It’s ever so mildly
disturbing when it happens but most sane people eventually realize that some
Beatles songs flat-out suck. Or, okay, they find it difficult to access the
magic heard upon first learning the canon. My epiphany occurred in the midst of
the 2009 reissue frenzy. Forget mono vs. stereo – the lads were losing the
distinction between serious and complacent at least as early as Rubber Soul. Where once I heard their increasing song lengths
as a sign of maturity, now I could feel “You Won’t See Me,” their longest to
date, slooooow down to a crawl during the final verse. The only euphoria I
experienced chewing on such Revolver bon bons as "Here, There and Everywhere," "Good Day
Sunshine," and "Got to Get You into My Life" again came courtesy
of nitrous oxide at the dentist two weeks later. The whole of The White
Album does indeed exceed the sum of
its parts but for once, that’s no compliment; I no longer wanted to hear the
parts. "Blackbird," "Rocky Raccoon," and "Mother
Nature's Son" suffer folkie fools gladly while "Honey Pie" found
its proper home crashed on the shores of Sextette (1978), Mae West’s swan song
catasterpiece, in a rendition by Dom Deluise. As for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,”
thank gawd there’s no mono version to compare. If there’s a worse Beatles song,
please keep it on your bootlegs.
All of which amounted to a
long overdue hint to be done with Paul McCartney, a project I’ve avoided until
now. The prospect of traipsing through his discography filled me with dread
given how I couldn’t stand what little I knew of it. Even something like “Maybe
I’m Amazed,” which Macca maniacs judge his first post-Beatles masterpiece,
epitomized the man’s lazy fecundity. Maybe you’re amazed, dude? Maybe? Who
wants a lover that can’t quite make up his mind, especially one that strains
his voice when non-committing?
But therein lies his charm,
such as it is. Lazy but productive. Forced but non-committal. Such paradoxes
fuel McCartney’s oeuvre, a bank of songs that frustrates more than it amazes.
As Taylor Parkes so beautifully puts it:
“They just seem to ignore
most of pop's basic obligations. Few of these songs mean anything at all;
they're rarely exciting in a purely visceral sense; they never tell a story, or
attempt to blow your mind; they're seldom uplifting, or plaintive, or gross.
They are utterly useless objects, which seem content simply to exist. This is
their (very) peculiar charm.”
Before reading Parkes’
defense, that's precisely how I would've described some of the most shameless
pop music from ABBA to diva house. But those artists are out to connect.
McCartney's arrows seek no targets. That they sometimes strike a popular nerve
is of no consequence because this is the music of a billionaire who need not
worry if anyone ever hears his chaos and creation. And however much the facts
of his life contradict such a conclusion, that’s how his songs come across.
McCartney's influence is thus felt less on pure popsters Alphabeat or even
putative Beatles Xeroxes Oasis than on indie anti-socialites like Guided By
Voices, Low, Palace, My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, etc.
Nevertheless, a rich and
uncaring discography has plenty of perverse pleasures to offer. Precious few in
the beginning, though, and since I was tackling each album chronologically,
this did not bode well for the dozen-plus I had left. Ram works as an album but
much to my surprise and the rage of McCartney fanatics, I couldn’t salvage a
single song/fragment from McCartney. And the first two Wings joints, Wild Life
and Red Rose Speedway, were as hideous as I’d read. The former gets the nod for
general weirdness but the only hope I received from Red Rose Speedway was that
Mavis Staples covers “My Love.”
For the rest of the 1970s,
I’d say that McCartney’s albums would’ve been better remembered were they EPs.
With some minor shuffling, Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Wings at the Speed
of Sound, Back to the Egg could have done without their side twos (leaving
London Town a soft rock question mark). Proof that I was listening hard anyway
lies in my enthusiasm for Speed’s “The Note You Never Wrote,” inadvertently
moving in the manner of a godforsaken DJ Shadow thrift store find which, as a
McCartney composition sung by Wings co-founder Denny Laine, it kind of is.
In retrospect, it’s fairly
remarkable that Back to the Egg and McCartney II received such bad reviews at
the time. Clearly, critics were just fed up with him by 1980, especially with
punk and disco to distract them. But I dug Macca’s attempts to wrestle with The
Damned (or is that ZZ Top?) (“Spin It On”), Squeeze (“Again And Again And Again”),
and Steely Dan c. Aja (“Arrow Through Me”) on Egg. McCartney II is, of course,
the album you play for people who hate Paul McCartney because it sounds like
Kraftwerk and Brian Eno. Perhaps in an attempt to one up Bowie, The Talking
Heads, and Devo, Macca even handled the Enoisms all by his lonesome. The result
is far more tuneless than its ever-expanding list of supporters would admit.
But it remains captivating throughout. You can almost grasp the adorable image
of a 1960s survivor nervously shuffling his feet outside punk-disco clubs in
the hopes that “Coming Up” or “Temporary Secretary” will take.
Instead of keeping up with
Kid Creole and the Coconuts or Sonic Youth, however, McCartney’s subsequent
1980s output caters a bit too much to the recently christened Adult
Contemporary charts. Tug of War, Pipes of Peace, and Flowers in the Dirt trade
quirk for classiness. For once, there’s nary an infuriating moment to be found
on any of them. Alas, there’s not much excitement either.
