Paul McCartney was/is overrated.

In the immediate wake of the 9/11 unpleasantness, the most successful songwriter in the history of the world by almost any metric put pen to paper and spake thus to a waiting world:

This is my right, a right given by God 
To live a free life, to live in freedom 

Talking about freedom 
I’m talking about freedom 
I will fight, for the right 
To live in freedom 

Anyone, tries to take it away 
Will have to answer ’cause this is my right 

Has there ever been a more shallow, depressing response from such a canonized figure about such a galvanizing event? What pandering! God? Really? And the little allusion to potential bloodshed. Oh, you don’t think so? What does “will have to answer” mean to you in this context? A stern finger-wagging? Perhaps a fourth-hand reference on a b-side of one of his boutique singles? No, this was a shrewd re-immersion into the crass banalities which have defined his solo career. A man who talked about love while impregnating half of Australia. A man who could have told his partner in the biggest business music has ever known to shut the fuck up, lose the studio pet, and understand that the drugs and shit are ruining everything they had built up to that point, and that perhaps there’s a bigger picture. A currency to all the hard work. Instead, he hummed and hawed and approached that conflict much like Nick Mason would approach a 16th note. Silent, simmering sadness partnered with a withering fear of/aversion to conflict. The English Way. I hate him because he, in his way, deprived us of so much.

Paul McCartney is overrated. He, like his partner John Lennon, suffered mightily outside the hothouse of musical excellence that was “The Beatles 1962-1969”. But they all did, of course. His craft was melody. His music-hall tendencies and gift for a tune were free to flourish at first, then rot. He had nothing to say, because having something to say would require a stance. If Lennon chickened out over and over (two examples off-hand “You can count me out…in” and his complaints about Dylan making openly religious recordings while at the same time chiding his audience for believing a single word he was saying were things the contemporary Lennon kicked himself for not doing when he was more than equipped to privately, and yet his tantrums were moot exercises in house-husbandly petulance, as he never found the nerve to express his real beliefs), McCartney had nothing substantive to say. Ever. Had he died in 1980, the subsequent generations of lost youth might feel compelled to sift through his rock and roll detritus to find some deeper meaning in his silly love songs, but there will be none. No deeper meaning.

While Lennon’s needle moved from politics of peace to war to utopia to fascism to atheism to karma, McCartney was always careful to stand for nothing. I don’t know which solo career infuriates me more. At least George Harrison’s pontificating was somewhat consistent in its boorish self-righteousness.

Look at his attempts at engaging the political/social realm beyond the studio clock. “Give Ireland To The Irish” could have been a provocative indictment of Bloody Sunday. But after having initiated this potentially devastating, even career-defining leadership role, he proceeded to come off as some entitled school teacher.

Great Britain you are tremendous 
And nobody knows like me 
But really what are you doin’ 
In the land across the sea 

But really, Great Britain. What are you doing? Really? You are tremendous. But really…pish posh and all that. As ham-handed as Lennon’s ode to a political cause in which he himself was conveniently remote was, this little soiree into politics is embarrassing.  And it would happen a few more times. See, my theory is that the concept of meaningful, thoughtful lyrics are a total afterthought to this man. And he, like Lennon, was the beneficiary of nose-to-nose, men in white shirts and ties quality control like that of no other group, before or since. His gift for melody was unsurpassed. No one, not Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Beethoven, no one created more enduring, more pleasing melodies than Paul McCartney. But he would and could create a pretty melody from the sound of  turkey being sliced. It’s anything deeper than that that makes me think that he’s overrated. He wrote a song called “Bip Bop”. “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose”.  He crafted immaculate arrangements and deeply moving lines and covered them with shit. Listen to “Motor of Love” off Flowers in the Dirt.  The production is a little dated with the electronic drums and airy synths and whatnot, but a fine melody. It’s when he sings “Turn on your motor of love..heavenly father look down from above…” that I realize that in his oeuvre, there’s no such thing as writing yourself into a lyrical corner.  He’s gonna blast his way out, come hell or high water, regardless of how that might compromise the effectiveness of the song itself.

What does “Jet” really mean? I think he just came up with a good melody, and thought up a one-word chorus. It could have been “puke” or “cup” or “plum”. Did it really matter? Even “Hey Jude” is the sort of song where you have to accept that he’s speaking in some sort of code, and your interpretation of that code depends on acceptance of the nonsensical. You and I have been TOLD what it’s about, but for poetic license to be given, one must understand what he’s saying. Lennon, in the deepest throes of his heroin addiction and incessant egotistical ramblings, somehow thought the song was about HIM.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When the machine was running on all cylinders, there was a built-in cull of the worst of his tendencies. This faded as time went on. But he sang these meaningless couplets with such conviction and such authority that you could not help being pulled in.

And while he’s no Anvil, he’s not that far off.

