It's been a pretty good year so far for Paul McCartney. His new album,
"Flaming Pie," debuted last month at number two on the billboard charts.
And in March, he was knighted by her majesty, the queen of England.
Recently I traveled to McCartney's private recording studio in Sussex, England, where he talked to me about his return to his musical roots, and about his new title.
So, just to be proper...
Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY ("Flaming Pie"): Yeah.
LAUER: ...do I call you Paul? Do I call you Sir Paul? Which do you prefer?
Mr. McCARTNEY: I prefer Paul. My dad would have said sir--he said, do we spell that C-U-R? No, that's--you call me anything you like, anything but early.
LAUER: When--when people call you Sir Paul--if they come up to you on the street--does it startle you still?
Mr. McCARTNEY: It sure does. What, still? I haven't got used to it at all. I'll go on a plane, and the pilot may say, `welcome, Sir Paul' and I'll go look behind me to see who he's talking to, you know, but it's such a great honor.
LAUER: Let's talk about this album, "Flaming Pie".
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: Why did it come out now? What was the inspiration between the two?
Mr. McCARTNEY: We had the Beatles Anthology set, which is going to be three double CDs spread over a year. So a lot of work had gone into that. Looking back at the Beatles' early material, particularly, sort of surprised me--because, you know, it's a long time ago--so it surprised me how simple and direct it was.
There's not an awful lot on it. It's not all of the producers, just four guys. So it reminded me of what fun that was. So I thought I should do that with this album, I should make sure that I like every single song. I think they're all strong, they're simple and direct, and they're all recorded with a good humor.
LAUER: When people describe this album, and they say it's a little Beatlesesque, do you think they're reacting to the fun they're feeling from the songs or the simplicity?
Mr. McCARTNEY: I think both, probably. You know. I think for many years
after the immediate breakup of the Beatles, I think all of us wanted to
get away from that and wanted to make, kind of, phase two of our careers.
So I went into Wings and purposely didn't do Beatle numbers...
Mr. McCARTNEY: ...on the shows. But enough time has gone by now, enough
water has gone under that bridge. And what's happening now, which I think
is quite cool, is a lot of the younger bands are using that style. So,
says to someone like me, `Well, why shouldn't I?'
LAUER: When you were writing songs with John Lennon, I read somewhere that most songs you two could write in, like, three hours...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Mm-hmm.
LAUER: ...or less.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: That seems very quick to the average person.
Mr. McCARTNEY: It's long enough. If--we--look, we had a great collaboration.
Mr. McCARTNEY: I mean, I don't think there's any doubt about that, certainly from my point of view. John was like a great person to work with. He must have thought I was a great person to work with, because we--we stuck together for all that time. We read each other. We'd grown up together.
LAUER: What do you mean, you read each other?
Mr. McCARTNEY: We'd been teen-agers together. I'd been sitting in his
bedroom listening to Fats Domino, Chuck Berry. We'd been taking on the
words together when we were like 16, 17. So we'd actually grown up
together. So that if he said, you know, got to be like Chuck Berry, I knew what record he meant. I knew what line he was talking about. You know, so I--we read each other in that respect. And, so, when we came to sit down
to write, in the very early days, we would spend three hours but not get much. But it was about--three hours is about boredom level. We'd go and see a movie or something, you know, let's get out of here. So we just
learned to use that period of--of nonboredom. We only ever had one song once, I think, to my memory, where we nearly didn't make a song in the three-hour allotted period.
LAUER: Do you remember the song?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah. It was "Drive My Car." Because I had--I brought
it in, the melody and stuff. It was kind of my song. But it was supposed
to be something about golden rings which are very dangerous things, you
It's like, `And I can get you golden rings, uh-huh.' You know, it was like, golden rings. `I can give you all those things,' and rings and things were just getting nowhere, you know. So we're starting to get bored early, even though the three hours wasn't up.
So we said, let's have a break--break, and we had ourselves a cup of
tea and a ciggy. We used to smoke in those days. And I think, I don't--I
can't remember what happened. But I--I, somehow, I got into this idea of
And it all got very tongue-in-cheek. It was sort of LA actress starlet saying, `You know, baby, you can drive my car.' So once that fun lyric kicked in, we were away, and the second half of the session was very easy.
