The Fresh Air Interview
Paul McCartney Blows 'Kisses' To His Father's Era
Originally published on Thu March 29, 2012 5:52 pm
When Paul McCartney was a little boy, he always looked forward to New Year's Eve — the biggest social event of the year in Liverpool.
"The family would all gather, my dad was the pianist, and ... drinks would appear and people would start singing," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And apparently never stop until we all ran out for New Year's."
McCartney's latest album, Kisses on the Bottom, is filled with songs he associates with his father and his father's generation, including "Home" and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."
"These songs are etched in my memory, and they're very happy memories, so I wanted to do the songs for that reason," he says. "I've always loved them, but when rock 'n' roll came along and I got into The Beatles, we just thought we were just doing another thing. It didn't dismiss the other songs at all. In fact, they became the basic structure of a lot of what John [Lennon] and I wrote."
McCartney says he used to analyze the melodic structure and various key changes in the songs from his childhood, and then used those musical tricks while writing songs for The Beatles, Wings and his solo albums. In the original song "My Valentine" from Kisses on the Bottom, for example, the song switches from a major key to a minor key.
"It's just a little thing that most people wouldn't notice it happening, but it just changes the mood," he says. "Obviously, musicians would know exactly what was happening. ... In "Here, There and Everywhere," one of my songs with The Beatles, it does [the key change] after the middle. It's a very simple trick, but quite effective."
McCartney says that when he was writing original songs, he was also conscious of a desire to shake up the structure of music from his childhood.
"What happens is you listen to the old songs — and you're brought up with the old songs, and you love them — but then there comes a time when you're doing your thing and there doesn't seem to be much sense in repeating what's gone before," he says. "So you then use the structure or the memory, almost, but you put your own spin on it and try to get away from any formula. And so you experiment with the structure for your own songs. We did that. ... You're conscious of the old songs, but you're also conscious of forging a new way to write."
McCartney points to The Beatles' song "From Me to You" as one of the first songs where he felt like he was writing something entirely new.
"The song itself is in the key of C Major, but then it goes to a G Minor 7th for that middle, and that was kind of one of those 'Ooh, yeah' moments," he says. "A lot of what we wrote, because we didn't read or write music, was instinctive. So we'd try a chord and say, 'Ooh, that's nice.'"
On Singing Without An Instrument
"I have not practiced how to be a singer without an instrument. With an instrument — bass, guitar, piano — I know how to do that. I think that was one of the things that was exciting about Kisses on the Bottom. It was me as an alter ego. I was now the vocalist. In the studio, it didn't matter too much what I did with my hands, because I was in a vocal booth, and we were just concentrating on the voice and getting the singing right."
On What His Father Thought Of The Beatles
"My dad, bless him, was a musician. And his dad had thought that his music was rubbish. He used to call it 'tin-can music.' And my dad told me this. And I couldn't fathom it. But I think what it was was that in his father's era, the singers were more operatic. ... My dad was born in 1902. Consequently, my dad was more tolerant. He'd gone through playing his tin-can music. So when we brought our tin-can music, he quite liked it. He realized that it was quite musical. ... When John and I had just finished writing the song "She Loves You," we were in the parlor of the little house we lived in in Liverpool, and John and I went next door to one of the rooms where my dad was. And we played it — 'She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah' — and he said, 'Oh, that's very good, son. But there's just one thing. Couldn't you sing, "She loves you, yes, yes, yes?"' He said, 'There's enough of these Americanisms around.' And we said, 'No, sorry Dad, it's got to be "yeah, yeah, yeah."'
On His Record Collection
"When you're a kid growing up in Liverpool — and I suspect anywhere 'round the world — you don't necessarily get the record collection you want. Records just find their way to you. Someone might give you one. So I had a fairly wide-ranging record collection. I would have something like West Side Story and then Fats Waller and then maybe Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. It was just music I liked. And I loved Fats Waller. I love his instrumental abilities, his vocal abilities and his sense of humor."
"Looking back, I think I was always musical. My dad was very musical, and I think my mom was musical. He was the player in the family. I think I always had a musicality, and I think I could tell a good song from a bad song. And I would appreciate hearing something that was new to me. I had a cousin Betty who was older than me, who I idolized because she was pretty and five years older than me. And she turned me on to 'My Funny Valentine,' which I'd never heard, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, that is an amazing song.' I'd always loved that kind of thing growing up."
