The Song Paul McCartney Said Is Sort of Like ‘What’s My Line’

Paul McCartney claims his song, “Average Person,” which appears in 1983’s Pipes of Peace, is like What’s My Line. It also reminds him of his father, Jim McCartney.

Linda McCartney and Paul McCartney on the BBC series 'The Late, Late Breakfast Show' in 1983.
Linda and Paul McCartney | Don Smith/Radio Times via Getty Images

Paul McCartney thinks ‘Average Person’ is like ‘What’s My Line’

In The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul wrote that What’s My Line was a game show “in which a four-person panel would have to figure out the occupations of mystery guests by asking them yes-or-no questions.

“It was great fun and tremendously popular. The U.K. version began in the early 1950s, and we often had it on in our house.” Also, Paul said the game show “was very much at the back of my mind, and part of the hinterland” of “Average Person.”

“You’re walking down the street and all the people look sort of ordinary, but one of them might be a vicar and another one might be a criminal or a plumber or a bread maker. I’m interested in the idea that people have these hidden sides and ambitions.

“I think writers are drawn to people like that. If you’ve got someone who’s just purely glorious, it’s not quite as interesting as if they’re glorious but they’ve got a little Achilles’ heel somewhere. All of these people are tarnished in some way. All of these people want to be something else.”

Paul likes stories about ‘tarnished people’

The bassist thinks his interest in stories about “tarnished people” comes partly from growing up in “a tight-knit working-class community. We’d always be there for our family and our neighbours, helping out. Dad used to make me and my brother Mike go round door-to-door, canvassing for new members for the Speke Horticultural Society, where he was secretary.

“Knock, knock. ‘Would you like to join the gardening club?’ ‘Piss off.’ So we really got to know whose door to knock on and whose to avoid. But you’d get to hear about their lives, their troubles; this was post-war, remember, and we’d been bombed and gone through rationing. And that makes you realise we all have our stories, our own worries. It gets a little poignant, and it’s about being empathetic.

“It makes the story more interesting too. I know he wouldn’t be counted as an ‘average person’, but would we be interested in Hamlet if his father had died of natural causes and he’d just ascended to the throne? Probably not. It’s because he suspects that his father was murdered and thus is thrust into an agonising situation that the drama is so rich. It’s his inner life and struggles that make him such a compelling character.”

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‘Average Person’ also reminds him of his dad

Another inspiration for “Average Person” was an old music hall routine “having to do with the identity of a window washer that I saw on telly as a kid.” His dad “came from that music hall era, and the family were kind of steeped in that; we listened to it and sang all those songs at the piano.”

Paul’s Auntie Milly and Auntie Jin used to sing an old music hall song called “Bread and Butterflies.” Paul’s dad would hear 1920s and 1930s music hall songs every night working at the Hippodrome. “Dad told a story about how he trimmed the lime on the limelight – the music hall equivalent of how spotlights are used today,” Paul wrote.

So, because of his dad, old music hall references sometimes make their way into his writing. Songs like “Average Person” are examples of how much thought goes into Paul’s songs.