Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles output (solo & with Wings) is getting a facelift starting with these two solo albums. McCartney was originally released in April of 1970, just around the time The Beatles were planning to release Let It Be, so it was a catalyst in the band’s breakup. McCartney II was released a decade later, as his band Wings was falling apart. Both albums feature Paul as the only musician (wife Linda adds a few vocal harmonies on the 1970 album), but other than those points, they are very different records.
The McCartney album is one of the very first LPs I bought. I was 14 years old in the first part of 1970 and felt betrayed by the fact that The Beatles had split up just as I got to the age when I could start really appreciating them. To me they were gods, and so I bought McCartney and Let It Be on the same day. I remember my first reaction to McCartney was disappointment. About half the tracks were instrumentals…Paul fooling around in his home studio, not bothering to finish these songs…and of the fully-fleshed out tunes, one of them, Teddy Boy, was an annoying ditty in the vein of Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da. Apparently it drove the other Beatles mad when Paul tried to persuade them to record it…another nail in the band’s coffin.
But the album quickly grew on me. Paul had recorded this completely on his own at his home, overdubbing all the parts. This may be business as usual these days, but 40 years ago it was rather extraordinary. It sounded pretty loose technically….you could hear the edits in some tracks, which seemed to make the album all the more endearing. But what gave the album its greatest appeal was Paul’s emotional input. Songs like Every Night, Junk and Maybe I’m Amazed sounded totally heartfelt and genuine. The photos of idyllic family life snapped by Linda helped set the mood as well. Here was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet kicking back, hanging with his family and playing a few songs completely unencumbered by bandmates, producers or record company execs. That freedom and freshness comes through on every track.
And it still does 40 years later.
This new version of the album features remastered sound which does indeed sound like an improvement over previous CD versions….warmer and with more detail. There is also a second disc with 7 bonus tracks. Three of them are live performances of songs from the album recorded in 1979 and are rather unremarkable. McCartney has never interested me as a live performer…he rarely adds anything to his songs on stage, but is instead simply content to mug to the audience and bask in their adulation. There are, however, a couple of outtakes from the original sessions. While they are not particularly stunning songs, they do add to the vibe of the record, particularly Suicide, which picks up where the instrumental Hot As Sun/Glasses leaves off. The package also comes with many more photos showing Paul recording at home in 1970.
McCartney II, originally released almost exactly 10 years later, came after Paul (with and without Wings) and Elton John pretty much dominated the charts during the 1970s. But Paul’s grip on the top 10 seemed to be waning, with his previous album, 1979’s Back To The Egg, an unequivocal flop.
Releasing a solo album at the beginning of the new decade seemed like the perfect way to breathe some life in to a flagging career.
At this time Paul had been experimenting with electronic instruments…sequencers, synths, drum machines, etc. Give him credit, that was the way things were going in the 80s and he wasn’t afraid to try out some new sounds. Unfortunately, his forgot to write any decent songs to go with those sounds.
I remember listening to McCartney II when it was released. I was appalled. The sequencers and drum machines sounded cheesy and songs like Coming Up and Temporary Secretary made Teddy Boy sound like Yesterday.
So I was intrigued and surprised when my blogging colleague Simon Sweetman declared McCartney II to be a masterpiece in a recent Blog On The Tracks. How was this possible? Did I miss something the first time around? Had time been unusually kind to this collection of songs?
Well, I put on the reissue hoping for the best, but alas, it sounds even worse than I remember it. Coming Up, the opening song and single from the album, was mildly irritating 30 years ago, now its unlistenable. The same goes for track 2, Temporary Secretary. The lyrics are appallingly trite and musically, those synths and drum machines just sound like cheap toys. The song Waterfalls is being held up as a highlight of the album. But this bland ballad only sounds good within the context of the dross that fills out the rest of the record. Play it alongside any of McCartney’s better songs and its averageness will be quickly revealed. The only tracks I felt any positive feelings for were Summer’s Day Song, an unambitious five-line tune with some rather nice use of the synth and the final track, One Of These Days, that finds Paul reaching for his acoustic guitar.
This new reissue comes with an additional disc featuring 8 more tracks and clocking in at 47:53…longer than the original album. If you delete the live version on Coming Up and the single, Wonderful Christmastime, you’d have a halfway decent album of McCartney finding his way through his new toys. It wouldn’t be a song-oriented collection but it would be much more interesting and entertaining than McCartney II was and still is.
Click here to listen to Junk from McCartney:
Click here to listen to Summer’s Day Song from McCartney II:
The next batch of McCartney reissues should include Ram, Venus And Mars, Wings At The Speed Of Sound and Wings Over America.