to St. Vincent, who remixed McCartney III track “Women and Wives” for Reimagned. “I’d go around with my guitar and write the song. It was very concise. I often say to young bands now ‘just get the song done before you go in the studio, then you’re a cheap date, [and] the producer is going to love you. You’re not going to waste anybody’s time. Just go and bang the song out with all the energy.”
McCartney added “It’s not the way you record these days, but I still think it’s a good idea.
“If the song is written, then you’ve already done the reconnaissance” said McCartney. “You’ve done all the things to put it together in a nice way, so the recording of it gets to be a lot of exclamation points and confetti,” he adds. “It’s just a lot of fun instead.”
Crafting the energy around The Beatles’ songs, McCartney said it was easy because he and Lennon were simpatico when it came to music.
“If you’re sleeping in the same bed as someone, you’re gonna get to know them quite well,” said McCartney to Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, who reworked “Slidin’” on Reimagined.
Remembering a time he and Lennon hitchhiked to McCartney’s cousin Betty’s house in Reading, England, he says was just one of their memorable bonds. “They only had one guest room, so that was our room,” says McCartney. “I have very fond memories, because we’d be chatting. We’d be talking about music. We brought a guitar, so we were always playing.”
When O’ Brien’s teenage daughter Oona joins the chat, McCartney shares the story behind her favorite Beatles song “Let It Be.”
“I had a dream about my mother, who had died when I was probably about 10,” says McCartney. “I was a bit shocked… because here I was in the same room with this woman I love, and she said to me ‘don’t worry, it’s gonna be okay.’ She said, ‘Just let it be,’ and I woke up. It’s really magical.”
O’Brien added, “What an amazing song. Music and magic are five letters and two letters different.”
Shifting gears back to McCartney III Reimagined, featuring 11 tracks remixed by Beck, Phoebe Bridgers, Dominic Fike, Josh Homme, Anderson .Paak, and Massive Attack’s Robert De Nada (3D RDN), who extended McCartney’s longest track (previously running over eight minutes) into an 11-plus minute remix, McCartney handed each song, giving each artist complete freedom… to reimagine it.
Referencing previous remixes—Questlove’s take on a “Paperback Writer” at a party years earlier or hearing “Twist & Shout” at a club—McCartney says The Beatles unknowingly breached the dance genre.
“I’ve been to some parties where it’s mainly club music and a bunch of young people… and then suddenly they’ll put on ‘Twist & Shout,’ but it works,” says McCartney. “It’s a good dance song.”
Always working around new bass chords or learning different arrangements, McCartney still sees himself as a student of music. “That’s what I love about music,” said McCartney. “I’m still discovering all that stuff.”
He’s still moving. After his chat with O’Brien, McCartney reveals he’s going to the studio with a producer he just met, Andrew Watt (Post Malone, Justin Bieber), to play around with a track. There’s never an end to the magic of making music for McCartney.
“You feel like someone’s going to catch you any minute and say ‘what are you doing?’” McCartney said. “I’ve ended up as a songwriter. This is my job. How did I get this lucky? What a great job.”