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'McCartney 3, 2, 1' Review: Pure Paul, for better or worse

'McCartney 3, 2, 1' - Rick Rubin

The new Hulu documentary mini-series McCartney 3, 2, 1 begins with a story that you’ve heard before. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Beatles fan, a Beatles detractor, or you’ve never consciously listened to a Beatles song in your life: at some point, you’ve heard Paul McCartney talk about how, one night, he woke up from a dream with a melody in his head. He went to the piano that was next to him, fleshed out the chords and melody, and went back to sleep. Without any words, he called it ‘Scrambled Eggs’.

Along with the story of an angelic vision of his mother that inspired ‘Let It Be’, the unconscious creation of ‘Yesterday’ is forever ensconced in the annals of popular music. ‘Yesterday’ is one of the most covered songs of all time, and McCartney has never passed up the opportunity to share the same story, in the same fashion, to whoever might be interested in hearing it. It’s proliferated. It’s been passed down, much like the Beatles music itself. It’s almost as famous as the song itself.

Such is the nature of McCartney 3, 2, 1. Brought to life with beautiful black and white cinematography, McCartney and legendary guru producer Rick Rubin recount the various inspirations, influences, and set-ups that are integral to McCartney’s own history. It’s a low stakes, low pressure, highly casual affair, as is Rubin’s style, that still delivers the goods. McCartney is a gregarious presence, bringing the same enthusiasm in describing his songs as there is in the exuberant recordings, like when the pair dissect the dual guitar lines of ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ or the orchestral climax of ‘A Day in the Life’.

McCartney himself takes great pains to illustrate the full story of his songs creations, including the influences that George Martin and John Lennon had in recording, songwriting and arranging. McCartney is in full legacy mode, making sure to hit his well-trod stories from every angle and paint the picture with the widest brush strokes he can muster. Black American R&B gets its due, as does the Beatles days in Hamburg, as does his competitive rivalry/friendship that birthed the greatest songs of all time.

For anyone who’s read a Beatles book, or watched one of the now-copious Beatles documentaries, or gone on Wikipedia to look up the entries that every single one of their 213 recorded songs has, McCartney 3, 2, 1 is a 101 course that they already passed a long time ago. For those looking for new insights, this is not the programme for you.

However, if you enjoy hearing the fun and interesting stories again, or want a slightly more in-depth insight into the recording sessions, or just want to see two fascinating titans of music discuss some of the greatest songs of all time, then McCartney 3, 2, 1 will easily satiate those desires. There’s no major gap that McCartney 3, 2, 1 is filling, but that does matter. Just like the story behind ‘Yesterday’, there will always be someone experiencing it for the first time.

McCartney 3, 2, 1 is available on Hulu.