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The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present Hardcover – 2 November 2021
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'More often than I can count, I've been asked if I would write an autobiography, but the time has never been right. The one thing I've always managed to do, whether at home or on the road, is to write new songs. I know that some people, when they get to a certain age, like to go to a diary to recall day-to-day events from the past, but I have no such notebooks. What I do have are my songs, hundreds of them, which I've learned serve much the same purpose. And these songs span my entire life.'
In this extraordinary book, with unparalleled candour, Paul McCartney recounts his life and art through the prism of 154 songs from all stages of his career - from his earliest boyhood compositions through the legendary decade of The Beatles, to Wings and his solo albums to the present. Arranged alphabetically to provide a kaleidoscopic rather than chronological account, it establishes definitive texts of the songs' lyrics for the first time and describes the circumstances in which they were written, the people and places that inspired them, and what he thinks of them now. Presented with this is a treasure trove of material from McCartney's personal archive - drafts, letters, photographs - never seen before, which make this also a unique visual record of one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
We learn intimately about the man, the creative process, the working out of melodies, the moments of inspiration. The voice and personality of Paul McCartney sings off every page. There has never been a book about a great musician like it.
Frequently bought together
I know it all... or so I thought until I read Paul McCartney's magical treasure trove of a book ... Touching... bountiful -- Craig Brown ― Mail on Sunday
His composing methodology is revealed as a kind of innocent and endless curiosity ... this mighty tome is billed as the closest thing to an autobiography McCartney will ever write. It comprises 154 songs, with hundreds of fascinating photos and handwritten lyrics from McCartney's collection, and an informal, thoughtful text assembled from conversations conducted with acclaimed Irish poet Paul Muldoon ... McCartney is a playful and brilliant wordsmith ... His book of lyrics is charming -- Neil McCormick ― Daily Telegraph
Reading "The Lyrics" is like standing in a master chef's kitchen as he prepares a dish, adding a dash of this and a spoonful of that and talking to us so winningly ... there's nothing like listening to Macca (as McCartney was known in his Liverpool days) talk about the rise of a band composed largely of working-class teens who changed the world forever ... charming -- David Kirby ― Washington Post
With a gravity, reverence and sense of occasion that hasn't been seen since the Levites rolled out the Ark of the Covenant, the complete lyrics of Paul McCartney are published at last ... This vast, absorbing book is studded with McCartneyisms that make you rub your eyes -- John Walsh ― Sunday Times
Describing it as a book doesn't quite capture the object. It is two books, two separate volumes, in a gorgeous box. It weighs 8kg on my bathroom scales. It's a big thing of great beauty, and going back and forth through it is a hugely satisfying experience ... no matter where you start, or continue, McCartney seems to be waiting, ready to continue his warm, vivid, erudite stroll through his life and lyrics ... the life - McCartney's - seems more believable when examined in these glimpses. There is a modesty hiding in the book's bulk, and raw, gentle honesty ... There are 154 sets of lyrics in this book, and it's almost impossible to read most of them without hearing the melodies and trumpet bits. But it is well worth trying. Read, not heard, Lady Madonna is a different experience. I read it and thought of Zola's best novels. -- Roddy Doyle ― Irish Times
he provides a fascinating new insight into his life at the time they were written, and the lives of his fellow Beatles ... This, then, is a book for dipping into and sampling at leisure. It allows us to see some of the most familiar songs ever written in new and surprising ways ... [it] will not only thrill Beatles obsessives but fascinate anyone who has ever sung along to a Lennon and McCartney tune. Which must, surely, include half the world or more. -- Christopher Stevens ― Daily Mail
a feast for the eyes. Dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fans will be bowled over by the sheer profundity of unpublished photographs, previously unseen lyrics sheets, journal entries, paintings, and the like. Indeed, The Lyrics easily represents the finest collection of illustrations associated with McCartney's life and work. And it's beautifully rendered, to boot. Drop-dead gorgeous as books go -- Kenneth Womack ― Salon
the two things it reveals - an unrelenting work ethic and the picture-painting imperative of the storyteller - are the twin pillars of his life's work, as revealed here in random reflections on 154 selected songs spanning 64 years ... it's this up-front abdication of control, of responsibility and ultimately of authorial meaning that makes McCartney's story, and his open-handed attitude to a monumental body of work, so engaging. -- Michael Dwyer ― Sydney Morning Herald