On Hearing Rock 'N' Roll
"It was electrifying. You heard people saying, 'I've never heard anything like that before, man.' And it was that. You hear on the radio Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel.' It was like, 'Oh my God, what is that?' Now that we know it so well, you think, 'Oh, it's Elvis singing "Heartbreak Hotel."' There will be listeners who can remember that moment when you heard that."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today we're going to hear an interview I recently recorded with Paul McCartney. He was in his home studio in England. What I didn't know before I started was that he was seated at his piano. He didn't perform, but he did illustrate a few things.
The occasion for our interview is his latest album, "Kisses on the Bottom," which features several standards and lesser-known songs that he associates with his father's generation. Paul McCartney's father was a musician and would play these songs around the house when Paul was a child.
There's also a couple of original songs on the album, including "My Valentine," which he'll talk about later. The title of the album, "Kisses on the Bottom," is a line from the lyric of the opening track "I'm Going To Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," which Fats Waller made famous.
Diana Krall is featured on piano, John Pizzarelli on guitar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER")
PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you. I'm gonna write words oh so sweet. They're gonna knock me off my feet, a lot of kisses on the bottom. I'll be glad I've got 'em.
(Singing) I'm gonna smile and say I hope you're feeling better and close with love the way you do. I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you.
GROSS: Sir Paul McCartney, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So these are songs from your father's era, and, you know, some of them you knew from those days, others you learned for this album. But the songs that - this type of song, did you love these songs when you were growing up then go through a period of distancing yourself from them, like during the Beatles era when you were all about rock 'n' roll, before you fell in love with those songs again?
MCCARTNEY: No, I didn't really. I always loved them. But, you know, when rock 'n' roll came, and I got into The Beatles, we just thought, well, we we're just doing another thing, this is just a more modern thing, at the time. And it didn't dismiss the other songs at all in my mind, it just - in fact, they became the basic structure of a lot of what John and I wrote.
Even though we were working in a kind of rock-'n'-roll style, in a new style, the melodic structure of some of those old songs and some of the tricks that the songs used were still there in the back of our minds, both John and I because he, too, was keen on this kind of music from his youth.
GROSS: When you say some of the tricks that the songs used, what kind of tricks are you talking about?
MCCARTNEY: As a kid growing up, I would hear something happen musically that I didn't know what it was, but I would think that's nice. And for instance the changes from a minor key to a major key within a song. For instance the song "Besame Mucho" starts in a minor key, and it's - I happen to have a piano beside me here.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BESAME MUCHO")
MCCARTNEY: It's like (singing) besame, besame mucho, doodly, doodly, doodly – duh, duh, duh. (Speaking) And it goes to major there. I always thought wow, something special happens when that chord hits.
GROSS: Can you give me an example of one of your songs that goes from major to minor?
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, "My Valentine."
GROSS: Oh, that's one of your original songs from the new album.
MCCARTNEY: Which is one of the ones from the new album, yes. It's...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY VALENTINE")
MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Duh, duh, duh. (Speaking) That's all in major. (Singing) And she was right, this love of mine. My valentine.
(Speaking) Then it goes – (Singing) And I will love her, for life. (Speaking) the middle is in the major key. It's just a little thing that most people wouldn't really notice it happening, but it just changes the mood. But it's an example of the tricks I was talking about.
And then songs that I used to appreciate the structure of, a song for instances like "Cheek to Cheek," which isn't on the album, but it's an example of what I'm talking about, which would be: Heaven, I'm in heaven, doodly, doodly. And then it goes into the middle, (singing) dance with me, put your arms around me, will carry me through to heaven. (Speaking) And you're back at the beginning, and it was like wow, how did he do that?
And I remember as a kid thinking, I love that. I love the way that the composer's gone all the distance through the song, and he comes back. I think - I was talking to someone about this and saying, oh, I love that trick in the song "Cheek to Cheek." And the person said, well, you do it. I said, do I? They said yeah, in "Here, There and Everywhere," one of my songs with The Beatles, it does that. Sort of after the middle it goes diddly, diddly, diddly, it comes back to here.
So it comes back to where it started, a very simple trick, but kind of quite effective.
GROSS: You know, it's interesting that you're talking about using the musical and structural changes of old songs and doing that yourself. And what a lot of people say that you contributed, among other things, to song is breaking the format of the 32-bar song, the A-A-B-A structure, the verse-verse-bridge-back-to-the-verse structure.
