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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Listen to Paul McCartney's latest recording, and you hear sounds a lot like the Paul McCartney you've heard for decades.

(Soundbite of song "Friends to Go")

Sir PAUL McCARTNEY: (Singing) I've been climbing up a slowly burning rope, but the flame is getting low.

INSKEEP: Listen to a little more, and you'll hear songs that seem different.

(Soundbite of "How Kind Of You")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) The thoughtfulness you showed has made a difference in my life.

INSKEEP: Paul McCartney has been unusually open and generous in describing the way that album was made. He says he invited in a producer who was not even born when The Beatles broke up, and that producer sharply criticized some of the tunes McCartney brought into the studio. For the man widely considered the most successful songwriter ever, it was a little hard to take.

Sir PAUL: You know, it was like being in school, I mean, having your paper marked. It's so easy for me to say, `Look, I'm senior, I've got the senior position. I've got the status. I've done more than you're ever going to do.' But I thought, well, you know, there's no point in me working with him if I'm not going to listen to him.

(Soundbite of song "Fine Line")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) There is a fine line when your decision makes a difference. Get it wrong, you'd be making a big mistake.

INSKEEP: The album is called "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard." McCartney talked about it just before a concert in Washington. He met his guests in a dressing room fancied up with Asian fabrics. And he gave a hint of the irony that sometimes slips into his lyrics. `Welcome to the Casbah,' he said.

(Soundbite of guitar)

INSKEEP: He sometimes fiddled with an out-of-tune guitar as he talked about the way he and that producer fiddled with McCartney's songs.

Sir PAUL: There's one song on the album that's called "Riding To Vanity Fair," which is the best example of this collaborative process, because I brought it in quite perky, quite fast, and he didn't really like it. It was about rejection of friendship, quite intense, and for it to be perky didn't suit it.

INSKEEP: Could I get you to demonstrate a few bars...

Sir PAUL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...of the difference?

Sir PAUL: Hang on. Yeah.

(Soundbite of guitar)

Sir PAUL: I think it was something like, you know, (singing) I bit my tongue...

And we took it down to sort of...

(Soundbite of guitar)

Sir PAUL: ...and changed the melody, `I bit my tongue, I never talked too much...'

(Soundbite of song "Riding to Vanity Fair")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) I tried to be so strong. I did my best. I used a gentle touch. I'd done it for so long.

INSKEEP: Paul McCartney is 63, on his way to 64. Just before he met us, he'd been on stage doing a sound-check for that night's concert. He'd played for a few dozen people as enthusiastically as if the arena was full. Back when he was recording his new songs, he was trying them out on an audience of one, that producer, Nigel Godrich.

Mr. NIGEL GODRICH (Producer): My job, from my perspective, is to make him make a record that I would want to listen to.

INSKEEP: Did you enjoy listening to his recent albums before this one?

Mr. GODRICH: No, not really.

INSKEEP: Godrich is better known for producing the likes of Radiohead.

(Soundbite of song "Lucky")

RADIOHEAD: (Singing) And I don't have time for you.

INSKEEP: He sides with some critics who thought that some of McCartney's recent work was not up to McCartney's own standards.

Mr. GODRICH: The problem is that you put people around him and they just wilt. What he needed was somebody just to remind him about the things that he's done, jog his memory a little bit or give him a little kick up the ass.

(Soundbite of song "Fine Line")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) Whatever's more important to be, that's the view that you've gotta see. There is a long way, between chaos and creation.

Mr. GODRICH: He was out there doing a piano take, and he made a mistake, and I made him work it into the song.

INSKEEP: If you can just tell us when you hear the thing that went wrong that became right.

(Soundbite of song "Fine Line")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) Everything is better when you come home and stay. Oooh.

Mr. GODRICH: There.

INSKEEP: It's that bass note, that low note.

Mr. GODRICH: Yeah. It's just got a nice--it's a chord with the changes.

INSKEEP: And that was a mistake the first time.

Mr. GODRICH: Yeah. It's my favorite moment in the song. I don't know. It suddenly--it makes you perk up your ears, you know.

(Soundbite of song "Fine Line")

INSKEEP: Was there an occasion where you had to say, `I wrote this song. I know what I meant and your suggestion is just wrong. And I've taken your other suggestions; I'm not going to take this one'?

Sir PAUL: Yeah. There did come a point when I thought, `Look, Nige, now I get to tell you, and I think that this is really good as it stands.' And he would then say, `OK.'

(Soundbite of song "Jenny Wren")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) How we spend our days casting love aside.

INSKEEP: Various music writers have both liked and disliked something else the two men agreed upon. They made sure that Paul McCartney's famous voice was right at the forefront of each recording.

Sir PAUL: I like to hear vocals. I'm a big fan of Nat "King" Cole and, you know, (singing) `When I fall in love.' He's right--he's in the room with you, you know.

INSKEEP: Very intimate.

Sir PAUL: It's 'cause you're very near the microphone like this, you know. There's not 20,000 people out there. If there's 20,000 people out there, you've got to get off the mike and, `Hey, how you doing!' So you know, I might write, you know, (singing quietly) `It's a fine between chaos and creation.' Or we go (singing loudly), `Fine between chaos and'--you just project more.

INSKEEP: Paul McCartney projected one of his new songs into our microphone...

(Soundbite of guitar)

INSKEEP: ...with that out-of-tune guitar.

Sir PAUL: OK. Let's try this.

(Singing) How kind of you to think of me, when I was out of sorts. It really meant a lot to be in someone else's thoughts, someone else's mind, someone else as kind as you.

So there you are. Pathetic rendition.

INSKEEP: (Laughs)

Sir PAUL: Cross-fade into the record, I reckon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "How Kind of You")

Sir PAUL: (Singing) I thought my time was up. I thought I'd never find...

INSKEEP: Cross-fade? Just for a moment, Paul McCartney was acting as a producer, producing us. To hear more of our interviews, as edited by our producer, go to npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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