Friday 27 August 2010

Paul McCartney "McCartney" (1970) (News, Views and Music 73; Revised Edition 2015/2018)

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The Lovely Linda/That Would Be Something/Valentine Day/Every Night/Hot As Sun-Glasses/Junk/Man We Was Lonely/Oo You/Momma Miss America/Teddy Boy/Singalong Junk/Maybe I’m Amazed/Kreen-Akore

Paul McCartney “McCartney” (1970)

'Don't cry little baby don't cry, daddy's gonna sing you thirteen reasons why'

The dream is over – but nobody (the fans, the band) quite wanted to believe it at the time. Where do you go after being The Beatles, travelling the world multiple times over and touching everyone’s lives in some significant way (whether they weanted them to or not?) Well, if you’re George you finally get the chance to showcase all those songs you’ve been stockpiling all those years. If you’re Ringo you go to Nashville and get drubnk, making an album on the side about your liberty. And if you’re John you make a whole concept album about how The Beatles are over and you are free to be yourself at last. But Paul wasn’t ready for The Beatles to end – the member who wanted them to stay together the most, he found it hardest to let go and in a massive irony somehow found himself vilified as the ‘man who broke up The Beatles’ thanks to a press release including in this very album admitting that they weren’t getting on at all well. Retreating from that world of excitement and possibility to his London flat and/or Scottish farmhouse as the mood took him, with a tape recorder to hand, Macca shut the door on the outside world so tight that even his fellow Beatles (who co-owned the Apple record label alongside him) didn’t know he was making a record. There were no studios booked to make this record, no session musicians, nobody else at all except for Linda who makes her first real impact on her husband’s work by singing pretty harmonies alongside him from time to time. ‘McCartney’ is very much a solo work, intended to show off to as many people as possible that there was life after The Beatles and while Paul loved working with the otherts, he didn’t really need them.

The last to make a record away from the band he always assumed he would never leave, Beatles solo albums hadn’t had a good press in April 1970 when ‘McCartney’ came out, a few weeks ahead of ‘Let It Be’ John, George and Ringo had all released a variety of wacky solo projects varying in taste and quality, from the impenetrable Two Virgins by John and Yoko (although follow-up ‘Life With The Lions’ is a very under-rated and moving affair) , the I’ve-just-bought-a-new-toy bleeping of George’s ‘Electronic Sounds’ (although, again, George’s ‘Wonderwall’ soundtrack is well worth hearing) to the drunken-sounding Ringo warbling through ‘Sentimental Journey’ (even if I quite like his equally drunken go at Nashville on ‘Beaucoups Of Blues’). Yet strangely, to most modern ears who see ‘McCartney’ as one of the highlights of the Macca canon, full of some of his deepest and greatest songs, what’s now heralded as one of the best (if lowest budgeted) albums in his back catalogue wasn’t always greeted with such respect. At the time 'McCartney' got roped in with all these curios and leftovers, seen as a ‘marking time’ album before something better came along than instrumentals and jamming sessions. Oddly, though, time has been kind to this album – perhaps because it suffers less from the ‘need to be with the times’ of some of the Wings and 1980s McCartney material, or perhaps we better understand the melancholy behind the words as Paul’s ‘thumbs aloft’ persona slips and we see the scared musician hiding in plain sight, convinced that the world is out to get him. After all, it’s not every album where one of the most naturally optimistic writers of his generation suffers from depression – and yet that’s what this album is, hidden beneath a layer of leftover songs, tape-testing instrumentals and a characteristic grasp of melody. This helps ‘McCartney’ a lot, if you’re patient with it. While some McCartney and Wings albums have grown podgy and old with the passing years, attached just that bit too cutely to the time period with which they were released, the sparse grab-bag of styles 'McCartney' could have been released in any time period. Including one of the most turbulent years in Macca's entire career.

Given that it was ‘McCartney’ that soaked up the bad blood after the fallout of The Beatles, simply because of a rather badly worded press release written by a tired Paul being grilled by Beatles press officer Peter Brown that seemed to spell an end to the group, ‘McCartney’ is a mightily understated, almost humble album. In its own way it’s as radical a step forward for its creator as ‘Plastic Ono Band’ ‘All Things Must Pass’ and, yes, ‘Sentimental Journey’, not just because it tells us so much more about Paul than he’s usually up to telling his public but because it’s so different to all the qualities we usually associate with Macca: production values, epicness and effortless pop tunes. It’s the opposite, indeed, to ‘Abbey Road’ (the last Beatle album made with a production surface sheen that can be seen from space) and more like how the rough-and-ragged ‘Let It Be’ should have turned out. To think that the chief creator behind the much admired ‘Abbey Road Medley’ should go on to create this hurried, mainly instrumental one-man-show as the ‘proper’ launch to his solo career caught more than a few people on the hop and to this day there are many Beatles fans who don’t know what to make of ‘McCartney’. There were many more at the time who hated this album for its sheer amateurishness - the unfinished songs, the kids giggling in the background, the rattling pots in the kitchen - not so much because the album was bad but because they feared that all Beatles record were about to be replaced by half-measures such as this and ‘Two Virgins’ etc. Nowadays, of course, we know that even Lennon was about to go all accessible and orchestral a few months later with ‘Imagine’ and that an album like ‘McCartney’ is the exception in Pauk’s catalogue rather than the rule – but oh what a fright it gave fans and critics in 1970, who thought they had nothing but half-finished albums like this to look forward to instead of the most complete and rounded group the world had ever produced.

Fans today are used to Macca doing this back-to-basics thing from time to time – see 1980’s 10-year-update of this album ‘McCartney II’ and even ‘Electric Arguments’ released as ‘The Fireman’ (2009) – and see it as a side-effect of someone that creative being held in one place for so long. There are some fans who shrug their shoulders and don’t play these albums very much – and others who love them to bits. Perhaps it depends on what you’re used to (it’s interesting to keep an eye on this much-reissued album’s critical standings every time it comes out: what confused fans at the time was hated in the 1980s when big productions were in, adored in the 1990s when big productions were out and has largely gone back to confusing people again, the deluxe re-issue of this album trounced by most reviewers compared to sister set ‘Mccartney II’). There’s been a bit of a backlash against the more ‘over-produced’ sounds of the 1970s/80s of late, something that’s done more lasting damage to the reputation of prog rockers than any number of punk rock groups could and many of Macca’s embellished Wings albums have come in for more stick than most. But ‘McCartney’, for all its primitiveness, sounds like it could be an album from the current decade, more or less anyway, and with no production values as such or any desperate need to be ‘with it’ or contemporary, ‘McCartney’ hasn’t dated anything like as badly as, say, ‘Wings At The Speed Of Sound’. To many curious Beatles fans who want to know more about Paul’s work, ‘McCartney’ is often the first stop simply became first (though don’t worry, not every album will sound like this one!) Now that we know its an experiment rather than an album that just sounds like the others and that it contains arguably Paul’s greatest ever solo non-single ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ ’McCartney’ is still perhaps more fondly remembered by a lot more fans than Paul’s other solo albums. Never, then, has the reputation of a Beatles album changed so drastically over the years – and never has my job been more difficult for reconciling the two sides together.

