“Avant-garde is French for bullshit”

Tuesday 18th November 2008

…so said John Winston Ono O’Boogie Lennon, shortly before releasing an album entirely comprising the sound of himself and the missus shouting and shagging.

Famously, Macca beat him to it, as has suddenly somehow become news once again. But in what way was this ever “a myth”? Mark Lewisohn talked about Carnival Of Light 20 years ago in his ace book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Then there was a load of fuss about its slated inclusion on, and ultimate omission from, the Anthology albums.

There’s never been any doubt about the track being real. Copies of it have turned up on bootlegs. So how come its existence is being made out to be some kind of revelation?

McCartney always did experimental stuff with a shedload more heart and humanity than his co-writer. Compare the last soaring 60 seconds of A Day In The Life with any or indeed all of the dreary, cynical Revolution 9. Silliness always undercut the pomposity; with Lennon it was forever the other way round.

There’s loads of stuff in the Abbey Road archives that merits release ahead of Carnival Of Light. Why, for instance, haven’t any of the Beatles albums ever been digitally remastered and reissued with the obligatory bonus tracks/alternate takes/accompanying DVDs? For that matter, where’s the DVD release of Let It Be? It used to get shown on the BBC every Christmas!

On first reflection the Carnival Of Light nonsense smacks of a bit of self-publicity for Macca’s pet project The Fireman. But look again at that news article: it all stems from an edition of, shudder, Front Row, to be broadcast on Radio 4 tomorrow (Thursday) evening.

Mark Lawson and co at their best, i.e., worst.


Macca’s back pages: chapter 6

Tuesday 2nd September 2008

The final one from David Pascoe:

Exhibit F: Simple As That
AKA: Macca says Just Say No

Two quick ones to finish with (but if you’re very unlucky there may be a part 2).

This track was included on an anti-heroin album. It’s fairly bog-standard anti-drug material, but it includes perhaps the definitive line that sums up the spirit that runs through most of McCartney’s work. For those who have ears, let them hear.
“Would you rather be alive or dead?”

In the course of researching this article, I heard plenty of McCartney cover versions too. Here’s a quick example of Getting Paul McCartney Wrong. In the meantime, back to those Press to Play out-takes…

Full marks for including the original’s “Shooby-dooby-dowa”s, but where’s the autoharp at the end?

Macca’s back pages: chapter 5

Sunday 24th August 2008

David Pascoe writes:

Exhibit E: Check My Machine
AKA: Macca does dubstep
“I figure that in time they’ll get around to more recent stuff, Check My Machine, those funny little ones.”

Now this is more like it. Liberated by going properly solo, McCartney produced a corking album in McCartney II, containing some of his finest moments. Coming Up, Temporary Secretary (“She can be a neurosurgeon/If she’s doing nothing urgent” – Genius) and One of These Days all ring out with the fresh clear confidence of the Ram sessions nine years earlier. But when it came to recording a B-side for TLC-inspiring Waterfalls, McCartney produced something truly surprising.

Starting out with some looped cartoon clips including Barney Rubble in The Flinstones and something sounding suspiciously like a “D’oh” but most probably a clip from the Laurel and Hardy cartoon, we dip into a helium voiced McCartney beseeching us to “Check my machine/Che-eck my machine”.

The request continues over a gorgeously, mellow banjo, keyboard and dub bass line. The pace seldom rises above the nodding but the invitation to bob is irresistible. At regular intervals we break off from our bobbing to hear Macca play with the “dropping a metal dustbin on its side” voice on his synthesiser before returning to the hypnotic, circling riff. Finishing with some high-spirited audio verite mucking about, this track is crystal proof that the surge in popularity McCartney enjoyed in the early 80s was no fluke.

Why should we be interested in it?
This track (and the equally lesser-heard Secret Friend, a kind of death disco released on 12″ with Temporary Secretary) show that McCartney’s instincts for dabbling in different musical styles and for keeping up with contemporary sounds remained as strong as ever. In its own demented way, this track is as timeless as anything he recorded with The Beatles. It could have popped up on late night Radio 1 in 1980, 1990, 2000 or 2010 and would have sounded as exciting and vibrant as anything else going on at the time. McCartney’s dance music alter-ego, The Fireman was born here.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones…”

Macca’s back pages: chapter 4

Wednesday 6th August 2008

David Pascoe writes:

Exhibit D: Rudolph the Red Nose Reggae
AKA: Macca does country festive?

I won’t detain you for long with this one. Officially, Wonderful Christmastime marked the resumption of McCartney’s solo career. Now while “Ding dong/ding dong/ding dong” has become as much a part of Christmas as “Lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb”, Rudolph the Red Nose Reggae has gone pretty much unnoticed.

