A random collection of brief pieces on Paul McCartney, for various publications.
1. Entry in “Greatest Stars of the 20th Century” for Q’s 100th issue, August 1999.
2. Paul McCartney remembers John Lennon, Mojo, March 2002.
3. Standing Stone, reviewed in Mojo, November 1997.
4. Driving Rain, reviewed in Mojo, December 2001.
5. Driving Rain, reviewed in Blender, Dec/Jan 2001/2002
6. Back In The US: Live 2002, reviewed in Blender, January 2003.
In 100 years from now they’ll find it difficult to believe, but for much of the late 20th century it was fashionable to scorn Paul McCartney. Many a hipster’s dinner party gambit involved a smiling reference to Mull Of Kintyre or The Frogs’ Chorus, possibly backed up with some knowing stupidity that included the words “shot the wrong Beatle.” Thankfully we’re emerging from that dark age, into an enlightened time when both Lennon and McCartney’s complementary talents are recognised and celebrated for what they are, namely an awesome force for mobilising human enjoyment – the most fun you can have without doing anything immoral, illegal or unhygienic.
Not that Paul has been unrewarded for his lack of cool esteem: the most successful pop musician in history is also rich beyond the powers of most pocket calculators. It’s the lad’s instinctive affinity with ordinary life that has been his saving grace. In 1967 when The Beatles had given up touring to make studio masterworks like Sgt. Pepper, he was heard to pine that he missed “singing out loud”. He missed the great unwashed – that is, all of us – because in his own head he never became the superstar he’d become in everyone else’s. Where George or John saw humans as a mass, to be spiritually or politically uplifted, Paul has only seen individuals, with sorrows to serenade or spasms of hope to be nurtured in song.
On the clever level you can say McCartney’s special gift to The Beatles was the knack he had of using the bass-line as an independent melodic engine: no rock writers had dreamt you could do so much. In fact, nor did he: by instinct alone, growing up on the BBC Light Programme and his Dad’s old 78s, he absorbed harmonic fluency. The only licks he studied were by Eddie Cochran and Scotty Moore, but by the age of 20 he was the musical equal of long-dead maestros who’d worn tights and white wigs. Into the bargain his voice was soft and rounded, but able to rage like Little Richard’s. He looked fantastic and in the 60s dressed better than anyone except Eric Clapton. He wrote Yesterday, Hey Jude, Blackbird and Penny Lane, to name but four of a hundred Beatle classics; after that came lesser-known beauties (My Love, Waterfalls, No More Lonely Nights) that will, in the end, outlive us all. McCartney’s post-Beatle material is the next undiscovered treasure trove of pop history.
Had Lennon lived he would have acquired the grace to thank Paul for the generosity of talent that the younger man never stopped showing him (listen to McCartney’s whole-hearted backing on John’s self-centred whinge The Ballad Of John And Yoko). And then, when Linda died, even the cynics were moved to mourn the century’s longest public love story. Besides which, when you get right down to it, who could resist a sneaking admiration for cartoon frogs singing “We all stand together”? Like their creator, they were smarter than anyone gave them credit for.
Recommended album: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Parlophone) Because it’s the Pauliest of all the Beatles albums, from the curtain-raising chorus to the optimistic flourish he adds to John’s Day In The Life.
Paul McCartney on John Lennon
Do I have a hero? I’ve got a few heroes, but if I really have to plump for one, well, howzabouts… John. But I have to add the reservation that it could also be the other Beatles. Or Elvis. Or Little Richard. Or Nat King Cole. It goes on down the line.
John first had an impact on me at Woolton Village Fete in the year of Our Lord Whatever. What I admire in him was massive talent, great wit, courage and humour. He influenced me, very much so. Did he ever disappoint me? Yeah, from time to time, when we were having a barney. But only infrequently. And where to start if you want to discover him? Any Beatles record.
Sir Paul’s first full-length symphony, composed for EMI’s 100th anniversary.
Sir George Martin recalled recently how he’d tried to introduce John Lennon to classical music. Dutifully the Beatle sat down and listened, but then complained that by the time the piece was finished, he’d forgotten how it started. Much the same snag arises with Standing Stone: it has four movements, divided into 19 “tracks”, sprawling over 75 minutes. If there is a musical or thematic unity to the thing, it’s difficult to spot. Surprisingly absent is the ripe and easy melodicism you would expect of Paul McCartney in classical mode: after all, it was songs like Eleanor Rigby, She’s Leaving Home and Yesterday that got the Fabs compared to Schubert in the first place. But no, Standing Stone is rather dour, serious stuff. The massed ranks of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus give it grandeur, befitting its nobly windswept titles such as Meditation, Lost At Sea and Lament, but the result is more a series of sound paintings than a coherent whole. Expect some furrowed brows and numb bums if you ever see it played live.
