Paul McCartney - The 7" Singles Music Album Reviews
A ginormous, mostly fans-only box set gathers together 80 records that tell the singular story of a man who has dedicated his entire life to the three-minute pop song. 

When the crate arrived at my house containing every solo Paul McCartney single on vinyl, I admit at first I gaped in horror: 80 7-inches, 159 tracks, sealed in a pine box. Who is this for? Me, that’s who: a 41-year-old white guy whose version of the White Album, taped off of his father’s vinyl, hiccuped so badly he sang along to a skipping “I Will” for 25 years. The Beatles-industrial complex is a fearsome thing, and to be reckoning with projects this big, still falling out of the sky, is both exhausting—when will it ever end?—and slightly wondrous. This melting border, where bald IP-grab cynicism meets childhood wonder, has been expanding for my entire adult life. If there is a labored metaphor to be reached between the Beatles and Star Wars, that other endlessly renewing fount of nostalgia (hold tight), The 7" Singles Box is somewhere between Obi-Wan Kenobi (pointless, hollow) and Andor (unnecessary, but delightful).

Besides collecting every official McCartney single, The 7" Singles Box also scoops 15 miscellaneous tracks that leaked out into the world in other formats: CD singles, digital downloads, bonus tracks. The idea, as outlined in Rob Sheffield’s loving liner notes, is to present the 7" as McCartney’s Rosebud, containing in its fragile sleeve the ideal of the rock’n’roll song as a disposable piece of eternity.

The entire box is available on Spotify, of course, which is endlessly accommodating, but interacting with McCartney’s singles via little pieces of plastic feels right. They reflect his lifelong reverence for the three-minute rock ditty, but also embody the inherent flimsiness of the form. Making my way through 159 McCartney singles tested my immunity to his airy charm at regular intervals: My smile hardened into a grimace about every 20 minutes. There are only so many times in a row you can listen to someone capable of grandeur settle without compunction for something pleasingly slapdash before rolling your eyes and giving up. The “oh come on” factor rears its head continually, but it is countered at every turn by a raised-eyebrow “what is this?”

These two poles— “oh come on” and “ooh, what is this?”—comprise the agony and the ecstasy of the lifelong Paul project. He will never stop grabbing our ear: No one else in pop history boasts his gifts for both melody and arrangement, nor have they matched his enthusiasm for deploying them. For good or ill, no Paul McCartney song has ever taken your attention for granted. But having your ear grabbed 159 consecutive times in this set, only to be offered pablum like “love is fine, for all we know” (“Listen to What the Man Said”) roughly as often as you are rewarded—it will make you steel yourself against this wily charmer’s arts.

The box set kicks off with McCartney’s first post-Beatles single, the lovelorn and still-resonant “Another Day,” which could have easily fit on Let It Be. Understated, elegiac, and uncharacteristically muted, it was McCartney playing his best role: empathetic observer of others. The flip side, “Oh Woman, Oh Why” showcased a hammy Howlin’ Wolf impersonation so unrestrained and cartoony that he resembled a furry green Muppet more than any Delta bluesman.

And thus begins the story of McCartney’s solo career, a tale of cheery productivity and even cheerier disregard for results. Wherever there is inspiration there must be inanity, and with each gold nugget unearthed comes at least one nose-wrinkling dirt lump, a reality that comes into focus when each song is granted its own piece of vinyl and bespoke cover art. There is a particularly instructive humiliation in selecting a side of vinyl that contains only “We All Stand Together (The Frog Song)” and flipping it over only to be confronted by “We All Stand Together (Humming Version).”

After “Another Day,” we find ourselves abruptly in the Wings years, a discography that has proved itself remarkably immune to large-scale critical rediscovery or revival. These were the happy-hippie years, when Linda McCartney twirled onstage, bedecking the microphone with scarves and playing keyboard, harmonizing with Paul in her yowling, indelible way. Linda, frequently the target of derision from her husband’s fans, openly derided the group: “We just picked the wrong people,” she told Playboy in 1984. And here is Paul, remembering his time in Wings in Sheffield’s liner-notes essay: “It was the weirdest thing...There was me, having been one of the world’s most famous people, a member of the Beatles, playing in this semi-professional band kind of thing.”

