Book Review: ‘The Lyrics’ by Paul McCartney with Paul Muldoon

The format of this 2-volume autobiography/memoir makes it an expensive choice; but I was fortunate enough to receive it as a Christmas gift, and having only just finished poring over it, I can now report that I found it utterly fascinating.

The Lyrics by Paul McCartney – image of the box set

I believe the book will be of greatest interest to those who have followed the Beatles and in particular Paul McCartney from the 1960s. Not only does it satisfy the curiosity of all those who have wondered about the meaning behind the lyrics, and the events from which the ideas arose, but it also acts as a valuable social history as Paul recalls life in Liverpool in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

I do feel that the book derives its particular character from the fact that this is a man in his later years, with all the wisdom and reflection of decades of life, trying to remember his thoughts and values as a young teenager and in his early 20s. It is actually quite a challenge, and the feeling of the book is often incredibly revealing and intimate, as the text is simply a transcription of his spoken reminiscences to the poet Paul Muldoon.

The reminiscences vary widely; some come over as rambling and vague; others are sad and regretful, especially about the period 1969-1972 which saw painful misunderstandings, the acrimonious break-up of the Beatles, a court case in which he effectively “divorced” the Beatles, and a period during which John Lennon could not resist the temptation to rehearse his own sense of loss and anger through snide remarks in songs and interviews.

I often found Paul’s recollections very enlightening on subjects veiled in mystery for decades, that I’ve often wanted the answer to – especially what he really thought of John, his insights into John’s character, and the relationship between them, both personally and creatively. I was also captivated by his insights into early fame, and into how his emotional state at the time / life experiences would feed into his songs.

The photos accompanying the text are astonishing: so many of them at all times of his life, from early family records, through to the present. For all creative people, there is value in reading Paul’s insights into his writing process, the way ideas often came out of nowhere, and he would just grasp them and run with them. The songs are in alphabetical order and so if you read the book all the way through you are constantly moving back and forth between 1958 and 2020 and all years in between, from one song to another.

The sheer randomness of some of the lyrics will strike the reader: often they mean something completely different from one verse to the next, as in Hey Jude, or will seem to refer to a specific person in Paul’s life, as in Here, There and Everywhere, but he claims they had just been plucked out of the air and referenced the world rather than any particular person. It also fascinated me that John thought Hey Jude initially referred to himself, and had no idea it referred to his son Julian!

I learned many new things: I hadn’t previously realised The Fool on the Hill referred to the Maharishi (I had always thought the Fool was Paul himself). I had also not known that Got To Get You Into My life refers not to a girl but to marijuana. This was very clever of Lennon McCartney for they often disguised lyrics with bizarre origins by making them seem to refer to a romantic girl / boy relationship. Paul also says something very discerning which I believe applies to writing novels as well: he says that songs once written belong to the world, and those who receive the songs are free to make what they like of the lyrics, and he is quite happy with that.

An amazing autobiography, highly recommended.

Here’s a few links to other posts I have written on this blog about the Beatles and Paul McCartney – including my review of a previous book on their lyrics, also received as a Christmas gift!

The Beatles: a fan’s memorabilia

Book Review: The Beatles Lyrics by Hunter Davies

Paul McCartney: People of Inspiration Part 1

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Published by SC Skillman

I'm a writer of psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction. My latest book, 'Paranormal Warwickshire', was published by Amberley Publishing in November 2020. Find all my published books here:

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