Suffice to say, there are plenty of reasons for this album’s greatness and also for its weakness. And they all happen to be because of the same thing – this album’s lo-fi status irritates as many fans as it pleases and the tape-testing instrumentals are often just a means to pad out an album otherwise full of excellent songs. Looking at it another way, though, this Paul McCartney seems much more real, especially when singing about his Beatle-induced depression or resentment and the fact that each ‘main’ song comes with its own palette-cleaning teaser makes the half album that is trying to think deep thoughts seem ever deeper. You just have to be patient with an album like this one, to understand that it isn’t going to be a solid work of genius all the way through but an eccentric album where naturallhy eccentric B-sides and world-beating A-sides mesh together on the same slab of vinyl.

There are plenty of ‘excuses’ for how this album turned out. It seems odd to think now he’s made flippin g twenty-two of them (plus six classical pieces and a dozen other things besides) but Paul had never ever filled an album on his own before this one. Well, he had written the classical soundtrack for the Hayley Mills ‘Family Way’ film I guess, but that was mostly George Martin’s doing and runs mighty short anyway. While George – the Beatle who was writing songs at a phenomenal rate but was never allowed as many per record as John and Paul – had no problem filling up an album of songs, John and Paul had always been able to share the workload between them and after giving up his best material to ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Abbey Road’ (while John was sneakily holding on to much of his) he found he had not much left to give and not much inspiration yet to write more. No wonder Macca ends up going back to so many old songs across this album: ‘Hot As Sun’ was first written back when he was a teenager, busked – like ‘When I’m 64’ – when the electricity went out at The Cavern. ‘Teddy Boy’ was suggested for ‘Let It Be’ and had been kicking round at least a year. ‘Every Night’ – or at any rate a rough first draft of it – was similarly old and The Beatles busked this one during ‘Let It Be’ rehearsals too. ‘Junk’ was written for ‘The White Album’ (though oddly The Beatles never rehearsed it). Together with the instrumental version of it on the album’s second side that makes five of the thirteen songs ‘oldies’. When you realize that four songs are either instrumentals or song fragments used to check the tape recorder was working that doesn’t exactly say a lot for ‘McCartney’ as a vehicle for Paul’s creativity.And yet it is. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is many people’s favourite ‘Paul’ songs for several good reasons – mostly that it sounds so ‘real’. The Beatles were wrong to spurn ‘Every Night’ (though perhaps not ‘Teddy Boy’) because that song isn’t far behind, raising the emotional stakes much higher than usual. ‘Man We Was Lonely’ is a fascinating attempt to write what would normally a lovely merry commercial McCartney song, but making it clear in the lyrics that these are fixed grins, staring through real tears. ‘Junk’ may not be that deep (and we certainly don’t need it twice), but it is a very lovely song. ‘Oo You’, a fiery instrumental given lyrics at the eleventh hour, is a lovely blast of ‘Get Back’ style primitiveness. And I put it to you, dear reader, that the fascinating ‘Momma Miss America’ is more than mere album filler as its often supposed and is actually one of the best AAA instrumentals of all, daring and epic in its scope. Not a bad return for an album made effectively as a set of home demos.

Paul wanted to keep this album a secret, partly to avoid all the shenanigans going on with Apple and to keep music ‘fun’ rather than just a business proposition and partly because he knew that, as the Beatle who publicly most wanted to keep the group together, releasing a solo record would be a clear indicator that the band were no more. Lennon had famously declared his intention to end the group at the end of 1969 but the news wasn’t common knowledge yet and even the few fans who knew it didn’t want it to be true so just ignored it. The last straw with this timid, understated album came when Paul learned that the abandoned Beatles project ‘Let It Be’ had been revived without his consultation and was coming out at the same time as ‘McCartney’, a move seemingly designed to hurt sales. (It also prompted McCartney in a very uncharacteristic display of violence towards Ringo, who had been sent round as peacemaker – it’s to Ringo’s credit that he took one look at how distraught his friend was and promptly moved his ‘Sentimental Journey’ album into the slot instead). The end result was that no one at Apple even knew he was making an album until Paul sent this one round to be mastered, on the strict understanding that no one change a note (he and Linda even sent in the finished cover art together, their first collaborative effort in that sense too).

We all know the story now – Paul and Linda as animal activists, far more at home in the countryside than they ever were in towns, raising a farm and a family singlehanded while keeping the British music industry alive with regular releases.But back in 1970 Paul’s move to the country and his run-down Mull Of Kintyre farm was unprecedented by any rock star of the day and age, not least the fact that Paul was the only Beatle to stay in London during the mid-60s while his three colleagues moved to sleepy Surrey. But then Paul wasn’t really in control of his life at this point, having seen the band he had effectively been running since 1967 fall apart and his closest friends tear him apart in a sea of business papers and acrimony. It’s that feeling of betrayal and sudden unexpected loneliness that’s at the core of this timid little album. Not for McCartney the same feeling of freedom and escape heard on sister albums by John or George; instead man Paul is lonely and he’s effectively just become unemployed from the best ob the business ever had to offer. What the hell does he do next? You see, all these decades of books about the Beatle fallout later, its easy to forget that they weren’t just his musician colleagues. The Beatles were seen by many who knew them in the 1960s as ‘the four-headed monster’ (copyright Eric Burdon) and were arguably as close in the mid-1960s period as its possible for a band to get. When the Beatles fell apart, Paul didn’t just lose his empire and outlet for songs, he lost his best friends as well – not to mention income when Allen Klein’s appointment as manager tied up all available assets for all the Beatles, leaving them back to the levels they’d been living off in 1966.

Paul hadn’t just lost ‘The Beatles’ either but seemingly much of The Beatles’ fanbase, blamed for being ‘the bad guy’ by suing the other three (though it wasn’t what it seemed: the only Beatle who didn’t want to be managed by future tax-dodging criminal Allen Klein, he was trying to protect their assets the only way he legally could). Paul was really suffering in this period, having gone from hero to zero overnight and pilloried in the press as the man who didn’t care enough about The Beatles to save them. As we now know with hindsight, Paul was the last one to say he wanted to leave The Beatles (indeed he’s never said it; Ringo had left as early as 1968 during The White Album, George during ‘Let It Be’ and John even called a business meeting in 1969 to announce the fact that the band was over, before he got asked to keep quiet). However it was when McCartney, the band’s biggest supporter, said it was over that everyone kenw it was – and he announced it by accident almost, a tired and emotional Paul answering a series of questions offered him by press secretary Derek Taylor who was coming up with everything he thought the public would want to know, including inevitably ‘When are The Beatles getting back together?’ Macca’s comment, that he couldn’t see it happening due to ‘business reasons, personal reasons, but most of all because I prefer spending time with my family’ seemed to the largely ignorant public like a big announcement; instead it was Paul forgetting that the rest of the world didn’t know the full story and the splits behind the seams.

Paul had after all no management figure to look after him, while the others had Klein (who was in truth more of an attack dog than a manager). Even when Lennon announced he wanted to leave the others didn’t take him seriously (Lennon had also claimed he was the reincarnation of Jesus six months before and rarely stuck to his guns once he’d made a decision). But Paul’s decision was different – the cheerleader of the final Beatles days didn’t make the decision as lightly as the others and there was no question of talking him out of it in the way that Lennon, Harrison and Starr had been. Paul, even more than the others, thrived on the adulation of his fan base and the respect his songs received from people he admired and being seen, largely erroneously, as the man who ‘broke up The Beatles’ damaged his career path more damage than anything else before or since. When Paul recorded this album, he wasn’t even sure if he’s have an audience any more, never mind one as big as the group’s following had been. On the surface, it seemed as if there was no point him getting out of bed to record at all and many of the ‘songs’ on this album reflect that in their half-made, spurt-of-enthusiasm spate. There’s certainly less thought put into this album than any of the McCartney epics over the next decade or so, but that’s to do his best songs on the album a disservice – after all, Paul had always written, before he ever got an audience and before he even had Lennon as a writing partner, and almost despite himself many of his best songs ‘came through’ during this period where he needed that confidence in himself most.