Nothing comes close to Paul McCartney's breezeblock of a title ... Combine this monumental lyrics collection with Peter Jackson's Get Back and many Beatles fans won't come out again until the clocks go forward. Paul McCartney says this is as close as he will get to an autobiography and no wonder - his life is in every line of these songs. Each alphabetical entry (a smart arrangement that opens up a trove of lesser known McCartney lore) is not only accompanied by a wealth of wonderful photographs and memorabilia (the lyrics to Carry That Weight on Apple notepaper!), but also McCartney's own recollections and analysis. "Mostly, we were writing to the world," McCartney says about I Want to Hold Your Hand. The Lyrics makes it a pure joy to reach out for these songs once again. -- Victoria Segal ― The Sunday Times Book of the Year
a rich, enjoyable and beautifully presented treat -- John Aizlewood ― i Newspaper
To read over the words to these 154 songs is to be impressed not merely with McCartney's productivity but with the fertility of his imagination and the potency of his offhand, unfussy style ... giddy playfulness and unguarded experimentation. They're a joy to read because they exude the joy their maker took in their making. -- David Hajdu ― The New York Times
The text is accompanied by beautifully reproduced illustrations, including personal snapshots, formal portraits and memorabilia. The result is a hybrid of collected lyrics, memoir and picture book, a composite form resembling the all-round character of McCartney's musicality ... The Lyrics is a rewarding portrait of an exceptional songwriter. -- Ludovic Hunter-Tilney ― Financial Times
From All My Loving to Your Mother Should Know, the former Beatle illuminates a life spent puzzling how to get from the beginning of a song to its end -- David Hepworth ― Observer
Paul McCartney's storied career has been a long and winding road paved with songwriting gold. Thankfully, these fab volumes do it justice -- The Sun
engrossing ... reading it is like watching genius - which McCartney undoubtedly was and fitfully remains - in the process of creation, summoning something out of nothing -- David Honigmann ― Spectator
The Lyrics is stunningly beautiful and a masterpiece of book design, a true joy for bibliophiles. Paul McCartney has fashioned, through the explorations of his songs with the poet Paul Muldoon, a fascinating insight into his life and creative genius. The booksellers of Waterstones are proud to celebrate this magnificent and deeply original book. -- James Daunt, Waterstones
This lavishly produced two-volume boxed-set, which took five years to compile, is destined to be under many Christmas trees. -- Roger Lewis ― Daily Mail
The Beatles used to chuck lyric sheets in the wastebasket after recording a song: Linda McCartney fished them out and saved them. The Lyrics is the deluxe version of her scrapbook, a ... handsome, two-volume compendium of Paul McCartney's work as a lyricist, accompanied by photos and Macca's engaging reminiscences. -- Ludovic Hunter-Tilney ― Financial Times, Best books of 2021
Paul McCartney never wrote an autobiography. He argued that his remarkable life story is "all in the songs" - the hundreds upon hundreds of timeless, instantly engrossing classics that have become the soundtrack to Western culture. One hundred and fifty-four of these musical gems are gathered in The Lyrics - a gripping commentary on the inspiration for the tunes, their making and the characters they portray. ... McCartney's commentary throughout feels candid, enlightening and at times philosophical. His insight into the makeup and meaning of the lyrics is illuminating and entertaining, adding layers of depth to the already rich texture. -- Hannah Gal ― The Critic
Sir Paul has arranged 154 favourite compositions alphabetically, with lots of glossy photos. But in the essays that accompany each song, his underlying purpose is to affirm his status as a writer ... what fan will not enjoy a meander that feels like a long private audience with one of the Fab Four? ― Economist
Paul McCartney's delicious The Lyrics is a treasure trove. Gloriously illustrated with old snaps, posters with the Beatles' bottom-of-the-bill, handwritten set lists, lyrics on scraps and exhausting tour lists criss-crossing Britain. -- Celia Imrie ― Waitrose Weekend
The Lyrics is sumptuously made to a standard associated with high-end art publishers. It is lovely to hold and to touch and to look at. There are countless beautifully reproduced photographs, of McCartney - who in his younger years ravished the lens - his mother, father, brother and aunties, his wives, his children, his friends and notable collaborators. Many of the pictures are published for the first time. There are also handwritten lyric sheets festooned with doodles, scribbled diary entries, gig posters, newspaper reports, pictures of first pressings ... This book is ... more like an autobiography, done McCartney's way. Rather than publish a conventional life story, he has opted to tell this life through songs and pictures ... His eloquence is found in his art: next to the splendour of the songs ... The book showcases McCartney's lyrics ... the songs make up a larger canvas, or mosaic, that the artist himself is only now stepping back to contemplate. -- Ian Leslie ― New Statesman
Stating in the introduction to this two-volume gift edition that he has no intention of writing a memoir, Paul McCartney presents his songs as the next best thing, leaving us to mine their words as a guide to his life and world view. -- Will Hodgkinson ― The Times
These two beautifully produced hardbacks give a lot of bang for your buck. Macca recalls the inspiration behind 154 of his songs and the collaborative process of writing them, his stories taking in Lennon, Linda and fame, and there's a trove of photographs and memorabilia from his personal archive. He says the time has never been right to write a full memoir, but this collection is brimming with insights into the man and the music. -- Charlotte Heathcote ― Daily Express
- Publisher : Allen Lane; 1st edition (2 November 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 912 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0241519330
