Thursday, January 31, 2019

Listening to Macca #1: McCartney and Ram

My pop music project for 2019? Listening to Paul McCartney's entire post-Beatles oeuvre. Why? Well, why not? Is that a good enough reason for you?

The fact is that late last year, around when the remastered 50th anniversary White Album was released, I listened to this delightful interview with Rob Sheffield (whose book on The Beatles blew me away), and it made me realize: man, the post-Beatles McCartney has been making music for nearly a half-century, and beyond the big radio hits, I really don't know it all that well. So, along with my old friend/music guru in Texas, I have a plan to work through every album (well, nearly; probably not the ones full of covers) Macca has put out, either on his own or with Wings. Should be an interesting year. My plan is to post about a couple of albums or more on the last day of every month through the end of 2019. Feel free to stick around for the whole trip, if you're so inclined.

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First of all: McCartney. Honestly, this is a pretty terrible way to start this series out. This album, recorded by Paul and Linda essentially in total secrecy while The Beatles fell apart and McCartney was no doubt feeling all sorts of anger, confusion, and sadness--but also excitement over what was going to come next in his life--is, frankly, barely there; it's like a bit of hurried graffiti by some busy genius that someone packaged to sell to rabid fans who would pay good money for any incomplete bit of errata from their hero...except in this case the "someone" was Macca himself. The majority of its 13 tracks are unfinished collections of isolated riffs and chords stitched together--or not--in the hopes of getting a bunch of "songs" over the two minute mark. This is really kind of sad, because I think "That Would Be Something" and "Momma Miss America" probably could have been, with some lyrical thought and more studio work, really great tunes. There's only two songs on the album that really seem "finished" to me. The first, "Teddy Boy," is solid, but more like an outtake from The White Album than anything else. The other, of course, is "Maybe I'm Amazed," which is arguably McCartney's greatest solo composition from his entire career--a beautiful, brilliant, rocking love song, with passionate vocals and killer guitar solos. That song alone is so good it forces me to grade this D effort as a C.

Next comes Ram, a far more polished effort, and consequently much better. Still not a really great pop music creation, but definitely getting there. McCartney's love of folk and country musical styles (if not actual folk or country-western music itself--basically what John Lennon famously derided as Paul's weakness for "granny shit") really develop on this album, resulting in some pretty fun songs: "Dear Boy," "Home in the Heart of the Country," and "Long-Haired Lady" are all worth listening to a time or three. And there are some tight rock and roll numbers as well: "Too Many People" is probably about as close as McCartney can ever get to building up righteous indignation, "Smile Away" is made to be shouted out to a clapping and chanting audience, and "Back Seat of My Car" is a fine ballad. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" is, of course, a classic late-period Beatles number: clever, hummable, with peerless musicianship throughout (though I will go to my grave believing that's the voice of John Cleese, not McCartney himself, on the telephone). Overall though, a solid B-, not higher than that. Of course, if they'd put "Another Day" on the album," I'd probably have to score it a whole grade higher--but they didn't. Silly producers. (Oh, and by the way: props to Macca for the whole "Thrillington" experiment; it's actually some pretty great 60s-style jazz orchestra elevator music, if you're into that sort of thing.)

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