——————————————————————————–

You and me together
Nothing feels so good
Even if I get a medal from my local neighbourhood

———————————————————————————-

When you’re wide awake
Say it for goodness sake
It’s gonna be a great day
While you’re standing there
Get up and grab a chair
It’s gonna be a great day

———————————————————-———————

From “Jet” to “Rough Ride” to “Press” to “Beautiful Night”, even his pre-solo work. songs like “Get Back” start out as little political screeds. Pakistanis taking British jobs, etc.  Fine. You agree or don’t. But like Lennon, he backs off for the sake of some kind of impulsive need to be universal by being vague. Like a politician. No point in alienating half the population by standing for something when the people who don’t stand for that thing will never buy your records again. As if that were true. It’s ridiculous. I’m an atheist, but I still buy Stevie Wonder’s music and am moved by HIS conviction. Earth Wind and Fire. When McCartney mentions god, it’s a cheap means of writing himself out of a corner. I used to cringe when i’d listen to “Living in the Material World” because Harrison was preaching to me. At least he was PREACHING something. At least there was no question where he stood. In his lyrics, at least. In life he was just as filthy as anyone else in showbiz. But better that then the endlessly nebulous quicksand that is and always has been Paul McCartney’s lyrics.

If Paul McCartney ever decided to write music for Scott Walker, I wonder what would happen. Or Leonard Cohen. That would be something.

I leave you with:

That would be something 
Really would be something 
That would be something 
To meet you in the fallin’ rain momma 
To meet you in the fallin’ rain

No, all music doesn’t have to “mean something” but after all this time, wouldn’t it be nice to know that under all that sugar coating beat the heart of a real revolutionary?  A hardened criminal? A pervert? He did sing about animal rights once. Here’s that:

I saw a cat with a machine in his brain
The man who fed him said he didn’t feel any pain
I’d like to see that man take out that machine
And stick it in his own brain, you know what I mean

I saw a rabbit with its eyes full of tears
The lab that owned her had been doing it for years
Why don’t we make them pay for every last eye?
That couldn’t cry its own tears, do you know what I mean?

When I tell you that we’ll all be looking for changes
Changes in the way we treat our fellow creatures
And we will learn how to grow
(Learn how to grow)

Well, I tell you that we’ll all be looking for changes
Changes in the way we treat our fellow creatures
And we will learn how to grow, yeah
When we’re looking for changes

I saw a monkey that was learning to choke
A guy beside him gave him cigarettes to smoke
And every time that monkey started to cough
The bastard laughed his head off, do you know what I mean?

Really makes you think.

 

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6 thoughts on “Paul McCartney was/is overrated.

  1. Canzo says:

    Your brain is overrated you moron. Please shut the fuck up and go to listen your shitty music

  2. LeeAnn says:

    This is really a ridiculous reductive essay in many ways. First, Paul’s strength as an artist is his melodies and compositions, not his lyrics. Just because you don’t know enough about music, composition, and arrangement to understand how he uses composition and arrangement to express himself, doesn’t mean he’s not expressing himself. Faulting Paul for writing vague, nonpolitical lyrics is like faulting Dylan for having a shitty voice. Why rant at an artist for something that everyone knows is not that artist’s strength?

    Second, in fact, you can find both great lyrics and awful lyrics in McCartney’s work (just as you can in the work of Lennon, Harrison, Dylan, Bowie, Neil Young, etc., etc, etc.). Why you single out McCartney is beyond me.

    But if you’re looking for “statements” McCartney has made throughout his career, why did you fail to see how, in song after song, he has expressed unusual empathy for women. In Eleanor Rigby, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Jenny Wren, Daytime Nighttime Suffering, Another Day, She’s Given Up Talking, Little Willow, McCartney has a consistent them of empathy for single mothers, lonely women, women struggling with illness. It’s fascinating, given his gender and generation, how interested he is in those themes. And the songs are about treating those women fairly, about giving them a voice.

    How you fail to find meaning in any of those songs is beyond me.

    From Paul’s latest album, two great songs: Alligator (with a terrific set of lyrics about his search for a partner who can deal with all of his shit and moodiness) and Queenie Eye (which sounds like it’s about a children’s game but is really a sharp meditation on the price of fame).

    Finally, Paul is an old school lyricist, meaning that he pursues universal messages in his lyrics. No one ever bitched at Cole Porter or Gershwin for not taking political stands in their music or for not revealing their religious beliefs in their music. If you prefer that preachiness, that’s fine. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong, and a lot that’s right, with an artist preferring a universal message and not wanting to preach at people.

  3. LeeAnn says:

    I forgot to mention Blackbird as yet another example of a great set of McCartney lyrics expressing empathy with women (in this case with a black woman).

  4. Nobody Special says:

    While I agree with the writer’s comments about Paul being somewhat shallow – (not caring to go ito things deeply or take a stand) – it sounds like the writer has nothing good to say about the Beatles in general.

    • See the opening paragraph in the article about John Lennon in this blog. I can see how you would reach that conclusion. I am making the point that the Beatles were all about quality control. When they split they all seemed to lose that quality. It’s the price they paid for absolute artistic freedom.

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