Friday, 21 January 2011
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.