Paul McCartney on Beatles in History Books: 'Unbelievable, Man!'

"Can you imagine when we were at school, finding yourself in a history book?!" musician said in recent fan Q&A

Paul McCartney Credit: Jason Davis/Getty Images

Paul McCartney understands the Beatles' overwhelming impact on music history, but he's still blown away by the band's presence in literal history books used in school classrooms. "To be told – as I was years ago now – that the Beatles were in my kid's history books? That was like 'What?! Unbelievable, man!'" McCartney said in a recent Q&A for Lily Cole's Impossible website. The response was an answer to a fan question about studying popular music in Liverpool. "Can you imagine when we were at school, finding yourself in a history book?!" wrote the former Beatle.

McCartney elaborated, adding that the idea of someone studying the Beatles is "ridiculous" since the band members themselves "never studied anything." "We just loved our popular music," he continued. "Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, etc. And it wasn’t a case of 'studying' it. I think for us, we'd have felt it would have ruined it to study it. We wanted to make our own minds up just by listening to it. So our study was listening." 

McCartney emphasized his belief that studying popular music won't necessarily lead to musical talent, adding, "It may be that you use it to teach other people about the history, that's all valuable." He also recognized the importance of schools like the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), which he co-founded.

"But to think that you can go to a college and come out like Bob Dylan? Someone like Bob Dylan, you can’t make," McCartney said. "It was an early decision when we were thinking of our policies for LIPA, we said: 'We want to train people to be all rounders. Give them as much info as we can. But you can't tell them how to become a Bob Dylan or a John Lennon, because...nobody knows how that happens.'"

Earlier transcripts from the same Q&A session find McCartney discussing his lyrical successes (the solo track "Another Day") and failures (the use of "axe" as a guitar reference in Wings' "Rock Show"), along with the origins of Beatles characters like "Polythene Pam."

"[She] was someone John had known," he said of the title figure from that Abbey Road classic. "There was a wild night somewhere and this girl was dressed in a lot of polythene [laughs], so she was known as 'Polythene Pam.' So she was real, baby! And, you know, I'd like to have been a fly on that wall! So she came from somewhere."