'Fresh Air' Interviews With Beatles Ringo Starr And Paul McCartney
'Fresh Air' Interviews With Beatles Ringo Starr And Paul McCartney
To mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of Sgt Pepper, we listen back to Terry Gross' 1995 interview with Ringo Starr, as well as her 2001 and 2012 interviews with Paul McCartney.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS")
BEATLES: (Singing) What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Lend me your ears, and I'll sing you a song. And I'll try not to sing out of key.
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends. I get high with a little help from my friends. Going to try with a little help from my friends.
What do I do when my love is away? Does it worry you to be alone? How do I feel by the end of the day? Are you sad because you're on your own?
No, I get by with a little help from my friends, get high with a little help from my friends, going to try with a little help from my friends.
Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love. Could it be anybody? I want somebody to love. Would you believe in a love at first sight? Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time. What do you see when you turn out the light? I can't tell you, but I know it's mine.
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, get high with a little help from my friends.
DAVIES: That's Ringo Starr singing on the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album. Its U.S. release was 50 years ago today. The track we just heard is from a new remix of the original "Sgt. Pepper's" recordings that's included in a four-CD box set of archival material produced by Giles Martin, the son of George Martin, who produced the original "Sgt. Pepper's" album and many other Beatles recordings.
Terry interviewed Giles Martin about the anniversary project on yesterday's show. You can catch that on our podcast. Today, we feature interviews with the two Beatles who've appeared on FRESH AIR. Later, we'll hear excerpts of two interviews with Paul McCartney. First, Ringo Starr. Terry spoke to him in 1995, when he was on a U.S. concert tour.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
An interesting part of the story is that you showed up for the first recording session...
RINGO STARR: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: ...Of the Beatles. And the producer...
STARR: George Martin.
GROSS: ...Yeah, had another drummer all picked out because I guess he didn't know that you had been chosen to be in the band.
STARR: No, he didn't know it. Well, he listened to the band with Pete Best and didn't think Pete was going to be on the session. And so he didn't know about me at all. And so he'd got this drummer Andy White ready, you know, a professional drummer, a session drummer.
STARR: And I came down, and I was just mortified. And he said, oh, we've got this real drummer here. I said, well, so what am I? And he didn't want to take a chance because in those days it wasn't like you could go in the studio and just spend your time there. You know, the session was three hours, you were in and out and that was it.
So Andy played on the single, and, of course, we re-recorded it. And I played on the album. And I sort of defy anyone to tell the difference. And that was it. But George Martin has apologized over and over again - because I've made him - for doing this to me.
GROSS: Yes. Actually, I think he continues the apologies in his new book (laughter).
STARR: I think he does, yeah. And he did on Friday, when I was with him (laughter).
GROSS: Oh, so...
STARR: I always remind him.
GROSS: Well, what did you think the Beatles' chances were of really making it? What was your assessment of the band when you joined it?
STARR: I joined the band because they were the best band I'd heard. And that was how I played. I moved my career through Liverpool, of course, to, you know, if I could get into a better band, I would. And that's how I did it. You know, my aim was to play with good players, and that's what I did. I mean, the aim was not really to, you know, be big and famous, it was just to play with really good people.
GROSS: Did you change your sound when you joined the Beatles?
STARR: No. No. That's why they, you know, they wanted me to play because of the way I could play.
GROSS: So when you joined the band, did you have to do, you know, the Beatles haircut and the suit jacket?
STARR: Well, that's the famous line, you know, John came on the phone saying, welcome to the band, but you'll have to get your haircut and get rid of your beard and - which I did. I didn't have much of a beard then, but I did have my hair swept back. And we had it cut so it fell forward.
It was part of the image. And Brian Epstein was moving them into like this image thing to making them wear suits and, you know, not drinking and smoking onstage. It was all part of the deal.
GROSS: Did that come easy for you? Were you comfortable with that, or?
STARR: Oh, yeah because I'd been in a group that had suits. You know, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, we were the top band in Liverpool because we had suits. And, you know, everyone else was just like they are now actually, all sort of scruffed up. But we were professionals. You know, it's all funny to think about it now but that red suit meant so much.
GROSS: Red? Wow.
STARR: Red and we had green suits, so we could change. Big doings in the '60s, I'll tell you, big doings.
GROSS: Now, in the Beatles, did you have to, like, figure out who you were going to be in terms of your public personality in the band? You know, 'cause everybody in the band seemed to get this, you know, public persona.
