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Paul McCartney on the '60s: 'Everybody Was Getting Stoned'

Rick Rubin and Paul McCartney on "McCartney 3, 2, 1" (image via Hulu)

Paul McCartney is the subject of a terrific documentary series currently streaming on Hulu. Legendary music producer Rick Rubin interviews the former Beatle in a spare studio setting. It's shot in black and white and is directed by Zachary Heinzenling.

McCartney 3, 2, 1 features a lot of shop talk by two veterans of the recording studio. Rubin has access to the entire Beatles catalog and chooses the songs he wants to discuss wisely. They both slide levers on the board, adding and subtracting song parts. McCartney often plays piano and sings along (occassionally forgetting lyrics) as Rubin bobs his head in accompaniment. 

McCartney comes off as humble almost to a fault with lines like, "I specialize in bold mistakes" (referring to his guitar solo on "Another Girl") and "I'd butt in and they'd hate me for it" (referring to "Something"). Essentially, if he had a briliant idea, they other guys would tell him, "You do it." So, McCartney learned to play guitar, bass, piano and drums.

While Rubin may geek out a bit too much about McCartney's underrated bass playing, he is an accomodating host. Even someone like Rubin, who's produced albums for everyone from Public Enemy to the Black Crowes, can turn into a fanboy when in the in the presence of one of the two living Beatles.

 

"McCartney 3, 2, 1" Episode Guide

1. These Things Bring You Together

This first chapter starts with stories of the four lads growing up in Liverpool and jumps to a discussion of "With a Little Help from My Friends." "We were stoned and drunk and everything," McCartney recalls about the inspiratiion for the recording. 

More songs: "All My Loving," "We Can Work It Out," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" 

2. The Notes That Like Each Other

The Beatles teamed up with George Martin, who produced their late '60s albums. He merged classical music with Beatles pop, resulting in hits like "Penny Lane." McCartney recalls when the demos for his solo opus, "Live and Let Die," were stolen in Lagos.

More songs: "Blackbird," "Waterfalls"

3. The People We Loved Were Loving Us!

After paying homage to the Everly Brothers, the music shifts to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and McCartney's story of how the song was named:

"Everybody thought it was LSD. Lucy Sky Diamonds, but it was actually John's son Julian who'd been to school and brought back a little drawing of his school friend, Lucy. He'd drawn stars around her. And so he called them diamonds and this was Lucy. And because she was sort of floating, she was Lucy in the sky with diamonds. John said, I think it's a good title for a song.

"We were big Lewis Carroll fans - Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass," he continues. "The lyrics, 'kaliedoscope eyes,' were sort of straight out of Alice - the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar smoking the big hookah. It was a head job.

"The truth is, everyone was getting stoned. [Sgt. Peppers] was intentionally a fun album for the high times."

Later in the episiode, the Beatles go to India.

More songs: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Baby's in Black," "And I Love Her," "Dear Prudence"

McCartney to Rubin: "It was like being professors in a laboratory just discovering all these little things."

4. Like Professors in a Laboratory

Probably Rubin's favorite episode, he explores the Beatles' penchant for loops and backwards recording that created unconventional sounds with a big focus on "Tomorrow Never Knows." McCartney says with a sense of awe: "It was like being professors in a laboratory just discovering all these little things." Ringo Starr's impact on the Beatles (he was the last to join) runs through the second half. "He just brought the whole band together," McCartney explains.

More songs: "Nowhere Man," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Get Back," "Another Girl," "I Saw Her Standing There," "Live and Let Die"

5. Couldn't You Play It Straighter?

McCartney gets emotional when talking about the Beatles' break-up in 1970. "I was heartbroken," he notes. McCartney, his wife Linda and their kids repaired to a farm in Scotland where he recorded his first solo album that featured "Maybe I'm Amazed." About Linda, his first wife, who died in 1998, McCartney says, "She was a great strength." Much of the episiode is devoted to bass talk. 

More songs: "Lovely Rita," "Come Together," "Junk"

6. The Long and Winding Road

McCartney's partner John Lennon hovers over every episode, but this one really digs into how they wrote songs together. "It was his song, my song," McCartney explains. "John was not one to praise unless he really liked it." McCartney says "Here, There and Everywhere" was John's favorite Paul song, followed by "Yesterday." For the big finale, Rubin cues up "A Day in the Life." The part when all the orchestra members play increasing faster and higher notes was due to McCartney encouraging them all, he says, to "break free."

It was a very free time for McCartney and the Beatles. His joyful remembrances in 3, 2, 1 connect to another time when bands experimented with new and different sounds and were rewarded with No. 1 records.

More songs: "Kansas City," "Golden Slumbers/The End"

 

More McCartney

On Pot: "I Favor the Decriminalization of It"

The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Marijuana

McCartney's History of Cannnabis Use

Review: McCartney III

 

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.