Friday, June 27, 2008

Paul McCartney 1: McCartney

With his band all but finished, Paul had to find out if he could work alone. So he recorded McCartney all by himself, predominantly at home, with only some musical help from Linda. It was a bold move, and one that would leave an irreversible mark, whatever the outcome.

Any preconceptions as to his direction are nailed into place by the artwork and song titles. The overlying strategy here was simplicity; anyone expecting a full-blown sequel to Abbey Road would be sorely disappointed. “The Lovely Linda”, which opens the album, was apparently made up to test the equipment, and never went any further. “That Would Be Something” starts out great, then beats the idea into the ground with absolutely atrocious drumming. “Valentine Day” has a snappy surf soundtrack feel—and remember, he’s playing all the instruments. “Every Night” is the first tune on the album we can consider a McCartney classic; the production lives up to the song too. This could have been a hit single. Fans of a certain generation may recognize “Hot As Sun” from its use (at 45rpm) for the theme to the Popeye & Friends TV show in New York, so to those ears it may sound too slow. That song goes right into “Glasses”, a barely noticeable atmosphere (possibly an influence on Eno?) which then changes abruptly into a few bars of the unlisted “Suicide”, supposedly written with Sinatra in mind. The absolutely gentle “Junk” was written before the White Album was recorded, and is another one of his prettiest melodies. The extremely likable “Man We Was Lonely” features Linda on prominent harmonies. It’s just neat. Not bad for an album side.

But “Oo You” starts side two with a rocker that only has the riff to recommend it—the lyrics and drums are just horrible. “Momma Miss America” has the same hideous drums, but it’s redeemed by some screaming guitar and keyboards, being another surfing instrumental in two parts. “Teddy Boy” was too cute for the Get Back project, and while this version is more finished, it still doesn’t work here. “Singalong Junk” is a longer, Muzak or karaoke version of the gem on side one, with Mellotron strings that make it even more gorgeous than the vocal version. “Maybe I’m Amazed” sneaks up on you in the intro, then kicks right into gear. It’s another single that never was, and the best song here, one you wish didn’t end—especially since the percussion workout and heavy breathing of “Kreen-Akrore” follow it. Not a good ending.

It’s hard to believe that such a big fuss came out of such a small thing, but at the time, it was taken to be Paul’s big declaration of independence, the music he left the Beatles for. Taken at face value, it’s not horrible. He certainly should get respect by including so many instrumentals and having the capability to play all the parts. He would seesaw between the off-the-cuff and polished-gem approaches throughout his career, with widely varying results. While lambasted at the time, it’s gained stature as a fine album considering all that came afterwards. McCartney is still a pleasant listen, and worth hearing over and over as long as you always forego “Kreen-Akrore”. (In hindsight it would seem that most of the polished songs only came to fruition after a certain “Instant Karma!” single, involving two of his mates, was recorded and released quickly, to much acclaim. His petulance about not having to delay its release date to avoid glutting the market can also be understood when we consider how many extracurricular Lennon records had been flooding stores over the past 12 months without question.)

While many of his later solo albums would be augmented with bonus tracks—usually B-sides and whatnot—in the CD era, it wasn’t until round two of the Archive Collection that McCartney got this kind of upgrade. However, that term is negligible. For the first time we could hear the rest of “Suicide”, or at least what was left at the end of that particular reel. Unfortunately, the snippet that made the album is still the best part of the performance. “Don’t Cry Baby” (basically an instrumental “Oo You”) and “Women Kind” are the other “outtakes” from the album; the rest of the 25-minute disc is devoted to live versions of some of the album tracks performed in 1974 and 1979. (Of course, you could have shelled out another forty bucks for the Deluxe Version, which added a DVD and a book.)

Paul McCartney McCartney (1970)—
2011 Archive Collection Special Edition: same as 1970, plus 7 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition also adds DVD)

1 comment:

  1. "Hot as Sun" still sounds weird to me at "normal" speed. I'd love to have an MP3 of it being played at 45 RPM, because that's how I remember it best.

    --Chuck D.