Whether you love them, loathe them or don’t have an opinion either way, it’s impossible to deny the impact The Beatles had on popular music in the 20th century. More than 50 years later, Paul McCartney, one of the band’s lead songwriters and bass player, can still sell out a stadium and get everyone in it to sing along to “Hey Jude.”
In “McCartney 3, 2, 1,” a new docuseries on Hulu, producer Rick Rubin and McCartney revisits some of his and his groups’ most memorable and influential songs, not only discussing what was happening in the songwriting and recording process but going a little deeper into the personal feelings behind one of rock and roll’s most beloved stars.
Filmed in a stark black-and-white in a minimal studio where you can’t see the walls or doors, the interviews between Rubin and McCartney force the viewer to focus on the stories and the music, something not enough music documentaries do.
At first, this three-hour stroll down memory lane is a little odd. Rubin starts playing a Beatles song from the soundboard and McCartney starts humming or pretending to strum his bass. But after 30 seconds he says, “I remember that John thought this would be fun to do because…,” and McCartney starts telling a story that adds so much more depth to a song I already love.
There is still a little bit of the classic talking-head documentary interview style and there are plenty of clips from the 1960s and ‘70s showing the Beatles or Wings or solo McCartney, but the focus on the here and now guides the viewer into really listening to the songs and McCartney’s stories related to them.
Because the series doesn’t follow a specific chronological order — starting with the earliest Beatles hits and ending with McCartney’s most recent solo work — each song that the two end up talking about is a surprise. You can go from “A Day in the Life” to “Live and Let Die” to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and it doesn’t feel strange, especially since McCartney appears to be as pleasantly surprised as the viewer and is eager to talk about a memory that’s resurfaced.
Since this is more than three hours of pretty much only McCartney, this probably isn’t a documentary for someone who isn’t a fan of his work or the Beatles. But even if you are a casual or occasional listener of this era in pop music, the real value in the conversations between Rubin and McCartney is the history and the culture surrounding all these songs. And for those who are musicians or know a bit about music theory, there’s also a gold mine of applied musical mechanics that the Beatle explains at the piano in easy to understand terms.
As the one with the second-longest and most successful career of the four Beatles, it’s easy to see why McCartney would get his own documentary series like this where Rubin and the viewer get to feel like teenage fans all over again, painting McCartney to be this musical genius with all the right notes to write some of our most favorite songs.
But on the other side of these conversations is McCartney being the biggest Beatles fan 50 years later. Whether he’s been humbled in his 70s or rediscovering his love for that time, McCartney offers praise and credit to the other three Beatles more than himself. For the biggest Beatles fans, some of the stories he tells are ones we’ve heard a dozen times before, and probably ones he’s told a hundred times, but that glint in his eye and wry smirk tells me he enjoys it more now than decades ago.
Whether it’s the technical work of hammering out the songs in the recording sessions, the influence of early rock musicians from the 1950s or even how Ringo would have funny Ringo-isms that become “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” McCartney loves his job and it makes it so much easier to love him for it. The Beatles are my favorite artists ever, and Paul is my favorite Beatle, and “McCartney 3, 2, 1” just cements it even more.