And some of your songs do do that. Some of your songs kind of stick to that structure. Did you ever set out to consciously shake up the structure of the song in addition to wanting to, like, emulate your favorite songs?
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, I think so. What happens is you listen to the old songs, and you're brought up with the old songs, and you love them. But then there comes a time when you're doing your thing, and there doesn't seem to be much sense in repeating what's gone before.
So you then use the structure or the memory, almost, of what's gone before, but you put your own spin on it, and you try to get away from any formula. And so you experiment with the structure, then, for your own songs. So we did that. Some of our songs were kind of almost like little mini-operas where you'd go from one thought to another. They're almost like a few songs stitched together, an episodic thing.
And those were things that the old songwriters hadn't done. So yeah, you're conscious of the old songs, but you're also conscious of forging a new way to write.
GROSS: What would you say is the first song where you felt this is something new?
MCCARTNEY: The Beatles song "From Me To You," which - it was the middle eight that kind of goes (singing) If there's anything that you want, if there's anything I can do (unintelligible). (Speaking) So that's kind of straightforward. Then it goes (singing) I've got arms that long to hold you. (Speaking) And that, the song itself, I think, is in the key of C Major, but then it goes to a G minor 7th for that middle.
And that was kind of - it was one of those ooh-yeah moments. I mean, a lot of what we wrote, because we didn't read or write music, was instinctive. So we'd try a chord, and we'd say ooh, that's nice. And that was the first moment I remember in our writing, John and I, was the song "From Me To You" in that middle, (singing) I've got arms that long to hold you.
It just, it's a kind of moody chord change.
GROSS: Can you play that change just so we can hear it?
MCCARTNEY: Can I play it? (Unintelligible).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FROM ME TO YOU")
MCCARTNEY: (Singing) (humming). I've got arms that long to hold you.
It's just that, see?
GROSS: Yeah, definitely.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: So let me just re-introduce you. My guest is Sir Paul McCartney, and he has a new album called "Kisses on the Bottom," as in the Fats Waller song, "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," and it's an album of songs of his father's generation era, songs that he grew up with.
And I thought this would be a good time to hear another song from the new album. How about "Home"? And I think this is a song you actually knew from your father, a song that he used to sing.
MCCARTNEY: Yes, I did. This was a sort of deep memory, and I remembered that I loved the song so much when I was growing up that I used to do, in the pre-Beatle days, when we were trying to sort of figure out what to do and what would work, what wouldn't work, to an instrumental version of that. Just playing the melody on guitar and because it was such a nice melody.
And so I remembered it from that. I thought: Oh, yes, let's look at the words. And the words are nice. You know, it's very evocative of that period. And old songs, a lot of old songs had an introduction, a little appendage on the front, which we always used to think it was just a bit rambley(ph).
Just, I was in Manhattan, (humming), we had nothing to do, (humming). Then I get a kick out of you, whatever.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: Then it goes into the song you know. You go: Oh, I know that one. But this mysterious period before, you go, what the - is this, you know? And so we looked at all the verses when we were doing the album, and the one or two of them, we thought you know what? This is nice. It would be nice to bring this verse back.
And so a lot of people who know the song "Home" don't spot it from the verse.
GROSS: So let's hear your recording of "Home," and this is Paul McCartney from his new album "Kisses on the Bottom."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOME")
MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Evening marks the close of day. Skies of blue begin to grey. Crimson hues are fading in the west. Evening ever brings to me dreams of days that used to be, memories of those I love the best.
(Singing) When shadows fall, and trees whisper day is ending, my thoughts are ever wending home. When crickets call, my heart is forever yearning once more to be returning home. When the hills conceal the setting sun, stars begin a-peeping, one by one. Night covers all, and though...
GROSS: That's Paul McCartney from his new album "Kisses on the Bottom," and many of the songs, like the one we just heard, are songs that he associates with his father and with his father's generation. We'll talk more with Paul McCartney after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Paul McCartney. He was in his home recording studio in England. His new album, "Kisses on the Bottom," features songs he associates with his father and his father's generation.
So you loved your father's music. Did he like your music when you were in The Beatles, and you were really shaking things up, and a lot of fathers in England and in the United States didn't like the music because it seemed radical, you seemed - to the parents you seemed, like, you know, dirty and unkempt, but when you look back at the photos, I mean, like you're so well-groomed. It's so funny.