- ISBN-13 : 978-0241519332
- Dimensions : 24.8 x 9 x 32.5 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 2,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Only just opened it - checked out a few songs. 'Too Many People' (from the LP Ram with the beetles copulating on the cover) is a detailed, funny and powerful attack on John and in this book Paul justifies it by saying that John had attacked him first with songs like 'How Do You Sleep'. Those who know the Beatles' chronology know that 'Ram' pre-dates John's 'Imaine' LP on which we find the track, and also that Allen Klein got John to tone down his song (unlike what Paul says here). Oh Paul - shame on you: you were over-reacting to John's co-opting the line "Say you want a revolution" for his Maoist song 'Power To The People' suggesting the Beatles had been promoting radical politics - which is why you describe him as "sharing party lines" etc. The person reaching for a piece of cake was Yoko who gets a lot of mention in the lyric but not in Paul's commentary.
I then went to check what he said about his song 'Three Legs' (the next song on 'Ram', which he wrote immediately after Yoko released her film 'Fly') and IT IS MISSING! Perhaps that's just as well.
Checked out 'She's A Woman' which even their tame Anthology acknowledges is their first song written around a drug reference ("Turns me on when I get lonely" - i.e. when there's nobody about) but unfortunately this little fact is missing here too.
Then looked at 'Things We Said Today' which is has one of Paul's greatest lyrics. It is built around the Gershwin song 'Love Is Here To Stay' which Ira wrote in memory of his brother and songwriting partner George - so many implications at this, the first really difficult time in Paul's relationship with John - and we see not a mention.
Can't wait to see what he says about 'Hey Jude' - no doubt it's all about John's little boy Julian - imagine saying that kind of stuff to a four year old! Paul's not that kind of guy.
No-one will be disappointed. Everyone will be delighted.
Top reviews from other countries
For starters the books set is big, and very, very heavy. Everything in it is grand: the format, the book case, the photos, the glossy pages. And then there're the lyrics and McCartney's elaboration on those, taking surprisingly little space (roughly a bit less than one fifth of all the pages). So the excessive format works, to these eyes, against the very core idea of "the lyrics": we expected thoughts, intimate comments on how Paul McCartney grew and developed into one of the most important and talented musicians of the XX century. Yet he has wrapped his thoughts, almost buried those, in hundreds of photographs and a grandiose set of two books, as if afraid of presenting his bare comments or that mere words wouldn't do it. We expected words about "The Lyrics", and instead we got a mammoth album of larger than life photographs with some texts here and there. And this does not work, because we get full-pages photos of cars (and dogs and guitars and places and people and houses and pieces of clothing) that gave name or merely inspired some of Paul's songs or are vaguely related to him at some point in his life - is that all necessary? Same can be said of the reproduction of hand-written lyrics. One or two of those look nice and can complement well a book - dozens of pages of them (as there are in "The Lyrics") is, beyond a curiosity, an excess that eventually adds up nothing to the set of books - much on the contrary, in the end it gets boring and seems more a page-filler.
Since the mid-2000s several musicians of McCartney's generation and stature have written their autobiographies: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, to name just a few well-known names. These books are all very good, sober and very well written documents of the golden era of rock music, and Dylan's and Springsteen's memoirs are exceptionally well written. Each and every one of those memoirs is a joy to read and all of them became best-sellers. Yet McCartney seems to have tried to outdo them all by going bigger, as if a conventional autobiography was below him or as he needed more space to tell his story (he tends to do that).
The inclusion of many Wings songs doesn't help either - there are more songs of McCartney with Wings and solo that with the Beatles, and this, for obvious reasons, reduces the book's quality. It’s magnificent to read what took Paul to write ‘Yesterday’ or where he got the inspiration for "I Will", "Hey Jude" of "For No One". But, do we need to know what inspired him to compose minor songs post-1970, as "Check my Machine", his instrumental, and rather poor, song of "McCartney II"? (And by the way, a song whose lyrics is a mere repetition of the song’s title). Does the inane "Magneto and the Titanium Man" deserve six pages in the book? And same can be said of his comments on the late Linda. Paul McCartney has always considered her as an important member of his own band, Wings, and she wasn't, at least in anything related to music. The late Mrs McCartney was, according to testimonies of all who knew her, a charming and lovely person. Fair enough. But she was not a musician, even if she was keen to be photographed at keyboards (which she couldn't play). In "The Lyrics" McCartney refers often to her as a worthy musician, and he even writes that Linda was a "pioneer female singer" and that she was very good at "clapping and doing harmonies" - lines obviously written by a devoted husband, not by a musician or a band leader. And these comments, and the inclusion of clearly minor songs allegedly co-written by Linda ("Cook of the House") diminish considerably the quality of the book.
