McCartney part 6: know your Pauls

Paul 1, Ace tunesmith: a smart, Tin Pan Alley-type songwriter, master of the form, able to write witty, clever, ultra-catchy songs on almost any topic.   “Yesterday,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Drive My Car,” “You Won’t See Me,” “Got to Get You Into My Life” are this Paul at the top of his form.  Anyone could have had hits with these songs and many did.

Paul 2, Pop surrealist: this Paul was the natural development of Paul 1.  Having risen to the top level of his profession, able to have a hit without even trying, this Paul began turning song forms on their heads and stretching the limits of popular songwriting.  Forms are splintered, juxtaposed, overlaid and examined.  Less attention is paid to universality and more is paid to creative development.  Personal statements occasionally emerge but never dominate.  Words are chosen for the way they scan instead of what they might actually mean.  When this strategy works, the results are magical and captivating.  “Hey Jude” is probably the epitome of this Paul.  “Penny Lane,” “Lady Madonna,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” are all sterling, indelible works of Paul 2.  “Big Barn Bed,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Spin it On” are lesser but still worthy versions of this Paul — Paul 2 on autopilot.  The key to this Paul is his ability to create songs that sound like they’re about something but which defy easy categorization.  This Paul has the unmatchable skills of Paul 1, but is employing them to more personal ends.

A subset of Paul 2 is Paul 2A, the pop collagist, composer of “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Band on the Run,” “Live and LetDie.”  This Paul takes the lyrical strategies of Paul 2 and applies them musically as well, taking small ideas and making them appear to be bigger through dramatic juxtaposition.  This is one of the most distinct Pauls, a Paul not easily imitated, although John did an excellent job of it with “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”

Paul 3, peddler of Twee British Nonsense.  A kind of WS Gilbert on drugs, this Paul has roots deeper than Tin Pan Alley, stretching back to Lewis Carroll and further.  This Paul has cut all ties with narrative and conventional pop-lyric forms and constructs songs from pure sounds, not paying a whit of attention to meaning but a great deal of attention to context and especially arrangement.  “Helter Skelter,” “Bip Bop,” “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose,” “Temporary Secretary” are examples of this Paul.

Paul 4, restless creator of abstract soundscapes.  This Paul likes sounds for their own sake and employs them in evocative and intriguing ways.  This Paul would get along well with Brian Eno, although I don’t think anyone’s ever introduced them.  “Flying” is probably the earliest emergence of this Paul.  McCartney and McCartney II are filled with compositions by this Paul, as are the albums by The Fireman and Liverpool Sound Collage.  This Paul is often overlooked, due to the other Pauls habit of hogging the spotlight.  I think this Paul would be happy to work more, but Paul 2 keeps demanding more time.

Paul 5, ambitious composer of classical stuff.  I honestly don’t know much about this Paul.

Paul 6, composer of embarrassing, witless, leaden, flat-footed anthems.  “Ebony and Ivory” is the apex of this Paul’s career.  “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” “Freedom,” “Pipes of Peace,” “Looking for Changes” are others.  I don’t know what the hell this Paul thinks he’s doing but I wish he’d stop.

This categorization of Pauls is meant only as a rough guide.  Many songs feature contributions from more than one Paul.  It began as I was trying to locate a “position” for McCartney, a place where his art begins, trying to identify the “real” Paul.  I felt I needed to find this point so as to discern what is McCartney’s “self-expression” and what is him throwing any old word into a song because he likes the way it sounds, or whether his habit of throwing any old word into a song is his expression of self.

Don’t forget, for a long time “Yesterday” began “Scrambled eggs, oh baby how I love your legs.”  This would have been a classic Paul 2 line, but Paul1 prevailed.  Similarly, in “Hey Jude” the song was intended (he says) as a message to Julian Lennon, and began “Hey Jules.”  Paul 1 instinctively felt that “Jude” scanned better than “Jules” so the personal message went out the window.  But Paul 2 (in the form of John Lennon) insisted on keeping the nonsense line “the movement you need is on your shoulder” over Paul 1’s protest, which took the song to a new level of poetry.  “Let Me Roll It,” I’m told, is a response to Lennon’s blistering “How Do You Sleep?” but what kind of response is this?  It’s cold, remote, glancing and glossy, the opposite of Lennon’s scathing vitriol.