Old love and new love celebrated, as Macca resumes songwriting duties after classical and rockabilly detours. Rush-recorded with a pick-up band in LA.
It was commonly held of Paul McCartney that the baby-faced bassman liked to hide inside a song instead of reveal himself through it. Hence that pleasant parade of meter maids, Desmonds and Mollies and men from the motor trade. Here were characters who lived on the surface of their creator’s imagination, carefully concealing whatever might lie in the psychic turmoil beneath.
It’s a view that John Lennon himself was happy to promote – implying, as it did, an unfavourable comparison with the brutal candour of his own work. And yet, looking back, it’s a difficult position to maintain. When he wasn’t peddling the fictions of a Honey Pie or a Rocky Racoon, McCartney would deploy his songs to chart the emotional landmarks of his life – whether it was the rise and fall of his affair with Jane Asher (I’m Looking Through You) or mourning for his mother (Yesterday, Let It Be). He simply didn’t share John’s taste for making the links explicit. Sometimes, he says, he was scarcely aware of them himself.
The subject’s significant because Driving Rain is the first new material from Paul McCartney since the death of Linda and the arrival into his life of Heather Mills. As ever, there are few specifics in his lyrics, but the presence of those women is unmistakable. The opening songs, Lonely Road and From A Lover To A Friend (the latter a classic of Macca balladry), establish a theme – the pain of loss and loneliness, gradually redeemed by romantic love. With the exception of third track She’s Given Up Talking (a slightly disruptive return to third-person story-telling) the remaining songs are entirely devoted to affectionate remembrance, hard-won optimism or giddy celebrations of grooving around with your girl.
Apparently fashioned in a pretty casual way, these are tightly-arranged numbers all the same, with Paul’s usual tunefulness in full effect. And Linda gets the best track of all, There Must Have Been Magic, wherein her husband marvels at his luck in meeting her one night in 1967, at the Bag O’Nails club in London.
There’s always a risk with new McCartney records – as with Dylan and the Stones – that we’re led by wishful thinking into hailing an historic return to form. Driving Rain may not be that, but it’s a satisfying, and often very moving, body of work. Bruised and battered, that famous thumb has returned to upright. Hard is the heart that would not feel a hint of obla-di, obla-da. Life does indeed go on.
Here is The Cute Beatle’s first set of all-new numbers since 1997’s Flaming Pie – the first compositions, therefore, since the death of his wife, Linda, in 1998. He’s already commemorated her with a suite of orchestral versions of old songs (Working Classical) and kept himself in fighting shape with rockabilly covers (Run Devil Run). Now we can hear McCartney respond in song to the loss of his inseparable companion.
It’s seldom been his style to make music as bleak or nakedly confessional as John Lennon did, and Driving Rain maintains that crafted reticence. Linda is nowhere mentioned by name; the only song that’s solely devoted to her is defiantly upbeat (“There Must Have Been Magic” about their first meeting, in a London nightclub). If this collection has a coherent theme, then it’s the cautious joy of a man making his emotional recovery. Between the lines, of course, it’s also Paul’s way of hymning his fiancee Heather Mills, who now fulfils the vacated role of romantic muse.
You can hear the classic McCartney resilience in the toughly optimistic opener “Lonely Road” or the self-explanatory “Back In The Sunshine Again”. Most of all it’s in the album’s absolute stand-out “From A Lover To A Friend” – a plangent ballad that carries the plea to “let me love again”. McCartney is always at his most soulful when not straining to please (think of the beautifully understated “For No One” off *Revolver*) and there is, unmistakably, the powerful air of sorrows nobly borne.
Made, apparently, with all the speed and spontaneity of early Beatle discs, *Driving Rain* is really nobody’s memorial – these are songs of gratitude for the past with a ballsy resolve to enjoy the future. Nobody could love every track on any of McCartney’s solo albums (though his strike rate here is higher than usual); it’s enough to know the guy on the bass is back in the game and in good heart.
BACK IN THE U.S. – LIVE 2002
A touch of Wings and a smattering of solo stuff, but it’s the Beatle biggies that abound this time.
As live rock’n’roll experiences go, it’s hard to beat hearing the creator of “Hey Jude”, “Let It Be” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” performing those numbers before your very eyes. It’s better yet that Paul McCartney is currently playing those songs with such puppy-ish vitality. This double-CD of his recent US tour finds the former Fab in high spirits, backed by a charismatic young band who can play as if they’re unaware of all that history weighing on their shoulders. Tribute spots to John Lennon (“Here Today”), to George Harrison (a ukelele-driven “Something”) and to Linda (“My Love”) are the most emotive button-pushers in a set that has no end of heart-bursting moments.
See a complete index of Paul Du Noyer's Beatle articles here.