STARR: Yeah. I think mine just came in naturally as Mr. Dopey. You know, it's sort of like the comic clown, you know? John had (unintelligible) Paul was Mr. Lovable. Well, I was Mr. Lovable but the young girls loved him. George was this silent type. And, you know, I was, hi, what's happening?
And so that image, of course, especially through "A Hard Day's Night" is, you know, I've had to battle that since that day. Everybody thinks, oh, that's what he's like. And, of course, he's not like that at all.
GROSS: Can you give us a sense of what it was like early on when the Beatles' fame started getting, like, so extraordinary that you couldn't go places without attracting crowds? I mean...
STARR: Well, you know we were young boys. And it was exciting where we'd, you know, we'd sort of conquered England. That was the first job, you know, just to get down to London and get in there was heavy enough, and then we'd do the continent. You know, and we used to have this saying, oh, well, we've done Sweden. We've conquered Sweden. We've done France now. We've done Italy, you know. And then, of course, we were invited to come to America.
And at that time, we were really worried because we'd had two records out here - or they were coming out. Nobody wanted them. And by chance, George came over for a holiday. He was the first one of us to come to America. And, of course, he was going into record shops, you know, have you got the Beatles? And they're saying, excuse me? Never heard of them.
So, you know, he came back saying, oh, they don't know us over there. And, of course, you know, the story goes when Capitol decided to put some money behind us to promote us, and we got off the plane to do "Ed Sullivan," we had a No. 1. I mean, you know, you can't plan things like that. This is just how it is.
GROSS: Well, that first "Ed Sullivan" performance is one of the watershed moments in rock 'n' roll history.
STARR: (Laughter) History.
GROSS: What were you - what are some of your memories of...
STARR: Of Ed Sullivan?
GROSS: Of that show, yeah.
STARR: Well, Ed, you see - I thought, we'd come to America, and it was fabulous. And there was millions of people at the airport, and they were lining the streets. And it was yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah all over the place. And just my mind - I have of Ed, to this day - and I don't know if it's actually true. But my - just my impression was Ed Sullivan, you know - I'm waiting for Ed to say, and here they are. They're all the way from England. And that's great, and they're going to be fabulous and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's like - Ed said, here they are, the Beatles. (Laughter) That's just...
GROSS: But you probably couldn't comprehend the whole - yeah.
STARR: We're just, like, thrown to the lions.
STARR: To this day, I've always thought, God, I mean, we could have done better than that, Ed.
GROSS: Well, you probably were unfamiliar with the whole "Ed Sullivan" phenomenon. I mean, the most low-key...
STARR: We didn't know what it meant.
GROSS: ...Square person, yeah.
STARR: Yeah, we did not know what it meant, you know. This guy just booked us on a show. We'd go anywhere for a gig.
GROSS: So when girls started screaming at your performances, did you have - do you have any idea what was going on - like, why? Why the screaming as opposed to anything else?
STARR: It started in Liverpool. And just...
GROSS: So you actually knew where it started? I mean, I was a...
STARR: Yeah. It caught on like wildfire all over the world.
GROSS: Was it frustrating to perform in concerts where you couldn't hear what you were playing because the audience was screaming so loud?
STARR: It got frustrating in the end. At the beginning it was just fabulous. I mean, you know, if you can imagine, you're 22, 23 and you go on stage and all those people are just screaming at you, loving you. I mean, you know, you were making and selling a lot of records and making good records. You know, it was everything you dreamed of. And it just built up and built up. And, of course, around about '65, you know, it started, actually, to get a little tiring because, you know, we were starting to make really interesting records and we couldn't perform them.
And it didn't matter what we did, people were screaming anyway. So no one was listening. And because of that, we were becoming, you know, not the best musicians we would become because we could only play, you know, the actual thing. I mean, for me personally, I - you know, it's very hard to do this on radio - but I could only do the downbeat - you know, mm-chack (ph), mm-chack, mm-chack, mm-chack.
I couldn't do any fills or anything because they would just disappear into, you know, into the cosmos. So you found yourself, you know, you're just sitting there playing the track, really.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite phase of The Beatles' recording years?
STARR: I think - well, you see, the very first record, you know, making the first record was just a thrill. I mean, it was absolutely thrilling. And listening to it on the radio, you know, we would stop the car when we'd be going to a gig somewhere. And you'd know - you know, 'cause they didn't play them every 10 minutes. Oh, it's 7:45 on Wednesday, they're going to play your record.
