Friday, 21 January 2011

Paul McCartney

Christmas this year, or should that be last year, furnished me with a few additional CDs for my collection, one of which was the recent three disc reissue of Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’. This, at last, replaces my worn out vinyl copy that spent much time on my turntable from the day I bought it in early 1974.


From the split of The Beatles, I was always a McCartney fan and amongst the first albums I ever bought in those musically formative years, were ‘McCartney’, ‘Ram’ and ‘Band on the Run’. Despite being a Paul-o-phile and hence rather inexplicably, I passed on ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Red Rose Speedway’ and never bought another McCartney album after BOTR. In retrospect my instincts were entirely correct as to me, only the former three albums are essential from his entire solo catalogue to date. Certainly after BOTR and having listened to ‘Venus and Mars’, I lost interest in his work altogether. Listening to all three of these early albums again two aspects have struck me.

The first is how adept McCartney is at musical arrangement. All these albums are bursting to overflowing with clever uses of instruments, unusual backing vocal harmonies and little guitar and synth figures. Every song has its own atmosphere derived from combinations of these devices. In addition, the mixing and production of the albums enhances these features. ‘Band On The Run’ in particular has some very complex arrangements yet each piece of the multi-layered jigsaw is presented in an uncluttered way. This is a real skill and one which makes these songs such a pleasure to listen to.

The second aspect is Linda McCartney. Universally derided by fans for being untalented, she nevertheless has a towering presence on these works. Yes, she was a lousy lead vocalist and yes, she wasn’t much cop as a musician either, but her backing vocals are really quite wonderful. They lend an element to the sound that is instantly identifiable and all her own. Have a listen to McCartney albums that feature her and contrast them with those that don’t. There is a huge difference and the ones with her backing vocals as part of the overall sound stage are strangely familiar and enticingly attractive. Perhaps it just nostalgia, but yes, Paul, I miss her too.

Whilst the BOTR reissue has been nicely remastered, the playing is immaculate and the production is first rate, I can’t shake the feeling that the album is a bit of a style-over-content work. The songs are OK, but it is the clever arrangements and presentation that ratchets up their appeal. Left to my own devices I’d always go back to ‘Ram’ and the homemade ‘McCartney’ which contain much better and more quirky material and seem to have more soul than the ultra-polished BOTR. The unbridled passion of Paul’s yelling, ‘Oh-Oh! We believe that we can’t be wrong!/ Yeah Yeah Yeah!’ at the end of ‘Backseat of my Car’ is a spine tingling moment of pure abandon. You won’t find anything like it on BOTR.

Here's Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey' from 'Ram'.  It has everything:- a whole montage of tunes, complex arrangement, humour and Linda's patent backing sound.  Wonderful.

19 comments:

Adrian said...

Could the references to "pie" in "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" also hold some deep, perhaps even subconscious, attraction?

The LP "Band on the Run" was on my turntable when my entire stereo system was stolen in a burglary of my apartment/flat. That happened shortly BOTR's release - and for several years thereafter I still have the cover and insert, hoping to one day be able to return to the vinyl to its package.

I'm off to zzz at this moment, but, I'd add that Paul McCartney, with and without Wings, released some wonderful singles - in Canada we had "Hi, Hi, Hi" b/w "C Moon", "Helen Wheels" b/w "Junior's Farm" (I believe), "Live and Let Die" b/w "I Lie Around", and more. I even enjoyed "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" :)

Good times!

music obsessive said...

Adrian - You could be right, and no reference to 'Flaming Pie' either!

Sad to hear about your break in. Perhaps now is the time to replace your lost LP with the new 3-CD version which also has many of the single releases you mention on Disc 2 as well as their videos on Disc 3.

I had a load of those singles as well in the good old vinyl days and played them to death. The best of Paul McCartney is really to be found between 1970 and 1974.

TR1-Guy said...

Oh, the glorious day I picked up RAM on cassette. Still have that aged tape with the penciled in purchase date of July 1971. I was kinda weird that way. But, that tape is so worn out from having been played over and over again. It is by far his best album. I truly like Band on the Run but as you pointed out so well, it is very polished and RAM just has an edge to it. My favorite track on RAM is "Smile Away" as McCartney could play some good rock and roll with some fun/silly lyrics. "I could smell your breath a mile away. Smile Away!" Cracks me up and gets my blood pumping even to this day when it comes up on my iTunes playlists.

I have RAM on vinyl as well and reel-to-reel along with that worn out cassette. Last year, I added one more copy of RAM to my collection by buying a copy on iTunes. Paul was a big influence on me as well as I picked up playing bass guitar from listening to his music with the Beatles.

Now, I will say you should give Red Rose Speedway a listen today. It is not a bad album and has it moments. It's not as good as RAM, but then, NONE of McCartney's albums ever have been. Speed of Sound convinced me as well that Paul had gone past his prime and was just putting out pop music tripe to enlarge his bank account. Nothing wrong with that, but the musician in him was gone and the music business man had taken over.

Great article, Martin!

Adrian said...

Yes, perhaps it's time to replace my copy of BOTR. The goods stolen are not coming back!

