Song of the day – 396: Paul McCartney
Yeah, I know.
My preference was always for Lennon over McCartney. And maybe Harrison too. Never could stand the sideways nodding dog, grinning inanely. I loved The Beatles’ songs, especially when transcribed for piano, I was never quite sure about the execution. In other words, anything up to Revolver is OK, Beatles For Sale far better, and the early performances easily the best, especially when surrounded by screaming that added Sunn O)))-like layers of beautiful noise in the background. Sgt Pepper’s always was overblown baloney though. I guess if you were cynical you could think it funny the way The Beatles were taking the piss out of their fans in the lyrics and the nursery rhyme song structures on that album – and on a Kurt Cobain level, it is enjoyable – but to most ways of thinking, that makes them dickheads.
There’s a moment in ‘Help’, recorded on the Live At The Hollywood Bowl album, where Lennon’s voice cracks third verse through, that I used to swear was the most poignant in the history of popular recorded music … I got into Pseuds Corner in Private Eye for claiming same … the screaming was so intense he couldn’t hear the words, the screaming was always so intense he could never hear the words.
Anyway. I loved early Lennon solo albums, obviously partly because of the Ono influence. I never listened to early McCartney. Indeed, it was only earlier today I got round to hearing his debut solo album, 1970’s McCartney, recorded during the break-up of The Beatles.
Received wisdom had it that McCartney is patchy at best, self-indulgent, half-formed and not exactly adhering to the perfectionist ideals he was demanding of fellow Beatles at the time. (Its follow-up 1971’s Ram is supposed to be way superior – it spawned the jovial, trippy, ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’ – but I could never get past the cover of McCartney grabbing a male sheep by the horns. He never seemed like a farm hand to me.) The above reasons are what makes McCartney so listenable now, however: it exudes such a delicious sense of freedom, the sort of freedom ‘The White Album’ (note: not its actual title) was aspiring towards but never achieved because it was too self-conscious and aware. It’s like McCartney, for the first time in ages, had finally allowed himself to enjoy making music and somehow, almost magically, let go.
I love all the moments where he’s humming to himself (as during ‘Junk’) or doing the equivalent of whistling jovially in the bath (‘Man We Was Lonely’), the way it’s shot through with such good humour, that meaty bass sound, the melodies of course, yes even the bad proto cod-funk (‘Oo You’), the final lengthy instrumental track ‘Kreen-Akrore’ … predating the doubtless soon-to-be-proved-talented Goyte by a good few decades, McCartney played all the instruments and sung almost all the harmonies himself. Indeed, hearing this for the first time, I’m starting to think all those “Beach Boys on a skipping CD” comparisons I’ve been throwing in the direction of Animal Collective and their ilk are way off-the-mark. This is what they’re aspiring to.
Of course, later on he released some really horrible tracks, no denying, stuff that helped set popular music back by years. Not this one, though …