Paul McCartney Best Songs According To 80 Musicians

Steven Van Zandt: “We Can Work It Out,” 1965

I love the fact that it was maybe one of the last things he and John did. I know John worked on the bridge, and I learned from reading Paul’s lyrics book that George suggested the three-quarter waltz time in the bridge. It’s a wonderful combination of those three guys, and of course Ringo as well. It’s something for me that’s sentimental as well as being a great composition. The quality of his voice was just spectacular on a couple of songs around that time. This, “The Night Before,” and “Another Girl.” Maybe it was a different microphone, or whatever he’d been doing that day or night. I love those pre-synthesizer keyboards, too; they had their own personality.

The Beatles were the beginning of my life. I was just drifting around searching for my identity, as one does when you’re young. I was not particularly attracted to any of the options I was offered. No interest in college, military or sports. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. When they appeared Feb. 9, 1964 on a variety show that the whole family would watch on the only TV in the house, it was the introduction of a whole new world. The Beatles were extraordinary. By the time we were introduced to them they were halfway through their career and supremely sophisticated. Everything about them was perfect — the hair, the clothes. The songwriting had gone to a new level by then. They introduced this new world that I desperately needed. They literally saved my life in that sense. Then four months later the Rolling Stones come play another variety show, Hollywood Palace, and they’re more casual, they’re wearing what they feel like. Their hair’s not perfect — except for Brian Jones. They made it look easier than it was. They were sort of the first punk band. The Beatles introduced us to this new world, and the Rolling Stones invited us in.

The Beatles were the first British band that led the way for everyone that followed, and introduced the concept of a band. That was a new idea for us. You didn’t see four or five guys playing and singing. If you went to your high school dance, it was an instrumental group. I missed the ’50s, so I didn’t know who the Crickets were at that time. Most of them were Somebody And The Somebodies. But the Beatles introduced a new communication to us. It’s what made me want to do it. I wasn’t interested in show business. I wasn’t interested in standing in the spotlight. But this wasn’t about me-me-me as most of the artists were. This was us. This was the gang, the team. That was friendship, community. That’s what attracted me. I wasn’t interested in any individual, ever — other than Bob Dylan. Everything else is a band, for me.

My relationship to his solo stuff is an entirely different thing. By the time the ’70s came, I had all the input I needed for five lifetimes. I wasn’t looking for input. I began that process of really developing my own style and my own career. Finding my way as a producer, as an arranger. The ’60s was all I needed honestly. I’d tune in now and then, but I wasn’t making it a point to study all the solo stuff — that’s true of all their solo records. For me, it was always the band thing that mattered the most and which stimulated my interest.

You’d catch great stuff along the way. He was doing terrific things all along. Not a lot of Paul’s stuff is overlooked, but there’s one song from a video game called “Hope For The Future.” I imagine it’s a song a lot of people haven’t heard. It’s from a game called Destiny, so if you’re a gamer you might’ve heard it — but most of my generation probably hasn’t. I think it’s an extraordinary song. I think it’s one of his best songs ever.

When you meet him, you just have to think of him as a fellow musician. You have to really compartmentalize. Put aside the fact that it was the first album you ever bought, how important he was to your life. I met him briefly at the Hall Of Fame, I think when we were inducted. He came onstage with the E Street Band in Hyde Park, which was quite thrilling — right up until they pulled the plug on us. Paul invited me and Bruce onstage with him at his show at Madison Square Garden.

But one of the great moments of my life is when he came onstage with me and my band, the Disciples Of Soul. It was arguably the greatest moment of my life. For him to endorse my music and come and compliment my band is a whole different thing. It’s in a club. It’s not a big deal. I’m not that famous, my band is not famous, we’re not some big success. We’re a bar band on the road, really. For him to come onstage with no rehearsal, completely trusting me. Luckily, just in case, I’d prepared a Little Richard version of “I Saw Her Standing There” by the chance that he might come onstage. On he came. He had seen the whole show, sat with his wife and my wife. He was enjoying it so much he wanted to come on with us. What an incredible thrill. It was full circle for me. Absolute closure. That’s why I ended my book there — basically, I start and end it with the Beatles. It really feels like that. It feels like I don’t need to do much else. I’m good.

As told to Stereogum