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Paul McCartney Says His Dad’s Philosophy Made Him Successful

For this Beatle, dad taught him it was hip to be square.

Paul McCartney in 'A Hard Day's Night' (United Artists)

Paul McCartney has always been known as the sensible and cautious Beatle — at least in comparison to his other bandmates. In his exhaustive interview with GQ, which appears in the October issue, McCartney talks about how his father, James, instilled pragmatism and moderation into his future rock-star son. Remember Paul’s “very clean” fictional grandfather in the movie version of A Hard Day’s Night? Turns out McCartney’s actual father was way more buttoned-up than that.

When John, Ringo, and George were tripping on acid, Paul initially resisted their peer pressure. He contemplated the consequences for taking a mind-altering substance with his dad’s warnings of caution in the back of his mind. His father probably didn’t have this scenario in mind when advising his son, though.

“Yeah. I heard it changes you and you’ll never be the same again,” McCartney said in his interview with GQ. “I thought: ‘Well, that could be a double-edged sword.’ You know, we could be ending up in a loony bin, and ‘Sorry, Paul—I didn’t mean to give you so much’ or ‘It was the wrong batch’ or something. I’m very practical, and my father was very sensible and raised me to be a sensible cat.”

Of course, he ended up indulging. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Revolver. But this mindset kept McCartney from diving head first into John Lennon’s not-so-great ideas. In the interview, McCartney revealed that Lennon was mulling over drilling holes in his skull to relieve pressure, a practice called trepanning, in the ’60s and trying to convince McCartney to join him.

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“I’m more careful in everything,” McCartney said to GQ, “My dad is a very strong factor in this. He was an ordinary working-class guy, very intelligent, very good with words, but his whole philosophy was to think it out a bit. So that, that turned out to be my sort of way. Whereas John, you’ve got to remember, didn’t have a father. John didn’t even have an uncle. He went to live with the uncle — the uncle died. His dad had run away. So John felt like he was a jinx on the male line, he told me. I had a father. He was always spouting to be tolerant. Moderation. These were words he used a lot, and I think I listened.”

Even though he absorbed his father’s life lessons, McCartney knew better than to trust his dad’s opinions on certain aspects of his life, like rock ’n’ roll hooks. If James McCartney had more of a say, the hook of “She Loves You” would be “yes, yes, yes” instead of “yeah, yeah, yeah!” So maybe there are certain things dads should leave to their sons.