In the end, we're left with just a handful of good texts and some original pictures, but only a few of each of those, and this does not seem to be enough to justify the cost or the expectation of the books-set. So after reading the books back-to-back we're indeed missing something we hoped to get: the story of the Beatles through their work. And this could be found in the best book ever written on the Beatles songs (lyrics and music) and of their evolution along the glorious sixties, as well in popular music. This book is still, by and large, "Revolution in the Head", by Ian MacDonald. This is an outstandingly well researched, unbiased and pitch-perfect analysis of the career of the band whose music is one of the peaks of contemporary art through a chronological analysis of each song the Beatles recorded. With "The Lyrics" we expected the same, but better, because it’s written by one of the leaders and the main composer of the band from Liverpool. And we didn't get it. Far from it.
What did we expect? Simple. If Paul would have only written something similar to MacDonalds' book: a musical journey through the songs, showing his initiations and development as a composer; if he would have only published, say, 300 pages thickly packed with revelations and facts on his inspiration and brilliant musical career; if he would have support the text with just a handful of well selected and never-seen pictures to illustrate specific parts of the tale; if the song's lyrics would have been presented chronologically, for the reader to see the composer's evolution; if McCartney wouldn't have tried so much to appear as "an author" by citing and almost comparing himself to giant contemporaries like Bertrand Russell or Harold Pinter; if Paul would have chosen for the book mostly Beatles songs, bookending those with a dozen of his solo career, relying heavily for these perhaps in his quite touching reflections on loss, friendship and growing old along "Egypt Station" and "McCartney III". That would have been the wonderful, priceless, unique book we expected since February.
But Paul McCartney hasn't lived up to the expectation created with the announcement of his book. He is one of the best composers of the last 100 years, without a doubt. But, because he fell for the mistakes above noted, "The Lyrics" neither works as a personal memoir nor as a review of 50 years of composing and success nor as an insight into the rock scene of the last six decades nor, in the end, as anything in particular. Unfortunately, for all the above, this set of books ended up being closer to a bloated artefact, an enormous photo album with elongated captions; an odd, unbalanced and in the end rather disappointing way to share a brilliant composer’s inspiration with the world.
Begun in August 2015 but not fully worked on until 2019, it’s presented in alphabetical order across two hardback volumes inside a slip case, each volume has it’s own dust jacket, but you can take those off and have two different covers. Inside you’ll find a plethora of photos (of which only a handful will have be seen by us), handwritten lyrics, mouth watering acetates and various other bits and pieces. Oh, and the songs and explanations how they came to be. Each one is four, six or eight pages, though ‘Yesterday’ is afforded ten, and the whole thing will keep you going for a while.
But don’t think all the pages are taken up with text, as some have a page devoted to a photo of a record or something like a handbill; ‘In Spite Of All The Danger’ being an example of having both sides of the acetate spread over two pages. But at least you can see all of it. Those songs that are in these volumes range from ‘I Lost My Little Girl’ from 1956 through to a trio of selections from ‘McCartney III’. Now, Beatles devotees will know about songs such as ‘Too Bad About Sorrows’ and other tunes he wrote back in the late 50s and [very] early 60s, but what about ‘Tell Me Who He Is’? A mere eight lines long, it was discovered hidden away in a notebook and is alleged to be an unrecorded Beatles song. (Well, that’s what MPL is claiming and who are we to doubt that?)
Expensive? Some might say it is but that’s for you to decide. Remember, anything Beatle related tends to carry a premium, though I can’t see many casual buyers forking out nearly £50 for this; it’s aimed at McCartney aficionados. And most of us will lap it up. It's a shame he didn't include everything he's written but maybe that task would have been too big. The resulting book certainly would have been.
I wonder if Marjorie ever received a response from Paul for her fan letter on page 188?
Great insights to songs so far
However I am amazed that the Beatles greatest song "A day in the life" has only one page about it and no mention of lennon.
Have a couple of pages fell out of my one?
Straight back into it in the morning
From one scouser to another scouser, I thank you sir