So wherever we were going, we'd stop the car - we were usually in a car - and listen to it. And the other thing we did, if it moved up the charts, we would always have a celebratory dinner. So if you look at Beatle photos and Beatle footage, you'd see them getting fatter and fatter and fatter as they were getting more popular because now we could afford food, you know?
But - and then, of course, from "Rubber Soul" on, you know, the records started to really get exciting. You know, the sound - we were really getting into making sounds - making good sounds. The writing was getting better. You know, everything was picking up. It was really getting good. So, you know, it had a natural progression. So, you know, to say this period or that period, they're all different periods. I mean, I like the "White Album."
That's one of my favorites just because it - I felt after "Sgt. Pepper" - which was brilliant but it just doesn't happen to be my favorite - the "White Album," we were getting back to being a band again. And, you know, that's what The Beatles were. We were a really cool band.
GROSS: Being a band as opposed to being artfully produced in the studio, is that what you mean?
STARR: Sure. Even though we did it ourselves, you know, suddenly the strings and the brass were taking center stage around the songs instead of the group.
DAVIES: Ringo Starr speaking with Terry Gross in 1995. We'll hear more of their conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEATLES SONG, "STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to Terry's 1995 interview with Ringo Starr.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Can we talk a little bit about life before The Beatles?
STARR: Sure. Sure.
GROSS: Well, you grew up in Liverpool. What was your neighborhood like?
STARR: Well, I was born at a very early age.
GROSS: (Laughter) Right.
STARR: My neighborhood was real working class. I remember being conscious from a very early age that I wanted to get out of there 'cause it was dark. But it was a loving neighborhood. I mean, the school was three minutes' walk away. So, you know, it was a real neighborhood. There was a pub on nearly every corner, which I got to a little later.
STARR: You know, and that - there was a park I used to walk to. One of my ambitions, which my mother used to tell me often, was I wanted to be a tramp. And so we used to walk everywhere. One of the reasons was, of course, because we couldn't afford to take a car or take a limo in those days or a bus even. So we used to walk a lot.
So I used to love that. And there was parks around us. It was a very poor neighborhood but childhood memories make it quite romantic.
GROSS: I know your father left the family I think when you were 3.
STARR: Yeah, he'd had enough.
GROSS: (Laughter) So did your mother have a way of making money?
STARR: Yeah, she worked any job she could find. You know, I mean, I come from a working-class family. But they call it lower working-class when you've only got one parent (laughter). But my mother, God bless her, she did anything from scrubbing steps to working in a food shop to working in pubs - anything she could to support us because he forgot that part of the bargain.
GROSS: Right. Now, I know when you were young you had two long hospital stays. When you were 6, your appendix burst and...
GROSS: ...You ended up getting an internal infection.
STARR: Peritonitis it's called, yeah. And that was pretty dangerous. It's still dangerous today, but in 1947, it was very dangerous.
GROSS: So you were in the hospital for about a year.
STARR: I was in a year because six months in, I was getting rather well. And I got excited and I fell out the bed...
GROSS: Oh, no.
STARR: ...And ripped open all these stitches in my stomach. So they had to dive in again and sew me up.
GROSS: Oh, gosh.
STARR: So we're lucky to be here, Terry.
GROSS: Yeah. Well, then you got sick again when you were 13.
STARR: I know.
GROSS: Tuberculosis was it?
STARR: Yeah, but that was from the area I lived in.
GROSS: Industrial stuff?
STARR: Yeah. Where I lived, like, not every other home but it was like, you know, six or seven cases in every street where people were just in the living room dying of TB because they didn't have a cure, of course. And again, God, you know, shined his lights on me in 1953 or '54 when they discovered Streptomycin. And that's what saved me. So they shipped me off to a greenhouse in the country.
GROSS: A greenhouse, is that like a sanitarium?
STARR: Yeah, just this huge greenhouse where instead of flowers, they put all us kids in there and let us breathe some decent air for a change and gave us streptomycin. And a year later, I came out of that.
GROSS: So how did you keep busy while you were sick? Had music entered your life yet? Were you...
STARR: Well, that's where...
GROSS: ...Listening to a lot of it?
STARR: That's where it entered my life was because to keep us busy, besides letting us knit - they used to let us knit dishcloths.
GROSS: Oh, wow.
STARR: It was really exciting.
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.
STARR: And then - so some teacher would come in with musical instruments, being drums, tambourines, maracas, triangles - all percussive stuff. And she put up this big screen - I'm trying to let you visualize it out there radio land - a big white paper with red notes for the drums, yellow notes for the tambourines and green notes for the triangles. And so she would point to these different colored symbols, and we would either hit or whatever instrument we had.
