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Friday, September 17, 2021

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Arts + CultureMusicComing up: 5 essential, post-Beatles McCartney tracks

Coming up: 5 essential, post-Beatles McCartney tracks

Finding the wait until Thanksgiving for Peter Jackson's 'Get Back' Beatles break-up doc excruciating? Here's Paul's post-'Let it Be' greats.

Leave it to Peter Jackson to take what was supposed to be a two-hour retrospective film about The Beatles’ and turn it into a three-night Disney+ documentary series. The Beatles: Get Back will be released during the ideal streaming moment of Thanksgiving weekend, and it’s going to be a ruff hang, bubba. You’ll be watching the band break up while attempting to finish Let it Be, their final record, without incident. These are not the group’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” Ed Sullivan monoculture good-times.

According to reports, Jackson used old material to craft a new narrative for this historic session. Great, the director is doing his job. But six-plus hours is a bit Hobbit-esque, right? And there’s no dragons, trolls or dwarves either, for Pete’s sake.

Do you know what else is long, in the factory-performance-clockwork sense of the word? Paul McCartney’s musical trajectory in the 1970s. After the Beatles imploded and closed up shop, he went to work, releasing 11 albums from 1970 to 1982 with his band Wings and or with wife Linda McCartney. Take into consideration that The Beatles put out 12 studio albums during their entire run. Some artists would die to have McCartney’s second career as their first.

Moreover, these songs, records, documents, collaborations…none of them were Beatles retreads.

McCartney was finally free to venture, and he took the initiative to explore singer-songwriter ballads, blue-eyed soul, pop, new wave, futzy electronic experiments, disco-flavored arrangements, and even combination songs that possess two or three vibes within a single track. The guy had extra gas in the tank—but also, a vendetta, a chip on his shoulder that he needed to address in the post-Beatles era.

Far in advance of our epic Beatles Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve put together a Paul McCartney playlist. It features radio staples and the not-so-familiar. These are the impressive sound pieces from a post-Beatlemania discography.

PAUL MCCARTNEY — “MOMMA MISS AMERICA” (MCCARTNEY)

Pulled from his 1970 debut solo record McCartney, ”Momma Miss America” is described by the guy as, “an instrumental recorded completely at home. Made up as I went along – first a sequence of chords, then a melody on top. Piano, drums, acoustic guitar, electric guitar.”

Blues-y, chomp-y, and with waves of country funk textures, the LP features McCartney just noodling, while he creates something substantially groovy and cavernous. The release proved to be enduringly popular. Cameron Crowe tapped the album for 1996 movie Jerry Maguire; its drum break has been repurposed by hip-hop artists Common, The Artifacts, The Roots, and The Beastie Boys, who incorporated it into their song “Johnny Ryall” from Paul’s Boutique. Known and unknown all at once, the latter is a throwaway song, an album cut never released.

PAUL MCCARTNEY — “UNCLE ALBERT/ADMIRAL HALSEY” (RAM)

From their album Ram’s openhearted dub jangle “Ram On” to the vocal atmospherics of “Dear Boy,” this project from Wings, the Paul-Linda show, make you immediately want more. The group had sparks, and Ram’s got home-cooking, love, and tenderness. The duo’s English countryside folk-jazz expanse is on full display in “Heart of The Country,’’ for which the ex-Beatle gleams on about having a horse and a sheep and getting a good night’s sleep—when he’s not scatting. It’s so damn hokey that it’s downright inviting. All that charm makes you wonder; what these folks slipping in their tea? And can I buy it at Rainbow?

Ram, with its heady nature, is a priority purchase. If you need more proof, just dial up the ASMR-AOR forever jam “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” that shines so bright with violins, French horns, and the headphone lyric “the butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie.” This AM radio gold earworm is a production masterstroke. The arrangement contains so many moving parts, it really should not work. Forever ensconced in the memory banks of those who remember car radio, it’s evidence that Paul and Linda were cooking Jack—and not John-and-Yoko style, either.

“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 4th, 1971, making it the first of a string of post-Beatles, Paul McCartney-penned singles to top the US pop chart during the 1970s and ‘80s.

Shout out to Greta Gerwig, with her vocal needle-drop sing-a-long and ever-so-corny, yet mighty-fine dance jig to “Admiral Halsey” in 2010 film Greenberg. The timing from that performer and screenwriter-turned-Academy-Award-nominated-director, always on point.

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND WINGS — “ARROW THROUGH ME” (BACK TO THE EGG)

Something that saunters down the pop side of the street, “Arrow Through Me” is that mellow, slinky blue-eyed soul joint that could have run Bobby Caldwell out of town. In 2020, the song appeared in episode 2 (track 2) of Hulu’s TV series adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity starring Zoe Kravitz, reminding us all that Paul had those joints in the bag.

With harmony comparisons to Duke Ellington and keyboard bass line references to Stevie Wonder, it makes sense that Erykah Badu sampled the song for “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” from her New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) project. It also appeared on sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati’s episode “God Talks to Johnny.”

Never hitting top-of-the-chart status, “Arrow Through Me” was an album cut that suited record heads just fine.

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND WINGS — “MY LOVE” (RED ROSE SPEEDWAY)

Where do I start? Wings released this ode, penned by Paul for bandmate and wife Linda, as the lead single on the group’s 1973 album Red Rose Speedway. The song marked the first time that McCartney’s name appeared in credits for a Wings record. Released on March 23, 1973, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US for four weeks and peaked at number nine on the UK Singles Chart. The single was viewed as Wings’ first significant success in the US and helped Red Rose Speedway achieve commercial success.

According to lore, McCartney recruited jazz players for the session, seeking a certain feel. Henry McCullough, a Northern Irish guitarist, sensed that the instructions McCartney gave him were not working, and asked him if he could do something different. Upon approval, McCartney remembers, “He played the solo on ‘My Love,’ which came right out of the blue. And I just thought, fucking great.”

According to McCullough, it was the first time that anyone in Wings had challenged McCartney, and it was an approach that others in the band encouraged to make Wings a genuine band and improve McCartney’s image. 

Forever a staple—a yule log of sorts, and not just for AM terrestrial radio—“My Love” is a ballad that would be covered by Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, Brenda Lee, Andy Williams, and Harry Connick Jr. With its arrangement of strings, the swirling vocal “ooo-ooo-ooo” in the background, and the guitar solo featuring McCullough channeling his best version of George Harrison times ten, in some aspects “My Love” defined AM radio in ’73.

McCartney has continued to perform the track in concerts as tribute to Linda, following her death in 1998. He included the song in the musical program for her memorial services in London and in New York City, where it was performed by a string quartet.

PAUL MCCARTNEY — “COMING UP” (MCCARTNEY II)

The lead song from McCartney II utilizes sped-up vocals created using a vari-speed tape machine. It was an immediate hit in the UK and the States. Coming off his 1981 break-up with Wings, this album sees McCartney messing with the idea of electronic equipment taking the lead.

In a Rolling Stone interview, he explained, “I originally cut [the song] on my farm in Scotland. I went into the studio each day and just started with a drum track. Then I built it up bit by bit without any idea of how the song was going to turn out. After laying down the drum track, I added guitars and bass, building up the backing track. Then I thought, ‘Well, OK, what am I going to do for the voice?’ I was working with a vari-speed machine with which you can speed up your voice, or take it down a little bit. That’s how the voice sound came about.”

You gotta wonder if Prince heard about the idea of varying, altering voices here.

The track came out at a time where everybody was trying to mess with disco. (And when I say everybody, I mean white rock stars.) Not quite disco, but not rock, on this track McCartney found his own cool little way to accent the 4/4 beat.

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.
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