MCCARTNEY: We were very well-groomed. Even The Rolling Stones were well-groomed. I remember, you know, people used to say God, they're so dirty. And we had a police officer once who was helping us out of a venue, and he'd had The Rolling Stones, I think ,the day before, and he said: You lads are nice, he said, but those Rolling Stones, he said, were real terrible, dirty and everything. And I was saying, well, what do you mean? Because we knew the guys.
We said oh, they're very clean boys. He said: Oh, that Mick Jagger. He said he wore the same shirt onstage that he'd worn in the afternoon.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: And that was like the height of scruffiness. And it was like: Excuse me, mate, I'm not sure you're right. But no, my dad, bless him, was a musician. And his dad had thought that his music, the kind that's on "Kisses on the Bottom," was rubbish. He used to call it tin-can music. And my dad told me this.
You know, he said because - and I couldn't fathom it. I think: How could you think things like (singing) Chicago, Chicago, (humming)? (Speaking) But I think what it was, how my dad explained it, was that in his father's era, the singers were more operatic. So it was (singing) Chicago, (speaking) that kind of voice that you sort of hear on the older records or even pre-records because, you know, my dad was born in 1902, so his dad would be going back into the 1800s.
But no, so consequently, my dad was more tolerant. So he'd gone through playing his tin-can music. So when we brought our tin-can music, he quite liked it. You know, he realized that it was quite musical.
There was one funny little story, that I've told a lot of times, but maybe your listeners haven't heard it, which was when John and I had just finished writing the song, the Beatles song "She Loves You," we were in the parlor of the little house we lived in in Liverpool.
And John and I were in one of the rooms – we went next door, to where my dad was, and we played it through to him – (singing) she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. (Speaking) And he said, oh, that's very nice. He said: That's very good, son. He said: But there's just one thing. Couldn't you sing she loves you, yes, yes, yes? He said: There's enough of these Americanisms around.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: So we said no, sorry Dad, it's got to be yeah, yeah, yeah.
GROSS: God, what a nightmare to have your father grammatically correct your lyrics.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: And then you have the pleasure of ignoring him completely and going on and having a great success with it and proving him wrong. But no, I mean, other than that - and of course, he didn't care about that, either. No, he was very understanding. He used to actually suggest songs for us to do from his era.
There was one, "Stairway to Paradise."
GROSS: Oh, I'm building a stairway to paradise with a new step every day.
MCCARTNEY: Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra used to do it, and my dad liked that, and he thought we should do that with The Beatles. And I think, you know, we did consider it. But we thought no, this is not us.
GROSS: So some of these songs you knew through your father. What did he play? I know he was in a band.
MCCARTNEY: Piano, and then he told me he used to play trumpet until his teeth gave out. When you look back on those, sort of - that generation, it's great. It's hilarious, you know, because I remember him advising me that when I was 21 to have all my teeth taken out and false teeth put in. He said: It'll save you a lot of trouble, son.
GROSS: Wow, advice I hope you did not take.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: I mean, you know, dentists of America, heed my advice. Imagine that, 21, well, I'm 21, time for the teeth to go.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GROSS: Great advice for a singer, yeah. So...
MCCARTNEY: But yeah, so he used to play trumpet and - when he was younger - and piano. And he had a period, later, of torturing us all when he tried to learn the clarinet.
GROSS: Oh, that's a hard instrument.
MCCARTNEY: And it squeaks a lot.
GROSS: It squeaks a lot. Those reeds are murder. So did he want - did he wish that he was a professional musician and could actually make a living and be known as a musician?
MCCARTNEY: No, I don't think so. No, you know, I was just reading a book about the life of George Gershwin. And in it, it says something that I found to be very true. That no matter how poor people were, in those days, pretty much every house had a piano. They were talking about New York, we're talking about Gershwin, but I think it certainly was true for me, many houses you went into, there would be a piano because a record player was a little bit of a novelty.
And there were - you know, you knew people who sort of had record collections, but mainly it would be homemade music hashed out on a piano. And as I said, my dad was the guy who would play at the parties. And he said to me: Learn piano, son. He said: You'll always be invited to parties.
GROSS: Paul McCartney will be back in the second half of the show. His new album is called "Kisses on the Bottom." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with more of the interview I recorded with Paul McCartney. He was in his home recording studio in England. His new album, "Kisses on the Bottom," features several songs he associates with his father and his father's generation.
