Paul McCartney knows a thing or two about the art of songwriting. The former Beatle, a mastermind behind some of the most beautiful creations in contemporary pop, has left such a vast impression on popular culture as we know it that to measure his impact feels like an impossible act. His inspiration, however, is a little easier to trace.
Never one to shy from paying homage to those that came before him, McCartney has been quick to share the adulation that is placed on his legacy with others that have helped shape his artistic vision. With that, McCartney took on the task of naming the five songwriters that mean the most to him and, to kick things off, the Liverpudlian first turned to Paul Simon — and the respect is mutual between the two. Since the 1960s, Simon has been soundtracking generation after generation, firstly with Simon & Garfunkel before shooting off in his own direction and carving out another spellbinding career after venturing on his solo path.
Simon also named McCartney as one of his favourite songwriters of all time. He told Mojo in 2011 that he classifies the Beatle alongside George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Hank Williams as the four greatest to ever pick up the pen. Speaking to Barnes & Noble’s CEO, James Daunt, McCartney said: “Oh, there are a lot. I think Paul Simon has written some amazing songs. I wouldn’t want to just say one of them, but he’s certainly written some great stuff”.
Remaining back on the discussion at hand, McCartney turned his attention to the great Bob Dylan, an artist with whom he has rubbed shoulders for decades. Macca has been full of superlatives about Dylan ever since their first encounter at the heart of the swinging sixties. From the moment they first crossed paths, the trajectories of The Beatles and Bob Dylan seemingly ran in opposite directions. While the band were the blue-eyed boys of the hit parade, Dylan cut a mysterious figure, one who ultimately helped the Fab Four adapt their songwriting style.
Dylan’s influence guided The Beatles into folkier territory as they started modelling themselves on his unique output, and Dylan also made the band add a new level of sincerity to their songwriting. “Bob Dylan has written some great stuff,” McCartney said. “I think there’s a lot of great songs that weren’t written by me or us. And those two people I have mentioned – Paul Simon, particularly, Dylan”.
Moving on, trekking through what proved to be a complicated task for McCartney, the musician continued in his attempts to name his five favourite songwriters. He added: “I think Neil Young has come up with some classics, Beach Boys, ‘God Only Knows,’ I think that’s a great classic”.
The Beach Boys track ‘God Only Knows’ is a song about which McCartney has waxed lyrical. In 2007, he went as far as to say: “‘God Only Knows’ is one of the few songs that reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It’s really just a love song, but it’s brilliantly done. It shows the genius of Brian”. All these years later, and McCartney still retains that same fondness for the song, looking back upon the friendly rivalry he shared with The Beach Boys through rose-tinted spectacles.
Finally, McCartney’s list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of his creative partner in The Beatles, an artist who spurred him on to fulfil his potential. He reflected: “We had a big rivalry with The Beach Boys, I suppose I had a little one with Paul Simon, that is good. I had one a rivalry with John – if he’d write a good one, I’d go, ‘Oh god, I better write something better!'”
All the five names that McCartney mentioned drove him to advance as a songwriter. Rather than sit still and admire them from afar, Macca identified areas of their brilliance that he could integrate into his work. In their own way, each person mentioned has played a crucial role in shaping McCartney’s musicianship; however, nobody will eclipse the significance of the final man mentioned.
Paul McCartney’s five favourite songwriters:
- Paul Simon
- Bob Dylan
- Neil Young
- The Beach Boys
- John Lennon