Sir Paul McCartney turned 80 years of age yesterday. What a beautiful occasion to talk about the greatest living songwriter, perhaps the greatest ever...


Bob Dylan got a Nobel prize in literature, Bruce Springsteen is a wildly celebrated storyteller, Freddie Mercury is legendary for creating insanely intricate mini-rock operas… but one man still manages to stand above all that. And that man is Sir Paul McCartney, the now 80-year old former Beatle and last living member of the best songwriting duo pop music ever produced — along with the late great John Lennon.

There is one question we will not try to answer — who among the two bested the other — because, in truth, that question is impossible to answer. Kind of like taking out one half of the Glimmer Twins (aka Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) and trying to make the Rolling Stones work. News alert: you can’t. What really happened was this miraculous meeting of two bona fide geniuses, who together created unparalleled pieces of art. Case in point: “A Day in the Life”, the incredible last track from their definitive masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is widely considered to have single-handedly changed the course of popular music. That song meshes together bits written by both musicians, helped by producer (and fellow genius) Sir George Martin with his beautifully placed strings, to create a combination that not only concludes the set, but provides a sonic experience that remains amazingly fresh and original to this day.

Now, if we want to finesse and try to pinpoint McCartney’s specific genius, we can to some extent if we focus on the work he produced on his own, or very near that. There are many fine examples from the Beatles era, including “Blackbird”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Penny Lane”, “The Long and Winding Road”… There are many more from his post-Beatles era, including “Band on the Run”, “Silly Love Songs”, “Live and Let Die”… But let us focus on one particular work of art, which in many ways serves as the artist’s signature song to this day: “Yesterday“. One of the most, if not the most covered song on earth — with good reason.

Assuming you heard the song before (not a big leap), let us quickly go over its contents: an incredibly simple, largely acoustic, 2-minute long track sung by McCartney alone with a level of intimacy that was not characteristic from the Beatles in their heyday. As it happens, the group contemplated releasing it as a solo work, before reconsidering. The distinctive melodic structure, which has became one of those most people on earth will recognize in a split second, is remarkably smooth even though it is anything but obvious from a composer’s standpoint. And it was not obvious for its author either: even he couldn’t tell you how it got here. The reason for that is — it came to him in a dream. That he was smart enough to write down once he woke up…

Because of the strange nature of this origin story, McCartney was rightfully cautious about his newfound gem: he was very much afraid that his subconscious had surreptitiously stolen the tune from a fellow musician that he could not make out. And so he spent the month following that fateful morning asking every songwriter he knew in London if they wrote the song, or knew who did. We are well aware of what followed: no one knew “Yesterday”, although many likely hoped they did. And so, once his fears were finally contained, the man of the hour/month decided to go ahead and record this very unique song. Which then became a hit of a very unique scale.

The moral of the story is — always write down what you remember from your dreams… Also, happy 80th birthday Sir Paul!