Why McCartney 3,2,1 should be your next box set
James R | On 05, Dec 2021
“I don’t see you as someone who has regrets, looking back on music that you made,” says producer Rick Rubin in McCartney 3,2,1. “Forge ahead. Constantly,” nods Paul McCartney. “That’s what I love about music, about life. There’s always that next little song.” That tiny exchange encapsulates what’s so remarkable about the most prolific member of The Beatles, who has gone on from being part of the Fab Four to a name in his own right, both with Wings and his solo work.
The programme is at once simple and in-depth, playing out effectively like a visual podcast: Rubin and McCartney sit (and stand) around listening back through his back catalogue and chatting about it. Armed with a mixing desk, Rubin isolates random tracks to talk about them or dissect them and McCartney offers insights and anecdotes to match. They hop from one song to another in non-chronological order, almost on a whim, and the editing has a distinct lack of structure, not even taking the time to introduce the concept at the beginning and just dropping us into their chats.
Arriving on UK screens just ahead of The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s extensive remixing of the raw footage from the fateful Let It Be studio sessions, McCartney 3,2,1 lacks that docuseries’ detailed scrutiny of the workings of the Beatles – there’s less interest in how the songs came together or how the Fab Four collaborated and more interest in singing McCartney’s praises. There’s a fandom that underlies Rubin’s comments and moments in which he is amazed by, say, a sequence of chords comfortably moving from one song into Let It Be in a way that holds no surprise for viewers who can play piano.
And yet those kind of moments get to the heart of what makes McCartney 3,2,1 a fun watch – and McCartney a genuinely prodigious musical talent. As he plays riffs and picks out melodies on the guitar and piano, sometimes accompanying his own recordings, the part-tribute, part-showcase highlights how much of his creativity – and that of The Beatles – stemmed from a natural instinct for what sounded good.
The lack of technical detail makes for an accessible watch, which avoids getting bogged down and instead opens up space for McCartney to drop in fascinating nuggets – from his love of contemporaries, such as Jimi Hendrix and Fela Kuti, to the way that Ringo Starr had a knack for “saying something that was wrong, but sounded right”, which inspired Hard Day’s Night, Tomorrow Never Knows and more. He even candidly notes how The Beatles’ early songs were repetitive and memorable not to make them catchy for fans but to make it possible for the group to play them.
“We started out playing for the fans. We figured out the fans would listen to our extension,” he remarks at one point, referring to the bold innovation that came to define The Beatles’ legacy. It’s a shame, then, that this series doesn’t really spend much time digging into McCartney’s later work, which went on to be innovative, chameleonic and ever-evolving in its own right. But if there are occasional dips in McCartney 3,2,1, the joy comes from that fact that it constantly forges ahead – there’s always that next 30-minute episode.
McCartney 3,2,1 is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.