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Paul McCartney Retro: Junk?

In anticipation of McCartney’s concert at Citifield this July, a look back at his recorded works. It is difficult (not to mention irrelevant) to compare McCartney’s long and lustrous solo career to Lennon’s so tragically cut short. However, a look at the work they were doing in tandem finds exactly what we might think it would. McCartney all thumbs up and wink wink, Lennon all chip on his shoulder and overshare. Lennon was better of course, Mac has never managed something as powerful as “Merry Christmas (War Is Over If You Want It”), Mac did the excrutiating “Wonderful Christmas Time” instead.

I have come to neither praise nor bury the man. As everybody knows, he is one of the greatest melodists of all time and when did that become nothingof great import? He can be spoken of in the same breath as George Gershwin. And, for all his pains, and under extremely trying circumstances, he has managed to treat his millions of fans with grace and humor and appreciation.

So let’s try and treat him the same way -well, except for the unforgivable “At the Speed Of Sound”.

Is it slight? Sure. Lo fi? Absolutely. Completely blown away by Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and Lennon’s “John Lennon/Plastic One Band”? To put it bluntly yes. But cmon guys “Junk” is on it. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” as well, so is “Every night”. Grade: “A”

Mccartney can be charming and he can be precocious and “Ram” is way too cutesy for its own good. Still, do we dismiss an entire album because of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (or an entire career because of “Mull of Kintyre” -wait, dont answer that)? This is still falling on the right side of charm. Grade: “B+”

Wild Life
Many people think this is McCartney’s worst album but it’s not even close. From the gentle rebuke of “Dear Friend” to the latest in a long list of escape date songs “Tomorrow” to the slow shuffle cover of “Love Is Strange’ to the weird and charming “Mumbo” and “Be Bop” this is a disarming album. There’s the word again, when he works he is charming, when he flops he is pre-adolescent. But at this point of career he was never pretentious. Grade: “B+”

Red Rose Highway
I realize this was a very happy period in his life: the band were huge, the lovely Linda was by his side, the kids were tots. So why did he write the horrendous “My Love”? Why did he write any of this crap? Britain was bankrupt, unemployment was sky high, there was rioting on the streets and industries were on three day weeks and maybe what we had needed was what he would later dub silly love songs. But these aint that. Grade: “D”

Band On the Run
Back in the day when vinyl was king albums had two sides and side one of “Band On the Run” was McCartney’s definitive music and Side two wasn’t. Side one is barely twenty-two minutes but it doesn’t falter for a moment: indeed with its storyline about as well defined as “peppers” it instead flows from one high point to another ending with “Let Me Roll It” -a song the equal of everything but Lennon’s very best. Side two falters though not by much. Grade: “A”

Venus And Mars
When McCartney was in St. Louis recording this album, I was in Beirut funning with his personal managers wife. A simply stunning English woman. As stunning as this flawless piece of bubblegum . “Venus” is one long gorgeous melody -just like the girl. “Listen to What the Man Says” maybe his greatest single. Grade: “A+”

Wings Over America
I woulda loved to have caught this tour -Mac and the band travelling round the States in a 747 with plenty of ganja and packs of strobe lights. Grade: “B”

Wings At The Speed Of Sound
Here begins the wilderness years with one truly hopeless album following another “Speed,” “London Town”, “Back to the Egg” did more damage to Mccartney’s reputation then all the Beatle infighting combined. I can’t express my loathing for “Let ‘Em in,” “Silly Love Songs,” the non-Wings members song (Conor Oberst take note of that…). The worst album by an ex-beatle, worst than Ringo’s “Sentimental Journey” or Harrison’s “Dark Horse”. Simply horrendous. Grade: “D-“

London Town
It was 1977 for fucks sake. what is this shit? Oh well, “With A Little Luck” was cute Grade: “D”

Back To the Egg
He left off “Daytime, Nighttime Suffering” if he had put it on it woulda been a “D+”. Grade: “D”

