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‘McCartney 3,2,1’ takes the former Beatle on a magical walk down memory lane

<i>Courtesy Hulu</i><br/>Producer Rick Rubin chats with Paul McCartney in the docuseries 'McCartney 3
Courtesy Hulu
Producer Rick Rubin chats with Paul McCartney in the docuseries 'McCartney 3

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

“Senior citizen reminisces about music” — in black and white, no less — doesn’t sound like a classic elevator pitch, until you see that guy is Paul McCartney, leading a magical tour down memory lane for the Beatles, their influences and a whole lot else. Playing on Hulu, “McCartney 3,2,1” will soon have company from Peter Jackson’s Disney+ project, but like the man used to say, live and let live.

It would be hard to find a more no-frills production than this six-part docuseries, which largely consists of McCartney and music producer Rick Rubin (both producers on the project) sitting together and going through various songs, performing almost forensic analysis on how they were put together.

Still, the clarity of McCartney’s memories and the enduring power of the music makes this a treat for any Beatles aficionado, as McCartney holds forth on how he and John Lennon complemented each other, the band’s competition with the Beach Boys (an inspiration for the more experimental aspects of “Sgt. Pepper”) and the musicians that he got to see and know, from Roy Orbison to Jimi Hendrix, after the band made their triumphant arrival in the US.

The whole exercise works in part because it’s structured less as an interview than a conversation, at times breaking down the music to its fundamental building blocks, like isolating the strings on “Yesterday” — and how producer George Martin slyly overcame McCartney’s resistance to including them.

Now 79, McCartney also exhibits an infectious sense of engagement listening to the work, grooving to one of his own early ballads before musing, “Pretty little song, he said modestly.”

Obviously, there’s not much place for modesty in this sort of exercise, and “McCartney 3,2,1” feels a bit arbitrary in the way that it dices up the episodes, strategically drawing from old rehearsal and performance footage to augment the artist’s recollections.

“We all knew we had the freedom to goof around,” McCartney recalls, discussing the “great camaraderie” of musicians at the time, and issues like his reluctance to include Beatles songs in his stage shows, at first, after becoming a solo artist.

This has become a boom time for music documentaries, including the aforementioned Beatles project to come, Hulu’s recent “Summer of Soul” and Apple TV+’s “1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything.”

Relatively small in scale, “McCartney 3,2,1” might not top that list, but for anyone who knows that it was Lennon who added “It can’t get no worse” to McCartney’s more upbeat lyrics on “Getting Better,” as times for musical nostalgia go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

“McCartney 3,2,1” premieres July 16 on Hulu.

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