Paul has often talked of this period of his life as being ‘close to a nervous breakdown’ and even in the deluxd edition seems compelled tokeep mentioning how ‘up’ he felt despite everything, but if you listen to a song like ‘Every Night’ then its clear that Paul almost certainly was having a nervous breakdown. He was struggling to get out of bed. He couldn’t see the point in bathing or shaving (Paul invented most things, maybe he invented the hipster full bearded look here too). He was drinking far more heavily than he ever had in his life before. He became a hermit, seeing no one except Linda and his children and the odd nany or staff member. The most famous man in the world who would be welcomed almost anywhere was hiding away in a remote Scottish farmhouse hoping that nobody would find him. And to top it all there was suddenly a rumour flying round, made up by Beatles fans, that he was dead (and had been an ‘imposter’) since 1966. At the time he probably felt like one. With no job, no mates to see at work and the knowledge that any money he made from his music would be tied up in business battles for years anyway, a lesser man than Paul McCartney would have given up then and there, even if temporarily. 'McCartney' is a much darker record than many give it credit for: 'Every Night' wonders why the narrator bothers to get up at all, depressed and bed-bound 'just resting my mind', processing the un-processable. 'Man We Was Lonely' is sung with wild cheer and has an upbeat chorus just to confuse us, but it's really a devestating song, with Paul - one of the most naturally cheery positive people on the planet - 'hard pressed to find a smile'. 'Junk' is a tale of being forgotten and abandoned, the narrator cataloguing the rubbish that's around him either because he too has been left to rot unloved and unforgotten or because a partnership he so cherished is being left to gather dust before it had the chance to use half the ideas in Mccartney's imagination.

'Maybe I'm Amazed' may sound like the ultimate lighters-aloft torch ballad nowadays, but at its core its the most scared and humble Paul has ever been: a love song not between equal partners for once but a depressed man who thinks he can offer nothing in shock that someone he so admires wants to be with him out of everybody in the male half of the population. This song made such an impact because it sounds so real – in the context of an album of half finished songs all the more profound and deep for this life-altering frealisation. Even 'Teddy Boy' isn't quite as sweet and charming as it seems on the surface: it's a tale of sacrifice between parent and child, neither quite realising all that the other is doing for them and considering that each person's love is a one-way street. Even some of the (many) instrumentals and jam sessions sound dirty and nasty: check out the grunge guitarwork on 'Oo You' which virtually comes with a grimace (especially the 'Don't Cry Baby' instrumental version on the deluxe re-issue before the deliberately silly words were added to soften the blow), the scary guitar howl of pain near the middle of 'Momma Miss America' that turns a laidback song into a grooving piece of primal art or the sinister cowboys-shooting-doomed-indians feel of 'Kreen-Akore', a wild primal instinctive chase rather than a bedtime story. 'McCartney' has partly dated so well and done so well with the fanbase because its not just the throwaway, test-the-tape-recorders set the album's critics always made it out to be: there's a very scared, betrayed musician at the heart of this LP whose so unsure of what others think of him that he's forced to make a whole LP on his own 'just in case' what everyone says is right and he can’t blame its success or failure on anyone but himself - a world away from the with-it creative genius of the second half of The Beatles' career. The difference is that, unlike Lennon on his 'Plastic Ono Band' LP of the same year, much of the grieving and worry was done in private not with close friends and the analysis and worry isn’t on the surface but is 'hidden' skilfully across the LP, squirrelled away in between the older happier songs ('Hot As Sun', the dementedly cheery instrumental from the late 1950s) and the bouncy instrumentals ('Valnetine Day').

There’s another big influence on this album of course and that’s Linda Eastman, who comes into her own as McCartney's main and greatest muse in this period, after inspiring a handful of songs on both 'Let It Be' and 'Abbey Road'. The pair had only just met in 1967 and only marriedin March 1969, about a year before this album was in the shops, but already Paul had overhauled his lifestyle completely, getting rid of the bachelor flat he’d bought while breaking up from Jane Asher and ignoring the groupies outside calling to him who he’d always found time for. Give or take the delightful ‘Two Of Us’ on ‘Let It Be’ and the ‘nowhere to go’ passage on ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ plus the breezy 'Oh Darlin' (written in the 50s style Paul knew would please her), this album is full of Paul’s first love songs to Linda. Just as John’s ‘Plastic Ono Band’ is only about John until you scratch the surface (and see that it’s really about his love for Yoko as his only grip on reality now that stardom and Beatlehood have let him down), so ‘McCartney’ is a love album masquerading as a confessional breakdown. Paul wrote many many fine love songs for Linda between 1969 and her death in 1998, but never did he top his first ‘proper’ love song for her ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’. Linda was useful in other ways too: she tool the phorographs, did the artwork and even booked the few studios used in the making of this record (for a few overdubs) so that it would be in her name, not his. She adds some lovely harmonies too, with ‘Man We Was Lonely’ only her second ever time in front of a tape recorder (‘Let It Be’s title track was the first and her only Beatle appearance). However her biggest role is cheerleader: when Paul had lost confidence in everything, she was his springboard who said ‘it’s great dear but how about…’, a role she’ll fulfil more than ever on their next LP. In this long dark tea time of the soul, Paul really did feel as if only had Linda on his side and it would be a while before he got most of his fans back on board too.

A few other people this album seems aimed towards are the other Beatles. No, not in a Lennon-gloating 'how do you sleep?' sense (although the answers to that question will come on 'Ram' and less aggressiverly on 'Wildlife') but in the fact that Paul finally puts his money where his mouth is. Much of the bad blood between the Beatles in the later years that wasn't caused directly by Apple, Allen Klein or Yoko came from Paul's increasing control over the arrangements of his own songs. While Lennon gave up caring how his songs turned out as long as Yoko liked them, Paul cared more and spent ages getting George or Ringo to play exactly how he wanted them to (he gave up on John). On 'McCartney' he can at last record a whole album 'his' way beginning to end and go 'see - I told you I was right' (because Paul's musical decisions, such a mixture on later albums, are nearly all spot-on for this one). John may have called his own first work a 'solo' album and in many ways it was more so with every track filled with Lennon from beginning to end rather than teddy-boy characters and junkyards. However he still needed the help of Ringo and Klaus Voormann to make it; the more instinctively musical McCartney doesn't need anyone else, even with the odd pang of doubt about whether anybody needs him at all and can finally give way to that ‘but I have the arrangement already in my head and it sounds great so gee just play it like that fellas’ mentality he was long accused of. People often talk about how good Paul's drumming is on ‘Band On The Run’ considering he only learnt the instrument second-hand in between piano, guitar and bass and he is. However if anything it’s better here – all the more so considering that the drums would be more often than not laid down first (that crack by Lennon about Ringo 'not being the best drummer in the world because he's not even the best drummer in The Beatles isn't far wrong). His bass and piano playing are also, of course, as good as they've always been,. But what impresses me most on this album is his guitar playing, which manages to be as tough as John's but as melodic as George's, with a hard-to-get sound that's just the right side of feedback and distortion and which drives knives through the mix when needed, though by and large the sound is used sparingly. That’s especially true of that tear-jerking solo on ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, that ‘guitar in the distance’ squeal on ‘Momma Miss America’ and those stinging grungy chords on ‘Oo You’. Paul started off as the lead guitarist in The Beatles before flubbing his first ever solo in concert and being more or less replaced with George straight away - in many ways 'McCartney', the first post-Beatles McCartney album, makes amends in the best way possible and seems to take revenge on a band that once spurned him. ‘See’, says Paul, responding to comments in the press that the other Beatles are going to carry on without him, ‘you might be able to do it without me, but I can do everything without you’.

