HIS music has been loved for half a century but Paul McCartney has probably never been more admired than he is today, his 70th birthday - and with good reason. His performance at the Queen's jubilee concert earlier this month was not his best, but it was an unerringly powerful reminder of his unique and deserved status in the national culture. So, likewise, will be his place at the climax of next month's Olympic Games opening ceremony.

McCartney is the top of the bill for a reason. That reason is his songs. His is the greatest songwriting career of the era.

He defined and moved with the swing of the '60s, morphing from besuited moptop to kaftanned hippie, as he broke out of the confines of the rock 'n' roll ditty to dream up the t echnicolour glories of Sgt Pepper. Through the dope and facial hair, the one constant was craftsmanship in fusing melody and verse. Watching him at the jubilee concert was to be reminded that McCartney, too, is a national figure. If the queen is an embodiment of one sort of UK, McCartney is the embodiment of another, the egalitarian achieving social democratic optimism of the 1960s. London, June 18