I concur that Red Rose Speedway has its own charm. And, the single, again, best I recall, was "My Love" b/w "The Mess" which is a fine little live rocker from Paul and co.

Also agree with your assessments of McCartney and Ram. And, the golden period of 1970 - 1974. Makes me want to break out the "Monkberry Moon Delight"!

music obsessive said...

Blimey Byron - you must have contributed to a large part of the McCartney fortune by yourself!

I had a taped copy of 'Red Rose Speedway' for a time but although some of it was OK I eventually ditched the tape and never bothered to buy it legally. I think its time has gone now so I'll stay with 'McCartney, 'Ram' and 'BOTR'.

Charlie said...

I've always been one of the biggest Beatles fans on the planet but most of Paul's solo work sounds like he wasn't trying. I agree BOTR is "style-over-content work" but that is why this album is one of the exceptions. It's a good thing it had the style because compared to his Beatles stuff these tunes also lack substance. I've always hated Red Rose Speedway. Ram isn't much better. Paul improved by the end of the century. Unfortunately, it seems like it took Linda's passing to make him take music seriously again.

music obsessive said...

Hi Charlie - whilst I'd go along with you on 'BOTR' and 'Red Rose Speedway', I'd take issue over 'Ram'. It may not be his best musically (although that's arguable) it is my favourite on the basis that it is the sound of a man on the edge, bearing his soul. It's edgy, quirky, funny, sad and quite mad. At no time after this album does he really let the listener see him so naked. And that's what music is all about.

Adrian said...

I'll put in my final plug for giving Red Rose Speedway a chance - it's actually aged well. It does lack the sense of abandon of Ram, but, its not without its own special charms - wonderful melodies, superlative bass-playing and vocals. Plus, it turns out, at least in Canada, the reissue contains a couple of singles - a-sides and b-sides, with "Hi, Hi, Hi", and, especially, "The Mess" bringing some grit to what is mostly a playful, loving concoction. (But, it's not yet the self-consciousness and commerciality of "Silly Love Songs".) Listening to it today, as I have, I'd say RRS is more than the sum of its parts - and an highly enjoyable listen, even to these critical ears! :)

Adrian said...

p.s. then again, "Silly Love Songs", is brilliant when stacked against 95+% of what passes for radio fare these days! When talking about the Fabs, it's tough for them to meet the standards of their own peaks.

Jayne said...

I have the vinyl on BOTR and really liked it, but never sought out further albums of McCartney (even though I am a huge Beatles fan!) I think with me (sadly) I am a 'popular' music fan rather than a music fan - unless someone points out something rather wonderful then I am not likely to seek it out myself. But I really enjoyed listening to this and agree that McCartney is a very accomplished musician - he builds such wonderful soundscapes. And I like Linda's backing vocals - they seem to do what a good backing vocal is supposed to do. I think I might get Ram, I think I'd enjoy it. Thanks - great review!

music obsessive said...

OK, OK I'll have another listen to RRS, assuming I can find a copy somewhere - it's not on Spotify. Damn!

music obsessive said...

Jayne - Yes, Yes, do get it, it's wonderful. And don't worry about being a popular fan, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one who is prodded in the right direction than the many who sought it out in the first place...or something.

YourZenMine said...

As a young man, I had 'Venus And Mars' on cassette and played it until the tape snapped. I loved 'Rock Show', 'Magneto & Titanium Man' and 'Listen To What The Man Said'. But I haven't heard it for years now. I wonder how it would stack up against my memories of it. But all this talk of BOTR has me thinking I might have to find a copy for myself.

YourZ

music obsessive said...

Hi YourZ. I owned V&M for a bit but it never stood up against his previous work, but that's my opinion. May be worth having a revisit as these things can only go two ways: Wow or hmm...

Do check out BOTR, his most polished work and 'Ram' his most soul-bearing. Both worth a listen. As you can see from the comments above even fans can't seeem to agree on his best stuff!

Dan said...

Really liked McCartney and then when Ram came out...WOW! BOTR is right there in quality in my opinion too. Lots of drinking during that album.

drewzepmeister said...

I don't have Ram in my collection, from what is said about Ram here tells me that I ought to get myself copy. I do have V&M and BOTR (as well as many other McCartney albums)and yes I felt that these two were some of his better ones.

music obsessive said...

Hi Dan - exactly how I felt. 'McCartney' was the first LP I bought with my own money so it has a special place for me, but 'Ram' is the killer.

Hi Drew - 'Ram' definitely worth a listen, but I note that all his early albums appear out of print at the moment? Perhaps they are being repackaged for re-release...AGAIN.

agedhipster said...

I'm totally with you on your Macca assessment. Those three are the holy trinity of his solo catalog. I was HUGELY disappointed in "London Town," so much that I gave it away after I listened once.
I did like "Flaming Pie" very much, though, but only after I'd read endless good reviews. Even so, I was skeptical.

music obsessive said...

Hi Aged. I admit I did the same with 'Venus and Mars'...

Perhaps I should have a listen to 'Flaming Pie'? I'd long given up on Macca by the time it came out.