The end result is an album that's many things to many people. Those who love Paul at his deepest creative best will have bought the album to hear 'Maybe I'm Amazed' and probably discovered 'Every Night' as a welcome bonus in the same vein. Those who like the rockier side of McCartney's art will wonder why he doesn't do songs like 'Oo You' and 'That Would Be Something' more often. Fans of the glorious McCartney ballad will be singing along to both versions of 'Junk' long after the album has finished. I'd be surprised if there are many fans of the McCartney music hall idiom, but 'Man We Was Lonely' is in there for them too. Against all odds, just when McCartney's confidence was at his lowest, his writing style comes into its own: he can offer a rounded, verstaile, mercurial album in a way that none of his Beatle colleagues could ever manage (superb as ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ and ‘All Things Must Pass’ are, they are similar more or less all the way through) because even at his lowest ebb McCartney remains a natural musical genius. So much of this album is deliberately written to be throwaway (almost defensively, because anything Paul puts out in this year of woe will get kicked to death anyway) and personally I'd still take a more developed, 'finished' record like 'Ram' or 'London Town' over this as an example of Macca at his very best. But even at his silliest, most off-handedly wilfully deliberately empty, McCartney still has too much to say to be truly silent. There’s just one thing that lets this album down (well that and the large pile of instrumentals). Usually McCartney albums run together with some skill, thanks to multiple late night and a tape recorder trying out what songs lie well together. For me the ‘McCartney’ album has always got it slightly wrong, never quite getting the perfect balance between deep tracks and filler jamming sessions. Well, actually, that’s not true: like many of you the copy of this album was the cheap re-issue on cassette that rather than have a gap at the end of one side switched the songs around to become more ‘even’. Usually this is a travesty (especially when hacking up Moody Blues concept albums), but that version of the album really works, with fewer violent switches in mood and tempo (the tracks on this version are: 12, 7, 9, 10, 6, 11/13, 1, 2, 4, 3, 8, 5).

The Songs:

[1] ‘The Lovely Linda’ is, fittingly, the opening track and sums up the album quite neatly. On the one hand, its a thirty-second song improvised on the spot in order for Paul to test the tapes and see if they’re working, with even in that short space of time a rather repetitive tune and lyrics. On the other it’s a sheer delight, with a daft singalong melody that even in haste reveals what an all-round songsmith McCartney was and is, with simple but never cloying lyrics about his new wife. The embarrassed giggle at the end says it all – this track was never written for public consumption and is more of a laugh to show off to the missus, but many fans love this track – especially after Linda’s ‘rehabilitation’ in the eyes of the press somewhere around the mid-1970s – as its so charmingly dottily brilliant. Nobody else would allow such a throwaway as this as the opening track of such an important debut LP – and at the same time, nobody else would infuse it with so much promise and detail.  You know where this song is coming from: Paul is admiring the way his wife looks with flowers in her hair and there’s really nothing more he needs to say on the subject. ‘The Lovely Linda’ will never be song of the year, but its very sweetness and lightness of touch make it far more successful than any of McCartney’s epic over-polished and pretentious attempts at getting hits ([90] ‘Let ‘Em In’, [173] ‘Say Say Say’ [169] ‘Ebony and Ivory’, etc). And that’s despite the amount of noises going on in the background from Paul’s whistling kids. If only Paul had got round to actually finishing the song after testing his tapes we might have been in for a masterpiece (he promises on the press release for the album that ‘it is a trailer to the full song that will be recorded later’ and did admit years later that the original draft ‘descended into Spanish and became a Mariachi thing’... forty-nine years on from release I would say that it’s overdue!)

[2] ‘That Would Be Something’ is a surprising second song as, despite being longer, its not really more of a finished piece than ‘Lovely Linda’. It is a lot of fun, however, with Macca putting on his best deep growl for the song and getting truly eccentric on the drums. This is the last in the great trilogy of songs where Linda equals escape, along with ‘Two Of Us’ and ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’. Macca often mentions in interviews how, tired and tied to a schedule with endless Beatles meetings, Linda encouraged Paul to go away with her in a car and a couple of dogs somewhere, anywhere, to ‘get lost’ and just enjoy life without looking at a clock. Everybody thinks ‘Two Of Us’ is about John and Paul, but its actually about Paul and Linda, ‘going nowhere’ on their way home from one of these trips. It’s easy to see ‘That Would Be Something’ as another jam written on a guitar thrown in the back of a car and it’s a song of longing for something bad to be over, so that Paul can run away and meet his beloved ‘in the pouring rain’. Most fans would be hard pressed to recognise this song as being by their idol, what with the back-to-basics approach and huskier-then-normal vocal, as if Paul is shedding every last association with The Beatles, although the unusual guitar tuning and wide circular tune which ties up all its loose ends by the end is prime Macca. There aren’t many lines to this song, which one of the shortest and simplest of all in Paul’s canon, but the scattered line ‘That would be something, to meet you in the fallen rain’ is interesting for lots of reasons – one because the ‘fallen rain’ is symbolic of Paul’s troubled time in the late 1960s when he was waiting to meet Linda afterwards and escape it all; the second because ‘rain’ should be a negative image but is turned into a positive here, just as in ‘You Never gave Me Your Money’ the hopeless seeming phrase ‘nowhere to go’ is turned into a joyous exclamation celebrating endless possibilities; perhaps thirdly as an antidote to George’s infectious ‘Here Comes The Sun’ from the ‘other’ point of view. ‘That Would Be Something’ isn’t Paul’s best song by any means, but it sums up nicely this album’s dichotomy between throwaway and depth, with a nice idea and some fine multidubbing.

[3] ‘Valentine Day’ is the first of this album’s five instrumentals and is probably the most thought out and pre-planned of them all. You can really hear McCartney’s multi-instrumental prowess on this track, where he plays acoustic, electric and bass guitars, drums and keyboards (paul can’t remember in the press release whether he did the acoustic guitar or the drums first – I would guess the former as the drum part alone would be a weird one). What many critics overlook is how hard tracks like these must have been for Paul to record on his own, without a George Martin or Geoff Emerick around to help. Recording with a band is one thing, but working out all the parts on your own is something else and although none of the instrumentals on ‘McCartney’ are anything like as good as the songs, they are all quietly impressive in the way they still sound fresh and improvised and as if there really is a whole band playing together. The title doesn’t really mean anything and is unlikely to have been recorded on Valentine’s Day 1970, being so close to the album’s original release date. It’s certainly not as romantic as you’d expect on first hearing from the world’s most romantic songwriter and that title and this is actually quite a hard-hitting rocker in retro 1950s mode. The closest things to this previously in McCartney’s canon are the really early Beatles recordings like ‘Cry For A Shadow’ when The Shadows were indeed king and rock and roll was simple. Had this track been given lyrics it might have been better remembered, but even without them it’s an intriguing insight into something Paul couldn’t have possibly done as a Beatle.