There’s a good reason for that. Anyone expecting a festive C Moon rehash is quickly disappointed. Our ‘reggae’ consists of keyboard and country fiddle chocking out the famous Christmas song for about two minutes and…that’s it. No lyrics, no variation, no surprise. Nothing. Certainly bugger all Jamaican about it.

The notes on Back to the Egg revealed that it was four years old, having been recorded in Nashville while Wings were making Venus and Mars. I think he was drunk on the success of recording the perfectly serviceable Sally G at the same time, surely the only pedal steel country tune to feature the refrain “Take it chaps”.

Why should we be interested in it?
Only to reflect on a great lost opportunity. Had McCartney left this in the vaults and instead backed Wonderful Christmastime with the gorgeous double whammy of Winter Rose/Love Awake, he would have made the best two-sided Christmas single EVER!

Where’s Dick James when you need him?
“I never thought to ask her what the letter G stood for

Macca’s back pages: chapter 3

Saturday 26th July 2008

More from David Pascoe:

Exhibit C: Daytime Night-time Suffering
“I really think that’s all right, that one. It’s very pro-woman.”
AKA: Macca does feminism

Once upon a long ago, McCartney called this “my big favourite of all my contemporary work.” It could be he was just relieved to have written it. Shy on inspiration for a song to act as the B-side to forthcoming single Goodnight Tonight, he threw down the gauntlet to his Wings bandmates. Whoever produced something workable by Monday morning, would see the song recorded and issued.

History has failed to record what Mrs. McCartney, Messrs Laine, Juber and Holly came up with, but by Monday all bets were off. McCartney had written this tribute to women. But is his high opinion of the song justified?

It bears all the hallmarks of a song that has flown through its author once he has stopped pushing for a song to come. Lyrically it comes as close to pure poetry as McCartney has ever managed. I hope this song made it into Blackbird Singing, if only for beautifully prescient couplets such as: “What does she get for all the love she gave you?/There on the ladder of regret/Daytime night-time suffering/Is all…she gets”; and “Where are the prizes for the games she entered?/With little chance of much success/Daytime night-time suffering/Is all…she gets”.

Things nearly get derailed by a clichéd middle eight concerning rivers and streams that segues into the classic McCartney vocal fill “do-do-dee-do-dee-do-dum-dum-dum”, but in the end he carries it off.

Why should we be interested in it?
Because the man himself likes it and it’s only a B-side. Are we missing a classic track? Well not quite classic, but it’s certainly very good and a cut above most of the stuff McCartney was writing in the late 70s. It was more deserving of its place on Wingspan – Hits and History than bloody Bip Bop.

Mark Lewisohn says it should have been a double A-side and who are we to argue?

Macca’s back pages: chapter 2

Sunday 13th July 2008

Exhibit B: Little Woman Love
AKA: Macca does sexy

Nowadays there isn’t a hair out of place on that dyed barnet and McCartney hasn’t neglected a razor for decades. It’s all a far cry from the period 1969-72 where he hit the drugs and drink (as evidenced by Every Night and Monkberry Moon Delight), grew a monster beard, mooched around on his Scottish farm and screwed Linda endlessly.

Ignoring Maybe I’m Amazed or My Love, the dominant themes of McCartney’s early 70s work concern evenings in, getting wasted and laid. Tracks such as Eat at Home, Long Haired Lady, Monkberry Moon Delight, Too Many People and Smile Away made Ram into McCartney’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll album. The message given by this album was that McCartney was out of the superstar race, enjoying the company of his wife and children and would be making whatever music he damned well felt like.

While Eat at Home is full of lascivious intent, it has the feel of a rather nervy encounter, the slightly orgasmic Buddy Hollyesque “Oh-oh-oh-ohs” making the McCartneys sound like gawky teenagers enjoying a first fumble.

Revisiting this territory in the present song when recording a B-side for the execrable Mary Had a Little Lamb, McCartney got it just right. Essentially a simple honky-tonk blues song, the callow tone of the previous year has been replaced with a deeper, warmer sound. The coy invitation of Eat at Home is now an everyday occurrence for the McCartneys. Presumably the lack of central heating on the farm accounted for that.

Out of the opening exhortations, “I got a little woman I can really love/My woman fit me like a little glove” we descend into a chorus made up simply of “Oh yeah/oh yeah/oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ho”. The McCartneys never sounded more as one than they did in this simple little song.

Why should we be interested in it?
There’s a lack of artifice here which stretches through most of McCartney’s early solo work and reaches it apex in this song. Essentially McCartney was living his earlier demand of Why Don’t We Do It In the Road? Most sex songs seem to take place in an alternative universe of fine wines, luxurious hotel suites (or ‘cribs’) and seem as far removed from everyday sex experiences as a road sweeper is from a rocket scientist.

But here (and in Eat at Home) that divide comes down. They copulate where we copulate and it means the same to them as it does to us. “You know I feel alright/My little woman mine”.