But then there’s Press to
Play. Much like Bob Dylan’s chronically fascinating 1980s albums, this one is
frequently disparaged for tacky production better suited for the end credits to
a teen sex comedy. No doubt that’s part of the perverse pleasure I derive from
it; never underestimate the power of watching Beatles fans squirm. But it just
so happens to include the man’s greatest post-Beatles song.
“Press” is no less
disconnected than any other of McCartney composition. He starts by complaining
to Linda about “all these people listening in.” Um, hello, Paul, you’re the
most successful musician on our planet (no clue as to how popular you are on
your own). Of course, we’re listening in! So he takes this as an opportunity to
invent a new word for fucking: “When you want me to love you just tell me to
press/Right there! That’s it! Yes!” Letting us in on his most private
conversation, it’s the most generous song of his career with all the tumult and
clutter of Hugh Padgham’s production perfectly evoking Paul’s giddy love for
Linda. We even get to hear their orgasm. “Oklahoma was never like this,” gushes
Paul in one of pop music’s classic money shots. And here I thought I had the
1980s down. Wonder if there’s something this masterful hiding on a Steve
After the 1980s, a severe
downturn. The streamlining that began with Tug of War became more severe with
Off the Ground, Flaming Pie, Driving Rain, and Chaos and Creation in the
Backyard such that the only song I can recall amongst them is “Driving Rain.”
And even there, I’ll take the speedier live version from the otherwise
embarrassing Back in the U.S.
That leaves Run Devil Run
and Memory Almost Full. It certainly wasn’t preordained that Run Devil Run, an
album consisting mostly of covers, would prove his best album, especially given
the dreary oldies recastings on Снова в СССР (and his 2012 Great American
Songbook bonanza, Kisses on the Bottom, exists mainly to scare Rod Stewart).
But he never rocked fiercer nor sang better. "No Other Baby” and “Lonesome
Town” were gut-wrenching goodbyes to Linda. And Memory Almost Full registers an
uptick in care probably because he wanted to make sure we still loved him when
Normally at this point, I’d
sum everything up with a one-disc distillation. But annoyingly, most of the
tracks I considered essential turned out to be the singles anyway. And a
two-disc started to look arbitrary. So instead, I decided to honor McCartney’s
loopiness and damn history in the process with an alternative Macca
1970 – Paul McCartney’s
first solo album, Ram, is released!
1. "Too Many
2. "Ram On"
3. "Dear Boy"
4. "Smile Away"
5. "Monkberry Moon
6. "Eat at Home"
7. "The Back Seat of
8. “Another Day”
9. “Oh Woman, Oh Why”
1971 – Wings debuts with
bizarre, lopsided 12” single
A: “Mumbo” 22:50 version
with members of Can at their funkiest
B: “Dear Friend” (special
1972 – Again, only one
single is released. McCartney chalks up inactivity to having to take out the
trash on his farm on the Mull of Kintyre.
A: “My Love” (special guest
vocalist Mavis Staples)
B: “C Moon”
Band on the Run
1. "Band on the
5. "Let Me Roll
6. "Helen Wheels"
7: "Nineteen Hundred
A: “Live and Let Die”
B: “Hi, Hi, Hi”
Venus and Mars EP
1. "Venus and
3. "Love in
4. "Magneto and
5. "Letting Go"
6. "Spirits of Ancient
7. "Listen to What the
8. “My Carnival”
Wings at the Speed
1. "Let 'Em
2. "The Note You Never
3. "She's My
4. "Beware My
5. "Wino Junko"
6. "Silly Love
7. "Sally G"
McCartney performs on
one-off Denny Laine single
A: “Get Off Your Ass and
Let ‘em In Your Damn Self!”
B: “Six Day War” (Colonel
London Town EP
1. “London Town”
2. “Cafe On The Left Bank”
3. “I’m Carrying”
4. “Backwards Traveller”
5. “With A Little Luck”
6. “Famous Groupies”
7. “Deliver Your Children”
8. “Morse Moose And The
Back to the Egg EP
3. "We're Open
4. "Spin It
5. "Again and Again
6. "Old Siam,
7. "Arrow Through
8. "To You"
9. "Daytime Nighttime
McCartney II EP
4. "Summer's Day
Tug of War
(specially priced EP)
1. “Take It Away”
2. “Ballroom Dancing”
4. “Dress Me Up as a
5. “Ebony and Ivory”
A: “Say Say Say”
B: “The Man”
A: “No More Lonely Nights”
B: “No More Lonely Nights”
(special dance mix)
Press to Play EP
2. “Good Times Coming/Feel
3. “Talk More Talk”
5. “Pretty Little Head”
Flowers in the Dirt
1. "My Brave
2. "You Want Her
3. “We Got Married”
4. “This One”
5. “Ou Est Le Soleil”
1989 – 1999 – McCartney
becomes mayor of The Mull of Kintyre
1999 – Run Devil Run!
Special one-sided single
A: “Driving Rain (live)”
2007 – Memory Almost Full
2. "Ever Present
3. "See Your
5. "The End of the
6. "Nod Your
Happy birthday, John.
Labels: discographies, Paul McCartney, The Beatles