Well, I had a drum the first time, the first session. And I really loved it. And so they came back, like, a couple of weeks later, and they tried to give me another instrument. But I only wanted the drum. And that's where I really fell in love with drums.
GROSS: Was that supposed to be physical therapy for you also since it's such a physical instrument?
STARR: Well, we weren't - we couldn't get out of bed too often. You know, it was a big deal after six months in a hospital when they said, you can get out of bed now and sit on a chair (laughter). So that was the big move. But - so it was just to keep us entertained. They never really came in giving us maps and geography or things like that.
They gave us knitting and making things, you know, papier-mache stuff and things like that.
GROSS: So what was it like for you after you were sick to - or while you were sick, even, to be playing an instrument that's so physically taxing?
STARR: Well, I didn't have an instrument for years later. I made my first kit when I came out of hospital out of biscuit tins and firewood. And then when I was about 16, I got a bass drum. That's all I had was a big bass drum. And then when I was a 18, I got my first kit. So I'd strengthened up by then.
GROSS: My guest is Ringo Starr. It just - something else about The Beatles. You know, The Beatles were such an important part of...
GROSS: ...Music period, you know? And they're really a very small part in your life. I mean, a big part in who you are but a small part in the number of years...
GROSS: ...That you were a Beatle. So I guess I'd like to get a sense of what it means in your life, if you still feel like that is so much a part of your existence or if that's something that you've really tried to move beyond and away from and...
STARR: Well, I don't think you can move away from it because, you know, it was only eight years of my life, but it's the eight years that everybody really associates with. It's like, you know, it doesn't matter I've made hit records and, you know, I had hit albums and I'm on tour and that. It always comes back to these eight years of being a Beatle. And I think I just have to resign myself to that that that's what people want to know about.
But, of course, in my life, I've moved on, you know? I've done other things. Barbara and I have been together for 15 years - you know, been married 14. So, you know, the love of my life is here with me today, listeners. You know, we have our life we live together. But, you know, whenever it comes down to something like this, it's always a Beatle program.
GROSS: Did you want the group to break up? Were you ready for it?
STARR: I think we were all ready in a way because it wasn't as much fun as it used to be. It was OK while we got in the studio for a while and then, you know, there would be some bickering. And nobody wanted to put in the time, including myself. You know, no one wanted to put in the time and energy that it took later on.
You know, we may have done the first album in 12 hours, but the last ones were taking months. And, you know, no one really wanted to put in that time and energy. So it was sort of just, like, a natural falling apart, really.
GROSS: What was it like for you musically in the early years after The Beatles split up? Did you - was it easy for you to...
GROSS: ...Establish yourself as a musical identity outside of The Beatles?
STARR: No, it - I had no identity outside of it, really, for myself. I mean, I was - you know, it was The Beatles. I was in The Beatles. I was one of them, and that's what I did. And suddenly we weren't doing that. So I really had to think about what I wanted to do and, you know, where would I take my musical career or any career.
And so it took a while, you know, for the dust to settle that finally it's over. And I - oh, well, better pick myself up, dust myself off, (singing) start all over again.
GROSS: (Singing) Start all over again.
DAVIES: Ringo Starr and Terry Gross recorded in 1995. After a break, we'll continue our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's" album with excerpts of two interviews with Paul McCartney. And David Edelstein reviews the new superhero film "Wonder Woman." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEATLES SONG, "SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album by listening to interviews with two of The Beatles. Terry first spoke to Paul McCartney in 2001 when he published a collection of old lyrics and new poetry. Several of the poems were about McCartney's late wife Linda written shortly before and after her death.
During their conversation, Terry asked Paul about the early reaction to The Beatles, not from the kids but from their parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: You know, when The Beatles started performing, the adults were...
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Yeah.
GROSS: ...Up in arms about them, about your hair and about, you know, the silliness of the lyrics and everything. And but with "Yesterday," like, the nightclub adult performer started adding it to their acts.
GROSS: Did that feel like a victory to you, or did you really not care what the adults were doing in their acts anyways?
