It’s June 18th, and on this day in 1942 one James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool. He would later go on to great success as a member of the Beatles of course, and a successful solo career which I’ve summarized in a post I wrote last year celebrating Paul McCartney’s birthday. So, this year, I wanted to do the same thing I’ve done for John Lennon and George Harrison when their birthdays came around – present 10 musical moments in the career of Paul McCartney.
Now, to reiterate this, the following 10 are not meant to be the 10 best. No. I don’t think it works that way. Well, at least not for me. This list is just about 10; 10 moments in the musical life of a hero of mine: Paul McCartney .
One Two Three FAAAAAAAW! It’s one of the best openings of any song ever written, appearing on the Beatles Parlaphone debut album Please Please Me. And what a song it is! A story of teenage love, or is it lust, with an impossibly fluid bassline and sterling playing from all four Beatles. But, Macca’s voice on this is what gets me, full of youthful vigour, and delivering one of the greatest rock n roll couplets ever: she was just seventeen, you know what I mean. Yes we do, Paul!
One thing about the Beatles as songwriters was that they seemed to be young men with the songwriting brains of those much older. This is one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to Paul songs. With the young rush of love established in “I Saw Her Standing There”, this song as taken from A Hard Day’s Night talks about what may come after that, with the eye that nothing ever stays the same, including perspectives. What is true now, may not be true later, says Paul. In some ways, this is something of a sobering love song, and from a 23 year with the world on a plate by 1964. If fame affected McCartney, perhaps he was saved by this self-same perspective.
By 1967, The Beatles had been through the grind of tour-album-tour, all the while becoming disenchanted with celebrity that was weighing them down in every way including creatively. So, when they cast off their pop group shackles and became a studio band, the songs did the work for them. And why not, since that was their strength. And despite the movement toward harder edges on rock songs, McCartney was still interested in writing pop songs with a bit extra. And this is one of my favourites of his, quintessential Macca from Magical Mystery Tour, with tons of optimistic and colorful ear candy for the kids, with a few interesting chord progressions for the eggheads to enjoy too.
And where the Beatles were in tune with the colorful and kaleidoscopic psychedelia the year before, by 1968 even the Beatles knew that the world was a starker, more violent place than could be papered over with paisley and Lewis Carroll. The Who had released “I Can See For Miles”, and McCartney wanted to go one louder. And so he did, with a raucous rock growl of a voice, a bludgeoning bassline, shreds of distorted guitar, and an inspiration in waiting for Charles Manson who interpreted this song taken from The Beatles (The White Album) quite liberally for his own diabolical ends.
The Beatles were effectively over as a group in the first few months of 1970. But, by then McCartney had other forces in his life holding him together, which came out thematically on his first solo album McCartney in 1970. These were his new wife Linda, and her daughter Heather from her previous marriage. But, as one marriage ended and another had begun, with the feelings of heartbreak from the lost camaraderie of his band blurred into those of amazement at being in love. This was a potent emotional punch that was waiting to be expressed. And here it is, one of the best songs Paul McCartney ever wrote. It was later re-recorded live in 1976 on the Wings Over America album and released as a single.
One thing that we often forget when looking at songwriting deities is that they too have their heroes. For McCartney, his hero stands as a legend in his own right; Brian Wilson. And McCartney was not unaffected, writing his “Getting Better” from Sgt. Pepper under Wilson’s influence. But, this is my favourite of McCartney’s Wilsonesque tunes, a lighthearted jibe at a figure who is too misguided to know what he’s given up in favour of a prize which may turn out to be not worth having. That this figure may have been one John Lennon is beside the point. This is pure pop, the pop at Lennon notwithstanding, taken from the classic 1971 album Ram.
One criticism often leveled at McCartney is that he tends to stray on the side of whimsy, and doesn’t often, well, rock. Another one is that when in the Beatles, it was John who was the imaginative lyricist, while Paul was strictly the melodist of the pair. “Junior’s Farm” puts all of this to rest, recorded as it was as a single in 1974 (later to appear on the Wings Greatest album) after the release of his, arguably, breakthrough album with Wings the previous year Band on the Run. Wings was his attempt at getting back into the groove of being in a band. They tried it democratically in terms of the writing and attention, which was noble. But, ultimately, McCartney’s ability to write songs and sing in such a monumentus way as he does here makes that decision seem naive at best.
Speaking of criticisms, when John Lennon was shot, and after the initial shock had worn off, media at the time ghoulishly clamoured to get the impressions of the other Beatles; how did they feel about the whole tragedy? Paul disappointed everyone by giving a very brief “what a drag” statement to the press, making him seem in print to many to be callous, to say the least. Yet, he loved John. And not to prove it to anyone, he wrote this tribute to his friend, placing it on his excellent Tug Of War album in 1982. Listen to the above clip, recorded in 2007, and with his voice heavy with emotion. He is holding back the tears no more…
Paul and Linda had something of a unique rock marriage. For one thing, they stayed together for 29 years. And this song is something of a testament to their commitment, not just because they stayed together that long, but because they seemed to have a game plan – “always finding new ways to love you” as this song says, and one of the greatest love songs he ever wrote too which is certainly saying something. The song appeared on the ‘comeback’ record Flaming Pie, and album recorded quickly and virtually solo but for a few guests, after the Beatles Anthology project was completed. There are shades of his earlier composition “Mother Nature’s Son” in there, an English folk feel that offsets the modern notion that in order to keep a marriage healthy, it can’t be taken for granted.
McCartney has put out albums over a long career that not every fan has been happy with. In some ways, being Paul McCartney has been something of an impediment to his artistic growth, for who is going to tell him that one of his songs needs a bit more work before it’s committed to a final take? Well, the answer is Nigel Goderich, producer best known for his work with Beck and Radiohead. And Nigel, if reports are to be believed, put Sir Paul through the paces on this record and song, and it shows. This song, and the album off of which it comes Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, represents a career high in a span of four decades, and one of the best albums by anyone in 2005. This proves of course that talent doesn’t get old, and that artistry knows no age.
So, happy birthday Sir Paul. You’re still my hero, and these 10 songs are 10 just reasons to thank you.