I want to play another song from your new album "Kisses on the Bottom." And this is "My Very Good Friend the Milkman." And it's written by Johnny Burke and Harold Spina or Spina. I'm not familiar with Harold Spina but Johnny Burke wrote the lyrics for a lot of great songs, "Pennies from Heaven." He co-wrote a lot of songs with Jimmy Van Heusen, "Imagination," "It Could Happen To You," "Polka Dots And Moonbeams," "Like Someone In Love."
GROSS: He wrote the lyrics to "Misty."
GROSS: I never heard this song before. And it's so catchy. Tell me how you know the song.
MCCARTNEY: I know I was a big fan - still am – of Fats Waller and I had a record of his when I was a kid. You know, when you're a kid growing up in Liverpool, and I suspect it's the same anywhere in America, I suspect around the world, you don't necessarily get the record collection you want. Records just find their way to you. Someone might give you one or whatever. But I had a fairly wide-ranging record collection. I would have something like "West Side Story," and then Fats Waller, and then maybe Bob Dylan and maybe Elvis Pressley. It was just music I liked. Anyway, I loved Fats Waller. I loved his instrumental abilities, his vocal style and a sense of humor. And this is one of the songs he used to do and I always thought it was a great song. And revisiting it, it is a great lyric, you know, the second verse, particularly: my very good friend the mailman says that it would make his burden less if we both had the same address.
GROSS: Yeah, I love that.
MCCARTNEY: So I suggest that you should marry me. You know, it's a funky little song.
GROSS: So is this whistling - you whistling at the beginning?
MCCARTNEY: Yes it is.
GROSS: You whistle really well.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: Oh boy.
GROSS: And that's another trademark of those early recordings, was often like a great whistler on them.
MCCARTNEY: Yeah. We, I think my generation whistled more than people do now. I always remember being very surprised when taking my kids to school 'cause they're pretty good whistlers. One of them can really do that taxi whistle, he'd stop a taxi a mile away. But I remember going taking them to school and them being told off for whistling in the corridor. And I said oh, it's such a joyous sound, someone whistling. I remember my mom whistling when I was a kid and I remember, distinctly, from the kitchen, this whistle coming and thinking that's great, she's happy.
GROSS: OK. So this is Sir Paul McCartney from his new album "Kisses on the Bottom" and we'll hear him singing and whistling on the song "My Very Good Friend the Milkman."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY VERY GOOD FRIEND THE MILKMAN")
MCCARTNEY: (Whistling) (Singing) My very good friend the milkman says. That I've been losing to much sleep. He doesn't like the hours I keep. And he suggests that you should marry me. My very good friend the mailman says that it would make his burden less if we both had the same address. And he suggests that you should marry me.
(Singing) Then there's a very friendly fellow who prints all the latest real estate news. And every day he sends me blueprints of cottages with country views. Oh my very good friends the neighbors say that they've been watching little things I do and they perceive that I love you. So I suggest that you should marry me. (Whistling)
GROSS: That's Paul McCartney, "My Very Good Friend the Milkman," from his new album "Kisses on the Bottom."
Now when you were young, even though you were singing and you were learning piano, did you have any idea that you'd be writing songs?
MCCARTNEY: No, not really. I think, you know, looking back, I think I was always musical. My dad was very musical, and I think my mom was musical too. He was the player in the family. So I think I always had a kind of musicality, and I would hear songs and I think I could tell a good song from a bad song.
GROSS: But did you not realize that you could write songs until you met John and started writing songs with him?
MCCARTNEY: No, not really. Both of us had written a little bit before we met each other.
MCCARTNEY: And in our early conversations, you know, we'd sort of talk about music and I'd say well, I've written a couple of songs, you know? And he'd say, oh yes, so have I. So that led us into saying well, let's write together then. I'd written, my first song I ever wrote was one called "I Lost My Little Girl." And looking back on it, it might well have been about my mother because she died when I was 14 and I wrote the song 'round about then. But, of course, you know, when you're a kid you never think of these sort of psychiatric, you know, meanings behind what you do, you just do stuff. Yeah. So I had written this "I Lost My Little Girl," and then 'round about that time I wrote the melody to what would later become a song called "When I'm 64."
GROSS: You wrote it that early?
