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Paul McCartney knew he'd never top The Beatles — and that's just fine with him

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We thought it would be fun to spend Thanksgiving with Paul McCartney, so we're going to feature my recent interview with him. We talked about his life and music through two projects. He has a new two-volume set of books called "The Lyrics," collecting his lyrics and the stories behind them, starting with songs he wrote before the Beatles and ending with songs from his latest album, "McCartney III," which was released late last year.

There's also the new documentary "Get Back," which is about the three weeks the Beatles spent in 1969 writing, rehearsing and recording the songs on their album "Let It Be," and giving their final performance together on a rooftop in London's Savile Row. The band broke up before the album "Let It Be" was released in 1970. This documentary draws on footage that was not used in the 1970 film "Let It Be" that documented the same sessions. "Get Back" will premiere in three two-hour installments over the holiday weekend, starting today, on Disney+.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Let's start with a song that kicked off the Beatles' first album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I SAW HER STANDING THERE")

THE BEATLES: One, two, three, four. (Singing) Well, she was just 17, you know what I mean? And the way she looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another when I saw her standing there? Well, she looked at me...

GROSS: Paul McCartney, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It is such an honor to have you back on our show. So did you know the count-off would be left in that song when you recorded it? I love hearing the count-off. It's kind of the equivalent of, like, an overture in a musical. It gets you, like, really excited for what you're going to hear (laughter).

PAUL MCCARTNEY: Yeah. Yeah, you know, that's one of the things about that song, really. And we use it just for practical purposes. Oh, by the way, hi, Terry...

GROSS: Hi.

MCCARTNEY: ...And listeners. Yeah. Yeah, we used it for practical purposes, you know, just to count ourselves in. But I think that was a particularly exuberant one that our producer thought it'd be a good idea to leave in, so I listened to smart people.

GROSS: So how did that become the B-side of "I Want To Hold Your Hand"? Like, why wasn't it the A-side?

MCCARTNEY: I don't know. These are just decisions that are taken at the time, and I think "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was just stronger.

GROSS: You write, eroticism was a driving force behind everything I did. That's what lay behind a lot of these love songs. Meanwhile, your fans were having a lot of erotic thoughts about you. Can you talk a little bit about what the experience was like of being, like, an object of desire at a time when - you know, when men are going through a time in your life that's typical of a highly sexualized period in a young man's life?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah. The truth was here's - you got four young men in Liverpool, and pretty much, you were looking for a girlfriend, and you were looking for sex. I mean, you know, that's in your private life. And the truth was, you weren't very successful. So and you've got to remember, also, the period. This was sort of a post-World War II in Liverpool. So it wasn't swinging London yet, you know. So we were just - yeah, you know, just like most young guys, you know, we just wanted to have a girlfriend and - you know, because as kids, we were apparently not very attractive.

It was kind of the opposite for us, you know? So I suppose, you know, that kind of - as we got more and more popular and the girls started screaming and stuff - tell you the truth, we just enjoyed it. It was the fulfillment of all our dreams, and this idea that eroticism lay at the back of a lot that we would write is kind of - it sounds more important when you actually quote it. You know, it really was just young guys trying to get laid, as Americans would say.

GROSS: So how did it change your life and your self-image when millions of teenage girls wanted you to make love to them?

MCCARTNEY: It was very comforting, Terry.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTNEY: Extreme...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTNEY: It was very wonderful. And it was like, wow, look at this. Finally, we're attracting attention, and all these girls seem to really like us. You know, we'd never experienced that. If you're lucky, there'd be a girl down the street who might vaguely like you or something, you know? But suddenly, it went wild. And I must say, we loved it.

