Monday, June 18, 2012

Macca At 70

Is Paul McCartney the most significant rock and roller of all time - even more so than Elvis?

No, of course not.  No one is more important than Elvis, and for the runner-up spot, Paul McCartney gets serious competition from Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen - not to mention his old Beatles bandmate John Lennon.  But Macca, who turns seventy years old today, has certainly been instrumental in redefining popular music - not just rock and roll, but all pop.
As "the romantic Beatle," Paul made ballads cool, beginning with some of his lighter numbers from the Beatles' early records and culminating with "Yesterday," a song Paul was actually embarrassed by.  (The Beatles prevented "Yesterday" from being released as a single in the United Kingdom, but they couldn't stop it from being released as such in the United States; here it went to number one, and so it inspired some two thousand cover versions.)  But Paul also expanded rock's possibilities with incorporations of jazz and country in various Lennon-McCartney songs, as well as demonstrating his ability with flat-out rockers like "I'm Down" (a Little Richard pastiche taped the same day as "Yesterday") and "Back In the U.S.S.R.", a clever satire of the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry.
Production soon became McCartney's strongest suit, as he and George Martin carefully arranged some of the more elaborate Beatles tracks with subtlety and taste, never going overboard with orchestras or brass ensembles. His ability at producing records was what make his early solo and Wings records enjoyable to listen to even when the songs aren't up to snuff - a regrettable weakness in Macca's work as a composer.  
But I come to praise, not bury.  Though Macca has written some monumentally bad songs, particularly in his post-Beatles career, I still have several great songs from the past four decades he's written or co-written to refer to - "Live and Let Die," "Venus and Mars/Rock Show,"  "With a Little Luck," "Getting Closer," "My Brave Face" . . . hey, how about the entire Band On the Run album? That's the best Wings album ever made, not a bad moment on it, and Paul's 1982 solo album Tug Of War (produced by George Martin) is also superb, with some musical heights Paul hadn't achieved since the breakup of the Beatles.  The biggest reason for his songwriting inconsistencies is that he sometimes gets lazy in his composing, and yes, it would be a good idea for him to work with people who could challenge him.  The only trouble is, who's going to tell Paul McCartney how to write a song?     
Thankfully, Paul usually picks the right moment to challenge himself.  Just when you think he's spent, he has a good idea coming up . . . like a flower.  And because he has no intention to retire, we can expect more music from Macca even if his lives to be a hundred. :-) 
And how about that pop standards album he's just done? ;-) 

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