[4] ‘Every Night’ is the album’s clear highlight, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ excepted, and the one other track here that really adds a new dimension to McCartney’s canon. It’s a glorious pop tune on the chorus, with its wonderfully upbeat sentiment about love saving everything which is so McCartney-esque and a clever switch back to quite a downcast minor key on the verses that is quite unlike any other track in Paul’s canon. It’s the sound of a man trying to find enough reasons to pick himself up and carry on and the delayed resolution that finally comes onto a major chord is so perfect it somehow makes everything right. ‘Every Night’ is, as we’ve seen, a nervous breakdown in song, with Paul listing reason after reason why he should give up everything and stay in bed a la Brian Wilson, only to change his mind in the choruses because he can ‘be with you’. There’s an interesting moment in that press release again where he refers to wanting to ‘be in bed rather than in some club’ and this is perhaps McCartney’s most domesticated track: he had the world at his feet, but all he was searching for was the family life in this tiny house. He could easily bhave slipped off the wagon and become an addict, enjoying getting ‘out of my head’, but Linda gives him reason to stay on the straight and narrow. It’s a truly moving song that’s well regarded by fans and might have done his solo reputation the world of good had it come out as a first single (the storylike [13] ‘Another Day’ is an excellently crafted song, but perfect fodder for Lennon to hit back against when deep in ‘confessional’ mode). The stark production, with the drum licks seemingly hitting the back of the song and driving it forward, is quite different to the rest of this album (it feels like a moody teenager draghing their feet and refusing to do something they don’t want to do). There isn’t even much going on for the first opening flurry of music - poetical procrastination if you will. The suddenly big(ish) production sound suggests McCartney himself was quite impressed with it as a song, giving it the time, space and energy many of these other recordings don’t have. His world weary vocal is also delicious and delivered perfectly straight, both the harsh and the pretty sections, as you can tell if you play it back to back with his only-to-date re-recording on ‘Unplugged’ (1992) where Paul is, thankfully, so much happier and more comfortable with himself this song sounds like a fading memory rather than a piece that still comes from the heart. In 1970, though, this was heavy stuff for Paul, where this song ranks with ‘Let It Be’, the real dream he had of his mother Mary and his song for Jane Asher ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ as his most rounded and complete song, the ‘night’ of worry falling naturally into day with every verse, as sure as day follows night. The only downside of this piece is that it’s so short – ‘Every Night’ ends after just two short verses and a repeated chorus and might have been a 100% classic had Paul written an equally moving middle eight. Then again, this song might well benefit from being kept simple and like many of the best simple songs it has a depth and complexity the ten-part epic songs can’t match. Interestingly session notes reveal that Paul recorded an extra electric guitar part for this track but didn’t use it in the final mix, preferring to keep it all acoustic, which does suit the ‘confessional’ feel of the track.

[5] ‘Hot As Sun’ used to be the earliest McCartney song on record until ‘Unplugged’ saw a revival of his first song ‘I Lost My Little Girl’ (the first version of ‘When I’m 64’ is of a similar vintage), composed when Paul was just fifteen or thereabouts (its actually written in 1957 and not 1958/59 as it says in the press release). A poorly recorded version from a couple of years later, with Spanish nonsense lyrics a la Michelle, is a bootleg favourite and shows how different this song might have been in the pre-1960s era when it was a part-Shadows, part-Show tune kind of a song. Paul probably did well to cut out the lyrics for his revival on this album but ‘Sun’ sports a typically fine McCartney tune, a carefree romp that’s recognisably McCartneyesque (just ‘on holiday’, without the earthly ‘grounding’ so many of his somngs have), through some sunny chord changes that is a delight to hear. The new part of the song – the keyboard solo that cuts through the song in the minor key and sounds straight out of the same swampy American club as ‘Mr Moonlight’ – also helps a good song sound great, on first hearing at least, adding a new dimension to the singalong. Again, though, considering the song’s short running time it doesn’t half repeat itself enough times. Perhaps Paul might have done better shortening the song and extending his intriguing closing piece ‘Glasses’, which is the sound of Paul and Linda rubbing wine glasses at different frequencies (an idea Paul revived for his ‘back to basics’ reinterpretation of ‘Band On The Run’ for the BBC a few years back; Pink Floyd intended to do a whole album based on ‘household objects’ like this in 1974, but alas they never finished it – some rubbed wine glasses then became the opening of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ instead). Considering how simple the idea is the effect is really eerie and makes for an interesting coda to this hitherto jolly track, almost as if Paul is summing up his time with The Beatles and the uncertainty of what comes next suddenly slicing away into that jolly certainty, like a busy Monday morning after a week’s holiday (note the way the track ends suddenly, locking onto a chord and getting stuck before fading into ‘Glasses’ abruptly, before we’re quite ready to say goodbye). You can also hear a snatch of another teenage McCartney song [15] ‘Suicide’, an uninspired track that isn’t quite as bad as people say which he originally gave to Sinatra. The use of ‘Suicide’randomly  here is puzzling – are we meant to think that this jolly time in Paul’s life is abruptly over and replaced by doubts and worries that lave him suicidal? Or is it just an accident that sounded cute? These kind of random, short compacted songs are more what Paul will do on ‘Wildlife’ than on the rest of this album and don’t fit the mood of either song. The use of ‘glasses’ also gives Paul the opportunity for a typically bad pun in the title (the track is not ‘as hot as sun’ but ‘as hot as sunglasses’, which is not quite the same thing!)

[6a] ‘Junk’ is another of the album’s highlights, a delightfully wistful understated song written under care of the Maharishi in India that in an alternative universe is sitting on ‘The White Album’ (for which project the song was written). It’s a shame there weren’t any takers as this lovely acoustic song fits both album moods well, offering a humble contrast to the ‘bigger’ electric ideas on offer here. The tune is typical McCartney and existed as an instrumental before getting a set of lyrics late in the day (hence ‘Singalong Junk’ later on in the album), but the lyrics are equally fitting, with the extended metaphor of a seller trying to get rid of ‘junk’ that he doesn’t want in his life anymore a fitting metaphor for the physical and emotional baggage made up over time in any long-term relationship. In some ways it’s a song about guilt as even a couple’s inanimate objects seem to think worse of a couple for splitting up: ‘Buy says the sign in the shop window, why? Says the junk in the yard’. It’s very Mccartney that such a beautiful song should be given such deliberately ugly imagery somehow. The title was taken by some fans at the time as being about drugs (‘junk’ being a slangword for heroin) and how Paul was going to throw away his old partying lifestyle in order to embrace the simpler and more natural delights of the country. That definition is equally fitting, but it’s probably unlikely that Paul had this on his mind when he was writing, as this is clearly one of his ‘story’ songs rather than anything overtly autobiographical and may well have been inspired by a simple visit to a junk shop during early days of courting Linda and getting stuff for their Mull of Kintyre farmhouse. Or, perhaps, it’s the last song Paul wrote for Jane Asher (who was with him in India), imagining having to leave his in-laws’ house where he’d been happily living for years in central London, the detritus of their relationship all around him. It feels like this song is more substantial somehow though; ‘Junk’ is very yearning in its melody though, especially in the chorus and Paul’s equally weary and fragile vocal, which makes for a song that’s surprisingly moving given that for most of the song it is simply a list of expendable spare parts. This is take two apparently – a shorter version than the ‘sister’ song.

