Paul: “The whole Beatle thing – it’s like it was all years ago – like going back a distance more than anything, and that’s the whole point.
The Beatles are really finished, over with, and it’s just each of us alone now, living our lives the way we choose. I think while the Beatles were on – I can’t really use any other word – while they were just on, there was no question of any of these normal hangups interfering with it because we just had an understanding. It’s like a married couple. When we started off we were all aiming for pretty much the same thing. I think the troubles really began when we weren’t aiming anymore for the same thing, which began, I think, when we stopped touring in 1966.
During the making of the White Album, Ringo left the group saying he wasn’t ‘getting through’ to the rest of us. But he came back in two days. By the time we made Abbey Road, John and I were openly critical of each other’s music and I felt John wasn’t much interested in performing anything he hadn’t written himself. When we made the ‘Let It Be’ album, George walked out over a row about the performance of some songs – and said he was leaving the group. A few days later there was a meeting at Ringo’s house, and he agreed to come back at least until the recording was finished.”
“So I felt the split coming. and John kept saying we were musically standing still. One night – this was the autumn of ’69 – Linda and I were lying there, talking about it, and I thought, ‘That’s what I miss, and what they miss too – Playing.’ Because we hadn’t actually played for anyone for a long time. and being an actual good musician requires this contact with people all the time. The human thing. So I came into the idea of going to village halls which hold a couple of hundred people. Have someone book the hall and put up posters saying, maybe, ‘Ricky and Redstreaks, Saturday Night.’ and we’d just turn up there in a van and people would arrive and we’d be there. I thought that was great. John said, ‘You’re daft.'”
“At this time John’s thing was playing for 200,000 people because he’d been at a big festival or something. So he wanted to do that. and I can see now what he thought. I can see which way John sees progress. I see it sometimes another way.”
“We were talking in the Apple offices. Ringo was there – he agreed – and maybe George wasn’t there. So then John says, ‘Anyway, I’m leaving the group.’ He said, ‘I want a divorce.’ He literally said, ‘I want a divorce.’ and for the first time ever, he meant it. So that just hit everyone. All of us realized that this great thing that we’d been part of was no longer to be. This was the chop. That hits anyone, no matter what it is. It’s like leaving school, and you love it then it hits like a chop. Or whatever your thing is. Our thing was the Beatles.”
“The Beatle way of life was like a young kid entering the big world, entering it with friends and conquering it totally. and that was fantastic. An incredible experience. So when that idea really came that we should break up, I don’t think any of us wanted to accept it. It was the end of the legend, even in our own minds. Marilyn Monroe gets to believe eventually that she’s Marilyn Monroe. Now I feel that’s how the Beatles got to be – I’m just speaking for me. You were very much a Beatle in your own eyes, and to an extent we all still are.
Thinking back, I think it was great what John said. and he told us, ‘Look everything sort of comes together right.’ and now I agree. We’d just made this album and it was to be called ‘Get Back’ and on the cover was a photograph showing us in exactly the same position as in the first album we’d made – the whole lettering and the background was exactly reproduced. So John said, ‘It’s a perfect circle, you know.’ I think what John did was tremendous from the point of view of ‘Okay, so we are actually going to go our own ways.’ You just can’t be as tied together as we were for so long a period of time, unless you all live in the same house. From then onward it was to be a question of living your own life, which was the first real turn-on for me in a long time – and this coincided with my meeting Linda. So early in 1970 I phoned John and told him I was leaving the Beatles too. He said, ‘Good! That makes two of us who have accepted it mentally.'”
“I do think if it were just up to the four of us, if we were totally unencumbered, we would have had a dissolution – I hate these heavy terms – the day after John said he was leaving. We would have picked up our bags – these are my shoes, that’s my ball, that’s your ball – and gone. and I still maintain that’s the only way, to actually go and do that, no matter what things are involved on a business level. But of course we aren’t four fellows. We are part of a big business machine. Even though the Beatles have really stopped, the Beatle thing goes on – repackaging the albums, putting tracks together in different forms, and the video coming in.
So that’s why I’ve had to sue in the courts to dissolve the Beatles, to do on a business level what we should have done on a four-fellows level. I feel it just has to come. We used to get asked at press conferences, ‘What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?’ When I talked to John just the other day, he said something about, ‘Well, the bubble’s going to burst.’ and I said, ‘It has burst. That’s the point. That’s why I’ve had to do this, why l had to apply to the court. You don’t think I really enjoy doing that kind of stuff. I had to do it because the bubble has burst – everywhere but on paper.’ That’s the only place we’re tied now.”
“You see, there was a partnership contract put together years ago to hold us together as a group for 10 years. Anything anybody wanted to do – put out a record, anything – he had to get the others’ permission. Because of what we were then, none of us ever looked at it when we signed it. We signed it in ’67 and discovered it last year. We discovered this contract that bound us for 10 years. So it’s ‘Oh gosh, Oh golly, Oh heck,’ you know. ‘Now, boys, can we tear it up, please?’ But the trouble is, the other three have been advised not to tear it up. They’ve been advised that if they tear it up, there will be serious, bad consequences for them. The point, though, to me was that it began to look like a three-to-one vote, which is what in fact happened at a couple of business meetings. It was three to one. That’s how Allen Klein got to be the manager of Apple, which I didn’t want. But they didn’t need my approval.”
“Listen, it’s not the boys. It’s not the other three. The four of us, I think, still quite like each other. I don’t think there is bad blood, not from my side anyway. I spoke to the others quite recently and there didn’t sound like any from theirs. So it’s a business thing. It’s Allen Klein. Early in ’69 John took him on as business manager and wanted the rest of us to do it too. That was just the irreconcilable difference between us.”
“Klein is incredible. He’s New York. He’ll say ‘Waddaya want? I’ll buy it for you.’ I guess there’s alot I really don’t want to say about this, but it will come out because we had to sort of document the stuff for this case. We had to go and fight – which I didn’t want, really. All summer long in Scotland I was fighting with myself as to whether I should do anything like that. It was murderous. I had a knot in my stomach all summer. I tried to think of a way to take Allen Klein to court, or to take a businessman to court. But the action had to be brought against the other three.”
“I first said, ‘No, we can’t do that. We’ll live with it.’ But all those little things kept happening, such trivia compared to what has happened, but the kind of things that… well, for example, my record McCartney came out. Linda and I did it totally – the record, the cover the ads – everything presented to the record company. Then there started to appear these little advertisements. On the bottom was ‘On Apple Records,’ which was okay. But somebody had also come along and slapped on ‘An Abkco-managed company.’ Now that is Klein’s company and has nothing to do with my record. It’s like Klein taking part of the credit for my record.”
“Maybe that sounds petty, but I can go into other examples of this kind of thing. The build-up is the thing – All these things continuously happening making me feel like I’m a junior with the record company, like Klein is the boss and I’m nothing. Well, I’m a senior. I figure my opinion is as good as anyone’s, especially when it’s my thing. and it’s emotional. You feel like you don’t have any freedom. I figured I’d have to stand up for myself eventually or get pushed under. The income from the McCartney album is still being held by Apple, and Linda and I are the only ones on the record. John has a new record out with a song called ‘Power to the People.’ There’s a line in it – sort of shouting to the government – ‘Give us what we own.’ and to me Apple’s the government thing. Give me what I own.”
“So then we began to talk again about the suit, over and over. I just saw that I was not going to get out of it. From my last phone conversation with John, I think he sees it like that. He said, ‘Well, how do you get out?'”
“My lawyer, John Eastman, he’s a nice guy and he saw the position we were in, and he sympathized. We’d have these meetings on top of hills in Scotland, we’d go for long walks. I remember when we actually decided we had to go and file suit. We were standing on this big hill which overlooked a loch – it was quite a nice day, a bit chilly – and we’d been searching our souls. Was there any other way? and we eventually said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do it.’ The only alternative was seven years with the partnership – going through those same channels for seven years.”
