Greetings again from the darkness. Remember when … in 1993 … Chris Farley interviewed Paul McCartney on “Saturday Night Live”? That was awesome. Mr. Farley passed away four years later, and Sir Paul McCartney is now 79 years old and truly a living music legend. This Hulu original consists of six 30 minute episodes directed by Zachary Heinzerling, who was Oscar nominated for his 2013 documentary CUTIE AND THE BOXER. Filmed in black and white from inside a recording studio, McCartney and famed hip-hop music producer Rick Rubin spend three hours talking music, history, and influence.
Many of the stories McCartney tells here are the same he’s told numerous times over the years, however, he infuses each episode with some new tale or, even better, a peek behind the music he’s created over the last 60 years. Of course, there is next to nothing about his private life which he has expertly protected for so long, but this environment is about one topic. A sound studio with a music producer talking music with a musician should only be about the music, and McCartney and Rubin fascinate us by deconstructing some of the most famous and popular songs ever written.
The stories in the episodes meander a bit, rather than go in chronological order, and each contains some color clips that correspond to McCartney’s memory of the moment. Episode 1, “These Things Bring You Together” finds Paul recalling how Edith Piaf not only influenced his songwriting, but also his “French” phase (although Jane Asher is not mentioned). It’s really mesmerizing to hear Paul discuss the “intercontinental rivalry” with the Beach Boys and how the Pet Sounds album motivated him towards “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” (sprinkled with a humorous salt and pepper story). An incredible clip of Jimi Hendrix performing “Sgt Pepper”, and Paul incessantly chomps on his chewing gum as he refers to “George’s friend”, who just happens to be Eric Clapton.
Episode 2, “The Notes That Like Each Other”, has Paul discussing how Bach influenced his songwriting, and we get insight into “Eleanor Rigby” (and the Octet), “Penny Lane” (with Dave Mason’s piccolo trumpet), “Band on the Run”, “Blackbird”, and the trip to Lagos. It’s in this segment where Paul first acknowledges the importance of George Martin as producer, performer, and arranger. Episode 3, “The People We Loved Were Loving Us”, opens with “Back in the USSR”, and the Beatles first number one hit in the U.S.: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Paul then reiterates the importance of seeing Roy Orbison, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan perform, and how every musician is influenced by others. He re-tells the too-familiar “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” story, and recalls the band’s trip to India.
Episode 4, “Like Professors in a Laboratory”, is a bit of a hodgepodge, but may include the most new details of any. Rubin and McCartney discuss the process for pushing the treble on George’s guitar for “Nowhere Man”, the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the band’s fascination with having Robert Moog and his new invention at Abbey Road. We also hear “the Ringo moment”, and Paul talks about penning his James Bond theme, “Live and Let Die”, and the segment ends with “You Know My Name”. Episode 5, “Couldn’t You Play it Straighter?”, and Episode 6, “The Long and Winding Road” find Paul and Rubin digging deep into creating some of the unique sounds within the songs – the bass line in “Something”; George telling Paul, “you play it” in regards to the guitar solo on “Tax Man”; John’s impact and the famous bass line on “Come Together”; and George Martin’s string quartet for “Yesterday”. Episode 5 closes with “Helter Skelter”, while Episode 6 ends, of course, with “The End”.
Director Heinzerling has the camera track set up as if to film Rubin and McCartney performing in the round – with a couple of exceptions when Paul picks up a guitar or plops down at the piano to make his point musically. Rubin plays the roles of fan boy, music professional, and interviewer, and he does a nice job getting Paul to go a bit deeper than he typically would. As the two isolate fragments of songs, it’s fun to see the joy on Paul’s face as he recalls the “luck” (his word) involved with some of the band’s quick work in the studio. McCartney does manage to give John, George, and Ringo brief moments of tribute, but make no mistake, this is Paul’s show. For music lovers, this is an enjoyable 3 hours, and whether by design or not, it certainly ups the already high anticipation for Peter Jackson’s upcoming, THE BEATLES: GET BACK for Disney+ later this year.
Premieres on Hulu on July 16, 2021