GROSS: You know something I kept thinking about re-reading some of your early lyrics and thinking about when I first heard the Beatles and when I first heard the songs and when I first saw "A Hard Day's Night" - I never had the chance to see the Beatles in concert, but I did see "A Hard Day's Night" when it opened. That was my first time, outside of "Ed Sullivan," when I was sitting in the living room with my parents, and I wasn't going to scream. But in the movie theater, everyone was screaming, and I was screaming, too. And I can't tell you how out of character that is for me. And so I've always wondered, like, why was I doing that (laughter)?

MCCARTNEY: I know. It - well, I say it was an excitement. And your question of what did we feel? We loved it. We felt excited back.

GROSS: Until you didn't, though, right? Until you didn't feel that way.

MCCARTNEY: Well, no, later then it got a bit wearying because now the first sort of flush of the excitement had been going for quite a few years, and we were maturing. And we were sort of out of that phase. So we were kind of - you know, it was like, oh, OK, it would be quite nice to be able to hear the song we're playing. And we couldn't because it was just, you know, a million seagulls screaming, you know?

GROSS: So let's get to another song. And this is the song that you describe in your book by saying, if pushed, I would say it's my favorite of all my songs. And the song is "Here, There And Everywhere," which was on The Beatles' 1966 album, "Revolver." What makes this your favorite song or one of them?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah, I think the structure of it. I like it. It always reminds me in structure of a great Cole Porter song, "Cheek To Cheek," which Fred Astaire sang. And it starts off, heaven, I'm in heaven, da la la la la (ph). It goes through it. And then in the middle, it goes we're out together dancing, da da da da da da (ph). But it takes me back to heaven. And it's so neat the way it just wraps itself up that I always thought, wow, that's a great trick, you know? So "Here, There And Everywhere," does that - here, first verse, second verse, there, third verse, everywhere, leading me back to here. You know? That was what attracted me. And then I think that wouldn't have been enough to make it my favorite song. But I think - also, I think it's got a nice melody. So the combination of those always made it one of my big favorites. And that's a question you get asked a lot - you know, what's your favorite song? So - but that one, when I'm pushed, I will pull that one out of the bag. And it is definitely amongst my favorites.

GROSS: OK, so here's "Here, There And Everywhere."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) To lead a better life, I need my love to be here - here, making each day of the year, changing my life with a wave of her hand. Nobody can deny that there's something there. There, running my hands through her hair, both of us thinking how good it can be. Someone is speaking, but she doesn't know he's there. I want her everywhere.

GROSS: That's Paul McCartney's song "Here, There And Everywhere," which was on the Beatles' 1966 album "Revolver."

Did John have any input on that song? It's officially a Lennon-McCartney song, though it's really your song. And you now put your name first on the songs that you're primarily responsible for.

MCCARTNEY: John had always a little bit of an influence. But often I might have written the whole thing myself, and then when we came to record it, you know he would - there would be some influence. I can't remember whether he wanted to change a word or something. But when the songs were songs that I mainly presented to him and the band as a finished piece, then that's what I've done in the book, is to put my name first.

GROSS: What was the process of writing songs with John compared to writing them by yourself?

MCCARTNEY: Writing with John was a lot easier because you've actually got a sounding board. You're sitting across from someone. And we normally wrote on two acoustic guitars. So he'd be sitting there. I'd be sitting here. And one of us would suggest an opening line. And then the other one would go, OK, and would make a suggestion for the second line. So you would kind of ping-pong. And if a line was terrible, the other person would say, that's terrible, and we'd scratch it. So just with that process of the two of us making this piece, it was quite easy, you know?

Don't want to make it sound too easy. But, you know, it made the process very enjoyable and easier because you didn't have to - if you had a line that you were questioning in your own mind, if you were writing on your own, you could spend a good half hour going, oh, what - this is terrible. What can I do? Think of something - quick, quick - whereas with John, you just go, oh, this is terrible. He'd go, yeah, I know, and we fix it. Between the two of us, we would just improve it. So it was easier.

GROSS: If it was so good writing songs together, why did you end up writing songs separately?