Band on the Run changed this. Once he became a global superstar again, McCartney smartened up, recorded in Lagos, Nashville, the Virgin Islands etc and never wrote quite so earthily again.

Fucking in a home in the heart of the country.

(by David Pascoe)

Macca’s back pages: chapter 1

Wednesday 2nd July 2008

Many thanks to David Pascoe, who’s put virtual pen to paper and come up with a definitive guide to Paul McCartney curiosities.

“What I’m finding out about all that stuff, all my own contemporary B-sides and strange tracks, is that it takes time”

Paul McCartney’s solo career has been discussed at length within the TV Cream empire. Getting Paul McCartney Right is probably the definitive document on his solo work, but as the man said to Mark Lewisohn there are still gaps in how his work is perceived.

This is not an easy thing for Macca fans to deal with, mainly because they are often coming up against a widespread belief that McCartney’s solo work(and I include Wings in the definition of ‘solo’) is a load of toss. When faced with Mull of Kintyre or We All Stand Together, this is not hard to dispute [speak for yourself – IJ].

The sad thing for McCartney fans is that the sneers that accompany these exhibits of poor taste often don’t acknowledge what McCartney carried over from his 60s London experiences. This being the interesting stuff, the strange stuff and the tracks that don’t quite fit under the headings of ‘Raucous Rockers’ or ‘Gentle Ballads’.

You’ll find these tracks shoved to the back and sides behind the Silly Love Songs, Jets and Band on the Runs. In some cases these tracks deserve more attention; in others, well they’re interesting failures. Almost none of them are mentioned when ‘Paul McCartney’ comes up for discussion. Almost all of them are worthy of your attention.

1972: McCartney as a threat to national security and public decency
Exhibit A: Give Ireland Back to the Irish
AKA: McCartney goes political.

Four years before this song was released, McCartney was so desperate to prevent The Beatles making an overt political statement via Lennon’s Revolution, that he had to write Hey Jude in order to persuade Lennon to accept B-side status for his call to arms at the flower shop (see you on the barricades, John.)

The implication behind this piece of musical horse-trading is that McCartney was too conventional to confront the burning issues of demonstration, riots and opportunistic politics that comprised 1968. Considering the condemnation that his LSD admissions had sparked a year earlier (“I mean I just tried to be honest, and it’s sometimes painful”) he couldn’t really be blamed for advising caution.

Four years later, however, and it was a different story. Doubtless cut from his script during the filming of Andrew Marr’s History of Britain, was the snippet that Bloody Sunday not only swelled support for the IRA and contributed to numerous bomb explosions and scares in Michael Palin’s diaries, but also heralded the first explicitly political song from Paul McCartney.

It wins points straight away for not featuring any Celtic instrumentation or winsome piano/acoustic guitar. Instead, we’re straight into an atmospheric heavy rocker with guitars squealing over McCartney’s calls for Ireland to be given its own choice in determining its future.

Lyrically, he hasn’t quite got the hang of this protest song lark at the beginning. “Great Britain/You are tremendous/and nobody knows like me” carries as much bite as a lyric written by John Le Mesurier. But once he finds his range, the song becomes more questioning of its listener. Not in a “Here’s who to blame” manner, a la Lennon’s fabulously funky Sunday, Bloody Sunday, but in a “What if it was us” way.

Nowhere is this more explicit than in the lines about “A man who looks like me.” Languishing in prison, McCartney puts a very simple but powerful case to us: “Should he lie down?/Do nothing/Should he give in?/Or go mad”. The pounding drums and keyboard chords under each question add to the sense of hard choices having to be made. Shockingly direct for Macca (it would be seen as inciting terrorism now) and all the more admirable given the rarity with which McCartney would tackle political subjects in years to come (and no, the pro vegetarian stance of Cook of the House doesn’t count.)

And then there’s that chorus: “Give Ireland back to the Irish/Don’t make them have to take it away/Give Ireland back to the Irish/Make Ireland Irish today.” Pisses all over Come Together for effectiveness as a sloganeering chant. You’ll be singing it yourself by the second chorus, though I doubt it sees much action on the stereo at Stormont.

Why should we be interested in it?
This is one of those rare McCartney songs that tells us how he genuinely feels. So many of his songs are either told from a character’s viewpoint or with a broad stroke, leaving the inner feelings of the man inaccessible. Bloody Sunday demanded a ‘real’ response from whoever wrote about it and McCartney delivers a considered but heartfelt judgement on a process that was going badly wrong.

Of course, it was years before any good was to come of all this. The Troubles rumbled on for another two decades, Give Ireland Back to the Irish was hit by an airplay ban, Wings guitarist, Henry McCullough’s brother was beaten up in Northern Ireland and McCartney responded to the airplay ban by making Mary Had a Little Lamb. They were dark days indeed.

“And he dreams of God and country”
The opposition’s take on the matter