Sunday, December 5, 2021
Dec. 5, 2021

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See Beatles history in a new light in documentary series

McCartney talks makes familiar stories feel fresh


Paul McCartney sits down for a rare interview with producer Rick Rubin in “McCartney 3,2,1.”

Paul McCartney should be sick of telling Beatles stories. I know I’m stired of hearing them — or so I thought.

“McCartney 3,2,1,” out Friday on Hulu, shows how you can jazz up the most worn-out oldies by taking an innovative approach.

The six episodes, each 30 minutes long, feature a few familiar tales: the origins of the alias Sgt. Pepper, the true inspiration behind “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” being bummed out when the band broke up.

But interviewer Rick Rubin is much more interested in the long and winding road to musical excellence than pop-culture trivia.

Rubin, known for producing albums for everyone from LL Cool J to Johnny Cash, encourages the singer to dissect his or her greatest hits, a task made easier by using a mixing board to isolate tracks.

The pair go deep on Ringo Starr’s militant-style drumming on “Get Back,” McCartney’s bass playing on “Something” and those impossible high notes from the piccolo trumpet on “Penny Lane.”

The emphasis is on the Beatles catalog, but Rubin occasionally throws a solo number into the mix, including the underrated “Waterfalls” from “McCartney II.”

McCartney may not know how to read music, but he offers a master class on composing and performance, explaining why he deepened his voice on “Lady Madonna” and how he gave “Live and Let Die” a cinematic feel.

One of the best anecdotes has to do with how McCartney had to inform John Lennon that his original version of “Come Together” sounded too much like Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” forcing the duo to take a slower, swampier approach to their “Abbey Road” opener.

McCartney gives props to other influential artists, some of whom may be new names to viewers. He talks about being dazzled by Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti while Wings was recording “Band on the Run” in Nigeria.

He shares how John Cage was on his mind when they were assembling “A Day in the Life.” There’s also a fitting tribute to the Everly Brothers, whom the lads mimicked in their harmonies on “Baby’s in Black.”

If you’re already salivating, you’re not alone.

Rubin serves as the ultimate fanboy, interjecting the conversation with “amazing” and “wonderful,” his long beard draping over the piano as he gazes at McCartney with goo-goo eyes. But his enthusiasm is an effective tool. Playing to an artist’s ego rarely backfires.

“I wish I had had you in school,” McCartney says as he chomps on gum and wigs out as Rubin cranks up “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

Director Zachary Heinzerling shot all the episodes in black and white, which gives the film an artsy-fartsy feel that isn’t necessary. At times, you may wonder why two of the most successful music moguls are hunkered down in a fallout shelter.

The moody look is a sharp contrast to the bright, upbeat conversation.

The series won’t be the most talked about Beatles project of the year. That title belongs to “Get Back,” a fresh look at the making of the 1970s album “Let It Be” from director Peter Jackson that is expected to start streaming on Disney+ in late November.

But it’s unlikely that film will focus nearly as much on the craft of songwriting as this project does.

“McCartney 3,2,1” isn’t just the latest example of Beatlemania. It’s a tribute to the hard work that goes into making songs.