MCCARTNEY: It was just a question of location, really. I mean, if I was on holiday and I wanted to write a song, John wouldn't be there. So I would just write the song, and I wouldn't think, oh, I've got to wait till I see him. And the same happened with him. You know, I would just be somewhere feeling the song. And it was often just that - proximity - you know, if we weren't able to just meet up that day but you still had an idea for a song. So for instance, "Yesterday" - the song "Yesterday" - the melody came to me in a dream. And so I played that intact to John. And he said, oh, I like that, you know. And I was basically asking him if this was somebody else's melody. I couldn't believe it was mine 'cause it arrived in a dream. And then when I was on holiday in Portugal, it was a long drive from Lisbon down to the south coast. And I put the lyrics together there. So it was just a different process.

GROSS: Let's skip ahead to "Sgt. Pepper" from 1967. You describe this in your book as a way of recording in persona to get out of the persona of the Beatles. Why did you feel it was time to change the mental scenery?

MCCARTNEY: That's a good way of putting it. I think because it was time. You know, we'd been the Beatles for quite a while. And when you made a record, you knew you were making a Beatles record. And so you imposed certain parameters on it. You thought, well, we can't get too far-out because people will just go, what the hell's going on? They've gone mad. So you had certain standards for Beatle records that you pretty much - you were always trying to advance those standards, but that there were limits that you felt. And also, when you stepped up to a microphone, you were conscious of all that background of, I'm Beatle Paul, and I'm going to do a Beatle Paul song.

I don't think it really was terrifying or even, you know, boring. But I had this idea to just change our identity and make ourselves think that we were kind of another band. So it meant that, well, now anything goes. We don't have to think like Beatles. We can think like whoever this other band is. And the name came out of "Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band." So when you - the idea was so that when you stepped up to a microphone, it was not now John Lennon, Beatle, doing his song; it was a guy out of this strange band. And in some way, it was just liberating.

GROSS: How did it liberate you? What do you think you did differently?

MCCARTNEY: Well, I think you just realized that you could stretch your ideas. So the idea of the album became like a sort of radio play. So it had a kind of concept. And then in things like "Day In The Life," because I'd been listening to a lot of avant-garde music at that time just for my own pleasure and just to - I don't know - just examine the scene and just see if I liked it, I thought that this orchestral whatever you call it - cascade, this sort of mountain of orchestra and kind of quite chaotic would be a good idea at this point in the song "Day In The Life." So I came into the studio and said, OK, this is what we'd like you to do 'cause we had a big symphony orchestra, which George Martin had sort of said, oh, no, we don't need that. And we said, no, come on, George. We're the Beatles. It's time. We're allowed a symphony orchestra - 'cause EMI, they're very careful on their budgets. So we would occasionally push them, you know?

Anyway, so I got in the studio and said to each musician, start on your lowest note of your instrument and go up till you reach your highest note, but go in your own time, the idea being this is Sgt. Pepper's band. You know, this is a completely new idea. So that was what they did. George Martin was very helpful 'cause he realized that threw them into a state of panic. And nobody knew what the hell we were talking about. So George went around and said, OK - it's 23 bars, I think it was. George said, well, now at Bar 10, maybe you should have reached about quarter of the way. And then at Bar 20, you know - so he laid it out a little bit on their musical charts. So that gave them a little bit of a roadmap. But it ended up as you - you know, if you listen to it, it's very chaotic. It's really quite crazy. I heard it the other day, actually. And it is - it's madness. But it was what was needed in the song.

GROSS: You know, in terms of trying new things, the Beatles went through, like, a psychedelic period where you all spent time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in - both in the U.S. and in India. And for people who don't know, he was like a - basically a guru-type figure. And, you know, I think, like, John and George were really doing some, like, spiritual seeking at the time. But what about you? Did you feel that need at the time, or was it more like going along with the band?