“And I’ve changed. The funny thing about it is that I think alot of my change has been helped by John Lennon. I sort of picked up on his lead. John had said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be that anymore. I’m going to be this.’ and I thought, ‘That’s great.’ I liked the fact he’d done it, and so I’ll do it with my thing. He’s given the okay. In England, if a partnership isn’t rolling along and working – like a marriage that isn’t working – then you have reasonable grounds to break it off. It’s great! Good old British justice! But before I went into this, I had to check out in my mind, is there such a thing as justice? Like I throw myself into the courts I could easily get caught – tell the story, put it all in there, and then justice turns around and… I mean, these days people don’t believe in justice. I really think the truth does win, but it’s not a popular thought. But then all my life I’ve been in love with goodies, as against the baddies.”
“You can read the other boys’ side to find out I’m the stinker. I think I’m right. But don’t we all! You couldn’t believe it! It’s a movie! Because I’ve had to take this action against the others, it looks like we can’t stand each other. I can really only speak for myself, but I still like the other three. and maybe it’s deeper than ‘like.’ But at the moment, I’m not stuck on them. I’m not pleased. We are not amused at the moment! I am not loving them. But I know when it’s over I will really like them.”
“People said, ‘It’s a pity that such a nice thing had to come to such a sticky end.’ I think that too. It is a pity. I like fairy tales. I’d love it to have had the Beatles go up in a little cloud of smoke and the four of us just find ourselves in magic robes, each holding an envelope with our stuff in it. But you realize that you’re in real life, and you don’t split up a beautiful thing with a beautiful thing. I ignored John’s interview in Rolling Stone (1971). I looked at it and dug him for saying what he thought. But to me, short of getting it off his chest, I think he blows it with that kind of thing. I think it makes people wonder why John needs to do that.”
“I did think there were an awful lot of inconsistencies, because on one page you find John talking about how Dylan changed his name from Zimmerman and how that’s hypocritical. But John changed his name to John Ono Lennon. and people looking at that just begin to think, ‘Come on, what is this?'”
“But the interview didn’t bug me. It was so far out that I enjoyed it, actually. I know there are elements of truth in what he said. and this open hostility, that didn’t hurt me. That’s cool. That’s John.”
“I can’t really describe what direction I’m going in musically, because it’s ever-changing – and that’s what it’s all about. I have my personal influences, and they come from everywhere, from age nothing to today. Sounds I heard on the radio. Sounds I heard my father play on the piano. Sounds I found myself in rock and roll. Sounds that the group made. My music is all that – very personal – especially now that it’s one person putting it down instead of four. I do what I feel. Make myself comfortable. It’s a good job to have.”
“Linda and I have been writing songs together – and my publishers are suing because they don’t believe she wrote them with me. You know, suddenly she marries him and suddenly she’s writing songs. ‘Oh, sure – wink, wink – Oh, sure, she’s writing songs.’ But actually one day I just said to her, ‘I’m going to teach you how to write if I have to just strap you to the piano bench. I’m going to teach you the way I write music’ –because I never write music anyway. I just write by ear. and I like to collaborate on songs. If I have to just go out in another room and write – it is too much like work – like doing your homework. If I can have Linda working with me, then it becomes like a game. It’s fun. So we wrote about 10 songs and then we discovered that it was becoming too much like work. We were getting serious about writing. and I’ve never been serious.”
“When we decided to do the new album, we wanted to make it fun, because it isn’t worth doing anything if you can’t have fun doing it. The album will be out early in May, and then I’m thinking about getting a band together – another band – because I don’t like to just sit around. I really like to play music.”
“My musical direction – I’m trying for music that isn’t too romantic, yet contains a romantic thing. I personally don’t like things to be too cute – except babies. My music comes off best, I think, when there’s hard and soft together.”
“The best things are often the free bits, and that gets very tricky. I go out into the studio and I know I’m going to ad-lib. If I announce I’m going to ad-lib, I can’t ad-lib because I’m no longer ad-libbing. So I’ve just got to go out there and improvise, and someone’s got to be in there in the control room very cleverly thinking, ‘He’s going to ad-lib now, I’d better tape it.’ It’s very hard because good things get missed. Last night I was doing a real ad-lib and I was in a great mood and I was exploring what there was to be done – and they missed it. The next time around when they tried the tape, I wasn’t exploring any longer. I was trying to repeat past glories, and that doesn’t work. But there are compensations. Sometimes you don’t want to share those moments. Okay, the record-buying public didn’t hear it, but you and I did. That’s beautiful. That’s real. The moment was temporary like everything is. Nothing in life really stays. and it’s beautiful that they go. They have to go in order for the next thing to come. You can almost add beauty to a thing by accepting that it’s temporary.”
“I suppose musically I’m competing with the other three, whether I like it or not. It’s only human to compete. But I think it’s good for us. I think George has shown recently that he was no dummy. I think we’re really good, each one of us, individually. You know, there’s like three periods in my life. There’s the time when I was at school and just after leaving it. That was when I used to read alot – Dylan Thomas, paperbacks, alot of plays, Tennessee Williams, things my literature master had turned me onto. I used to sit on the top level of buses, reading and smoking a pipe. Then there was the whole sort of Beatle thing. and just now again I feel I can do what I want. So it’s like there was me, then the Beatles phase, and now I’m me again.”
“It’s rather serious – life. and you can’t live as if you have nine lives. I find myself doing that often. I think everybody does, saying in his mind, ‘I’ll get it tomorrow.’ But I can’t do that anymore. Take One with the Beatles should have been like I said, with a puff of smoke and magic robes and envelopes. But we missed Take One, so now we do Take Two. and in the disappointment of Take Two – I feel I can always find something good in the bad – the good thing is that it really has made me come to terms more with my life. As a married couple, Linda and I’ve really become closer because of all those problems, all the decisions. It’s been very real what I’ve been through – a breath of air, in a way – because of having been through very inhuman things.”
“The Beatle thing was fantastic. I loved every minute of it. It was beautiful. But it was a very sheltered life. Why, somebody would even ring me up in the morning and say, ‘You’ve got to be at Apple in an hour.’ It got very nursemaidy. If you are a real human, you’ve got to wake yourself up. You’ve got to take on these tedious little things because out of the tedium comes the joy of life. I got fed up by Apple this year over Christmas trees. ‘Did we want one, because the office was buying Christmas trees for everyone?’ I hated that. Actually we pinched one from a field in Scotland.”
“I love my life now because I’m doing much more ordinary things, and to me that brings great joy. We’re more ordinary than ordinary people sometimes.”
“In New York, we go to Harlem on the subway – a great evening at the Apollo. We walk through Central Park after hours. You may find us murdered one day. Last time we went it was snowy like moonlight in Vermont – just fantastic. and I figure anyone who scares me, I scare him.”
“We try never to organize our lives very much. We do things on the spur of the moment. We were in Scotland and we decided to take a trip to the Shetland Islands. So we piled in the Land Rover with the two kids, our English sheep dog, Martha, and a whole pile of stuff in the back with Mary’s potty on the top. On the second day we get up to a little port called Scrabster at the top of Scotland. When we tried to get on the big car ferry, we got in queue but were two cars too late – missed it. So, don’t despair. Okay, make the best of it. We really didn’t want to go on that big liner, a mass-produced thing. So we thought, let’s beat the liner. But we gave that up – it became a bit difficult with airplanes and such. Let’s try to get a ride in one of the little fishing boats, and how much should we offer.”
“So the romantic idea was that they’d rather have a salmon or a bottle of Scotch than the 30 pounds. I went to a bunch of boats but they weren’t going to the Orkney Islands. So I went on this one and I went to this trapdoor sort of thing, and they were sleeping down below – the smell of sleep is coming up through the door. At first the skipper said no, and then I said there was 30 quid in it for him, and they say they’ll take us. It was a fantastic little boat called the Enterprise and the captain named George, he’s wearing a beautiful Shetland sweater.
We brought all our stuff aboard and it was low tide, so we had to lower Martha in a big fishing net and a little crowd gathers and we wave our farewells. As we steam out, the skipper gives us some beer, and Linda, trying to be one of the boys takes a swig and passes it to me. Well, you shouldn’t drink before a rough crossing to the Orkneys. The little one, Mary, throws up all over the wife, as usual. That was it. I was already feeling sick. I sort of gallantly walked to the front of the boat, hanging onto the mast. The skipper comes up and we’re having light talk, light chit-chat. and I don’t want it. So he gets the idea and points to the fishing baskets and says, ‘Do it in there!’ So we were all sick, but we ended up in the Orkney Islands, and we took a plane to Shetland. It was great.”