MCCARTNEY: I wrote that melody. Yeah, very early - just bashing about on the piano and then years later there were a couple of things like that. And, you know, John would say to me whatever happened to that tune? That was a pretty good tune, you know. I'd say OK. Well, let me put some words to it.
GROSS: You know, it's funny. Can I just interrupt for a second? "When I'm 64" sounds so much musically like the era of "My Very Good Friend the Milkman."
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. You know, as I say, you have to remember the rock 'n roll hit, it wasn't always there in our lives. So that what was in our lives was the old songs, my dad's - mom and dad's era, and then the songs between that era and rock 'n roll, which were kind of show songs and novelty songs. There were awful lot of novelty songs. I just, I listened to them. I take my little girl to school and I - we play a CD with some of these old novelty songs, you know, and it's great. Gosh, and I remember that that was a big thing when I was a kid, you know, "The Railroad Runs Through the Middle of the House." Various other classics. But so the point that I was making was there was this atmosphere of sort of melodic old songs or novelty songs and then rock 'n roll hit.
So before we got into rock 'n roll, before the arrival of Elvis Presley and Little Richard and all the guys, it would be natural that I would write something in the pre-rock 'n roll style - and loving these old songs. And our aspirations were, also, were those kinds of aspirations. I mean as a budding composer you would be really hoping that you could get a song that Frank Sinatra would want to record. You know, that was the composer's dream and then when Elvis Presley came around it was then oh, it should be Elvis, you know. So I think, you know, those kind of things like "When I'm 64" came from that period and also the aspiration to write for that kind of market, I suppose.
GROSS: Now well, of course, you had it both ways because Sinatra did your songs and you totally transformed rock 'n roll.
GROSS: So when you first heard rock 'n roll what was it that you heard and what did it do to you musically? How did it change your thinking, musically?
MCCARTNEY: It was electrifying. You know, you hear people saying I've never heard anything like that before, man and it was that. You know, you'd hear on the radio Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel." (Singing) Well, since my baby left – (speaking) it was like oh, oh, oh, my god. What is that? And, you know, you can't think, now that we know it so well you think well, it's Elvis Presley singing "Heartbreak Hotel." You can't, there will be listeners who can imagine, who can remember that moment when you heard that. And there will be younger people now who will have a similar experience with a newer form. In fact, a lot of people with the Beatles, that's one thing that people say with the Beatles – oh my god, I remember exactly where I was when I heard "I Want To Hold Your Hand." And people say what is it? They couldn't fathom what it was, you know.
So, yeah, for me and the other record Buddy Holly, "That'll Be The Day." We definitely thought but he was black and we could not figure out that guitar riff at the beginning or how he got that sound. And years later, you know, when you got in a band yourself would realize that it was recording techniques and the skill of the musicians and it was just a new sound. But it blew the tops of our heads off. I mean I heard "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles on the radio. I would say those three records were just completely mind blowing. It was like I can't believe what I'm hearing. It's very inspirational and it makes you want to then do that. And I say, I finally I heard the same story from a lot of guys in bands nowadays who say that was what the Beatles did to them. They said OK, now I know what I want to do with my life.
GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney. His new album is called "Kisses on the Bottom." We'll talk more after break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET BACK")
THE BEATLES: (Singing) Get back. Get back, back to where you once belong. Get back. Get back, back to where you...
GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney, who is joining us from his home recording studio in England. When we left off, he was talking about when he first heard rock 'n roll.
So before the Beatles transformed music, and before you led the British Invasion that totally captured the imagination of American music listeners in the 60s, particularly teenagers, did you feel that to imitate American music or to be inspired by American music seemed somehow inauthentic 'cause you were in Liverpool, you weren't American, you weren't African-American. Did you go to that thing of like God, is it authentic if I do this?
MCCARTNEY: No. We were too naive. That was way too sophisticated a thought for us.
MCCARTNEY: We just thought I want to do it and I'm going to do it, and we just did it. We just loved it so much that we didn't mind if it didn't sound like - how could it sound like the gods? We knew that was impossible. So, you know, but it was just great fun having to try, you know, just having a go at it. And then when we became a little band and we actually got paid for it - and, you know, as a sort of teenager growing up in Liverpool you didn't have much money - so that little extra was great, you know.
