Thursday was Paul McCartney’s 73rd birthday. To commemorate the occasion, a local radio station here in Philadelphia, WXPN, played group of a Beatles songs composed and sung by Sir Paul: “We Can Work It Out,” “Blackbird,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “For No One,” “You Won’t See Me,” “When I’m 64,” and “Hey Jude.” The set reminded me of McCartney’s remarkable talent as a melodist: those few songs alone display such a huge variety, from the lush Hollywood strings and emotional crescendos of “Long and Winding Road,” the joyous bump-a-dump rhythm of “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” the folk-rock of “We Can Work It Out,” and so on. And that’s not even mentioning his most-covered tunes, “Michelle” and “Yesterday.”

Those last two bring up an unavoidable fact about McCartney: anyone responsible for such lines as “These are words that go together well,” and “Now it looks as though they’re here to stay”–not to mention “Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy”–can’t really be considered a world-class lyricist. There are a few of his songs, however, where the words match the music, and one of them is “Blackbird.”

Just the day after his birthday, McCartney performed at a music festival in Delaware, and according to music writer Dan DeLuca of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he

 made mention of the nine victims of a massacre in a historic black church in South Carolina in dedicating “The Long and Winding Road” to “the people of Charleston. While we’re all here, we need to pray for peace and harmony.” Later, he sang a lovely solo acoustic version of “Blackbird,” which he reminded listeners was inspired by  the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s.
McCartey has said that his lovely finger-picking on the song was inspired by Bach’s Bourrée in E minor, for lute. That original track, from the White Album, doesn’t sound a bit dated forty-seven years later. Indeed, Paul’s guitar can’t really be improved on (which hasn’t stopped a million college kids from trying), so here’s a deeply soulful piano version by Alicia Keys.

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