MCCARTNEY: No, I think - you say psychedelic. This - the meditation was post-psychedelic, I think, because, you know, at that time, everyone, including us, was doing a lot of drugs. And that, you know, can burn you out, you know, as anyone who's done it knows. And so we were in the London scene, and it was getting a little bit wearing, really, you know. So I remember feeling very tired, you know, with just all this activity. You never stopped. So when Maharishi arrived on the scene, as he did in London after he was doing a kind of world tour trying to sell the idea of meditation, we went to see him. And it was like a breath of fresh air because instead of just getting crazy, this was the opposite. This was getting un-crazy. I think all of us liked it. I certainly did. John and George did, too. And I think Ringo did, too.

And we ended up going out to India, to Rishikesh for a retreat kind of thing. And it was a very nice experience. It was calming, which I think all of us needed, and it was spiritual. Although there wasn't - it wasn't like you were worshipping a god. You were finding the truth or the calmness, I would say, inside yourself. So that was very good for us, particularly post-psychedelic.

GROSS: Do you still meditate?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah.

GROSS: Same practice that he taught you?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah, actually, yeah. I sometimes think, I should have developed. I should be...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MCCARTNEY: ...Somewhere else by now. But I haven't.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET IT BE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. Whisper words of wisdom, let it be. And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be. For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see there will be an answer, let it be. Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. Yeah, there will be an answer, let it be. Let it be, let it be...

GROSS: So the new documentary, which uses different footage from the film "Let It Be" - it kind of rewrites the narrative in ways that I haven't seen for myself 'cause I've only seen an excerpt of the film. The film hasn't been released yet. And I'm wondering if it rewrites - like, how you see it as rewriting the story of the end of the Beatles - of the final days of the Beatles.

MCCARTNEY: Yeah, I think that was something that I said to Peter Jackson originally, the director.

GROSS: He directed, yeah.

MCCARTNEY: Yeah. When I knew Peter was going to look at all the footage, I said to him, I'm not sure I'm going to like this, Peter. I said - 'cause it's from a - it was from a very difficult period in my life. And it's always looked like I broke up the Beatles, and that isn't the case, you know? But it's - the film came out and gave that impression in the associated, you know, journalism around it. So I said, I'm not sure I'm going to like it.

So he went off to New Zealand, where he works and lives. And a few weeks later, he sent me back a text saying, no, it's not like that at all. He said, this is just four guys working out songs, having a lot of fun - said, you know, there's one or two little tense moments, maybe. But we put that down to - that's any family, you know? It doesn't - it's not all just roses. But generally speaking, this was a bit of a rose garden. You know, it was us enjoying being back together, showing each other our songs, learning them and having fun with them.

And so I think that's a great thing, you know, because as I say, at the time, I - for some crazy reason, I got blamed. I know why it was. It was 'cause when I put my first album out after the Beatles, I was sent a questionnaire that said - asked various questions about the Beatles. And there was something like, will the Beatles get back together again? - or something. When are you getting back together again? And I sort of said, no, I don't think so or something. I can't remember the exact reaction, but it was something like that. And then that became - you know, as it does - blown up into the big headline - Paul says the Beatles are finished or whatever. And so that became, Paul must have finished them. So I didn't really have a chance to say, no, wait a minute. There was a meeting, and John walked into it, and the other Beatles and me were in this room. And John walked in and said, I'm leaving the Beatles. You know, that never came out.

GROSS: What was your reaction when he said that? Were you prepared for that? And how did you feel about it?

MCCARTNEY: No way. We were gobsmacked. You know, we were very shocked. And it was - I think the first question, well - was in our minds, well, is this going to last? Or is this just something very John-ish, where he would just say, hey, big dramatic statement, and then he'd go off? And then a couple of weeks later, he'd go, oh, you know, maybe we should get together again. So, yeah, it was quite shocking, you know? You can imagine someone just walks in and tells you the factory is closing, you know? It was big, you know, and it was shocking. And I think we wondered whether it would get together again. And when it didn't, it left us all - well, in one way, without a job, you know, because this had been our job. It was bad news. It was shocking. But, you know, later, I realized that it was - John had this new relationship with Yoko, and he had to clear the decks in order to give her full-time attention.