GROSS: So the Beatles were so important and when the band split up everybody who was the Beatles fan was miserable. How long did it take you before you feel you could be in the public eye, Paul McCartney, as opposed to Paul McCartney, comma, Beatle?
MCCARTNEY: Well, I still haven't gotten over it. I mean that's half a joke, but it's also half true. I mean I'm still a Beatle, you know. I'm doing some concerts, when I do Beatles songs, you know, they come to hear the guy from The Beatles. So no, but getting - the difficulty was when The Beatles broke up having to do something else and I decided to do Wings, and making Wings something individual and getting away from the shadow of The Beatles, I think that was kind of the problem. But I've always been quite keen on trying something new so, but it's just hard work. You know, you just obviously following The Beatles was something that people have been trying to do ever since.
But, you know, we eventually did it with Wings and I find that I'm still doing that kind of thing. I think it's one of the reasons for doing "Kisses on the Bottom" is to give myself a fresh challenge and to sort of get away from what I'm known for. So I've had a few projects like that, like my orchestral stuff I do. It just allows me to do something completely different, yet it's music.
MCCARTNEY: But it's very good because it informs - when you go back to playing a live show, there's something about the energy you've gained from doing something different that informs the new thing you're doing. So, I think that's something that I've always done.
GROSS: Now, one of the things you do is you, you know, you have your own music publishing company and you own thousands of songs by other composers, right?
GROSS: Why did you want to buy so many titles for your publishing company? I'm wondering if you see it as an investment, you know, that's more connected to you than, say, stocks would be. Or you just, you know, want to own and protect the songs or, like, what's your motivation?
MCCARTNEY: No, it's more - it's kind of simple, really. It's like, when we first started making money, we were very naïve. And our accountants and people like that would say, well, what are you going to do with it? We'd say, put it in the bank. That's what you do with money. And we'll keep making more and you put it in the bank. And that's all you do.
They said no, no, no, no. You've got to do stuff. You've got to invest. So, then you're stuck. You think, well, what are you going to invest in? And obviously you're told about stocks and shares or you're told about this. And for me, I didn't really want to do any of that. I wasn't really interested.
Until my father-in-law, Linda's dad, suggested I buy out this music publishing company. He said it was a fantastic company, American company. But it was hugely expensive, and it was all my sort of savings. I had to take it all out of the bank to buy this. So, it was a kind of - oh, I said, this is crazy. This is so risky. You know, I'm not sure I want to do this.
But then they sent over a list of the catalogue, and I just looked through it and I saw "Stormy Weather." OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: Let's go. I just, you know, the quality of the songs in the publishing company. And I just fell in love with it. And there are so many songs in there that I love.
GROSS: And was it a good investment financially?
MCCARTNEY: Oy. Oy.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: It was fantastic. It was really, really good. He was right. He was a smart guy. He was a very smart man. But, you know, the musical side of it is equally as exciting. In fact, probably more exciting, actually. So, it's a great pleasure. And I must say, I give him full credit for that.
GROSS: My guest is Paul McCartney. His new album is called "Kisses On the Bottom." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT BE")
MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Let it be. Let it be. Let it be, yeah, let it be. Whisper words of wisdom. Let it be.
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Paul McCartney. He was in his home recording studio in England.
So, I'd like to close with another song from your new album, "Kisses On the Bottom." And this is one of the original songs that you've written and it's called "My Valentine." Tell us a story of how you wrote the song.
MCCARTNEY: Well, I was divorced and I was starting to go out with Nancy, who's now my wife. And we went on a holiday together on Morocco with my brother and his wife. And in the bar, in the evening, before you go to dinner, there would be a pianist. And it was great. He was an Irish guy and he, man, he went back to Victorian songs.
(Singing) Beautiful dreamer.
You know, these were like really old songs, but I loved them. And so, I was kind of steeped in the atmosphere of what he was playing on this slightly out-of-tune piano every evening. And so one afternoon. it was raining and, you know, you're on holiday and it's raining. You've come a long way and you don't want it to rain because you've come for the sunshine.
So I said to Nancy, I said, oh, it's a bit of a pity about the rain. She said it doesn't matter, it's fine. And I liked that, because it's kind of my attitude. You know, I don't really mind what the weather does. We'll make something of it. So, I happened to wander along to the place where this piano was and there was nobody around, so I got on it and started tinkling.
And there were just a few waiters and they were kind of cleaning up and stuff, coming and going. And they would just smile at me. I was basically on my own. And I started just knocking up this sort of - on the old piano I was doing...