“We do things like that – do it sort of eccentricordinary because we have got the money to do it eccentric. I always wondered what happened to those maharajahs who used to do things. But there never are really any of those people. So we try and do a bit of it in our own lives.”
“People do recognize us sometimes, but they respect our privacy. It’s a beautiful thing. If you come on as a star, you get star treatment and all the disadvantages. But often, when we dress in dungarees and sneakers – Last night we got turned out of two restaurants. The guy in an evening suit turns us out. But I quite like it when they chuck us out.”
“I love to find that, even in this day of concrete, there are still alive horses and places where grass grows in unlimited quantities and sky has got clear air in it. Scotland has that. It’s just there without anyone touching it. It just grows. I’m relieved to find that it isn’t all pollution. It isn’t all the Hudson. It’s not all the drug problem. When we are in Scotland we plant stuff – vegetables – and we’ll leave them there, and of their own volition they will push up. and not only will they push up and grow into something, but then they will be good to eat. To me that’s an all-time thing. That’s fantastic. How clever! Just that things push their own way up and they feed you. We don’t eat meat because we’ve got lambs on the farm, and we just ate a piece of lamb one day and suddenly realized we were eating a bit of one of those things that was playing outside the window, gamboling peacefully. But we’re not strict. I don’t want to put a big sign on me, ‘Thou Shalt Be Vegetarian.’ I like to allow myself. I like to give myself a lucky break. Give yourself a lucky break, son.”
“So I think you’ve got to live your own life. That sounds like one of those statements, but it is, in fact, just very necessary to realize that. and particularly necessary for me. Or else someone else is going to be living part of your life for you. But now I would like to stop talking and get up and get to work. I haven’t done any today, and it’s beginning to frustrate me. I’ve got that album to finish. We’ve got to get back to plant the seeds. Nature doesn’t wait.”
Paul McCartney Interview for ‘Life’ magazine (1971 April 16)
Flipping through the booklet to Paul McCartney’s Ram reissue, you’ll find no scholarly liner-notes essay.
This is odd. Usually the reissue-packaging gods demand the positioning of an eager critic between you and the product, dispensing wisdom on how you might experience the music they’re standing in front of. What you find instead is a McCartney family-photo scrapbook: Paul draping himself playfully around monkey bars with his infant Stella. Mary, about three years old, hoisting fat headphones above her tiny head; on the opposite page, Linda nuzzling Paul, those same headphones ringed around his neck. In the photos, Paul looks dazed, as if he were smacked in the face with a pillow seconds before the shutter clicked. It drives the point home: Ram is a domestic-bliss album, one of the weirdest, earthiest, and most honest ever made. No wonder critics loathed it so passionately.
Or at least, some critics did. Sometimes an album gets a review so resoundingly negative that it lurks forever like a mournful spirit in its rear view mirror: Jon Landau, writing for Rolling Stone, claimed to hear in Ram “the nadir in the decomposition of Sixties rock thus far.” Which is intense. But people wanted impossible things from Beatles solo albums– closure, healing, apologies, explanations for what to do with their dashed expectations. John Lennon tried telling everyone outright “The dream is over” on Plastic Ono Band’s “God”, but that still wasn’t a cold-water jet hard enough to prepare people, apparently, for the whimsical pastoral oddity that was Ram.
Landau was right, however, that it did spell the end of something, which might be a clue to the vitriol: If “60s rock” was defined, in large part, by the existence of the Beatles, then Ram made it clear in a new, and newly painful, way that there would be no Beatles ever again. To use a messy-divorce metaphor: When your parents are still screaming red-faced at each other, it’s a nightmare, but you can still be assured they care. When one of them picks up and continues on living, it smarts in an entirely different way.
Ram, simply put, is the first Paul McCartney release completely devoid of John’s musical influence. Of course, John wiggled his way into some of the album’s lyrics– in those fresh, post-breakup years, the two couldn’t quite keep each other out of their music. But musically, Ram proposes an alternate universe where young Paul skipped church the morning of July 6, 1957, and the two never crossed paths. It’s breezy, abstracted, completely hallucinogen-free, and utterly lacking grandiose ambitions. Its an album whistled to itself. It’s purely Paul.
Or actually, “Paul and Linda.” This was another one of Paul’s chief Ram-related offenses: He not only invited his new photographer bride into the recording studio, he included her name on the record’s spine. Ram is the only album in recorded history credited to the artist duo “Paul and Linda McCartney,” and in the sense that Linda’s enthusiastically warbling vocals appear on almost every song, it’s entirely accurate. Some read Paul’s decision as the ultimate insult to his former partner: I’ve got a new collaborator now! Her name is Linda, and she never makes me feel stupid. In the album’s freewheeling spirit, however, the decision scans more like guilelessness and innocence. The songs don’t feel collaborative so much as cooperative: little schoolhouse plays that required every hand on deck to get off the ground. Paul had the most talent, so naturally he was up front, but he wanted everyone behind him, banging pots, hollering, whistling– whatever it is you did, make sure you’re back there doing it with gusto.
It is exactly this homemade charm that has caught on with generations of listeners as the initial furor around the album subsided. What 2012’s ears can find on Ram is a rock icon inventing an approach to pop music that would eventually become someone else’s indie pop. It had no trendy name here; it was just a disappointing Beatles solo album. But when Ben Stiller’s fussy, pedantic “Greenberg” character painstakingly assembles a mix for Greta Gerwig intended to display the breadth and depth of his pop-culture appreciation, he slides Ram’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” on there. It’s the song we see her singing along to enthusiastically in the following montage.
Critics hated “Uncle Albert”. “A major annoyance,” Christgau opined. Again, from the current moment we can only plead ignorance, assume that some serious shit had to be going down to clog everyone’s ears. Because “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is not only Ram’s centerpiece, it is clearly one of McCartney five greatest solo songs. As the slash in the title hints, it’s a multi-part song, starring two characters. To put its accomplishments in an egg-headed way: It fuses the conversational joy listeners associated with McCartney’s melodic gift to the compositional ambition everyone assumed was Lennon’s. To put it a simpler way: Every single second of this song is joyously, deliriously catchy, and no two seconds are the same. Do you think early Of Montreal, the White Stripes at their most vaudevillian, or the Fiery Furnaces took any lessons from this song?
What a lot of people thought they heard on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, and everywhere else on the album, is cloying cuteness. But it turns out you can say a lot of things– things like “go fuck yourself” (“3 Legs”), “everything is fucked” (“Too Many People”), and even “let’s go fuck, honey” (“Eat At Home)”– with a big, dimpled grin on your face. “It’s just the critics who say, ‘Well, John was the biting tongue; Paul’s the sentimental one,'” Linda observed shrewdly in a dual Playboy interview from 1984. “John was biting, but he was also sentimental. Paul was sentimental, but he could be very biting. They were more similar than they were different.”
The joy of paying close attention to Ram is gradually discovering that Paul was humming darker things under his breath than it seemed. “Smile Away”, for instance, is a messy, romping slab of Buddy Holly rock. Paul makes a joke about his stinky feet. The chorus goes “Smile away, smile away, smile away, smile away, smile away.” But it’s not just “smile,” a brief, cost-free act that can last a second. It’s “Smile Away”, keeping a fixed grin as conversation grows unpleasant. In interviews of the period, Paul was asked repeatedly if he felt lost without his collaborating partner, if he was motivated solely by commercial success, how he felt about being “the cute Beatle.” The backing vocal chant behind “Smile Away” goes, by turns, “Don’t know how to do that” and “Learning how to do that.” “Smile away horribly, now,” Paul slurs over the song’s fadeout. Yes, he’s fine. No, he and Linda will not become the next “John and Yoko.” But thanks so much for asking. If you tell a dog it’s a brainless fleabag with the same tone of voice you use to say “Good boy,” it will still wag its tail.