MCCARTNEY: No, it was very nice. It was very nice to have that because, you know, we thought what we were doing was quite good, and we were proud of it. And there was this sort of backlash, particularly from the elder generation. And people tell me stories now. They say they were watching that first "Ed Sullivan Show" and it's always the dad in the family who sort of says, them Beatles (groaning). He never likes us, and he always says, you know, those are wigs. They always thought - the dads always swore. The - you know, the kid's saying we knew they weren't. We knew they weren't. So it was always the problem. The dad was always the problem. So I suppose he was symbolic of the problem so that when people started to like anything out of our repertoire, it was a certain victory.
And "Yesterday" was a personal victory of mine. I mean, for instance, the great clarinetist Benny Goodman, who we had loved and thought was great talent, started for some reason - and maybe it was just a journalistic thing - but he came out against us. He said, oh, you know - I can't what he said. But of course, we hated him from then on, and we started saying he's a lousy clarinetist anyway. What does he know, you know? So there was this sort of group that didn't like us that thought we weren't very good. So when "Yesterday" came out, I think a lot of them had to change their tune. And it eventually got recorded by way too many of them.
GROSS: (Laughter) Right. So your friend Ivan introduced you to John Lennon. Do you remember what the band was playing the first time you heard John with the band the Quarrymen?
MCCARTNEY: Yeah. They were - they had a repertoire of kind of folksy, sort of bluesy things mixed with early rock 'n' roll. And John and the band were playing a thing called "Come Go With Me," which was a record for a group called the Del Vikings. It was an early rock 'n' roll record. But John obviously didn't have the record, and he probably heard it a few times on radio. And being so musical, he just picked it up. And so he was doing a version of it. But what impressed me was even though he didn't know the words, he would make them up and he'd steal words from sort of blues songs. So instead of the real words, which I don't know, but he was singing come come go with me down to the penitentiary...
MCCARTNEY: ...Which was more off Big Bill Broonzy or somebody, you know. But I thought, you know, that's inventive. That's ingenious. So I warmed to him immediately hearing that.
GROSS: You have a poem for John in there. It's called "Song For John." It's actually a lyric for a song that you recorded in 1982. But I was wondering if you could read it for us.
MCCARTNEY: OK. This poem's called "Here Today." It was originally a song I recorded for John Lennon. (Reading) And if I said I really knew you well, what would your answer be if you were here today? Well, knowing you, you'd probably laugh and say that we were worlds apart if you were here today. Well, as for me, I still remember how it was before, and I'm holding back the tears no more. I love you. What about the time we met? Well, I suppose you could say that we were playing hard to get, didn't understand a thing, but we could always sing. What about the night we cried because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside? Never understood a word, but you were always there with a smile. And if I say I really loved you and was glad you came along, then you were here today, for you were in my song "Here Today."
GROSS: When did you write this?
MCCARTNEY: I wrote that shortly after John died. I wrote it in the upstairs room of what is now my recording studio.
GROSS: What was the night that we cried that you refer to in the poem?
MCCARTNEY: We were supposed to play a gig in Jacksonville, and we couldn't get in because there was some great hurricane. So we had to spend a night or two in Key West, and at that age with that much time on our hands, we didn't really know what to do with it except get drunk. And so that was what we did, and we stayed up all night talking, talking, talking like it was going out of style. And at some point early in the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us because we'd - members of a band and young guys. We didn't do that kind of thing. So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark.
GROSS: Do you remember what you were talking about that led to that?
MCCARTNEY: Probably our mothers dying because John and I shared that experience. My mother died when I was about 14, and his died shortly after, about a year or so after, I think. So this was a great bond John and I always had. We both knew the pain of it, and we both knew that we had to put on a brave face because we were sort of teenage guys, and you didn't talk about that kind of thing where we came from.
GROSS: Now, that's the kind of thing that John really acted out through his music. I mean, he had a couple of songs that were really about that and were very emotional. It's not the kind of thing you really did, though. I didn't - none of the songs, as far as I know, were really about your mother.
MCCARTNEY: Well, no, mine's veiled. My style is more veiled. And also at the time that the songs were written that you're talking about, like "Mother," John was going through primal scream therapy.
GROSS: Exactly, right.
MCCARTNEY: And, you know, that's going to get it out of you.
GROSS: Right (laughter).
MCCARTNEY: I didn't actually go through any of that. I had my own sort of more private scream therapy. I think probably in songs like "Yesterday," it's been put to me - although, it's kind of subconscious - but it's been put to me that the song "Yesterday" was probably about my mother. Why she had to go, I don't know. She wouldn't say. I did something wrong. Now I long for yesterday. Yesterday, all my troubles were so far away.
I'm sure that was to do with my mother dying. But as I said, kind of age group we were then, it wasn't the done thing to talk about things like that.