GROSS: And she's often accused - and maybe accused is too strong a word, but maybe it's not. But she's often accused of having broken up the band by distracting John away from the band and by totally changing his course of direction in a way that, you know, not everybody approved of, as if they had a vote. But - and you know - and then in the film, you see her sitting in on the session. How did you feel about her presence at the recording session and the rehearsals?

MCCARTNEY: You know, at the time, it was very difficult because, you know, we knew John was infatuated with Yoko. And having known John so long personally, I knew that - what he liked in a woman, you know? And he liked strong women. His Aunt Mimi, who raised him mainly, was quite a strong woman, and I think he liked that. In his family, there were quite a few strong women. Some of his aunts were strong, you know, and very opinionated. So when he met Yoko, I think, you know, she was very - he was very attracted to her. And I think it was a great thing for him. You know, I think he needed it. It was time for him to break loose and do some new things. And I knew it was exciting for him, you know? But at first, yeah, it was - we were not too keen on it at all 'cause it was like, who is this? And why is she sitting on my amp, you know?

Yeah, and then for me, you know, this having been my employment and my artistic world for quite a number of years and having known John since we were teenagers together to this point, to it finally coming to an end was, yeah, very challenging, you know? It was - I mean, first question - well, OK, what do I do now?

GROSS: How hard was it to figure that out? What was your emotional state like in that period between the dissolution of the Beatles and figuring out what to do next?

MCCARTNEY: It was quite difficult - you know? - 'cause - well, I didn't know what to do at all. And I didn't really have any brainy ideas, except, well, I don't know, if I want to continue in music, maybe I'll form another band. But then how do you do that after the Beatles, you know? How could anything I do be as good as the Beatles?

The Beatles were a very special combination of talents. You had me doing what I do. You had John doing what he - and then you had George, who by then had come on as a very strong songwriter. And then gluing it all together, you had Ringo. So that was something very special, as has been proved by its longevity and just the stuff we did together - still sounds good and still lives today. So it was a question of, how can you get better than that? And I think I just had to say, well, you can't. But you know, if you want to keep going, you should maybe think about starting something else. So I did.

I talked to my wife Linda and said, you know, do you want to be in a band? Do we want to start a band? And the idea then was, OK, the only way I can do this is to start, like the Beatles did, at the bottom and just play some little clubs or whatever it was. And we played little gigs - and then gradually walk up that staircase again till you were now at the top. And so that's what I did with Wings. But there was a very difficult period before we decided to do that when I was just kind of lost, you know?

GROSS: You know, I had asked you about how the new documentary changes the narrative of the last days of the Beatles. Seeing the film yourself, seeing this footage that hasn't been seen in, like - what? - 50 years, did it change the narrative in your mind? Were there things you had forgotten?

MCCARTNEY: No, it did do because at the time, as I said, when it was me being blamed for the breakup of the Beatles, you - I kind of bought into that a little bit. It was everywhere. And although I knew it wasn't true - I don't know - somehow it affected me enough for me to just be unsure of myself. So with the film, it really is great for me because I see me and John messing around, pretending to be ventriloquists instead of being sensible and singing the song. And we're just doing goofy things, and everyone's behaving very normally and in a very friendly manner. And so it's great for me.

It's like someone once told you, you know, all your old snapshots - all the photographs of your youth and everything, you know, represent one thing. And you just kind of go, oh, yeah. And then you look at them again, and you go, oh, this is great. No, look at that. Look at me having fun with Auntie Gin or whatever it is, you know? So that's what it's done for me, is just reminded me - and more than reminded me - proved to me that, you know, it was a great time, and it was a very refreshing time, an enjoyable time to us. And I think some people who sort of said, well, you know, Peter Jackson's going to do a whitewash. But the great thing is, he can't do a whitewash because it's there on film.