LAUER: When you have a great collaboration like that, is it tough when you don't have that collaboration anymore, when you're out there alone and you're--and you're sitting in a room, and you want to look around and say somebody, chime in here?
Mr. McCARTNEY: I think, you know, if I'm looking for something, I'm
trying seeing if the line is crummy or if trying to find something good
to say, I might, in my mind, just sort of check with John, and sort of
would he think of that? You know?
LAUER: Think how wonderful it would be right here on the TODAY show if you broke the news and told me that someday, the three of you will get back together. You want to do that for me?
Mr. McCARTNEY: No, I'm doing that on "Hard Copy" tonight.
LAUER: Oh, darn!
Mr. McCARTNEY: I'm sorry, man. What can I tell you?
LAUER: And tomorrow, we'll have part two of my interview with Paul McCartney. He'll have more to say about his new album, and he'll talk about his wife Linda's struggle with breast cancer.
Paul McCartney is one of the most prolific and successful recording
artists of all time. His current album, "Flaming Pie," is his 68th release
since he first recorded back with the Beatles back in the 1960s. Recently
I sat down with McCartney at his recording studio in Sussex, England, and I asked him if songwriting comes as quickly to him these days as it did back then.
Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY ("Flaming Pie"): This album actually is--was quite quick. There wasn't an awful lot of deliberation on the songs. A little trick I have was--during this album, I did it on two songs: "Some Days" and "Young Boy." Two songs. What would happen was, Linda would be going to a cookery assignment. So I said, `Well, I'll drive you. I'm not doing anything.' We're kind of out on holiday. I said, `Well, I'll drive you and I'll bring you back.' You know. I like her, she's great. And I'm cheap.
So I drove her there. I take my guitar in case there's nothing for me to do, as there often is. So I'll just go into the little back room and I'll make it--make it a little sort of game with myself and say, `OK, I'm going to write a song in the next three hours.' Because when they finished, one of them--probably one of them is bound to say, `Did you get bored? What did you do?' You know.
Mr. McCARTNEY: And I'll say, well, I wrote a song. And they go, `Never. Three hours? What?' I say sure, you want to hear? And it focuses me.
LAUER: Well, you mentioned the song "Some Days."
Mr. McCARTNEY: Hmm.
LAUER: Tell me about that song.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, I was doing the cookery thing. See, I'm cheap...
LAUER: I mean, what's--what's the inspiration for that song?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Inspiration. It's very difficult. I know there is an inspiration but I don't know where it comes from. It's like a vast reservoir of music out there. All these atoms contain all the music there ever was. And it's all there for the picking. And someone like me--when you've learned to songwrite, it gives you the confidence to just reach in there and find something. Eleanor Rigby. Rice, church, picks up. Oh, OK. We know where we're going. LAUER: Is "Some Days" a love song?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: Is it written for Linda?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Any love song I write is written for Linda. Yeah.
LAUER: Wh--what did she say the first time you played it for her?
Mr. McCARTNEY: `That's a nice song, dear.' No, I can't remember what she said. `Great,' she loved it.
LAUER: Linda sings...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yes.
LAUER: ...on the album. Your son James plays guitar...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: Was that nerve wracking for you?
Mr. McCARTNEY: It was a bit, actually, yeah. And he was a bit nervous. But he doesn't show it.
LAUER: How old is he now?
Mr. McCARTNEY: He's 19.
LAUER: Are you going to be the kind of dad who offers advice to the son who wants to go into the--the music business?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah, but you know, talking about maturity and stuff, the one thing I'm learning is that it's very difficult to give advice. People often think you're telling them off. I wonder if you find that. I--I do sometimes. I'll do what seems to me a perfectly good-natured thing. `Now, you know what, on that third phrase there, you know, if you'd had done that, it just might have been better.'