(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO PLAYING)
MCCARTNEY: Et cetera. My Valentine. And, yeah, so I started off: What if it rained? We didn't care. She said that someday soon the sun was going to shine and she was right. This love of mine, my valentine. And it kind of wrote itself. It was one of those lucky songs.
GROSS: You know what I think is so odd about the song? The melody seems so sad, almost gloomy.
GROSS: But the lyric, I kept thinking, oh, the lover is going to leave. Things are going to turn out bad.
GROSS: And they don't. I mean, the lyric is a lyric of fulfillment through love, but the melody doesn't sound that way.
MCCARTNEY: Yeah. It is quite sort of somber, isn't it, though?
GROSS: Yeah. Why is that?
MCCARTNEY: I don't know. It just fell out that way. You know, you can't tell when you write a song how it's going to turn out. Well, in my experience, you can't. Maybe there are composers who can. But to me, I always say it's like it's a black hole. You sit down in front of a piano or with a guitar and there's nothing there. It's a black hole. And you just start, you know, sort of - you play a chord and...
(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO PLAYING)
MCCARTNEY: That's going to sort of dictate where you're going. That's a major chord. Or...
(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO PLAYING)
MCCARTNEY: And that's a minor chord. So, it depends what you feel like on the day. And I was - that appealed to me, that little bit of a melody. If it hadn't, I would've just thought oh, no, no, no. Let's fish around for something else. But maybe because it was raining.
MCCARTNEY: A minor chord.
MCCARTNEY: But then the idea of the song then suggested itself from what Nancy had said. You know, what if it rained? We didn't care. And I liked that idea that, you know, whatever happens, we don't care. We're going to make something of it. So it became a very positive song.
GROSS: Now, before you get back to your rehearsal, I want to say you've been talking to us from your studio in England, your home studio.
GROSS: And that's why you have a piano right in front of you. Would you just very briefly describe what your studio is like, where you are right now?
MCCARTNEY: I will. It is in Sussex. It is on the English border. So, looking out of the window I can see the English Channel. We're up on a hill that would've been the coastline at one point because the water's receded. So there are marshes down there. I'm in the studio. I've got a piano, all sorts of instruments and guitar amps and drum kits and things around me. My mates are in the control room waving as we speak.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: And they're recording this. It's a really nice studio. It has a lot of equipment that's left over from Abbey Road. The studio manager at Abbey Road where the Beatles recorded was being told by those on high - accountants probably - saying you've got to sell stuff. You've got to get rid of stuff. And he was desperate. So he rang me and he said, I'm being told to get rid of this and that. And I said oh, no. He said well, you take it for your studio. So I said gladly. I accepted. So I have quite a few little things that we used to use in the studio in my studio here. So it's cluttered but nice.
GROSS: It sounds great.
MCCARTNEY: So, that's it. It really is lovely and it's a very nice day here. And I'm just rehearsing with my band. In fact, we were just rehearsing "My Valentine."
GROSS: Oh, OK.
MCCARTNEY: Just learning that one because, yeah, we're going to do some shows soon.
GROSS: Well, let me let you get back to your rehearsal.
GROSS: Thank you so much for your time.
GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.
MCCARTNEY: OK, Terry. Well, listen. You know, it's a pleasure, as always. And we love NPR. I listen to it all the time when I'm in America. And I hope you enjoy "Kisses On the Bottom." And the title, of course, comes from the opening track which is "Going To Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter."
GROSS: With kisses on the bottom. I'm be glad I got them. I know but, you know, a lot of people think that somebody's going to be - it's a reference to kissing somebody's behind.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, exactly. And you know what? I don't think there's much wrong with that, either.
GROSS: All right. Paul McCartney's new album is called "Kisses On the Bottom." And you can hear three tracks from it on our website freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show.
(SOUNDBITE OF CREDITS)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. Here's the song we were talking about, "My Valentine."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY VALENTINE")
MCCARTNEY: (Singing) What if it rained? We didn't care. She said that someday soon the sun was gonna shine. And she was right, this love of mine, my valentine. As days and nights would pass me by, I'd tell myself that I was waiting for a sign. Then she appeared, a love so fine, my valentine. And I will love her for life. And I will never let a day go by without remembering the reasons why she makes me certain that I can fly. And so I do... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.