Lennon’s confessional, purging style of songwriting is anathema to all the Pauls.  Rarely does he expose much of himself in any meaningful way (although it does occasionally happen, as in Wild Life‘s “Dear Friend;” I’m also willing to concede that his many love songs to Linda, “Long Haired Lady” being the most obvious, are personal, honest and direct).  Strangely, I think one of McCartney’s most focused, honest and accomplished statements is “Silly Love Songs.”  I think that’s his “Imagine,” his statement of purpose, the spot he’s placed his flag.  The lyric isn’t surreal or meaningless, it’s direct and accessible.  He’s coming out and saying exactly what he means, rather in the manner of his awful, flat-footed anthems; no metaphor or imagery is employed.  The fact that the song is incredibly annoying is beside the point — this is his 1970s, height-of-his-fame Major Statement. hit counter html code


30 Responses to “McCartney part 6: know your Pauls”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, feasible categories.

    And I think the throwing any word into a song notion is part of a working method, others do it as well, messing around to get to what the material is, rather than of course, “writing” first and then recording, which may be a writer’s conceit as to how songwriting works. It could easily be that, for example, the process breaks the ice among the other lads you sit in the room with and write together more and more personal, or at least relationship thoughts with, be they following conventions or not, and all that comes with a much larger set of issues anyway. Devil’s advocate position given here only.

    That said, what to do with his “Monkberry Moon Delight” and the like… as there is this purely infantile side he just can’t keep in check, that in turn links to sexuality in some awful combinations and..I would say, lots of songs essentially composed in honor of his wife’s breasts, rather than love per say.

    But to be honest, “love” does fit in, and as it is McCartney, while I agree with the “silly love songs” / “Imagine” possibility, it might be more correct to pair “Maybe I’m Amazed”, as that is somewhat his adult love anthemn to the expression of his (solo career) life, versus to the song format.

    The introspective “Maybe I’m Amazed” is simply that – McCartney now solo, sure still time-wise with the Beatles to some degree, but alone from the boys in mind, and composing the foundation for the mythical relationship with Linda, his Galatea, and the idea as a couple, genuinely happy to be in love, (never apart a day etc) and even amazed at the beauty of that. Nothing more really. Yes still Beatles sounding, but McCartney alone already.

    How did that nature transform into another to write songs about song formats…back to your point of his deciding to be a billionaire and industry captain.

    • Todd says:

      I think the throwing any word into a song notion is part of a working method

      Of course it is. Paul 1, however, would re-work the lyric until it was universal and “sellable.” Paul 2 would push the lyrical idiosyncrasies in the opposite direction, make them part of the mystique of the song. As his genius is vast, both approaches produced massive hits. Of course, they also account for lines like “You’ve got to give the other fella hell” and grammatical nightmares like “But in this ever-changing world in which we live in” and “My love does it good.”

      there is this purely infantile side he just can’t keep in check

      There is so much like “Monkberry Moon Delight” on his records that I think it is closer to the “real” McCartney than I previously suspected. And I’m a big fan of “Monkberry Moon Delight.”

      I was listening to “Mull of Kintyre” the other day and wondering where this place was and what it was like and why does this song produce such a feeling of nostalgia and it suddenly occured to me that the real Mull of Kintyre may or may not have any significance at all to McCartney, but it scans nicely and that’s all he really needed to make his song. For all know he was on his boat in the Bahamas, smoking pot and watching TV and strumming his guitar, and there was a documentary that mentioned the Mull of Kintyre and those words just happened to match what he happened to be strumming at the moment and without having ever visited the place he just kind of whipped up a “nostalgic” feeling song with completely cliche-ridden, greeting-card lyrics (“sweet fragrant meadows, the sunsets on fire”) that would wind up being the biggest-selling single in British history.

      (I might add that, while I’ve tired of “Mull of Kintyre” over the years, the same cannot be said of its blistering b-side “Girls School,” one of my favorite McCartney rockers.)

      And, if certain photos I’ve seen are to be believed, Linda McCartney had a terrific rack deserving of all the songs written about it.

      • craigjclark says:

        Re: Mull of Kintyre

        I believe that’s based on a real place that’s not far from the farm in Scotland where Paul lived during the ’70s. Hard to believe that was the biggest-selling single in British history (until Elton John’s Princess Di tribute re-recording of “Candle in the Wind” displaced it), isn’t it?

        And while I enjoy a song like “Monkberry Moon Delight” on its own terms, it really did make it seem like he was spinning his wheels creatively while John and George were putting out masterworks like Plastic Ono Band, All Things Must Pass and Imagine. (McCartney and Ram, charming as they are, are not the work of a man determined to prove himself to the world.)

        • Todd says:

          Re: Mull of Kintyre

          I think everything from McCartney to Band on the Run is McCartney trying to find a voice for himself apart from the Beatles. I think McCartney works because it deliberately dashes expectations about what we should come to expect from a “McCartney record,” and Ram (probably my favorite McCartney record) builds on that and fills in some colors. Then he seems to step backwards with Wild Life, although that record has probably aged better than any of his others. You’d think he’d have gotten his act together by Red Rose Speedway, but that now sounds like a classic 70s “bunch of crap built around a hit single” album now.