And I figure, well, I've been around long enough. It's got to--hopefully it's got to be some kind of good advice. But he'll just say, `Yeah, Dad, but you know, I'm thinking--I've got my own thought on it.' You know? And I sometimes get a little bit, `Hey now, come on. You know, like if you were going to a master class or something with me, you'd have to listen. He says, `Yeah. But Dad, I'm 19.' Ding. And the lamp goes off. I realize he's quite right. He's 19. I say, `All right. You're talking about youth, aren't you?' I get it now. I remember.
LAUER: Is it tough, though, if you think he's making a mistake to sit back and watch someone you love so much possibly make a mistake?
Mr. McCARTNEY: It's very tough. But you've got to let him do it.
Mr. McCARTNEY: It's very tough. But that's when I'm learning, is to
do that. You know, if he's really making a mistake, I'll pull him back
before he really does it and then just say, `Sorry, going to pull you out
water or you'll drown.'
LAUER: Ringo also plays on a couple of songs...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: ...on this--on this album. When you sit in--and I think it was this room right here...
Mr. McCARTNEY: This room right here.
LAUER: When you sat in this room, and Ringo's playing drums and you're
doing your thing, do you look across the room and think, `This is how it
should be'? Or do you stop and think, `My God, we've been doing this for
almost 40 years now'?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Both. I think this is how it should be for 40 years. It's a--it's a great feeling, you know, to play with him. Before the Beatles Anthology, we--we were getting back together in--again in this studio, to do "Free as a Bird"...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Which is the John song. We didn't know then whether we'd be able to cut it because we hadn't been in the studio together. We...
LAUER: Cut it technically, or cut it personality wise?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Both. Both. You know, we didn't know whether we'd like each other, or didn't know if we'd be comfortable. You know, if you don't live together for a long time, a long time, you may get--you may need your own space. Someone may say something that annoys you. It wasn't like that. It was fantastic, really. Ringo and I locked in really easily on bass and drums. So after that, I said to him, `You know, it would be lovely if you--if you'd play on some solo stuff.' He said, `I'd love to.' So I said I've got a song called "Beautiful Night."
LAUER: You and Linda have been married 28 years?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Twenty-eight years, man.
LAUER: In a business and a world where divorce is everywhere...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Unfortunately, yeah.
LAUER: What--what's the secret? You're still writing love songs with her.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah, well I love her. That's the--I mean, anyone asks
what the secret is, that's the secret. You know. We just fell in love.
We were lucky. We had our ups and downs. You know, I don't want it to seem
rosey-posy. I mean, you know, we argued. And we--we argue, you know, because you've got to have that. But we've always had a good sense of humor. We've always been quite honest with each other. And we've been
LAUER: You've had a tough couple of years with her health.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Hmm.
LAUER: Much talked about...
Mr. McCARTNEY: Hmm.
LAUER: ...that she's been battling breast cancer. How is she doing, first of all?
Mr. McCARTNEY: She's doing great. She's doing great. Yeah, but it's
very tough. You know, it's not--it's--it's--I mean, it's an understatement
to say it's not easy. It's very tough, indeed. But you do what you've got
do. And the thing is, you know, if you catch this stuff early enough--I always use this opportunity to say to women...
LAUER: As you should.
Mr. McCARTNEY: ...watching the show, you know, make sure you get checked. Do all the examinations, because, you know, you catch it early, there's a lot they can do these days.
LAUER: It must've brought back some bad memories for you. Your mom had cancer.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Mom died of cancer. Yeah. Yeah. That was...
LAUER: You were 14.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: So you must be thinking at that time, `My gosh, don't let his happen again.'
Mr. McCARTNEY: Exactly, yeah. It's not easy. But you know, you get on. You do what you've got to do.
Mr. McCARTNEY: You try and enjoy your life. That's all you can do anyway. You know. If you could have the greatest wish, if God could come down and say, like, you get anything you want, you'd--or what I would want would be to like enjoy today. Because if I can go to bed and say, hey, you know, it was good, that's about the best for me, you know. So that's what we do. That's what we try and do. And, you know, we have a lot of fun.
LAUER: And tomorrow we'll wrap up our interview with Paul McCartney by finding out what he wants his legacy to be.