DAVIES: Paul McCartney speaking with Terry Gross. In a moment, we'll hear part of their 2012 conversation when Paul was seated at the piano at his home studio in England. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEATLES SONG, "LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS")
DAVIES: Today we're listening to Terry's interviews with Paul McCartney on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's" album. In 2012, McCartney spoke to Terry from his home studio in England, seated at his piano. He'd released an album called "Kisses On The Bottom," largely comprised of standards and lesser-known songs he'd associated with his father's generation. The title is a line from the lyrics of the opening track, "I'm Gonna 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 GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER")
MCCARTNEY: (Singing) I'm going to sit right down and write myself a letter and make believe it came from you. I'm going to write words oh so sweet. They're going to knock me off of my feet. A lot of kisses on the bottom - I'll be glad I've got them. I'm going to smile and say I hope you're feeling better.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Sir Paul McCartney, welcome back to FRESH AIR. So these are sounds 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 along and I got into the Beatles, we just thought, well, 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 sort of the basic structure of a lot of what John and I wrote. We - 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 was 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: Wait - 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"...
MCCARTNEY: ...Starts in a minor key. And it's - I happen to have a piano beside me here.
(Playing piano) It's like...
(Singing) Besame, besame mucho (vocalizing).
And it goes to the major there. And I was 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.
(Playing piano) It's (vocalizing)
That's all in major.
(Singing) And she was right, this love of mine, my Valentine.
Then it goes... (Singing) And I will love her for life.
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, for a song, for instance, like "Cheek To Cheek," which isn't on the album, but to the example of what I'm talking about, which would be, (Singing) Heaven, I'm in heaven (vocalizing) - and then it goes into the middle - (singing) dance with me. Want my arms around you. The charms about you will carry me through to heaven.
And you're back at the beginning. And it was like, wow, how'd they do that? And I remember as a kid thinking, I love that. I love the way that the composer has gone all that 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. And I said, do I? He said, yeah, in "Here, There And Everywhere," one of my songs with the Beatles, it does that. Sort of after the middle it goes (vocalizing). It comes back to (singing) 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 AABA structure, the verse, verse, bridge, back to the verse structure.
MCCARTNEY: 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: It was the Beatles song "From Me To You," which - it was the middle eight. It kind of goes, (singing) if there's anything that you want, if there's anything I can do, (vocalizing).
So that's kind of straightforward. Then it goes (singing) I've got arm that long to hold you.
And that - the song itself, I think, is in the key of C major, but then it goes to a G minor seventh for that middle. And that was kind of with - it was one of those oh-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, oh, 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?
GROSS: Yeah, just those chords.
MCCARTNEY: (Vocalizing, playing piano, singing) I've got arms that long to hold you.
It's just that. (Vocalizing, playing piano) See?
GROSS: Yeah, definitely (laughter). So some of these songs you knew through your father. What did he play? I know he was a piano...
MCCARTNEY: Piano and then he told me he used to play trumpet till his teeth gave out (laughter). When you look back on those sort of - that generation, it is 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 (laughter).
GROSS: Whoa, advice I hope you did not take (laughter).
MCCARTNEY: I mean, you know, dentists of America, heed my advice.
MCCARTNEY: Imagine that - 21. Well, I'm 21, time for the teeth to go.
GROSS: (Laughter) Great advice for a singer, yeah (laughter). So...
MCCARTNEY: But yeah. So he used to play trumpet, and - when he was younger - and piano. And then he had a period later of torturing us all while he tried to learn the clarinet.
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. 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 have been the coastline at one point because the water's receded. So there are marshes down there. I'm in the studio. I 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, 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 then I said, oh, no. He said, will you take it for your studio? So I said, gladly. I accepted. So I have quite a few little things that were - that we used to use in the studio in my studio here. So it's cluttered but nice.
GROSS: Sounds great.
MCCARTNEY: So that's it. It's really lovely, and it's a very nice day here. And I'm just rehearsing with my band.
GROSS: Well, let me let you get back to your rehearsal. Thank you so much for your time. 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'll be glad I got them, I know - but, you know, a lot of people think that somebody is going to be - it's a reference to kissing somebody's behind (laughter).
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, exactly. And do you know what? I don't think there's much wrong with that either.
GROSS: All right.
DAVIES: Paul McCartney speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 2012. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new superhero film, "Wonder Woman." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF LULLATONE'S "ALL THE OPTIMISM OF EARLY JANUARY")
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