[7] ‘Man We Was Lonely’ is often seen as another of the album’s highlights – it made a surprise appearance on the ‘Wingspan’ compilation for instance, along with quite a lot of this album’s tracks it has to be said – but for me it doesn’t really hit the same spot. Like ‘Every Night’ this is a song that switches between major and minor keys depending on the mood of the narrators (Linda sings clearly here for the first time on a McCartney record, not sounding as good as she will on ‘Ram’) and is another of those ‘things are terrible but they’ll get better’ kind of songs. But it’s not so successful the second time around, thanks both to a repeat of ideas, the rather pedestrian melody and the curiously detached way the McCartneys sing most of the lyrics. Written in bed one night (except the middle eight, which was instrumental until a lunch break the day vocals were being taped for the album) it feels flimsier than the rest of the salbum somehow, a draft away from becoming a real song. Only that minor key passage about ‘singing songs I thought were mine alone’, a clear reference to having used all of his best material on the last two difficult Beatles albums, really catches the ear and is sung straight. Everything else sounds arch – and well it should given that this is a song about struggling to stay upbeat and positive when life is cruel (even the chord changes, usually so natural on McCartney’s songs, sound forced and angular – not unlike Lennon’s method of writing). Not that this song is bad, it’s just a rather clichéd, hurriedly recorded song without the clear hooks and classy vocals of the rest of this album.

[8a] ‘Oo You’ is often forgotten when talking about this album and it’s obviously another of McCartney’s written-on-the-spot songs rather than a carefully thought out epic, a song which didn’t even have lyrics until the absolute eleventh hour. But the complex riff that underpins the song is one of Paul’s better hooks and the one-man band backing is a good foil for Paul’s confident vocal. The lyrics aren’t up to much – being a series of phrases rather than a proper song, about how Linda can be all things at once (girl, woman and baby)  – but with five instrumentals on the album any lyrics are better than none and they suit this simple rocker well. This is, perhaps, Macca’s most lustful song until [42] ‘Hi Hi Hi’, the cry of joy in the lyrics as he unlocks the ‘key’ that turns his cute little missus into a sexually knowing woman matched by the incessant screech of the guitars that signify his libido turning into overdrive. The sound of this song is great and the long awaited return of the cowbell (the signature Beatle sound of 1964) only adds to the feeling of lust, as if a clock is ticking down the foreplay until the song explodes at the end. Macca’s drumming is particularly spot on here, sounding like a busy Keith Moon part but in slow motion (anyone can play noisily, but doing so in a controlled away is difficult) and the added tambourine over the top playing too fast is a clever way of controlling expectations and suggesting movement. Again, this song is all the more impressive when you consider that Paul is playing everything here himself – you can hear Paul ad libbing ‘more guitar’ at the beginning of the song, as if noting to himself about the arrangement when he plays the tape back. He clearly took notice of his comment too, for it’s the chiming, shrill guitars for which this track is most memorable – and, unlike Macca’s sterling guitar work on the likes of ‘Taxman’ and the Abbey Road medley, he doesn’t have to pretend it’s by the other Beatles in the face of ‘unity’. The press release, weirdly, mentions that one of the instruments Paul is playing is an ‘aerosol spray’ – is this part of the distinctive drum sound?

[9] ‘Momma Miss America’ finds Paul back to being a classy bassist, though, with his driving walking bass the hook on which the rest of this multi-part instrument rests. The title given at the top of this song is ‘Rock and Roll Springtime’ rather than ‘Momma Miss America’, a title that suits it rather better – this is another retro rocker with early 1970s twinges, as if Paul – freed of the Beatles – is going back to his roots in the late 1950s, the ‘springtime’ of rock and roll before it flowered into the summer of love and back again into the winter of discontent of 1968/69.  Presumably the new title is about new wife Linda missing the rock and roll soundtrack to her upbringing in America, where she fell in love with many of the same 1950s classics as Paul. McCartney’s drumming is rather more dignified here than on the rest of the album, with a classic drum roll a la Ringo towards the end of the song, although again it’s Paul’s shrill feedback-filled guitarwork and also his piano playing that catches the ear. Despite the complexity of the song and the difficulties of overdubbing this song was a first take, with Paul clearly revelling in the ‘anything goes’ mood of the album. It’s an intense instrumental that would surely have been matched by a paranoid lyric had it been given one, the swooping gulping basses walked over by a pounding drum roll with various random crashing piano chords and some guitar to give it colour. Paul said that he wrote the ‘chords’ for this track before the melody, oerhaps enjoying the rise-and-fall sequence he came up with. Considering its made up via overdubs (with the piano first), it is all impressively tight. There is, however also a shocking edit two-thirds of the way through the song, at around the tweo minute mark right where the piano riff seems to spiral upwards out of the keyboard, suggesting that Macca’s engineering skills aren’t quite up to his musicianship ones. Those are, however, pretty fine and nowhere else in this book can you hear such a good example of McCartney the one-man band at work.

[10] ‘Teddy Boy’ is a fascinating track. It’s not particularly profound or well made, but is it just me or can I see a hint of John Lennon in the character in this song? (it is a Beatle era track after all). I’ve thought this for years though as far as I know no one else has made the comparison, but the title character clearly has an on-off relationship with his mother, a disappearing father and a tenderness that he keeps well hidden and which belies his teddy boy haircut. Could it be that Paul, nearing the end of perhaps the longest lasting relationship in his life outside immediate family, was remembering who they used to be (when Lennon was very much a 1950s ‘Teddy Boy’). Play this song back to back with the ‘Nowhere Boy’ film and you’ll know what I mean. We’ll probably never knew if that was what Paul was thinking when he wrote it – or if that’s what Lennon heard in the song, although he certainly doesn’t take kindly to it when Paul introduces it into the ‘Let It Be’ sessions, cruelly spoofing it as a ‘square dance’ on the outtake heard on The Beatles’ ‘Anthology Three’. Lennon might simply have been in a mean mood that day or had issues with the song’s quality – it certainly wouldn’t be the first song of Paul’s he dismissed out of hand – but John sounds riled to me. Change the opening of the song where ‘when mother told Teddy be good, he would’ to Aunt Mimi and accept that Lennon’s hardman image of this era belied a soft heart that really didn’t want to look after both his mother and his aunt and you have a pretty close match I think, especially the way both protected the other but would never ever let on that they did. Lennon aside, though, this song could only have been written by McCartney – the melodic touches which takes the song round in a loop and the rejoinders to each verse (‘Ted be good – he would’ ‘Then she cried – oh my’ ‘Ran far away – OK’, etc). Like many of Paul’s ‘story’ songs the strengths and weaknesses is our distancing from the song, where the characters are seen only from the narrator’s stunted viewpoint. This works for songs like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Press To Play’s under-rated [198] ‘Footprints’ because the characters are lonely and unattached to society, but fails when matched to a lyric where the characters really are sympathetic. Both Ted and his mother think they’re the grown-ups, looking after the other without the other really knowing and that’s a clever inspiration for a song., though it mnever quite goes anywhere. The problem is, Paul’s written a catchy hook-laden chorus to go with the song and doesn’t know whether to sing it straight or make it a comedy and the result is a terrible mis-mash of a song that doesn’t know if it wants to make us laugh or cry. If only Paul had gone for another version of the song ‘Teddy Boy’ might have been better remembered, especially if Lennon was his source material consciously or unconsciously, but as it appears on record ‘Teddy Boy’ is a frustrating anti-climax.