The album is riddled with dark grace notes like this: “Monkberry Moon Delight” has an absolutely unhinged vocal take, Paul gulping and sobbing right next to your inner ear. The imagery is surrealist, but anything but whimsical: “When a rattle of rats had awoken/ The sinews, the nerves, and the veins,” he bellows. It could be a latter-day Tom Waits performance. “Too Many People” opens with Paul warbling “piece of cake,” but the lyrics themselves wag their finger at societal injustices, former bandmates– basically everybody. The lyrics to “3 Legs” are full of hobbling animals with missing limbs.
The almost-title song “Ram On”, could serve as the album’s redeeming spirit: A haunting, indelible little tune drifts past on ukulele as Paul croons, “Ram on, give your heart to somebody/ Soon, right away.” The title is a play on his old stage name “Paul Ramon,” which makes the song a private little prayer; a mirror image, perhaps, to John Lennon’s “Hold On”. The song is reprised, late in the record, functioning like a calming breeze. “I want a horse, I want a sheep/ Want to get me a good night’s sleep,” Paul jauntily sings on “Heart of the Country”, a city boy’s vision of the country if ever there was one, and another clue to the record’s mindstate. For Paul, the country isn’t just a place where crops grow; it’s “a place where holy people grow.” Now that American cities everywhere are having their Great Pastoral Moment, full of artisans churning goat’s-milk yogurt and canning their own jams, Ram feels like particularly ripe fruit.
This reissue comes with a disc of extras from the period, which hardcore McCartney fans will already know well. They are lovely, an extension of the album’s mood and world without interrupting it or diluting it. Songs like “Another Day” and “Hey Diddle” feel like a cracked-open door onto the kind of records Paul could have conceivably gone on making forever. A few years later, he had returned, presumably chastened, to crafting over-arching concept records about fictitious bands, the sort of thing he’d gotten a lot of applause for in the past. But the bracingly pure and simple air of Ram has resonated further.
Review Many fans and critics alike will tell you that Paul McCartney’s 1973 Band on the Run and 1975 Venus & Mars are his best albums and near-equals. While I like Venus & Mars fine, I think this faulty comparison is due to one of two things: A) overestimation of V&M or B) underestimation of BotR. And strange as it may seem, the latter is much closer to reality. Band on the Run is terribly underrated the same way Abbey Road is underrated – respected, but not held in the awe reserved for “better” records like Sgt. Pepper’s or Plastic Ono Band. Yeah. Right. Ranking at a paltry #418 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums” list, it’s about time Band on the Run stands up and is accorded its rightful place as one of pop’s greatest achievements.
The album opens with a one-two punch of the title track, a grandiose mini-suite chronicling a bereaved prisoner and his jubilant escape (construe that how you choose), and the thrilling Jet, flying as high as its namesake. Amazingly, Paul manages to keep a comparable level of excellence up throughout the album. If you’ve heard these two tracks you’ll know how unlikely that seems, but it’s true: this is the most consistently awesome album the man has produced since the Beatles’ breakup. What made the Fabs’ best so great – the intricate-yet-accessible melodies, the imagistic poetry, the superb musicianship, the soaring harmonies, the thumping bass, the multi-tracked vocals and guitars, the glorious strings and brass – is all here.
Stylistically Paul creates an effervescent fusion of melodic pop, exhilarating rock & roll, and elaborate symphonic elements with touches of blues, jazz, music-hall, and folk expertly mixed in for colour. For instance, Bluebird is laid-back and jazzy; Let Me Roll both send-up and tribute to John Lennon’s distinctive post-Beatles style. As for subject material, freedom is the word. Right from the get-go Band on the Run is rife with the themes of liberation and release – the opening one-two punch sets it up and from there it’s all-out. This idea, this concept ties the album together, transforming it from merely a collection of brilliant songs into a monumental whole. Each and every song carries the thread, whether it be a literal prison break, the liberty of the open road, or even Death, the ultimate escape. Reprisals of themes, lyrics, and passages all act to unite Band on the Run until, at the very last, the roaring climax of the finale, we come full circle: “Band on the Run! Band on the Run…”
Review Two audio discs 41,34 minutes each approximately, and a DVD (1hr. 24 min. approximately) disc. The remastered sound, done at Abbey Road Studios, is clean and crisp without being harsh. The DVD contains videos, promotional clips, scenes from the album cover shoot, the TV special, and the McCartney’s in Nigeria. The discs are slipped into attached paper sleeves in a tri-fold holder. The attached booklet contains a number of photos, in colour and B&W, of the band and others during the recording in Nigeria. Of interest is a couple of photos of drummer Ginger Baker, who at the time lived and recorded in Africa. Also included are the lyrics, individual track times and disc totals. There’s a four page essay/interview by Paul Gambaccini, on the album and McCartney. Paul McCartney supervised the reissue, including the remastering, which was done using the same people who recently remastered The Beatles back catalogue.
This album, a Grammy winner, if not McCartney’s best post-BEATLES work, is certainly one of his best. Thankfully it has now joined the ranks of other great remastered albums. Plus the fact that there’s a second disc of music ( with several tracks from the TV special “One Hand Clapping”) makes this edition the one to own. You can also purchase another version with a hardcover book, another disc (an audio documentary from the 25th Anniversary Edition), downloads of the album, a new Paul McCartney interview etc., but it’s substantially more money aimed at fans/collectors who want everything. There’s a vinyl edition for record fans, and finally the original, stand alone album is also available. But whichever version you purchase, this is some of McCartney’s finest post-BEATLES work ever.
“Band on the Run” spawned several songs (“Jet”, “Helen Wheels”, “Let Me Roll It”, and the title track), that are still favourites of fans today. At this point most everyone is familiar with at least a couple (if not more) of the fine songs found on this album, so a track-by-track critique isn’t needed. On this album McCartney’s penchant for song craft is very evident. The melodies, the arrangements, the production work-all come together to produce some very fine, pleasing, and at times, rocking pop music. Too, this album was McCartney alerting the critics that he still possessed his musical talents, after the drubbing he received for some of his previous solo/WINGS work.
The album, recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1973, was McCartney’s idea (someplace different), but before the group departed, both guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell were out of the band. So when it came time to record, McCartney played drums, and both he and Denny Lane played the guitar parts, along with Linda McCartney on keyboards. Working through adversity-the “studio” was an ill equipped shed, and the WINGS demo tapes were stolen in a mugging, the band managed to record the basic album in a couple of months. Back in England McCartney added strings and horns to fill out the songs, and the album was finished. When it was released it shot to the top of the charts.
The tracks on the second disc are mostly from a TV special, “One Hand Clapping”, which showed the group performing and backstage. The songs from the special were recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1974, and include a number of fan favourites from the album. The sound and performance of the studio and “live” tracks aren’t that different, but it’s nice to have more from this era of the band nonetheless. “Bluebird” is a slower tempo pop song which shows McCartney’s voice very well, along with his arranging skills. “Jet” has a bit more energy and an edge about it than the studio version simply because it’s a live version, but that’s enough to raise the excitement level appreciatively. This song alone proves that McCartney could still rock within the constraints of pop music. “Let Me Roll It” (which has some fine guitar throughout), taken at the same tempo as the studio version, nonetheless has it’s own feel brought on by the live recordings for the special. “Band On The Run” is again very close to the original, but the vocal inflections by McCartney make this something special. You can hear the exuberance in his voice, and the excitement of the band as they energize the arrangement beyond the studio version. Even the synthesizer that weaves in and out of the song has a certain feel not found on the original. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”, with it’s piano intro, has a fine rough edged vocal from McCartney. “Country Dreamer” sounds as if it could have come from the “White Album”, with it’s use of acoustic guitar as sole backing for a winsome sounding McCartney vocal. It’s shortness, with no extraneous instruments to clutter up the beautiful vocal stands out from the other songs. “Zoo Gang” is a short (2 minutes) instrumental that sounds like it could have been a backing track without the vocal. Nonetheless it’s a fine way to end this collection of bonus tracks.