If Paul had dubbed Wings “Paul McCartney and the Semi-Professional Band Kind of Thing,” they might have gotten a fairer shot: People would have understood just how badly Paul needed to be surrounded by people, any people, playing music and making records. If it wasn’t going to the Beatles, were these guys. Paul and Linda were the heart of Wings, if there was such a thing, and the lovely moments in their discography arise directly out of their dizzy, daft chemistry. There were a lot of bongos in these songs, as well as the near-constant implication of bare feet. “You are my song, I am your singer,” they sang to each other, trading the lines and turning them into two halves of one mantra.

Surfing through McCartney’s Wings discography single by single turns up all manner of sidelong pleasures and revelations. The 1950s tribute “Love is Strange” works up a diffident ska-skiffle groove and then throws in a wayward guitar solo that provoked me into imagining a Built to Spill cover. The repetitive chant of “Let ’Em In” was dismissed by rock critics as doggerel, but Philly Soul legend Billy Paul heard a radical call to inclusion in McCartney’s language—“Someone’s knockin at the me a favor, open the door and let ’em in,”—and recorded a cover that spliced in snippets of speeches from Malcolm X.

There is a slightly melancholy tinge to imagining the alternate futures some of these sunny McCartney songs could have had, in another set of circumstances or another timeline. “You Gave Me the Answer,” from Wings’ album Venus and Mars, was another in a long line of McCartney’s tributes to Great British Music Hall, the kind of chipper pre-rock’n’roll tunes he would debut to the groans of his fellow Beatles. But seen through the bird’s-eye view of the Macca box, it’s easy to imagine this song, with its winning couplet, “I love you, and you/You seem to like me,” taking the place of the godforsaken “Honey Pie” on the White Album, improving that album’s final side enormously.

The set also offers salutary reminders everywhere of Paul’s unselfconscious weirdness. Did you know that the teddy-bear Beatle managed to get himself banned from the BBC in 1972 for the chorus of “Hi, Hi, Hi,” (as in, “we’re gonna get”)? Have you heard him sing, on that same song, “I want you to lie on the bed, get you ready for my polygon,” followed by a discomfiting buzzing sound—a chainsaw? Buzzing bees? Have you heard his cover of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? As if to prove some obscure McCartney hypothesis about just how slight of a scrap he could redeem with his talent and imagination, it undergoes several key changes and winds up sounding like an Abbey Road interlude.

At the twilight of the ’70s, the final Wings album, Back to the Egg, harbored the usual one or two moments of supreme grace and beauty: “Arrow Through Me,” a funky melange of Fender Rhodes and synthesized horn, basically adds a classic Hall & Oates song to the world under McCartney’s name. The tar-thick groove was deep enough to get Erykah Badu’s head bobbing, who sampled it for her 2010 classic “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long.”

As the ’80s dawned, Paul broke up Wings, expressing a desire to start “tinkering by myself like a mad professor locked up in his laboratory.” That impulse resulted in the unusually divisive (even for Paul) McCartney II, an album-length dive into synth presets and funny-sounding treated vocals that has been reclassified as a proper cult classic. The singles—“Temporary Secretary” b/w “Secret Friends”—are by now objects of fan devotion, often offered as evidence for the defense of his experimental impulses. But the sketches on McCartney II feel either graced or afflicted—depending on your perspective—by the same weightlessness that distinguishes “Silly Love Songs.” Listening to Paul’s solo work, you’re often forced to conclude that while writing songs matters to him more than anything in the world, this song, in particular, might be of very little importance. Finessing details, omitting flubbed lyrics, or revising bad ideas are all sacrificed to the ongoing flow, which is all that matters.

The set turns particularly unforgiving during the next two decades, a time during which McCartney’s best work reliably appeared on album tracks, hunched alongside garish singles. Sticking to singles throughout the ’80s means that instead of “Here Today,” his subdued tribute to John that still appears in his concerts, we get “Ebony and Ivory,” a No. 1 Stevie Wonder duet so repellent it practically birthed the Spectacularly Ill-Conceived Pop Star Appeal to Racial Unity subgenre (future examples: Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?”, Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”). It means that instead of the lilting Everly Brothers throwback “Sweetest Little Show,” we get “The Girl Is Mine,” the only skip on Thriller. These were the years of teeth-setting frills like “We All Stand Together (The Frog Song),” “Spies Like Us,” and “My Carnival.” Things were so dire for Paul that in a 1985 cover story for Rolling Stone, Phil Collins felt smug enough to publicly offer him some help.

