Legendary musician Paul McCartney sat down with 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi for an in-depth chat about his new album, Egypt Station, and he revealed something rather contradictory: he is unable to read or write music, and neither could any of his Beatles bandmates.
Despite his songwriting success, the 76-year-old admitted he was embarrassed about the fact that he doesn’t understand music theory.
“I don’t see music as dots on a page. It’s something in my head that goes on.”
How does one of the world’s most beloved and respected musicians get to the summit without knowing how to read or write music? McCartney said that while it would be nice to be able to, the music just came to him and his bandmates John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.
“None of us did in the Beatles. We did some good stuff though. But none of it was written down by us. It’s basically notation. That’s the bit I can’t do.”
The Liverpudlian lads were clearly doing something right. Their songwriting techniques are what made The Beatles unique in an era where everybody was copying everybody.
Fans expressed their shock when Macca referred back to the 60 Minutes interview via Twitter.
I once had a choir leader tell me it was not possible for me to write songs if I couldn’t write or read music notation(I’ve been doing it for 30 years.) I responded “Are you familiar with The Beatles?”
— Doug Smith🇨🇦 (@Dsmithsquamish) October 1, 2018
Paul McCartney (and I assume John Lennon) do not read or write music To my mind this makes the role of George Martin with the Beatles even more important The Beatles needed someone to translate musical ideas to the orchestra musicians they often used I guess it was Martin
— Jim Lochner (@JimLochner) October 1, 2018
Paul McCartney can't read or write music?!?! First I've heard this in 30 years. Wow… #60Minutes
— Nick Mordowanec (@NickMordo) October 1, 2018
🙋♀️I can't get Paul McCartney's @60Minutes interview out of my brain! He can't read or write music? Mind. Blown.
— Lauren M. Corbut (@LaurenMCorbut) October 1, 2018
McCartney confirmed that he and the late John Lennon were very competitive when it came to writing sessions and it wasn’t until later on in their careers that they admitted it to each other.
“We were competitive, yeah. He would say, ‘Hmm, that’s a bit good, right, here we go, come on.’ If he’d have written Strawberry Fields [Forever], I would write Penny Lane. You know, he’s remembering his old area in Liverpool, so I’ll remember mine.”
When asked if the two praised each other, he said, “I would tell him his stuff was great. You’d normally have to be a little bit drunk. … It helped.”
But when it came down to Lennon praising McCartney’s songwriting abilities, there was only ever one occasion: for Here, There and Everywhere. McCartney joked, “John says just as it finishes, ‘That’s a really good song, lad. I love that song.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes! He likes it!’”
Here, There and Everywhere came from Revolver — what many consider a turning point for The Beatles’ musical style. The album shifted further and further away from their original pop roots.
McCartney and his band are on the road right now for the Freshen Up tour. The 2018 tour hit Canada in September.
The band are celebrating the release of Egypt Station, which is Macca’s 18th studio album. You can listen to it now an all streaming platforms.
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