[6b] ‘Sinaglong Junk’ is another frustrating anti-climax two thirds of the way through the album and works much better as a coda to ‘Junk’ (as per my old cassette copy). The trouble is that we’ve heard the song already and pretty as it undoubtedly is it’s hardly one of Paul’s most deep or complex songs. The highlights of the Beach Boys’ ‘karaoke’ album ‘Stack-O-Tracks’ weren’t the hit singles where we pretty much knew what was going on underneath all the surface harmonies but the obscure album tracks like ‘Our Car Club’ that sounded like a whole new song in their own right. In contrast, we already know everything about ‘Junk’ we needed to know with the finished version and there really isn’t any instrumental part or new rhythm we couldn’t hear on the original if we concentrated. However classy the melody, ‘Singlong Junk’ just sounds like album unnecessary album filler. Had Paul put a singalong version of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ or even ‘Oo You’ (as happened on the deluxe edition) the results might have been more worthwhile. This is a different take to the vocal version – take one in fact! 

Not so [11] ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ which is still one of the most fondly regarded and loved of all of Paul’s solo songs. Even at the time the song was seen as the classiest recording from the album (it was chosen as the backing for the promo used to promote the album, with a slideshow of the McCartneys having fun on their Scottish farm) and even now many fans and celebs surprise Paul by claiming it as their favourite song (though many still insist that it was a Beatles not a solo song!) Like ‘Every Night’, this is a rare piece of autobiography on this album and from the opening church-like keyboard chords and ‘Let It Be’-like piano runs the whole seriousness and ambition of the album has gone up a whole notch. The tune is one of Paul’s very best, widening its scope little by little as the wife of the narrator helps him to become ever more confident and peep out from his narrow little world, her love for him inspiring some charming Liberace style piano runs. The lyrics, too, do not disappoint, with the revelation of the man who had the world at his feet finding out that the only person’s opinion he cares aboyt is his wife’s being quite a big step for Paul’s songwriting. The whole piece sounds as if Paul has just sat at the piano not expecting to hear that thought out loud and his need to be loved (after writing so many love songs this one seems real!) seems to catch him by surprise as much as the rest of us. The whole teasing opening which could go any of several directions, happy or sad, is the perfect introduction for such an unsure song, growing in confidence with every verse as the narrator becomes more and more convinced that only his love will see him through his hard times. Paul’s vocal is also a delight, growing from little-boy-lost to full blooded Lennon-ish primal scream. The guitar solo too is extraordinary for someone who wouldn’t normally play guitar at all (Paul must have practised one hell of a lot on John’s and George’s guitars throughout the Beatles years to stay in shape, as well as playing the solo in ‘Taxman’), cutting through the doubt of the mid-part of the song with wave upon wave of conviction. At last he’s found what he was looking for: someone who can ‘pull me out of time’, ‘help me sing my song’ ‘right me when I’m wrong’ and ‘help me understand’. The key line here though may be ‘that you’re with me all the time’  - Jane Asher was always out following her own career and Paul’s own mother died too young, so Macca wasn’t exactly used to stability from his loved ones. Interestingly, this song is very similar in structure and key to ‘My Sweet Lord’, George’s hymn of devotion not to his wife Patti but to God and like that song grows in stature from an uncertain structure to howling conviction by the end. The roots of both songs are clearly in gospel (perhaps both inspired by the success of ‘Let It Be’s title track), although unlike many AAA songs that use a similar feel but get things wrong (Paul Simon springs to mind), the production here is so wonderfully straightforward and uncluttered that the sentiment of the song shines straight through. Just listen to the sheer cleverness of the last verse when McCartney goes back to his verse melody with backing not from a hesitant piano but from a chuckling guitar that’s almost laughing with delight and eager to live again – a clever moment in a very clever song. Like the best of this website, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is catchy but deep, accessible and complex and moving without giving too much away, up there with the very best songs of Paul’s whole collected works. Why this song was never a single is beyond me – Paul admits now that it was a mistake. Even so no McCartney concert is complete without it.

Closer [12] ‘Kreen Akore’ isn’t so much a let down as a puzzle. So far even the most bizarre tracks have been relatively straightforward, with proper tunes if not always lyrics. ‘Kreen Akore’ is less of a rock-pop song and more of a prog rock epic as, inspired by a nature programme about Brazilian jungles Paul had been watching (‘The Tribe That Hides From Man!’, broadcast on February 11th 1970, the day before this song was taped), Paul decides to get back in touch with his inner grunt. There are moments of pure magic in this song, from the chiming guitar parts to the simply lovely overdubbed mass choir in the middle, but for the most part ‘Kreen Akore’ is a drum solo with McCartney on not particularly good form. He’s clearly working up a storm on the second half of the song – and making his side-effect out-of-breath rhythmical panting as loud as the drumming is a clever, rather Lennonish avant garde touch – but somehow the effect just leaves the listener cold. Apparently he shot a bow and arrow into the air for this sequence too, only it didn’t sound right and the arrow broke. Ditto a fire he made in Morgan studios but which didn’t sound right when lit (so he and Linda threw some twigs around instead). Ok so it was the 1960s – or at least, it had been just four months before this album came out and yes Lennon and Harrison had got away with far more on their early solo works, but the end result must surely be ‘why?’‘Kreen-Akore’ is the official name of the Brazilian tribe, by the way, who deserve a co-credit if not royalties on the song. One thing I’ve never understood though: why do Beatle main rivals The Hollies also namecheck this tribe on their otherwise unconnected song ‘Tell Me To My Face?!?

Overall, then, ‘McCartney’ is an album pretty much equally split into three. On the one hand parts of ‘McCartney’ are as esoteric and downright odd as anything on Lennon’s ‘Unfinished Music’ series or George’s ‘Electronic Sounds’. On another, many of the tracks are delightful, not terribly deep pop songs a la ‘Imagine’. It’s the third section – the two confessional, ‘primal scream’ Lennon/Plastic Ono Band but with melody songs – for which this album is remembered and celebrated. ‘McCartney’ is an oddball album, never to be repeated again by Paul even though ‘McCartney II’ does it’s best to head in the same made-up-on-the-spot territory (and has its own two classic songs [154] ‘Coming Up’ and [152] ‘Waterfalls’ to offset the lesser moments). It’s nothing like as good as critics say it is nowadays (the best album behind Band On The Run? Hardly), but neither is it as bad as people said it was at the time. Chances are you’ll like some of it, love some bits of it and puzzle your head in confusion over the rest of it. But then McCartney albums weren’t like most other albums we bought because we’d heard a good review or felt he was the star of the moment. This is Paul’s first time away from the other Beatles delivering the soundtrack of our lives and even though he’s uncertain about all sorts of things, he’s spot on about lots of others. Even at half-speed this man can’t half run a marathon, setting the bar so much higher than almost all other competitors. Maybe I’m amazed that, even at half measure and with such a loss of confidence, ‘McCartney’ can turn out being as good as it is, a record where life is a bowl of cherries – if the birds don’t squash them first!

