Paul Simon ranked Paul McCartney highly as a songwriter. He admired McCartney’s work from the Beatles and his solo career, and he ranked him higher than nearly all of his contemporaries. Still, not every McCartney song was a success in Simon’s mind. There was one that he found particularly odious, even describing it as “garbage.”
The ‘Sound of Silence’ artist had a problem with political music
While many of Simon’s contemporaries released political songs, he wanted to primarily focus on his craft, not any other causes.
“First of all I think, if a musician is serious about his music, his obligation should be to become as fine a musician as he could,” he told Rolling Stone in 1972. “This country has a tremendous lack of people who are good in what they do, including musicians. This country places a tremendous priority on being successful, being famous or infamous, but it doesn’t give you a great reward for being good.”
Simon also believed that songs about radical causes could not change the fact that music was an industry.
“So, for a musician to be involved in politics (and of course, it’s up to the musician), I don’t see that one should be involved in radical politics any more than conservative politics, if that’s their inclination,” he said. “I don’t see what one thing has to do with another. The fact of the matter is that popular music is one of the industries of this country. It’s all completely tied up with capitalism. It’s stupid to separate it. That’s an illusory separation.”
Paul Simon said one of Paul McCartney’s songs was ‘garbage’
Simon also was concerned with who the target audience was for certain political songs. He took issue with John Lennon’s “Power to the People” for being cliched and manipulative.
“Since he’s picking it up, consciously aware that this is going to be broadcast over the airwaves, my question is, who is he manipulating and for what purpose?” Simon asked. “That’s even putting aside the question of whether he has the qualifications to manipulate, because obviously you don’t even need any qualification to manipulate in this country. Anybody who wants to manipulate can. Not necessarily for the general good.”
Simon didn’t have a problem with all political music, though.
“I’m not saying that there is no place for a politically stirring song,” he said. “‘La Marseillaise’ swings pretty good, actually. And there’s nothing wrong with ‘We Shall Overcome,’ right? So it can work.”
Still, Simon found many political songs offensive, including one by McCartney. He did not like “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” which McCartney released with Wings in 1972.
“‘Give Ireland Back to the Irish‘ — that’s garbage,” he said. “I don’t say that someone can’t write a social song, or even a song that’s a political song, and have it work, as a song and as a political statement. But mass manufacturing of tunes, sort of ‘let’s knock off “Power to the People,”‘ I find it in bad taste. It offends me. I don’t feel it talking to me at all.”
Paul Simon ranked Paul McCartney as one of the best songwriters
Though he disliked one of McCartney’s songs, Simon generally believed the former Beatle was a talented songwriter. He placed him in his top tier of songwriters.
“I’d put Gershwin, Berlin, and Hank Williams [on top]. I’d probably put Paul McCartney in there too,” he said, per Gothamist. “Then I’d have Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.”
Simon placed McCartney’s longtime songwriting in the tier below.
“Then, in the second tier, Lennon is there, Dylan is there, Bob Marley and Stephen Sondheim are there, and maybe I’m there, too,” he said. “It’s about whose songs last.”