Paul McCartney turns 74 today. If you don’t think that is a cause for celebration, your head hasn’t been in the headlines this year. The first half of 2016 has taken an alarming number of cultural legends from us along with scores slightly less iconic artists that have collectively defined the popular music that has befriended us over the last half century. The fact that Sir Paul is still here as an active performer in the face of such continuous loss is, well, beyond wonderful.
There is no denying that much of McCartney’s post-Beatles output has been uneven, especially in recent decades. But the paths his early songs forged have forever fortified pop music. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would be nearly as thrilled with a world without Hey Jude, Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Let it Be, Back in the U.S.S.R., The Long and Winding Road, Penny Lane, We Can Work it Out and Blackbird as the one we have with them. Throw in post-Fab Four works like Ram and Band on the Run and, yeah, the bar was pretty well set at a level that a library of later works couldn’t hope to match.
Another anthology set, Pure McCartney, was released last week to commemorate the birthday, and it is probably as good an introduction as any to his non-Beatles work. But the only way to fully appreciate the scope, influence and sheer stylistic vitality of McCartney’s music is to pick up every studio record – Beatles and solo career-wise – he was involved with between 1964 and 1974.
Sir Paul is back in our region on July 10 with a concert at Cincinnati’s US Bank Arena – a visit that offers considerable comfort at a time when so many musical heroes have taken their leave of us. But the most obvious reflection on the day comes from a renewed listen to When I’m Sixty Four, a song remarkably grounded in its steadfast romanticism when the Beatles cut it in 1967: “Give me your answer, fill in a form; mine for evermore. Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?”
But it was the song’s final off-the-cuff word that summated the mood of McCartney that still proves so captivating as the future rolls on: “Ho!”