As a kid in Connecticut, Jonathan Konya, drummer for Austin blues rock band the Ghost Wolves, went on camping trips with his parents and his sister, and the only tape in the car was the 1963 album “Please Please Me,” the debut LP from the Beatles. Konya and his sister listened, on repeat, until the songs — particularly “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There” — were embedded in his mind.
“It was music that my parents could share with us, because they had grown up with it,” Konya says. “It was so important to them, and for it to be such a high quality, such a piece of history, for them to pass that down and for me to really get it from a young age, I think that speaks a lot about Paul’s writing, and their writing together.”
Evidenced by the speed with which Paul McCartney’s two performances at the Erwin Center sold out —his only Texas shows on the current “Out There” tour — a good number of the 25,000 people on hand for those shows this week will have their own variations on that story, with their own reasons for loving Sir Paul.
Konya points to the basics — lyrics and melody — when describing what he thinks makes the songs have that effect, calling McCartney a “master of the hook.” There’s also the storytelling on songs such as “Eleanor Rigby,” the melancholy number off the Beatles’ 1966 album “Revolver” that is inhabited by the lonely title character and the similarly solitary Father McKenzie, who conducts her funeral. “My mom talks about that song,” Konya says. “When she was in high school it would make her cry, it was so beautiful, but sad. Anybody who can make people cry with their song is doing the right thing.”
Austin singer-songwriter Dana Falconberry says there is a darkness to “Eleanor Rigby” that appeals to her. “It’s got a story to it, it creates a scene that you’re seeing part of, or that he’s showing you, and you kind of create the rest of it in your head,” Falconberry says.
Falconberry, who went through a Beatles “obsession” in high school and whose rich, hushed folk songs can at times seem like a distant cousin to Beatles’ songs such as “Mother Nature’s Son,” also points to McCartney’s melodies — “natural, but also super-catchy.” And original. “I don’t know if there’s anything tricky or not tricky, I feel like it just happens,” she says.
The Beatles also provided a sort of template for Falconberry to learn how to construct harmonies, a central element of her music. She would pick out the different vocal parts on Beatles songs, sing along, and then start over and do the same with a second part. “I learned to distinguish the different parts, because they have some crazy, awesome harmonies in there,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that I directly write while listening to that, but I was listening to the Beatles in high school before writing songs. I was a sponge, it became my knowledge base for my writing.”
“I don’t think there’s any gimmick about it that made them particularly special, it just stands up,” says Taylor Muse, lead singer and songwriter for Austin rock band Quiet Company.
Muse, who says “Yesterday” is a “damn near perfect song,” found the Beatles a bit later than many fans, having been drawn in after he saw friends lip sync “Come Together” and realizing he liked the band he had previously dismissed as music for an older generation. “I bought ‘Abbey Road’ and I fell in love with the back half of the record,” he says. “I would listen to that on repeat.”
Charles Carson, professor of musicology at the University of Texas who studies African American music and popular music, among other things, says that the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney was “amazing,” but that McCartney had more of a knack for dramatic melody. More than Lennon’s songs, Carson says, McCartney drew from an innovative mix of the blues and British light theater music, a musical tradition that evolved out of his home country’s dislike for formal opera.
Carson describes those songs, which McCartney’s parents, and by extension McCartney himself, would have known, as having a “little bit of a dramatic element to them.” “They’re linear, they have interesting harmonies, but not too much to make them arty, they don’t want them to be high theater, they want them to be approachable,” he says.
Songs on which McCartney took the lead, such as “Penny Lane,” echo that tradition, which led to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, among other things. The song begins with an introductory scene: “There is a barber showing photographs/of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known/and all the people that come and go/stop and say hello.” “It’s essentially like a mini light opera, with all these sort of vignettes and scenes, and also the arrangements with the brass instruments and trumpet solos,” Carson says.
Carson says that in addition to his knack for simple, catchy melodies, McCartney, who has in his later career composed orchestral pieces, writes with a strong sense of direction. Iconic songs such as “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude,” with its seven or so minutes rising from four guys in a room to a blaring rock singalong, “go somewhere,” Carson says. “They have a sense of line to them.”
Quiet Company’s 2011 album, “We Are All Where We Belong,” rises and falls as a set of miniature movements and can at times feel particularly indebted to that linear style. “That’s one of those things, I’ve always tried to figure out — how to tie songs together,” Muse says, referring to the medley on the second half of “Abbey Road,” which culminates with “The End” and McCartney’s famous line, “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” “You kind of feel like you’ve been on this little journey; it didn’t take very long but you went a lot of places. I’ve heard bands do that, but that’s like five or six songs in a row. It’s tenacious in a way.”
Quin Galavis, who writes folk-style songs under his own name in addition to playing in rock bands including the Dead Space, says McCartney is a “master architect” of music and that while he started out as more of a Lennon fan, he has always had a “business-like admiration” for McCartney. Paul’s songs, including material from his post-Beatles band Wings such as “Band on the Run,” work because they are meant to be enjoyed by everyone, he says.
“I remember when I first really listened to ‘Hey Jude,’ that song moves so effortlessly,” Galavis says. “Any songwriter would kill to have verses, chorus, bridges that mesh so perfectly, sung flawlessly with emotion and ending with rock ’n’ roll repetition that you wish you could close every set or album with.”