‘McCartney 3, 2, 1’ review: a gimmick-free deep dive into The Beatles’ oeuvre

With the help of super-producer Rick Rubin, Macca finds new ways to interpret his back catalogue

Over the last year, Paul McCartney’s attention has been directed here, there and everywhere in what’s become a fascinating, legacy-defining chapter. During “rockdown”, as he charmingly calls it, he completed a new entry into the beloved ‘McCartney’ album series, resurrecting it after a 40 year absence, and used the opportunity to make new trendy pals like Phoebe Bridgers, Dominic Fike and Khruangbin on an ensuing remix album. Later this year, the long-awaited Peter Jackson-directed docuseries, The Beatles: Get Back, will arrive on Disney+, a reframing of the terse final album sessions in which McCartney will “show the truth about the Beatles recording together”.

McCartney 3, 2, 1 finds our Paul in a similar bind; he relishes the chance to tell well-worn tales of how The Fab Four came to rule the world, but does so with a purpose to contextualise where he’s about to go next. He tells his interviewer, legendary music producer Rick Rubin, just that in the series’ second episode: “I want to forge ahead constantly, and that’s what I love about music – there’s always this next little song to be thinking about or to write.”

We are, of course, very lucky that he’s decided to venture back with such enthusiasm and clarity. The format devised is a devilishly smart one, too. Composed of six 30-minute episodes and shot entirely in black and white, there’s a deliberate lack of structure with each episode’s narrative wobblier than Macca’s bobbing head: these guys just want to shoot the shit and talk all things music.

McCartney
McCartney and Rubin discuss the art of songwriting. CREDIT: Disney

Though Beatles stans will glean few new nuggets of information, the magical sequences featuring Rubin and McCartney tinkering with the mixing desk are worth tuning in for alone. In these moments, McCartney is engaged and playful, as the duo take turns isolating heavenly vocals or pulling out guitar licks on classic Beatles tracks with real glee; neither does so to make a smart-arse point, but to unlock and relive the emotions McCartney felt at the time, or when Rubin first heard them. Watching Paul fiddle with ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘And I Love Her’ is a stirring highlight – the sight of a towering musical figure continually making breakthroughs with his own concoctions is a deeply satisfying one: the discovery clearly never ends.

This is a fresh take on the format, but likely one we’ll seldom see repeated, for few people know their way around their own tunes – and everyone else’s – like McCartney does here. There are flashy anecdotes which include a run-in with Jimi Hendrix at the Bag O’Nails club in London during the ’60s, and the time Little Richard pontificated on the meaning of life, but this series’ finest moments are often the most humble and human: a vocal crack rediscovered on ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, or a fleeting, touching compliment of George Harrison’s guitar playing (“He was good y’know?”) It should come as little surprise: humanity is at the core of McCartney’s oeuvre, and of this delightful and cosy documentary.

‘McCartney 3,2,1’ debuts on Disney+ in the UK tomorrow (August 25)

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