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 Everett True

Song of the day – 396: Paul McCartney

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Paul McCartney - 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 …

11 Responses to Song of the day – 396: Paul McCartney

  1. Matt O'Neill September 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Lovely piece of writing.

  2. Wallace Wylie September 26, 2011 at 11:26 am

    McCartney’s solo work is like a minefield, with some gorgeous flowers every now and then. This album is far better than the overrated “Band On The Run” (Yes, I know that was Wings, but does it matter?). In fact I like “Ram” more than “Band On The Run”. At the same time, I understand why people wouldn’t go near his solo work with the proverbial barge-pole. It’s not all that rewarding, but from time to time you’ll come up trumps.

    Oh, and for the record McCartney owned a farm. It was on the Mull of Kintyre (let’s not talk about that song) near Campbeltown, which is the village I grew up in. I’m sure it was a working farm. My brother, who did, and still does, slate roofs for a living, fixed up McCartney’s roof at one point. He got McCartney and Denny Laine’s autograph. My brother said he was the perfect gentleman.

  3. Drew September 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

    People have been selling McCartney short for years. To love Lennon is to accept the fact that he was a gigantic asshole with moments of genius. To love McCartney is to accept that he could be self-absorbed and hugely goofy but with many many moments of genius. McCartney (the solo debut) is lovely. Ram is a masterpiece. There are more musical ideas in that one album than Lennon had in his entire solo career. And McCartney II is jaw droppingly odd (in a good way).

    You don’t have to think McCartney is “cool” (whatever that means) to appreciate how incredible the best of his work can be.

  4. Everett True September 26, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Ram is next on my list.

  5. jethco September 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    When you’re an angry young man, Lennon fits the bill. But once you grow up, you realize McCartney was the far more talented musician, and while he couldn’t connect on a visceral, human level in the same way as Lennon, his songwriting skills are unquestionable. Not to mention he was the member of the band exploring London’s avant-garde – in music, film, theater, etc. – while Lennon was getting fat and unhappy out in the suburbs. And, he brought George into the band – points for that alone.

  6. Wallace Wylie September 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    McCartney was the better musician. Lennon was the better artist.

  7. Julian September 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Jethco is talking nonsense. Whatever McCartney was exploring in London, it was Lennon who made the great avant garde records – Strawberry Fields, Tomorrow Never Knows, I Am The Walrus, A Day In The Life. Not exactly sat around getting fat.

  8. Princess Stomper September 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Great. Now I have the Frog Chorus going around in my head. I hope you’re happy.

  9. Chris September 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Yep, Macca was the one and (not that it’s a competition or anything) well into his avant-garde nonsense too, I’m sure he and Lennon both pointed each other in those directions. But just digging Stockhausen as they both claimed to didn’t make either of them any more gifted or out than the other. It’s always been cool to namecheck the avant-garde. Mention of Sun Ra or Jandek still seems to be a ticket to being deemed worthy by the many experimental and free jazz elitists and if your music eschews melodic structure then extra points for weirdness. The psychedelic songs mentioned above (attributed to Lennon *lyrically*) were still top pop tunes with a difference but with no specific nods to the avant-garde, just a different view on how to make songs live and breathe within still (comparatively) conventional structures. I Am The Walrus can be attributed to Lewis Carrol for setting Lennon’s lyrical scene – the song which inspired Czukay and pals to form Can – and ’twas Macca of the two (plus Martin of course) who sent the music off into the psychedelic world, John being more of a low down, mean and dirty rock n roller at heart as has been mentioned. Not that I know these people, of course…
    My point? I’ve forgotten.

  10. Drew September 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Oh please, not another who-was-the-better Beatle debate. Ugh.

    That’s not the point. The point is their solo work. I’m not a lifelong McCartney fan. In fact, I just heard Ram for the first time two years ago, and I thought, What the hell, how come I’ve never heard this before? I think it’s brilliant. I think the thing about McCartney is you just have to put blinders on and ignore the crap. Strangely enough, most of his best albums — like Ram, McCartney and McCartney II — were panned upon release, yet those are the ones that stand out today. It makes you wonder what direction his career might have taken if he’d received even a hint of encouragement when he took those musical risks. Instead, he buckled to the critics of that time and went the safer MOR route, for which he is now attacked by today’s critics. … His 2008 Electric Arguments album is damn good, too.

    Oh, and I was glad to see the nod to Goodnight Tonight. I love that track, too.

  11. jethco September 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Julian, for the record, I was referring to the period of ’65-early ’66, when Lennon, by his own description, was miserable out in the suburbs, stuck in a marriage he wanted out of, and missing out on the scene that McCartney was immersed in: Indica Gallery, International Times, Robert Fraser, et al. Lennon himself referred to this time as his “Fat Elvis” period. I only point this out to underscore that it’s a common misconception in the mainstream that Lennon was the more “radical” of the pair, while McCartney is routinely dismissed as the safe and more lightweight artist. Of course, in due time, Lennon more than caught up, and I don’t point any of this out to detract from his stellar body of work – only to remind those that need it that McCartney was groundbreaking in his own way as well…for just one example, it was McCartney that came up with the tape loops on “Tomorrow Never Knows”, after listening to Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Jünglinge”. And a lot of what most people would consider “avant garde” about the recordings you cite above were the product of the hard work of straight ol’ George Martin (and Geoff Emerick and Ken Townsend). Both Lennon and McCartney were incredibly lucky to have Martin and his engineers at their disposal to interpret their stoned ramblings into the psychedelic pop masterpieces they became.

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