McCartney II
Apparently he left his best stuff for this knock out album with Paulie playing it all by himself and doing it well. “Goodnight Tonight” is a discofied groover and “Coming Up” is on the extended CD and a straight up masterpiece. Grade: “A-“

Tug Of War
Hey, maybe this guy has a career left in him? the title track is real good and the Lennon tribute “Here Today” well said, almost makes you forgive him for the unbearable “Ebony and ivory”. Grade: “B”

Pipes Of Peace
Ugh “Say Say Say.” Ugh ugh ugh. Grade: “B-“

Give My Regards To Broadstreet
Unspeakably terrible album of remakes and new dross. What was Dave Edmunds doing there? The movie was worse. Grade: “D+”

Press To Play
Meant to be McCartney’s big return. Not yet. Grade: C-“

Back In the USSR
Worth buying if just for his cover of the late lamented Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” -he shoulda done an album of Little Richards covers. Grade: “B”

Flowers In the Dirt
This is the one. If you only buy one McCartney album make it “Flowers In the Dirt”. The stuff cowritten with Elvis Costello is all good, especially “My Brave Face” and “You Want Her Too,” flawless gems he should roll out live much more often, “Put It There” is touching and adult, and the album is just about perfect. Grade: “A+”

Tripping the Live Fantastic
I saw him on the 1990 tour, thought he was OK nothing great (he would be better a coupla years later) but maybe he was worse than nothing great if this woeful live album, fifteen years after
“Over America” is anything to go by. Grade: “C”

McCartney can rock but not to the point where an unplugged is even vaguely necessary. Grade: “C-“

Off The Ground
“Biker Like An Icon” is so bad it is worth mentioning how bad it is and he was flogging this crappy album round the world for some reason. Grade: “C-“

Paul Is Live
Cmon, Paul, enough already with “Drive My Car”. Grade: D+”

Flaming Pie
Not all bad and nice to see George Martin helping out but not the Beatles by a long shot. Grade: “C+”

Run Devil Run
When Paul McCartney feels things deeply he tends to react very quietly. His real ending with Lennon was “Dear Friend” and not “Here Today,” and his goodbye to the lovely Linda is in this glorious rock and roll album (vastly superior to “Back In the USSR”), it is the emptied out sorrow of “Lonely Town” and the yearning for simpler times on “She Said Yeah” and “Blue Jean Bop”. It isn’t McCartney’s best album but it’s my favorite. Grade: “A+”

Driving Rain
“Freedom” is the worst song McCartney ever wrote not sung with Michael Jackson -Macca wouldn’t die for freedom, he would pay off the japanese goverment for freedom. Otherwise this is his album for the richest divorcee on earth, the former and current Heather Mills. The title track is killer. Grade: “B”

Back In The U.S.
Back In the World
Paulie was great on this tour, it was a real attempt to rethink his songs in a live setting and really for the first time, certainly his best sets since he was singing on the roof of his offices in London with his former band. But the take home souvenier was the same old rubbish. Grade: “D”

Chaos And Creation In the Backyard
This was the album he was flogging the last time I saw him live on his best tour to date and the album is very good as well. “Fine line,” “English Tea,” and “Jenny Wren” are as good as it gets and the rest of the album wobbles but doesn’t fall. Grade: “A-“

Memory Almost Full
If you like “Dance Tonight” you’ll like this one. I don’t dislike “Dance tonight” and “That Was Me” was a piece of fascinating nostalgia nearly as astute a take on fame as Lennon’s “Nobody Loves You When you’re Down And Out”. Grade: “C+”

I didn’t bother writing about his “The Fireman” experimental stuff or his classical music.

Quick shout out for the best 007 theme ever with the exception of “Goldfinger,” “Live And Let Die”.

In writing this retroview except for release dates I relied on my memory (which is also almost full) so please excuse any and all mistakes.

Also, if you just want a greatest hits try “All The Best” and “Wingspan”.

Believe or not I’ll have more to add after I see Paulie at Citifield next month.

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