Apparently this is the first reissue of McCartney’s post-Beatles work, with more in the pipeline. By starting with “Band On The Run”, the bar has been set very high. Hopefully other reissues will meet the high standards found in this edition. If you’re a Paul McCartney fan-pick this reissue up and hear this good sounding edition for yourself. If you’re not-pick this album up and hear what you’ve been missing.
On Band on the Run not only are you able to experience the song writing genius of Paul McCartney at its finest, but you get an album that is more than an album. From the very first note it sucks you in and doesn’t let you out again until the last ringing chords of the reprised title track have evaporated completely, forty-five minutes later. And what a glorious forty-five minutes they are! They will take you on a wondrous journey, yet by the end you will feel the journey is only just beginning…
NOTES FOR THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
If you can, get this, the 25th Anniversary edition; it is far superior for the same price as the original pressing. The bonus disc here is not, as on many albums, a parade of rarities or a series of alternate takes on the songs proper. Live and alternate versions of certain tracks are included here, but they take backseat to what this disc is all about: the interviews. It is, for all intents and purposes, a radio show: a radio show about the making of Band on the Run. We get to hear Paul, Linda, Denny, and just about everybody involved with the making of this record (or, in many cases, its gorgeous cover) explain their part and the record’s enchanting story, giving sense of just how big a deal this album really was. The included booklet is equally superb. Replete with lyrics, photographs, chart placements, and Mark Lewisohn’s fabulous liner notes (quite possibly the best liner notes I’ve ever seen) it is the perfect companion to the record.
There’s an exchange between Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in the movie Bull Durham that has always stuck with me. In the scene, Robbin’s character prevails on Crash Davis to answer why “You don’t like me.” Costner’s response goes as follows: “You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-Of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.”
Let’s face it, don’t we have that same perception of Paul McCartney? Today, his writing partner of the Glory Years is practically a deity. It was Lennon who was the tortured soul, it was Lennon who could define what made us human, it was Lennon who was the true artiste. Paul was the man who wrote the silly love songs with the catchy melodies. Over the years, McCartney has been saddled with such a reputation due to the simple fact he is still present and active. Whereas Lennon’s career represented untapped potential because it was ended prematurely, Paul has been a solo artist three times as long as he was a Beatle. That means there has been a much greater span for people to forget just how good he was capable of being.
Paul was the first to strike in the aftermath of The Beatles with McCartney, a scattershot record that was both charming and bewildering. At the time, there was a general consensus of “Really? Is this the best you could come up with?” But the man had just left the pressure cooker that was The Beatles! Give Macca some time to decompress, relax, smoke some pot with Linda and get back to the business of being a former Beatle.
McCartney had been the work of one man, existing as both an artistic emancipation from The Beatles as well as a sort of musical therapy. With the first step truly encapsulating a “solo” record, the next phase would have to include the use of outside musicians. And so, the McCartneys found themselves on their way to NYC, the site where Paul would recruit some new blood and record the album that would eventually be titled Ram.
While the homespun niceties of bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
McCartney aren’t completely done away with on Ram, it would be a mistake to label the record as McCartney II. There is a definite edge to much of the material on Ram that simply wasn’t there on his debut record. Perhaps the acrimonious breakup of the Fab Four finally had settled in; perhaps Macca simply wanted to rock out. Whatever the case, there is a bitterness and even a hint of rage present on the opening track “Too Many People” that indicated McCartney was pissed off at somebody/something.
The semi-irritating trend that did continue over from McCartney is the handful of vapid mini-tunes. The title track for instance isn’t some terrible slight against rock ‘n’ roll, but it begs the question of just why the hell it is on the album. There’s nothing there that’s interesting or thought-provoking; it would seem to be the very definition of filler. Actually, I take that back; the true definition is the minute-long reprise of “Ram On” tacked on at the end of the record.
But if you’re looking for the perfect encapsulation of McCartney’s solo escapades, it’s the hit single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” No one can deny the musicianship and the inherently appealing quality of the track. There’s no shame in admitting that I’ve caught myself whistling the “Hands Across The Water” reprise numerous times over the last few weeks. I also can’t deny that the following sounds incredibly snobbish and elitist; but what’s the point?!? Paul McCartney was blessed with the “Hall-Of-Fame arm,” the ability to be one of the greats, a pinnacle he did indeed reach if but for a short time. The man could wake up and write a hit song within five minutes — while making breakfast I’m quite sure. Is “Uncle Albert/Admiral Hasley” really the work of a man trying his absolute hardest?
The maddening, tear-your-hair out moment comes when Ram finishes spinning, and you look back over the entire experience. There is some great music here. The aforementioned “Too Many People” gathers steam quickly before exploding into a series of wailing solos near the end; the track is easily the best rock song McCartney had written since “Get Back.” The remastered edition has added “Another Day” to the tracklist, McCartney’s first hit post-Beatles and a disarmingly cheery tune about the drudgery of everyday life for the modern, working woman. And finally, the melodramatic, Broadway leanings of “Back Seat Of My Car” hit home every single time.
Therein lies the great contradiction in trying to critically look at Paul McCartney post-Beatles. We knew he was capable of greatness. We know because it’s still being played on the radio today. But these ensuing decades have undeniable eroded away at his reputation, if just slightly. How many of the other greats could brilliantly express the young, teenage angst of “Back Seat Of My Car,” but at the same time churn out the inane ramblings of “Monkberry Moon Delight”? It doesn’t matter that The Beatles wrote plenty of terrible songs; in the minds of the public and rock world they are ironclad and untouchable. The solo career of Paul McCartney is a man trying to once again spin straw into gold. Never mind the fact that when he was on, he was as good – if not better – than anyone else. McCartney stood no chance of following The Beatles. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.
Paul McCartney finally hitting on all cylinders in his post-Beatles career with Band on the Run. It was his fifth such album since the 1970 breakup of the Fab Four and the third with his new group, Wings. He had made a respectable solo debut and a another good album, Ram, with his wife Linda McCartney. But then came the first two Wings album – the utterly forgettable Wild Life in late 1971, and the somewhat better but vastly uneven Red Rose Speedway in early 1973. During 1972 and 1973, McCartney was putting out much better material as non-album singles than the material on his albums. But that all changed with Band on the Run, an album which would be widely considered his finest.
The songs were all written by Paul and Linda McCartney at their Scottish retreat in the Summer of 1973. Red Rose Speedway was a commercial success and that was followed up by the Top Ten charting song “Live and Let Die” from the James Bond film of the same name. The couple also wanted to find an exotic locale to record this album and discovered that EMI had an international affiliate in Lagos, Nigeria. Coming into the project, Wings were a five person group. However, lead guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell dropped out of the band on the eve of their departure for Africa. This left Wings as a trio with guitarist and pianist Denny Laine along with the McCartneys. Paul McCartney took on the roles of the departed musicians as well as produced the album. Engineer Geoff Emerick was the fourth and final person to make the trip to Lagos.
Upon arriving however, the four discovered a militant nation with corruption and disease and a ramshackle studio which was under equipped with only one 8-track tape machine. Several incidents also plagued Wings during their time in Lagos stay. Paul and Linda were robbed at knife point while out walking one night and the thieves got away with a notebook full of handwritten lyrics and song notes, and cassettes containing demos for songs to be recorded. On another occasion a local political activist accused the group of being in Africa to exploit and steal African music and threatened to riot at the studio until McCartney who played the songs for him proving that they contained no local influence whatsoever. Paul McCartney also suffered a sudden bronchial spasm during one session which left him unconscious. Despite all of these distractions, the album did manage to get recorded on time and with limited post-production done back in London.
The album’s cover photo was shot by Clive Arrowsmith and features an expanded “band”. Along with Paul, Linda and Denny the photo includes journalist Michael Parkinson, comedian Kenny Lynch, actor James Coburn, columnist Clement Freud, actor Christopher Lee, and boxer John Conteh. While not quite as iconic as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the cover of Band on the Run has become one of the most famous in rock history.
Although Paul McCartney had previous and future albums where he played virtually every instrument, this album is probably his most important accomplishment. Beyond stepping in at the last moment to provide the bulk of guitars and drums, McCartney also forged fine vocal melodies and chameleon–like changes in tone and inflection to fit the mood of each track. His arrangements are spectacular, especially on the mini-suites, and the productions are rich. This was also the album where McCartney first really started to develop his own style on bass and brought it up to the forefront of the mix.