GROSS: Of course, George does walk out during part of it (laughter). He comes back, but he does walk out. So there - what was your reaction to that?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah, well, you know, I - it just reminded me that that happened, you know? And I know why it happened - because in the beginning, we were just four lads in a band. As we matured and as the whole thing went on, we became four individuals with our own lives and our own group of friends. And now you realize you're an important person in your own right. So George, for instance, would be going out to see The Band - you know, Bob Dylan's guys - Robbie Robertson and The Band - and hanging with them and feeling respected by them.

So if you came back to us, and I'm going, oh, I don't think you should play that, George. He's going, excuse me? You know, so you got those kind of little tensions going. But that was mild. That was really just like coming home to a Thanksgiving dinner and, you know, one of the cousins says something that everyone disputes. It's just like family arguments. So there was a bit of that.

But generally, when you see the film, you'll see that it's really interesting. And the fact that Peter's remastered it means it's got a great quality to it. But it's - I just love it. Anyway, to me, it just proves that we were having a great time, that we loved each other and that we made great music together. We ended up on the roof playing these songs that we'd barely learned, barely written. I mean, one of them, John's - has to have the lyrics in front of him on a little piece of paper that he can barely see. But yeah, you know, overall, I think it proves that there was a great loving spirit in the Beatles that entered into the music and everything we did. And that, for me, was more than a relief to see. It was great. It was very emotional, very lovely to be able to see John and George again and just remember how sweet it was to work with them and to make this music.

GROSS: You'll be 80 in June. And I'm wondering how that's changing what you want out of life, what gives your life pleasure and meaning.

MCCARTNEY: Family. You know, I have eight grandchildren. I have a fantastic wife. I have lovely kids. And I think, you know, that is definitely the focus. I'm very lucky to still enjoy creating music, so - and I have a great band. So the focus there is pretty much the same, which is just to enjoy making music. But you know, I think spending more time with my grandkids - I think it's what any - most grandparents would say. You know, hey, I can't believe I'm a grandparent. I mean, you know, I'm like these - I'm 25 years old, actually.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MCCARTNEY: You know, I just look older. And people - I think my birth certificate was falsified.

GROSS: You mention almost parenthetically that when the Beatles were together, there was a time when you were driving in a van through a blizzard along with your roadie. You couldn't even see the road. The van slid off the road and turned on its side. And you thought, well, this is it. And of course, you all survived. You weren't injured. Did you feel after that that you were granted this, like, second life?

MCCARTNEY: Yeah. I think so. That wasn't so much the thought at the time. It was like, well, how are we going to get to Liverpool? And out of that, though, came for me what I always thought was one of our greatest sort of mottos, which is like, we're standing around - the four of us standing around with the van kind of out of commission and our roadie thinking, oh, my God, how am I going to get this? 'Cause it was a slope that we'd gone down - so you couldn't just drive the van back up the slope. We're sitting around. And somebody said, well, what are we going to do now? And then one of us - I can't remember which - said, something'll happen. And it was like, wow, that is, like, the greatest quote ever because in life, when you're faced with these crazy things, something will happen. And it always seemed to console us. And I've told quite a few people since then, you know, that when you - when you're in your darkest moments, just remember that incredibly intelligent Beatle quote, "Something'll happen."

GROSS: What got you out of that situation?

MCCARTNEY: A lift - we got a lift from a lorry, and it took us through the blizzard and up to Liverpool. So something did happen, you know? You know, I mean, I know that's kind of very sort of stupid thing to say, really. But it worked. And sometimes you - that's all you need is just something to get you out of that particular worry. And it worked for us, you know? And you know - so that was it. Something'll happen.

