While it may be hard to believe that the most successful man in music history turns 70 years old this week, it is even harder to realize that just one person has had such a profound influence on popular music. While most musicians are happy to stick to the same type of music and way of playing it for their entire careers, Paul McCartney has experimented and excelled in almost every genre of music. A true artist, his impact can be felt in thousands of other songs by countless artists throughout the years. While it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly inspired whom, here’s a look at McCartney’s most influential songs and their effect on modern music.
7. “When I’m Sixty-Four”
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is one of pop music’s most influential albums, and most people largely forget that Paul composed most of its genre-smashing tracks. This vintage-sounding ditty was intended to be a throwback to his father’s generation, but instead inspired the modern trend of new songs, hearkening back to early 20th century vaudeville. Without “When I’m Sixty Four”, there wouldn’t be the Turtles’ “Elenore” or the Monkees’ “Cuddly Toy”. Plus, it may as well be the unofficial anthem of the AARP.
6. “Yellow Submarine”
Children’s music is billion-dollar industry today, but rarely saw a record release in the ’60s. While some would like to paint this kid-friendly musical voyage as a slice of psychedelia, influenced by some type of drugs, McCartney himself revealed that he intended it to be a song he could sing to his little nieces and nephews.
“Yellow Submarine” would later go on to inspire an excellent animated movie with its own soundtrack album. A standard in the world of “car-tunes”, it has been covered by hundreds of different artists geared towards children.
5. “Let It Be”
The music world was in mourning after the Beatles’ broke up. Though Paul McCartney probably didn’t intend it as such, “Let It Be” became the group’s true swan song, a parting note that signaled the end of something truly great.
But in a way, it also marked a new beginning, that of the band anthem. Now it’s essential that every truly important musician has their own epic theme, worthy of mass audience sing-alongs and charity covers. Oasis has “Wonderwall”, Elton John has “Candle in the Wind”, U2 has “One”, Christina Aguilera has “Beautiful”, and even Miley Cyrus has “The Climb”. Deep, deep down inside, all of these songs is a seed planted by “Let It Be”.
4. “Got to Get You Into My Life”
Seemingly a fairly innocent love song today, “Got to Get You Into My Life” was a fairly shocking number when it was released. Those bombastic brass sections were a unique change of pace from the usual guitars, piano, drum sound that originally made up rock ‘n’ roll. That sound would eventually lead to the jazz-inspired sounds of groups like Chicago and INXS, and this song later became a funkfied hit for Earth, Wind & Fire.
3. “Coming Up”
Digital music is a big part of today’s Top 40 chart, but some three-plus decades ago, it wasn’t comming in pop. It would take a lot of experimentation by a few musical masterminds to turn it into the genre it is today, and Paul was one of those curious pioneers. While Wings’ live version (aided by electronic noises that can best be described as laser cannon-esque) shot to the top of the charts, its intended A-side really pushed the electronic envelope in pop music.
2. “Helter Skelter”
Many writers try to typecast each member of the Beatles into their own little box. They try to tell you that John was the rocker who wrote aggressive and clever barbs in his lyrics, while Paul is the sentimental romantic who composed pop ballads. Those people completely forgot about “Helter Skelter”. Despite being credited as a Lennon/McCartney composition, it is entirely Paul’s vision. After reading Pete Townshend’s claim that “I Can See For Miles” was loud, raw, and raucous, Paul was inspired to outdo them, with “Helter Skelter” being the end result.
Perhaps its place in music history is so often ignored because of the rumors that the song inspired the gruesome tragedy of the murders of members of the Tate and LaBianca families. (A misspelled version of the title, among other phrases, was painted onto the walls of one of the crime scenes.) It is unfair to condemn a song for the actions of deranged people, especially one that gets its title from something as innocent as a slang term for a carnival ride.
While the legend of how its iconic melody came to Paul McCartney in a dream is well known, his initial reluctance to record “Yesterday” as we know it is a lesser-known story. In 1966, even the Beatles themselves had rigid ideas as to what did and didn’t qualify as a “Beatles song” and what rock bands should or shouldn’t do. Paul thought that the song, with its somewhat ambiguous lyrics about remorse and light mood, was too “soft” for the group. He had to be persuaded to record the song without any other members of the group by producer George Martin, who dubbed its stringed instrumentation by studio musicians.
It was not the type of song audiences were used to hearing from the Beatles or any rock band, but it quickly became a No.1 hit in the US. From now on, rock musicians were free to be serious.