The opening title song “Band On the Run” is one of the absolute classics of McCartney’s solo career. This three-part medley follows sequentially (at least among album tracks) the 4-part medley which ended Red Rose Speedway. After a complex two-minute intro, the third, acoustic-driven title part is the melodic payoff. The song strikes the balance between being experimental with unique structure yet accessible enough to make it impossible to be ignored by the pop world. McCartney credits George Harrison for coining the term “Band on the Run” during an acrimonious Apple board meeting in the Beatles’ final days.
“Jet” is a great follow-up to the fantastic opener with layers of sound, and an exploding chorus (like a jet). This rocker has great harmonies and background vocals in general and the title may have been influenced by the McCartney’s Labrador Retriever. Unlike most of the rest of the album, recorded in Nigeria, “Jet” was recorded back at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London.
The first side concludes with a couple of unique rockers. “Mrs Vanderbilt” is a driving acoustic tune with chanting vocal inflections during the verses and a great bass line throughout, which really stands out. The opening lines borrow from a catchphrase from music hall performer Charlie Chester. While recording in Lagos, the studio suffered a power outage so overdubs were later added in London. “Let Me Roll It” contains a bluesy rolling guitar riff during the verses and use of tape echo on the vocals, following a Fafsa organ and bass intro. the tune has long been considered to be an answer to John lennon’s “How Do you Sleep?” from
Side two begins with the very bright and acoustic “Mamunia” with more melodic and bouncy bass throughout. The lyrics are a bit nonsensical, more wordplay than meaning, but a cool synth lead near the end adds some variety and a new level to the sound. “No Words” is an electric song with judicious use of orchestra and sounds a lot like Harrison, vocal-wise. It jumps through several sections rapidly with differing instrumental arrangements, sounding somewhat under-developed and confused. It was the only song on the album partially credited to Denny Laine. “Helen Wheels” takes a simpler rock/pop approach with some whining vocal effect above a hook good enough to make it a hit song, peaking at #10 in the U.S. and #12 on the U.K.
“Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” is another attempt at a multi-part suite, starting as an acoustic, almost Scottish folk tune and evolving through sections with clarinets, heavy strings, and even some odd percussion added by Ginger Baker, who was also recording in Nigeria at the time. The repetitive nature tilts a bit towards the infamous “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” with its repetitiveness and contains slight reprises of “Jet” and “Mrs Vanderbilt” in the mix. The album concludes with “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five”, a great closer which really gets into the beat and rhythm with a vaudeville flavor. It takes some judicious breaks for vocal chorus with sustained organ before coming back to great effect and builds towards a climatic ending with heavy brass brought in to add to the tension before it finally breaks and abruptly reprises in the chorus of “Band on the Run” which fades the album out.
Band on the Run was the top-selling album of 1974 in both England and Australia and it won the Grammy for “Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Duo, Group or Chorus” in early 1975. The album was also the last time the group would be called “Paul McCartney & Wings” as they would simply be “Wings” for the duration of their existence and it was also McCartney’s final album on the Apple Records label which he started with his fellow Beatles five years earlier.
Second time ’round, and lo! what a wonderful effort. This time around Paul has got a professional drummer (Denny Seiwell) and his wife (Linda McCartney, if you’re not informed) to help him with the playing, so there are no significant problems with songs being underarranged or something. Actually, just for fun, the album is credited to ‘Paul & Linda McCartney’ – evil tongues say that Paul only did this to earn more money from the record company, and they were even sued by some record company executives or managers who wanted Linda to prove her composing skills, heh, heh… in any case, she probably did prove something, because the family won the lawsuit. Oh well.
Some songs on here do feel a little bit thin when it comes to full-fledged arrangements, but it’s certainly less of a throwaway than before: thin or thick, all of the songs are finished products. Hey, what’s that I said? This is a great album! All the songs display a great songwriting talent – a talent equal to that of one of the Beatles, indeed! How could this guy write just as well as Paul McCartney of Beatles’ fame? Oh, see, lots of people usually forget that this is Paul McCartney of Beatles’ fame. They usually treat him as a separate Paul McCartney, and that’s where the problem lies.
Anyway, there are lots of fantastic musical ideas displayed all through this record. Ram is, in fact, the ideal place to start with Paul if you’re looking for something relatively calm, stripped down and cozy: whereas later on Paul would incorporate a lot of bombast into his work, especially in the mid-Seventies when he was successfully posturing as a glammy stadium-rocker, on Ram he simply plays the part of a humble little farmer – just look at him handling the ram on the front cover! (Which, was, by the way, later parodied by John on the back cover of Imagine, where he was holding a fat pig by the ears).
If there is a theme underlying the album, it’s the theme of ‘quiet silly little fun’: Paul sings about the advantages of living in the country, the fussiness of big city life, the pure delights of family life and the innocent pleasures of teenage days. All of this is, of course, drenched in his usual ‘nonsensic’ approach and heavily spiced with moments of sheer delirium, but that doesn’t make the album any less entertaining – on the contrary, I adore this delirium. And isn’t delirium the highest form of art, by the way?
Let’s run around, then. First of all, for those who doubted it, Paul shows us that he can still pull off a mean funny rocker: the groovy ‘Smile Away’ with its famous line ‘well I can smell your feet a mile away – smile away!’ is just the thing for you, based on a gruff, dirty, smelly (yeah) little riff and graced by stingy, exciting guitar solos, plus the doo-wop harmonies borrowed from another age. From another age also comes the wonderful Beach Boys-like retro harmony number ‘The Back Seat Of My Car’, a perfect ode for all the little dudes and doves. From the recently passed age we have the terrific psychedelic brain-muddler ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ – the song would have easily fit on Magical Mystery Tour, if only for the fact that not a single line in the verses ever makes sense.
But who wants sense when one gets a magnificent vocal melody instead, not to mention the guy almost throwing a fit as he keeps repeating the title of the song over and over in some mantraic trance – almost like Harrison repeating ‘Hare Krishna’ in ‘My Sweet Lord’? Isn’t that absolutely, totally hilarious?
Practically everything on here rules, yes, even including the Twenties-inspired comic number ‘Three Legs’ (lots of critics thought it was about the lame fate of the band, but that’s at least arguable). No matter that these songs sound so ‘home-made’: it only makes them closer to you. Where does he get those brilliant melodies? Like, for example, the slightly sad, but bouncy acoustic riff of the title track? Or the sharp, mercilessly pounding piano chords of ‘Dear Boy’? Or the jolly Mellotron (don’t tell me it’s a real trumpet) cookie in ‘Admiral Halsey’? Or the catchy happy lines of ‘Eat At Home’? Did he really think of all of them himself?
The two songs, however, that come close to being the greatest on this album are the two side-openers. ‘Too Many People’ has some great lyrics, an unforgettable hook in each verse, and one of the best codas to a Paul song: if you haven’t heard that frantic guitar solo at the end, or the way it suddenly transforms itself into a lot of overdubbed ‘stinging’ acoustic guitars, you don’t know nothing about Paul at all. And ‘Heart Of The Country’ may be silly and lightweight, but I deem it a logical successor of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’, only in a more funny context.
I don’t give a damn about what that song really meant for Paul (about finally settling down and solving his old-time problems, probably), but it sure means a lot for me, and don’t you dare write it off as stupid pop crap! It’s an epochal song. And don’t forget the wonderful pop suite of ‘Long Haired Lady’ which sounds like one of the most gentle and mysterious love ballads I’ve ever heard. Sounds very Brit-flavoured, too. Who’s that long-haired lady? Is it Linda McCartney or the Queen of May?
So, you probably already understood that this is my favourite McCartney album. Indeed, I prefer it even to such a highly-acclaimed album as Band On The Run, just because it’s so home-made and fresh and delicious, and also because lots of these cool tunes could have easily made their way onto The Beatles or Abbey Road or anywhere like that. And let me tell you this: I totally and absolutely despise even the slightest effort to dismiss the album as ‘lightweight’ or ‘charming, but disposable’, or anything like that. It’s absolute hogwash that ‘music should make sense’.