'Wings At The Speed Of Sound' (1976)

'London Town' (1978)

'Back To The Egg' (1979)

'McCartney II' (Original Double Album) (1980)

'Tug Of War' (1982)

'Pipes Of Peace' (1983)

'Press To Play' (1986)

'Flowers In The Dirt' (1989)

'Driving Rain' (2001)
'Chaos and Creation In The Back Yard' (2005)

'Memory Almost Full' (2006)

'New' (2013)

The Best Unreleased McCartney/Wings Recordings

Surviving TV and Film Footage

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part One: 1967-1987

Live/Wings/Solo/Compilations/Classical/Unreleased Albums Part Two: 1987-1997

Live/Wings Solo/Compilations/Classical Albums Part Three: 1997-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1970-1984

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1985-2015

Essay: Not So Silly Love Songs

Key Concerts and Cover Versions


  1. This is still my favorite McCartney album, though possibly not his "best". I feel this is his purest personal expression, unclouded by thoughts of chart placings or critical comments or what for him passes for intellectualizing. I feel closest to McCartney when listening to this record. Maybe I'm deluded, but that's the way it seems to me. I don't think that it even matters that usually his words are not especially clever or even coherent. His melodies say everything. Often the words are just there to give his voice something to do, and a chance to communicate with us in some direct emotional subverbal way. For me, melody is the truly magical, inexplicable part of music. Significant intellectual content is nice, but it is optional. For me, Paul McCartney is the greatest living melodic genius, and nearly the best of all time. Of course, your mileage may vary.

    1. That's interesting Mrs Bear, that's more or less how my review for 'McCartney II' runs! I think Paul does think in terms of pure melody more than any other writer I know and the two McCartneys do feel like that instinctive creativity in its rawest, purest form. I do like it when lyrics are as profound as the melodies too though - music is the only artform that can tell you things twice over through the words and tune and if you can get the two together working in tandem (which is rarer than you might think) then it is like nothing else on Earth.

    2. I would agree that great lyrics and great music do not often go together, and it is certainly lovely when they do. If forced to do without one or the other, I'll keep the music. Most songwriters do not strike me as being so smart or so subtle in their thinking or so creative in their concepts that their lyrics tell me much that I couldn't say as well or that I haven't heard before. Dylan has his moments. Richard Thompson does, too, and dear old Ray Davies is a witty guy. My favorite album for the balance of fine music, evocative lyrics, and inspired performance is actually The Band's second album, the one with "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" on it. Just brilliant. It's a pity that I have not seen any essays from you on their body of work - I am sure that such writings would be fascinating. I suppose they didn't make the cut for AAA? They're the only band that I know of that has made an album that, for me, seems better than any Beatles album. Of course, they only managed it once, but it's still pretty remarkable. Brian Wilson, both with and without the Boys, has also done some transcendantally wonderful things. It seems to me that the main difference between him and Paul McCartney, aside from their somewhat different luck mental health-wise, is that Paul's genius is primarily in the actual act of composing, and Brian's is more in the arranging of that which he has already composed. This is, of course, not to say that Paul has shown no brilliance for arrangement, or that Brian has shown none for the actual composing. (Brian also reminds me a little of Duke Ellington. Once long ago, a rather gifted arranger named Gil Evans, who worked with Miles Davis, commented that he could pretty much tell with almost any other arranger, upon hearing one of their arrangments, exactly how they had done it. But, with Ellington, he said, "Duke lifts a finger, three horns make a noise, and I don't know what it is." Brian Wilson has some of that same mysterious facility. Oh, well, I'm just maundering on, aren't I? I need to go take my family out for ice cream. Thank you for your extensive writings - I quite enjoy them.

    3. An interesting point of view Mrs Bear. I do personally find that lyrics tell me even more than the music in most cases, though not all - as you say Ray Davies is particularly good at that and Richard Thompson too (I regret finding him just too late for his website or he would be in here also). Van Dyke Parks' work with Brian Wilson is up there too, Pete Townshend's and CSNY's as well. I used to love buying new records and without a record player to hand being able to read the lyric booklets on the way home - they almost always had something to offer. Gosh better than a Beatles album is big praise. I must admit I've never 'got' The Band. I tried 'Music From The Big Pink' to see what I was missing and it all sounded the same without much energy or excitement - it was more 'Music From The Big Snooze' for me. 'The Last Waltz' rather put me off them too! Sorry if you like them, each to their own I guess! Brian is pretty incredible at writing melodies and knowing how to find the right arrangement and combination of instruments to make the most out of what he writes; Paul is more of an instinctive melodicist I think, his songs sound good played on just about any instrument. Thanks for the chat, I hope your family enjoyed the ice cream!

  2. Thank you, we did enjoy the ice cream. Few things are more soothing to the throat than a good milkshake! Actually, I can understand your reaction to "Big Pink". Much as I have come to love it, I would have to concede that it is not the most immediately accessible record. A lot of it is slow and a bit strange, but I find it rewarding. The second album is somewhat livelier and has a more vivid emotional range, from anger to glee to wistfulness to utter desolation. It has also more than a hint of an almost Chaucerian ribaldry and a definite sense of humor. (I wish more artists showed signs of a sense of humor. It's a major reason that I love The Kinks so much.) Oh well, I guess that I've wandered far afield from commenting on McCartney here, so I'd better stop. Gotta go to work anyway. Have a fine and productive day!

    1. Thanks Mrs Bear, you're quite right - my favourite record shop used to sell milkshakes alongside the vinyls, a perfect combination they go together somehow! I must give The Band another chance sometime, but it is a bit slow for my tastes. I agree with you about needing more humour in music. What are your feelings on 10cc? For me they put the fun back into music without straying too far into silliness (especially at the end on the records nobody knows!) Thankyou, I am working on turning my articles into a book series which is hard work especially when I keep re-writing myself! I hope you have a fine and productive day too. 8>)

    2. Arguably, I am not qualified to have feelings abour 10cc. As far as I can recall, I have only heard two of their songs. One was "I'm Not In Love", which I liked but which was vastly overplayed on New York radio. The other was "Wall Street Shuffle", which I only heard a couple of times, but which I enjoyed and still can play bits of in my head. Perhaps I should note that my liking for humor in music, as in other areas, depends to some extent on how mean-spirited the humor is. Humor that concentrates on what fools all you guys out there are just makes me tired - more self-deprecatory humor is better for me. I loved "All Of My Friends Were There" on VGPS.

    3. What did you think of Paul's 'Press To Play' album Mrs Bear? Much of that was written with Eric Stewart of 10cc. It's not so much self-deprecating but its definitely not mean spirited (well, only occasionally to politicians!) Paul turns up on a few of their albums too. I agree, 'I'm Not In Love' is very overplayed and it loses its impact once you know the joke! I love 'All Of My Friends' too by the way, it's the sort of song only The Kinks would come up with!

  3. "Press To Play"? I remember liking "Stranglehold". I remember liking "Press", despite being utterly befuddled by its mention of Oklahoma. I seem to remember finding most of the compositions insufficiently baked, though nicely recorded and performed.

    1. That is most people's re-action to 'Press To Play' I think Mrs Bear. Don't laugh, but I think it might be the best McCartney album in terms of songs - certainly the most under-rated. It's the production that doesn't quite fit on that record! Anyway, Eric of 10cc co-wrote I think 7 of those songs and his band shares that slightly mad surreal sound! And no I don't understand the 'Oklahoma' reference either!