Paul McCartney made the most of the lockdown. He first recorded the third of his “McCartney” album trilogy. Then he arranged for famous friends like St Vincent and Beck to remix the LP. And now, here he is on McCartney 3,2,1 (Disney +, Wednesday), dabbling with super-producer Rick Rubin and talking, with undisguised enthusiasm, of the glory years of The Beatles.
At 79, McCartney’s effervescence is remarkable. He is surely fed up with questions about his humble upbringing at Liverpool. His debut playing with John Lennon. His relationship with his unofficial younger brother, George Harrison. These are anecdotes that must haunt his dreams.
But no, he never has enough. It helps that on McCartney 3, 2, 1 he has the opportunity to stand out. He’s “in conversation” with producer and hit-maker Rubin in six 30-minute episodes – though in reality they’re just laughing together in a studio. And that proves the best possible environment to get the most out of Macca.
Rubin is the ultimate “song doctor” in music. He orchestrated the early success of the Beastie Boys and presided over the fall reinvention of Johnny Cash. Obviously, he’s a Beatles nut, too. And the fanboy inside surfaces as McCartney, with puppy-like eagerness, hits a piano and mimes on Ringo’s drums.
The big concept is for the duo to break down some of McCartney’s greatest smashes – Beatles and others – on a mixer. And there is real information about the Macca process. These early Beatles burners were supernaturally hummable for a very specific reason, says McCartney.
“We wrote memorable songs, not because we wanted them to be memorable, but because we had to remember them,” says McCartney. “It was very convenient.
Rubin is an expert but he is not a boring musician. It becomes evident when they decompose while my guitar softly cries. There are, Rubin observes, two songs unfolding. Harrison and his friend Eric Clapton are engaged in a psychedelic wig. Then Rubin isolates McCartney’s bass and it sounds like proto-heavy metal or an early version of the Seven Nation Army riff from the White Stripes.
“I’ve never heard a bass sound like this before,” exclaims Rubin. “Very unusual… Almost like two songs were playing simultaneously… either one was great. And then, on top of each other.
McCartney 3, 2, 1 is filmed in slightly pretentious black and white. It is unnecessary frills. And yet it doesn’t matter. McCartney and Rubin’s exuberance shines through in sparkling Technicolor in an absolutely fabulous documentary from start to finish.