In 1967 Paul McCartney wrote a song whose refrain plaintively asked "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"
Nearly 40 years later, at age 63, the ex-Beatle is about to release a new studio album and launch a US concert tour, and there is nothing to suggest that "Macca" -- as his fans calls him -- will go hungry or unloved any time soon.
Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, available Tuesday in the US and Monday in the rest of the world, is McCartney's 20th post-Beatles album, and his first studio effort since Driving rainin 2001.
It is also, critics say, among his best since splitting from the Fab Four.
In contrast to most of his work since the 1980s, which has tended toward the easy-listening end of the pop music spectrum, Chaos and Creation is on a par with his most widely acclaimed albums, McCartney in 1970 and Ram -- done in collaboration with his wife, Linda -- in 1971.
There are even strong echoes of late Beatles, especially the classic Abbey Road.
"It's true, some of the songs could have been recorded with the Beatles," McCartney said in an interview with French magazine Epok. "I have arrived at a point in my life where I can say to myself, `OK, that's my style. I invented it with the Beatles. A lot of groups refer to that particular sound, so why shouldn't I have the right to do the same thing?'"
"I made the decision not to be ashamed of my roots," he concluded.
Those roots are very apparent in Chaos and Creation, whose 13 tracks total 47 minutes. The superb Jenny Wren, the third song on the album, clearly evokes two earlier Beatles compositions from the White Album, Blackbird and Mother nature's son.
The piano melody on another track, English Tea, digs even deeper into McCartney's musical heritage, echoing the 1966 tune For No One on the Revolver LP. There is even a short flute solo in the song that alludes to The fool on the hill from Magical Mystery Tour.
Chaos and Creation -- 35 years after the Beatles broke up, 25 years after the murder of John Lennon, four years after George Harrison succumbed to cancer -- is suffused with melancholy and nostalgia.
No coincidence, then, that the CD cover shows a photo of an adolescent McCartney picking at a guitar in the corner of the courtyard alluded to in the album's title, a moment captured when he reminisces about "looking through the backyard of my life" in the track Promise to you girl.
McCartney cannot not take all the credit for making Chaos and Creation as good as it is. Nigel Godrich -- a top producer who has worked with Radiohead, Travis and Beck -- played a key role, encouraging McCartney to push beyond the limits of his own "myth."
It was Godrich, for example, who convinced McCartney to leave his group out of the picture for this album, and to play virtually all of the instrumental part himself, as he did 35 years ago on McCartney.
Godrich is also responsible for the lean and clean sound that helps give the album a timeless quality.
Adding an almost uncanny symmetry to the album in relation to McCartney's career, it was George Martin -- the Beatles' producer in the 1960s and, in a real sense, the "fifth Beatle" -- who suggested that McCartney work with Godrich in the first place.
Chaos and Creation, which comes out a week after a new studio release from the Rolling Stones, is not McCartney's only new work in 2005: In October he will publish a book for children entitled High in the Clouds.