Music should impress; and this music is so well-written, memorable and catchy that it can’t but impress. And in any case, I don’t really see how Ram can be more ‘lightweight’ than, say, A Hard Day’s Night. Personally, I would take these funny little Edward Lear-like lyrics over the Beatles’ early love cliches any day of my life. And the melodies rule. They rule.
This is unquestionably the best pop album of 1971 and one of the best pop albums of the entire decade. A true classic.
You’ve gotta feel sorry for Sir James Paul McCartney (MBE). He hasn’t had the best couple of years recently. After a plethora of bad press from allegations made by his ex-wife, Heather Mills, and a nasty divorce in the media spotlight, Paul just wants to get back to doing what he loves- writing, recording and releasing pop music. He’s been doing it since he was a teenager, and has provided us with countless pop hits in his illustrious career. Which brings us to his latest – Memory Almost Full. This is an album that manages to encompass absolutely everything that is great (and everything that is not so great) in record time. It is a smorgasbord of pop and “classic” rock with plenty of twists and charming lyricism.
Never one to go stale, Sir Paul initially throws the listener off guard with the folksy stomp of opening track and lead single “Dance Tonight”. Here, Paul’s boppy basslines are replaced with a wonderful sounding mandolin, an instrument that is a force to be reckoned with in pop music (see “Losing My Religion” for all the proof you need of this). Over the simple instrumentation of a stomp box and the aforementioned mandolin, the lyrics are kept short, sweet and simple- “Everybody gonna dance tonight!”, Paul carelessly sings. “Everybody gonna feel alright!”. Okay, so it’s no “Maybe I’m Amazed”, but it’s a lovely little song that isn’t too demanding and will worm its way into your head, slowly but successfully.
The album is a “back to basics” approach to the McCartney musical style with mixed results, going from songs that sound like they are from The Beatles cutting room floor to songs that could have potentially been hit singles for McCartney’s former band, Wings. The “Back In The U.S.S.R” meets “Jet” rock out track of “Only Mama Knows” is an example of retro done right (it seems to help if you were actually there when the music being paid tribute to now was being made). In addition, “Ever Present Past” and “That Was Me” stand out as two of the best songs Paul has written in the past decade. They are retrospective, but not in that really sad, pathetic way that Ringo Starr has been doing on his past couple of albums (even McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace” is better than Starr’s latest, Liverpool 8). More, they are in quiet awe of the life that he has lead, and how quickly it’s all gone – “It went by, it flew by, in a flash”, Sir Paul muses on “Ever Present Past”. On this track, he also confesses that, with “too much on his plate”, he doesn’t “have time to be a decent lover”. You don’t want to think it, but you can’t help but wonder if Heather knew anything about this.
“That Was Me” gives us Sir Paul looking back at the little things in his life, remembering doing things like “playing conkers at the bus stop” and “Merseybeatin’ with the band”. It amazes him to think that the person that is in all those photographs, all those memories, even all those songs, was “the same me that stands here today”. A simple idea executed terrifically well.
Of course, mixed results obviously aren’t going to be entirely positive. Songs such as “See Your Sunshine” and “Gratitude” represent the much lamer, daggier McCartney of the mid-to-late 80s, featuring cheesy lyrics, grating harmonies and several cringeworthy moments. It’s best to only listen to these tracks once or twice to get what I mean; or better still, skipped entirely.
Then, there’s “Mr. Bellamy”. No, it’s not about the guitar wizard that fronts Muse. Mr. Bellamy is actually a cat, or so we are lead to believe, of whom McCartney sings from the perspective of. Over an erratic piano loop that you can’t help but think sounds a little like “Chocolate Rain”, Paul sings loudly and proudly about how he’s “not coming down” (from a tree, we would believe) and that he “likes it up here”. In a lower key, he sings from the perspective of the firefighters trying to get said cat out of said tree. It’s all very silly, but at the same time sticks out as a highlight of the album being adventurous and genuinely interesting in both song structure and musicianship.
Memory Almost Full really does have something for everyone, from the passing McCartney fan to the McCartney fanatics. It’s an album that can go seamlessly from the beautiful piano ballad “The End Of The End” to the rocking Queen-meets-“Kashmir” stomp of closer “Nod Your Head” without throwing you completely. With the release of 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard and now this, it seems that Sir Paul has nothing to prove and is free to make just the kind of music he wants to. He may be turning 65 this year, but this album especially show signs of a possible Johnny Cash-style final run of great albums.
One can only hope. Watch this space.
In addition to copiloting the greatest bands in rock & roll history, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger have something else in common: Both have watched their solo careers sputter. McCartney hasn’t placed an album or single at the top of the charts in nearly a decade, and only one album, an “unplugged” MTV concert, has broken the Top Twenty. Jagger waited until 1985 to test the solo waters and has thus far found them icy. His last album, Primitive Cool (1987), stalled at Number Forty-one, while its would-be anthem “Let’s Work” logged one lonely week at the tail end of the Top Forty.
No acts will ever rule the rock realm so completely for so long as the Beatles and the Stones. Times have changed; attention spans have shortened, owing to video overexposure (resulting in careers with the trajectory of a Roman candle), rigid radio formats, the corporate trivialization of rock’s mission and the sheer accumulated mass of music, old and new, being thrust at listeners. These days the sales go to the likes of Michael Bolton, Garth Brooks, Boyz II Men and Kris Kross, while living legends like McCartney, Jagger, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and arguably even Bruce Springsteen are consigned to an elder rockers’ Valhalla, where they bask in critical favor and do good tour business while watching their new work hobble and fall off the charts.
So why suffer the ignominy of being outsold by artists of far less luster? Why not stay home counting royalties and tending investments? For both Jagger and McCartney, pride and ego figure in, certainly; but there’s also the matter of creative viability. There’s plenty of ambition, not to mention craft, to be found on both Wandering Spirit and Off the Ground. McCartney, fresh from dabbling in light classical with his Liverpool Oratorio, imparts a mock-orchestral grandeur to his pop sensibility on Off the Ground. While occasionally slow-moving (McCartney could use a boot from an aggressive producer), Off the Ground contains some fine songs and sustains a guardedly optimistic mood that conveys a faith in the future. Jagger manages to paint in the primary hues of an inveterate rock animal on Wandering Spirit while decorating the margins with some left-field material that recalls the fervid eclecticism of the Between the Buttons-era Stones. If Wandering Spirit gets the nod over Off the Ground, it’s because Jagger sounds livelier and more welded to the present than McCartney.
The differences between the two can be illustrated by their lyrics. Whereas McCartney sings, “I feel love for you now” in “Winedark Open Sea,” Jagger growls, “I don’t ever wanna see your picture again” in “Don’t Tear Me Up.” McCartney is a family man whose idealism springs from his commitments; Jagger remains a realist and, true to the title, a wandering spirit whose blood runs hot. Wandering Spirit rises to a rousing boil, while Off the Ground maintains a mannerly simmer. They’re about as different as day and night, and as it was in the early days, when people were either Beatles fans or Stones fans, you’ll probably prefer one to the exclusion of the other.
Poking their heads above the manicured surface of McCartney’s song cycle are “Hope of Deliverance” and “Peace in the Neighbourhood.” The first is one of those perfect little tunes McCartney plucks from his songwriter’s subconscious like a pearl from a shell. Deceptively wispy, effortlessly catchy, it finds McCartney breezily proffering a positive attitude toward the days ahead: “When it will be right, I don’t know/What it will be like, I don’t know/We live in hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us.” “Peace” is a cheerful, dreamlike vision of a halcyon world; its sunny, casually funky groove recalls odes to brotherhood by the likes of Sly and the Family Stone and War.
