Saturday, November 16, 2013

McCartney (1970)

I loved this one-man studio project when it was new, McCartney's first solo release after the Beatles breakup. I was just getting out of junior high and looking forward to high school, and a little unbelieving that the Beatles had picked that moment to break up. I resented the reviews that slagged it as self-indulgent, lightweight fluff—what has become the usual casual knock on Paul McCartney, a deeply wrong view. I considered the one-man studio project aspect of it a positive rather than a negative myself. I thought it was pretty cool he was doing all this himself (what do you want, I was 15). So I had myself a good old infatuation with McCartney, moved on to other things, and eventually in my mind "Maybe I'm Amazed" stood in as the best of what I recalled. But over the years these potent fragments have surfaced one evocative way or another. A radio station randomly played "Momma Miss America" one morning in the '90s on my way to work and ever since it has been among my favorites, a hearty quirky stew of banging piano and fuzzed guitar, and pure rock 'n' roll (recognizing its uneven qualities, but the high points are worth it). Someone on Facebook name-checked "Junk" a day or two after shuffle had memorably put it in my way (it sounded so good I went to check the title). It all culminates on "Maybe I'm Amazed," which felt and still feels almost like a seamless next step for the Beatles, one anyway, or maybe what I mean is it sounds like it could/should be on Abbey Road. Who wouldn't like another Abbey Road song? Still, coming back in recent days, I was surprised by how unsatisfying the slightness of McCartney can be. Thirteen songs, 35 minutes, goes some way toward explaining. What's interesting is how unfinished most of them feel as songs—some wonderful ideas, some great performances, but they mostly feel like finely sculpted parts. Take "That Would Be Something," whose basic lyrical themes are "meet ya in the fallin' rain, mama" and "that would be something." I like the primitive style but it could stand development. Part of what has always been interesting to me about the McCartney/Lennon collaboration is that they were both good at lots of things and often managed to fill in each other's gaps in songwriting. All different ways, supplying a lyric for the chorus, a bridge, a chord change, etc. I'm not suggesting Paul McCartney missed John Lennon here per se, but rather that he missed a collaborator he could consider a pop music equal. Precious few of them exist in the world at any given time, of course, and it was never going to be Linda, God bless her. So part of what makes this album both deficient and fascinating is seeing McCartney's gaps so plainly left unfilled or rounded off.


  1. I think the album is best appreciated not as a rival to the Beatles' output but as a quirky complement to it, with some tracks that do stand comparison to the best of their oeuvre.

  2. That's a good point, Joel, thanks!