Everyone Loves Paul McCartney: The Secrets of One Beatle’s Eternal Appeal
It was inevitable that Paul McCartney's appearance on James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke" would make a splash. The musician's not just famous: He's a Beatle, at a level of famous that's almost hard to comprehend, it's in such rarefied air. But the extended episode quickly became a viral hit: The video is at 91 million views (and counting) on Facebook, with another 21 million YouTube views piled on for good measure.
The clip is a music nerd's dream, as it's McCartney playing tour guide in Liverpool, ground zero for the Beatles. Still, the entire episode was sniffle-inducing — from Paul in his childhood home reminiscing about writing songs with John Lennon and playing a jaunty version of "When I'm 64" on the piano, to his rowdy gig in a cozy Liverpool pub.
It was a profound delight — but also extraordinarily (and even unexpectedly) moving. Writer Bryan Behar penned a Medium post, "Why I Can’t Stop Crying Thinking About that Paul McCartney Video," and he wasn't exaggerating: My eyes welled with tears multiple times watching the clip, completely involuntarily, and I saw multiple Facebook friends (and friends-of-friends) express similar sentiments. Even the affable Corden got choked up while driving around with Macca singing along to "Let It Be."
As the host wiped his eyes, he said, "I can remember my granddad, who's a musician, and my dad sitting me down and saying, 'We're going to play you the best song we've ever heard.' And I remember them playing me that. If my granddad was here right now, he'd get an absolute kick out of this.'"
McCartney immediately responded, "He is." It was a stunning and poignant moment, wisely buttressed with silence to let the emotional gravitas linger.
The simple act of driving around in a car hollering along to the Beatles certainly exudes catharsis, especially in the wake of an increasingly horrific news cycle. But the widespread, visceral responses to familiar songs and stories intrigued me: Why does Paul McCartney provoke such deep sentimentality?
Depending on when you discovered the Beatles (or Paul), this answer will certainly differ. Original Beatles fans from the '60s have one view of what he represents; younger folks who came around to the band (or Wings and solo McCartney) in the last few decades have another take. Where these perspectives overlap is simple: The act of loving the music of the Beatles — and, by extension, McCartney's songwriting — transcends the passage of time.
Bands come and go, but the Beatles are one of the few acts to consistently resonate with younger listeners. Their albums are global musical folklore, totems passed from generation to generation that accumulate more layers of mystique with each passing year. In a fractured world — pop culture and otherwise — the Beatles offer rare common ground. Today's kids generally can't rebel against their parents and listen to the Beatles; chances are, mom and dad are the ones that introduced their children to the band.
I often like to say there's a Beatles album for every occasion or age. But in retrospect, it's fascinating to track how the band's career ran in parallel with such profound global changes — civil and women's rights, war protests, economic shifts. Through it all, the Beatles evolved too, while still tapping into our collective, primal optimism. Today, the band's music provides a reminder of who we were, what we became, and what we've both lost and gained. As Behar put it in his piece, "This video wasn’t just about this video: It was about parents that are no longer with us. It was about our own kids, now grown and moved on from our nurturing nests."
For many music fans, the last few years have taught us that our heroes are fallible and that loss is inevitable. Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty — these seemingly untouchable figures died suddenly and prematurely, well before their artistic lives felt complete. This phenomenon only magnifies the fragility of the Beatles, a band whose legacy was shaped by jarring, painful tragedies (John Lennon's 1980 murder, George Harrison's passing from cancer in 2001). In between, McCartney also suffered another incalculable blow, the death of his beloved collaborator and wife Linda from breast cancer in 1998.
These losses made McCartney eminently human, especially since he did some of his grieving publicly. There's the 1982 solo song "Here Today," which takes the form of McCartney talking to Lennon; it remains a staple of his live show. A 1984 Playboy interview was even more revealing as he ping-ponged between despair, regret and bewilderment over Lennon's death and offered up one "consoling factor," that things ended on an up note.
"I do feel it was sad that we never actually sat down and straightened our differences out," he said. "But fortunately for me, the last phone conversation I ever had with him was really great, and we didn't have any kind of blowup."
The Beatles' friendships resonated so profoundly because musical icons often feel like family — or are at least larger-than-life representations of our own familial relationships. Bob Dylan's our gruff, distant relative who prefers staying off the grid in the woods whenever possible. Neil Young's the hippie uncle smoking weed outside during holiday visits. Madonna is your cool aunt who taught you how to swear, take no shit from men and find thrift store bargains.
But Paul McCartney is a benevolent grandpa — the one who always keeps ice cream in the freezer for dessert, who's always ready with a riveting personal story or historical anecdote and has lived an impossibly cool, full life. This is the McCartney seen in "Carpool Karaoke": He was sharp as a tack and in good humor, yet also exuded vulnerability. There were white streaks in his sandy hair, and his voice was slightly more weathered than it used to be, like a photograph faded from the sun.
But McCartney's "Carpool Karaoke" appearance wasn't just a nostalgic jaunt: The clip also served as a way to promote two new songs, "I Don’t Know" and "Come On To Me," from a forthcoming solo album, "Egypt Station." Despite plenty of reissues and "new" songs, The Fab Four never had a chance to reunite; their original run remains preserved in amber, an endlessly fascinating example of youthful bravado greased by musical genius.
McCartney, however, has always been restless, driven to create and innovate and challenge himself to keep bringing art and music into existence. As "Carpool Karaoke" demonstrated, his relentless ambition and quest for beauty is admirable — and his continued presence in the world feels like a gift.