Elvis Costello rejoins McCartney as a songwriting collaborator on two numbers: “Mistress and Maid,” in which fanciful flourishes provide a Sgt. Pepper-style spin, and “The Lovers That Never Were,” a gorgeous, lushly arranged vocal showcase also taken at a swaying waltz tempo. McCartney falters when he tries to rock out on “Looking for Changes,” a literal-minded animal-rights broadside, and “Biker Like an Icon,” a quixotic character study. At this juncture, he doesn’t seem able to rock with authority, and he under-mines his effort by applying a sugary glaze, such as the inappropriately tame chorus to “Biker Like an Icon.” A clutch of longish songs — “Winedark Open Sea,” “C’mon People,” “I Owe It All to You,” “Golden Earth Girl” — seems calculated to cast an ambient stargazing spell, and McCartney closes the album with an Aquarian Age reminder to remain “cosmically conscious.” While the sentiments are commendable and the music pleasurable, Off the Ground is a tad undercooked — a souffle that doesn’t quite rise to the grand heights its creator envisioned.
Jagger, on the other hand, rocks with a willful, desperate abandon on Wandering Spirit, the most purposeful and assured of his three solo discs. With Rick Rubin coproducing, the album has a live, knife edge feel to it, from Jagger’s counting off the bristling opening cut, “Wired All Night,” on through to the reckless declaration of independence of the title track. While Wandering Spirit possesses a rock-solid backbone that will please Stones fans, Jagger adroitly tosses a few curves — a pure-country foray, some hard-hitting urban funk, a courtly overlay of harpsichord and Mellotron — to keep things interesting. And though not everything works — particularly problematic are “Handsome Molly,” a dire foray into Celtic folk, and a starchy retread of Bill Withers’s “Use Me” — Jagger communicates both laser-focused directness and far ranging versatility.
Jagger, who will turn fifty this year, seems determined to cede nothing to age, dismissing the idea of mellowing out as anathema: “I’m as hard as a brick/I hope I never go limp,” he rages from the center of the cyclonic fury of “Wired All Night.” His brashness and swagger are well intact on numbers like “Put Me in the Trash” and the doggedly relentless cover of James Brown’s “Think.” The first single, “Sweet Thing,” finds him applying a “Fool to Cry” falsetto to a danceable, “Miss You”-style track. On “Out of Focus,” a churchy piano-vocal intro segues into reggae-accented gospel-funk as Jagger deals squarely with a harsh comeuppance that tempts with autobiographical overtones: “Maybe I lied a little bit too much…. I saw the future just shatter like glass.” “Don’t Tear Me Up” is another sadder-but-wiser reflection bolstered by echoes of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The title song spells out his rootless dilemma with forcible resolve: “Yes, I am a restless soul/There’s no place that I can call my home,” he sings as the band ensnares him in a tight jump blues.
But Jagger isn’t content to let matters rest there. From this defiant perch he reveals the cracks in a vulnerable façade with three remarkable songs near the album’s end. “My cards are on the table/You can get up and walk away/Or stay,” he importunes in the country-flavored ballad “Hang On to Me Tonight.” Tart Memphis-soul guitar and a solid backbeat buoy Jagger’s bittersweet plaint in “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long.” “Angel in My Heart” closes this trilogy with a heartbreaking plea — “Stay with me till night turns to day/Let me in your dreams” — set to an exquisite melody reminiscent of “Lady Jane.” Wandering Spirit, then, illuminates the varied aspects of a complex personality. But best of all, it rocks like a bitch.
This marks the beginning of Wings even though it’s pretty much universally understood that it’s really just a cute name for McCartney’s solo career. Well, Denny Laine was the lead guitarist and the only static member of the group apart from Paul and his wife. I suppose this new collaborative environment meant that McCartney didn’t personally work on it nearly as hard as he did on his stellar Ram. The arrangements aren’t nearly as polished an intricate and there are way fewer melodies and innovative ideas.
It’s a big step down from Ram on nearly all faces. Even when you factor in the expectancy that any follow-up album would pale, it’s a pretty significant step down. Though naturally, it being the early ‘70s and Paul McCartney, you’ve got to expect that it remains an all-around good album. The melodies are McCartnian, after all.
Oh, but how insignificant some of these songs are! They embody what many reviewers were chastising Ram for: Throwaway and trivial. It’s even worse than McCartney, which he tossed off quicker than a Roger Corman movie! … Something bad happened in McCartney’s world for Wild Life to turn out this complacent.
The album opens with “Mumbo,” a nice rock groove and a fun lead vocal performance (a take-off on Lennon’s vocal styling from “Mother”). It’s really nothing more than that, but I enjoy it at least! Another Lennon-related track is the stellar “Dear Friend,” which features not just a good melody but very heartfelt lyrics. Surely, that’s the highlight of the album. “Bip Bop” is a take-off on country-bumpkin music and really has a tendency to annoy me.
“Love is Strange” starts out as a reggae-ish groove, but turns out to be a solid cover of a Micky & Sylvia 1957 hit. I very much enjoy the melody on “Tomorrow.” It’s another sweet and unpretentious song that seems to embody McCartney’s signature default mode (that’s better than being ugly and depressing like Neil Young, I say). The title track is a six-minute animal rights bit… Forgive him for the lyrics and concentrate on the catchy melody and remarkably soulful vocal performance!
I have no doubts that the worst song in the album is “I Am Your Singer.” It’s somehow more trite sounding than even “Bip Bop,” and the instrumentation is also rather uninspired. Though considering that song isn’t bad just goes to show that Wild Life is actually a *good* album even though I understandably tended to focus on the negatives. Yeah, it’d be awhile before McCartney would actually start sucking.
The bonus tracks are definitely worth hearing. “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” might be a protest song, but at least the melody is catch! Even better, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” is a sweetly melodic rewrite of the old nursery rhyme. Sure, it’s corny, but that’s the point. I also adore the utterly sentimental ballad “Mama’s Little Girl.” Geez, if you still think McCartney didn’t care about his music, ever, then you haven’t heard that one. It’s so charming!
Today, Memory Almost Full seems to be most notable for being the first album to be released on Starbuck’s new music label. It’s my hopes that, in the future, it’ll be much better known for just being an album full of fantastic pop songs. This isn’t his best album, but it’s quite clearly up there.
Much of this was apparently recorded before Chaos. Who knows why he shelved it. I guess McCartney was wanting to honor the 15th anniversary of McCartney II or something. At any rate, it’s wonderful this album was released, ‘cos it’s very good. The most out-of-place song here is surprisingly “Dance Tonight,” which was released through a fairly popular music video on YouTube. It’s rather minimal and 100 percent pleasant. Somehow it still manages to be quite an endearing experience, and I’m glad that it’s included here.
But right after that, there’s “Ever Present Past,” one of his best straight pop-rockers in years. The bass guitar there is absolutely amazing… I guess that proves that McCartney’s reputation as one of the greatest bassists of all time wasn’t for nothing.
The vast majority of these songs, such as the fabulous “Mr. Bellamy” and “Only Mama Knows” contain such varied textures with wild and enchanting song development. Geez, this album definitely isn’t boring that’s for sure. I mean, don’t expect Metallica or anything — this is good ole Paul McCartney — but every track sounds like he cared about it. This is an interesting album and there’s nothing that even approaches throwaway status.
The variety throughout the album is definitely worth noting. A few songs sound quite a bit like Beatles throwbacks… I have no difficulty imagining “Vintage Clothes” to have been written for Abbey Road and “Nod Your Head” is nothing if it isn’t a tamer version of “Helter Skelter.” (Well, he’s reducing it to merely nodding the head, ya know.) Like Chaos and Creation before it, this album very much sees Paul looking back to his past. That said, there’s also a little bit of looking toward the future with an oddly optimistic song about his death, “The End of the End.”
The production is utterly wonderful. Everything’s in their proper place, and there’s very little that sounded like a bad instrumentation idea. All you need to hear to prove this point is the true gem of the album, “House of Wax.” It’s refined but somewhat unusual if you pay close attention to it, and it is some of the finest studio work ever to bear the name “Paul McCartney.” It’s really fabulous.
The one complaint I have with this is that the melodies aren’t always perfect. Certainly, I’m basing that from his already established reputation of being one of the finest songwriters of all time! These melodies are much better than most songwriters can ever make them. However, this is a minor shortcoming that’s worth noting.
I don’t wish to tout this album as some sort of great masterpiece, but it’s certainly a distinguished and entertaining work. This isn’t McCartney’s best work, but it certainly approaches that territory.