Up next, Paul McCartney. That's right after these messages.
MATT LAUER, co-host: Paul McCartney has received countless accolades over his long, distinguished career, including 12 Grammy Awards, 46 platinum albums, and 29 number one hits. But last March he received an extra special honor, nighthood from the queen. And as Sir Paul told me recently it was an experience he will never forget.
Mr. PAUL McCARTNEY ("Flaming Pie"): I was just nervous, as usual. You know, like anyone goes through those things, in a bit of a haze as you are going through it. I was thinking, `I'm doing this thing in front of her majesty.' I've got a lot of respect for the royal family. People who grew up in my generation were before the kind of thing that's happened more recently with the younger royals. So what--we--I saw the queen get crowned and it was quite a big thing, you know, in '53, when I was like 11. So it's a special thing for me, you know, and I've seen her on and off through the years and talked to her a little. And I think she's--I think she's good, you know. I--I--whenever I talk to her, she's really sensible, so it's a bit patronizing.
LAUER: Most guys can't even imagine having a conversation with the queen, that she would have a normal conversation.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Well, that's the funny thing about it is, you know, I think that sometimes, perhaps, when they get with people like me or other famous people like the other Beatles, for instance, I think they can feel a little bit at home, because we're famous like they are. They're more famous in many ways, you know. But we've experienced that "thing," so we're kind of, in a way, a little bit soul mates. And a bit presumptuous for me to think that, but I--that's my theory.
I mean, I went to Prince Charles once--I was just talking because I
see him on various things. He's very into organic farming; so am I. So
we--we meet occasionally. And I met him and I was feeling very sort of
real and I just sort of said, you know, `How are you?' Looked him right
in the eye. Sort of took him back. And he said, `What?' I said, `How are
you know, `dude?' It was a bit that, you know. And he's, `I'm alive. I alive.' And so--but nobody else does that, you know?
LAUER: You just said something that kind of sparked my curiosity. You said that she's more famous than you. I don't know if my friends would agree with that.
Mr. McCARTNEY: I have to say that.
LAUER: Out of respect.
Mr. McCARTNEY: It's a bloody tower for me if I don't.
LAUER: OK. We don't want you to go to the tower.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Not just yet.
LAUER: If the queen, your friend, the queen, were to call you today and say--and say `Paul, the house band at Buckingham Palace has the flu.'
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: I need you to put together the band, the greatest band for one night.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Yeah.
LAUER: Who would--who would you want to play with?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Who would be in it? The Royal Grandeur Guards because they're her favorites. And they don't play very well, but they play selections from "South Pacific," which she loves.
LAUER: Show tunes.
Mr. McCARTNEY: Seriously. Like during the investiture, you know, and get through the knighthood thing. Is--is someone taking the Mickey here? Wait a minute. Should I be reading some significance into the...
LAUER: Do you have a supergroup?
Mr. McCARTNEY: Who would I put together in a supergroup? They are all dead, my supergroup. Are we allowed to get them from heaven?
LAUER: OK. Let's do it that way.
Mr. McCARTNEY: They would have John Lennon, Jimmi Hendrix, Ringo. I'll play bass. George. There's a lot of them. There's a--that would be a pretty good band right there.
LAUER: When you look back at 55, of what are you most proud?
Mr. McCARTNEY: My kids. Me and Linda say our greatest achievements are our kids. It's the most--it's the most real, it's the most tangible. I'm very proud of the kids. I really am. They're--they're great people.
LAUER: You are Sir Paul. Your home where you grew up as a kid is now part of the National Trust. It's a historic monument. You've had so much success. What do you want your legacy to be?
Mr. McCARTNEY: I don't know really. I--the most important things for
me are values. In my case, like family values. If people listening to me
chunder on about my kids, the family, and how much it means to me, see
something in that that they want to emulate, then that'd be great for me. Then second would be music. I hope they like my music. That'd be good, too.
LAUER: And there is very little doubt that Paul McCartney will forever be remembered for his music. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he and John Lennon are the most successful songwriters in history.