This trend of bad singles overshadowing good album tracks continued into the ’90s, albeit in more muted fashion. “Muted” is a good byword for ’90s solo Paul: while the Anthology series activated an entire new generation of Beatles obsessives, he played his role as Fab Four ambassador but otherwise laid low, perhaps chastened by the excesses of the previous decade. “Put It There” b/w “Mama’s Little Girl,” his first singles of the ’90s, were a direct callback to the grass-scented breezes of Ram and McCartney, consisting of nothing but his sweet voice and his acoustic guitar. The singles from his comeback album Flaming Pie were either mealy and undercooked rockers—“The World Tonight,” “Young Boy”—or mawkish ballads like “Beautiful Night,” all of them missing the spark of enthusiasm you could still hear in even his most syrupy ’80s material. With just this set as evidence, you’d never know of the existence of either “Little Willow” or “Calico Skies,” two lovely album tracks from Flaming Pie that are among the most affecting solo songs he wrote all decade.

As McCartney entered his sixth decade, something remarkable happened to his music. Age and loss, perhaps, had weathered him—cruelly, he lost Linda to cancer in 1998, when she was only 56—and there was a new autumnal croak in his voice, out of character for the eternal boy. He settled into his new role as an elder statesman and an album-oriented artist. Ironically, the moment he stopped straining to prove himself with hit singles, some of his best songs in decades popped out. In the albums he released in the ’00s—the riotous early rock’n’roll tribute album Run Devil Run, the Nigel Godrich-produced Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, the tough and mournful Driving Rain, and onward—the most emotionally opaque Beatle seemed to decide that maybe there wasn’t much point in playing his emotions so close to the vest. “Jenny Wren,” “From a Lover to a Friend,” “Fine Line” and other singles from these years nurse a quiet loneliness that feels entirely different from the blank merriment that characterizes so much of his earlier solo work. Even his life-affirming songs, like 2008’s “Sing the Changes,” had a newly desperate quality.

Paul McCartney is now 80. He just released a collection of his studio experiments last year, and based on the usual schedule of his output, he will probably record another full new record of rock songs in the next year or so. Then, health permitting, he will likely embark on a stadium tour. No one else has ever done this—devoted their lives to writing and recording hundreds of three-minute rock songs—for as long as he has, at such a high level, without getting bored. He has never decided to be above them, nor stopped throwing himself into the task of writing engaging, catchy ones.

In 1962, the same year John and Paul wrote “Love Me Do,” the art critic and painter Manny Farber published an essay entitled “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art.” White elephant art, he wrote, was “masterpiece art,” concerned with posterity and timelessness, while termite art went about its omnivorous way, chewing energetically through borders and leaving nothing but pulp as evidence of its activity. When the Beatles broke up, Paul McCartney was unquestionably a white elephant artist, and he has spent the following four decades fighting his way to termite status.

How do you go from white elephant to termite? If you’re Paul, you just record. If your ideas don’t seem to match up with your best ones, put them out anyway, and hope the next batch yields more inspiration. Few songwriters in history have been less precious or more generous with their gifts. He’s continued writing songs and tossing them out into the wood chipper of expectations, then shrugging with a beatific grin when they are ignored or insulted. Inevitably, within a few years, he’s at it again. There is something perversely heroic about this toil, its utter disregard for anyone else’s notions about the sort of music he should be making. McCartney’s solo career is perhaps the longest sustained war any artist has carried out against their own narrative.

One of the last songs in the box set, “Queenie Eye,” is about as compelling as anything else here, and he released it when he was 71. And one of the most blood-freezing entries—the maybe-I’m-appalled lust anthem “Fuh You”—is even more recent. McCartney’s solo quality-control meter bedevils all at sweeping statements: McCartney is best when he keeps it simple, or when he’s ambitious, or when he plugs in and rocks, and so on. Because the truth is he has written great and awful songs in all these modes. You can never point reliably to the moment when he is “trying” versus when he is not: The only certainty with regard to McCartney’s songs is that there will soon be another.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on December 24, 2022 Rating: 5


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