Skip to main content

Paul McCartney knows how to write a song. He’s proven that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt in his 60 years in the spotlight. Yet he’s also not one to necessarily labor over the finished product. He and John Lennon wrote hundreds of unreleased songs before forming the Beatles. Then, the pair worked at a furious pace during the band’s heyday in the 1960s. McCartney proved he could quickly craft a song when a famous actor asked him to improvise a number that ended up on a Wings’ album.

Paul McCartney plays guitar while filming a 1973 TV special. McCartney once wrote a song about Picasso's last words when a famous actor urged him to, and it ended up on a hit album.
Paul McCartney films a 1973 TV special | Bettmann/Getty Images

Paul McCartney knows how to write a song quickly

John and Paul proved to be prolific as the two primary songwriters for the Beatles. The duo wrote many of the band’s biggest hits. 

They were equally talented on multiple instruments and shared a keen ear for melody. Paul once said writing songs with John was easy because they had an easy back and forth. That allowed them to work quickly.

Macca later showed he could write a quick song without John’s support. Paul quickly wrote the song “Wonderful Christmastime” during a sweltering day in July. The song later became a top-30 hit on the Billboard hot 100. 

When a famous actor put him on the spot to compose a tune in real time, Paul knocked out a song that soon ended up on a Wings album.

McCartney wrote a Wings song on the spot when a famous actor urged him to

For Paul, writing a song came as naturally as riding a bike does for many people. He displayed his fast composition skills during a 1973 Jamaican vacation by writing a song for a famous actor. 

Paul bumped into Dustin Hoffman while he filmed the movie Papillon on the island. According to Far Out magazine, the actor asked a simple question: “How do you write songs?” Paul said they would just come to him. Hoffman challenged McCartney to write a song on the spot using a magazine article about Pablo Picasso’s last words as inspiration. A few minutes later, Paul created the song “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me).” The tune soon appeared on the 1973 Wings album Band on the Run.

Hoffman didn’t earn an album credit for urging Paul to write the song (according to AllMusic). Yet the actor can take solace knowing “Picasso’s Last Words” earned the distinction of being an album cut. The prolific Paul almost certainly had other songs he could have included in the Band on the Run track listing, but he kept the Hoffman/Picasso-inspired piece. 

Band on the Run spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard album charts, went triple-platinum, and earned a Grammy nomination for album of the year.

What is McCartney’s biggest hit?


The Wings Album Paul McCartney Wanted to Make as Quick as Bob Dylan

Several of his songs topped the charts when he was with the Beatles, but what was Paul’s biggest hit song after the band? It turns out he had several.

Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” spent five weeks at No. one in parts of May, June, and July 1976, according to Billboard. Paul’s song with Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say,” spent six weeks at No. 1 in 1983 and 1984. That came on the heels of “Ebony and Ivory,” his collaboration with Stevie Wonder, which spent seven weeks atop the hot 100 in 1982. 

“Band on the Run,” “Coming Up (Live in Glasgow),” and “My Love” were chart-topping songs Paul wrote with Wings.

Macca’s chart and award success are impressive. So was the time Paul McCartney composed a song on the spot for Dustin Hoffman and put it on a Wings album.

For more on the entertainment world and exclusive interviews, subscribe to Showbiz Cheat Sheet’s YouTube channel.