GROSS: Are there, like, vulnerabilities, insecurities from your youth that, in spite of everything you've achieved, in spite of all your success, in spite of all your talent, in spite of all of the experience that comes with age, that stayed with you? Did any of those vulnerabilities and insecurities from way in the past stay with you?

MCCARTNEY: I mean, I think there are two answers to that. It's like no or all of them.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Explain, please.

MCCARTNEY: Not quite sure which way to go.

GROSS: (Laughter) Go in both directions 'cause life is full of contradictions.

MCCARTNEY: Oh, yeah. Baby, you better believe it. But, you know, it's great, though, because of that, all the paradoxes and everything. It's - it is great. What did Shakespeare say - it was like, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. And that's true.

GROSS: But tell me about both of those directions of, like, all of those insecurities staying with you and none of them.

MCCARTNEY: Well, you know, I don't know. I don't know. Who knows? Terry, who knows? I mean, you know, I think the answer really is, no. I think I've kind of worked most of them out, and I don't think there are any. But you're just still this little person inside this body with all these thoughts, you know, that nobody else knows about.

GROSS: So I want to close with your track from the latest album, "McCartney III." I really like this track a lot, and I'd like to know, musically, how you went in this direction. The track is called "Deep Deep Feeling." Now, you never say lyrically what the feeling is, and it's one of the songs from the new album that you don't mention in your new book of lyrics (laughter) so - because the lyrics, they're - you're not literally saying very much in the song.

Musically, what's going on is really interesting. This was recorded during the pandemic. You're playing all the instruments. You're singing all the parts. And there's just a lot of, like - the drum is really important in this, and I don't really think of you as a drummer. And then also, your falsetto is really interesting. And, you know, most people in their late 70s don't have a falsetto left.

MCCARTNEY: (In falsetto) Well, I do.

GROSS: (Laughter) I'd like you to say something about writing this song and what's going on musically because it's not the direction I think of.

MCCARTNEY: You know what? Before you write a song, you often will have a thought about something. Not always, but in this case, you know, I just thought of this thing when - that happens in your body when something is really thrilling, you know? Some - it can be like love of a child or something like that that is really sort of deep, and it just tingles through your whole body. And I don't know what that is. I don't know whether it's all your cells reacting to this feeling, this emotion.

But that was what started me, and it was, like, playing around with the idea of, what is this? What is this kind of deep, deep emotion, and what is it to do with? And I say something like when you feel love so deeply that your body actually reacts with this thing - and I've often wanted to ask doctors, physically, what is that? What is it? Your brain sends a signal to your whole body, though. It just goes (imitating motor). And it's like, wow. And just for a second, you know, you've got this beautiful emotional feeling.

GROSS: I thank you so much for being on our show today. Just thank you immensely (laughter).

MCCARTNEY: Well, listen, Terry. I mean, I listen to your show. I listen to NPR all the time. I'm not just blowing smoke here. So I do. So I want to thank, actually, everyone connected with the - with all these public radio stations 'cause they're great. They're really, you know - and you, particularly, thanks for doing this. And sending my love.

GROSS: Oh, right back at you. Thank you so much, and be well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEEP DEEP FEELING")

MCCARTNEY: (Singing) Now every time it rains, it sometimes gets too much. You know I feel the pain when I feel your loving touch. Emotion burns in the ocean of love. You've got that hot emotion. It burns an ocean of love. The deep, deep pain and feeling - the deep, deep pain and feeling - the deep, deep pain - the deep, deep pain and feeling - the deep, deep pain. So intense, the joy of giving. How does it feel? So immense, the thrill of living. How does it feel? So intense, the joy of giving. How - deep, deep pain. So immense, the thrill living...

GROSS: Paul McCartney's new two-volume collection of his lyrics and the stories behind them is called "The Lyrics." The new documentary about the making of the album "Let It Be" is called "Get Back." It will premiere in three two-hour episodes over this holiday weekend, starting today on Disney+.

If you'd like catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.