          • craigjclark says:

            Re: Mull of Kintyre

            The curious thing about Red Rose Speedway is Paul originally conceived it as a double album with vocal contributions from the other members of the band (much like Speed of Sound). Linda’s “Seaside Woman,” which was released as a single in 1977 under the name Suzy and the Red Stripes (a 45 that I own), hails from these sessions. It’s even scrawled in the original album booklet. Really dodged a bullet with that one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: Mull of Kintyre

            I want to post as fanofthefab4 but I am not a member so I have to post as anonymous. I just want to first say that I have been a big highly impressed Beatles fan specifically a big John and Paul fan since I was 9,I got my first Beatles book for my 11th birthday and I had every Beatles album by age 13. I was born during the middle of their recording career too.

            I love Red Rose Speedway and I once met a young woman who was a year older than me and she said she and her whole family are big Beatles fans,her older brothers and sisters,and she told me her favorite Paul Mccartney album is Red Rose Speedway! I told her it’s one of my favorite Paul solo/Wings albums too.

            In 1989 I had just recently heard the whole album when my local classic rock station played the whole album on their Sunday Night Six Pack where they would play classic albums by different classic artists every Sundat night. And the rock DJ said right before he played Red Rose Spedway,We have a great great CD tonight. I bought it soon after. And The All Music Guide online gives Red Rose Speedway a 4 star but they only give Wildlife 2 stars!

            I feel as many other people have said,that Paul’s melodies,and harmonies,are beautiful on this record,his bass playing and singing as usual are great and there are many very good songs.I really feel that Paul’s greatest sound post Beatles was from 1970-1975 with Venus and Mars being the last true great album. Band On The Run from 1973 is also a very good album.

      • . . . and grammatical nightmares like “But in this ever-changing world in which we live in” . . .

        I’ve used this over the years as an example of McCartney’s great/terrible habit of not giving a good goddamn about the meaning of words as much as the sound of them — the triple “in” I thought was in this line.

        It was recently pointed out to me that, as unclear as it is sung, it is definitely “But IF this ever-changing world in which we live in” leading right to the next line “makes you give up and cry . . .”

        So, a double and odd “in” but not the triple-word-score so many of us laughed at. Shoot.

        • Todd says:

          Further study has also revealed that he sings not “My love does it good” but “My love does it wood.” Which makes no sense but at least is not grammatically incorrect.

          • craigjclark says:

            Actually, it’s the equally nonsensical “My love does, it would.”

            • mcbrennan says:

              No, no. You’re all mistaken. It’s “My love doesn’t? Good.” See, there were certain Beatle kinks Linda just wouldn’t go along with, which ultimately filled Paul with a quiet light-rock relief. What kinks? It’s understood. Don’t ever ask him why. Just remember, only Linda holds the other key.

        • craigjclark says:

          I think the whole mess could be done away with if you imagine the line is “But if this ever-changing world in which we’re livin’.”

          • Todd says:

            News flash! Mr. Clark has hit it on the head.

            This is why Al Gore invented the internet.

            • mcbrennan says:

              We’re through the looking glass, people

              I have a sneaking suspicion that’s yet another bit of McCartney retconning. I think the lyric really was “in which we live in” but he got so much ribbing for it over the years that when they put together the booklet for “All The Best” in 1990, he had them change it. If I had the original 70s sheet music I could prove it. Come on, tell me he’s above it.

      • Anonymous says:

        There was the hit “Hope for Deliverance” a few years back, with a very nice rhythmnic line to it, but the thing that hit me was incongruence between the serious theme and world-come-together video for it (not to mention wife Linda was seriously, later fatally ill) and in the midst of the refrain he’s breaking into nothing more than “oobi doobi doo”… Try that while singing a supposed anthem for world peace. Takes balls, or lots of pot (my ongoing belief in his hemped vision still remains strong)

        • Todd says:

          I was unaware that “Hope of Deliverance” was a hit, but it sucks just as hard as all his other “message” songs.

          In fact, I’m thinking now of all the Beatles “message” songs, and they all suck, even “All You Need Is Love,” which has a direct, singable chorus and a bunch of unsingable, unmemorable, obtuse, pointless, gobbledy-gook verses (the same can be said for “Give Peace A Chance”).

          • Anonymous says:

            You Don’t Sound Like A True Fan Saying The Beatles Message Songs “Suck”!


            You really don’t sound like a true Beatles fan when you say you think The Beatles message songs “suck”! All You Need is Love was the perfect appropriate song with Jojn’s great beautiful voice for the TV show Our World which was the first Via satellite hook up with many other countries and it represented the 1967 summer of love pefectly! The Beatles were asked to be write a song and perform it for this special broadcast and so John came up with a very good song!

            • Anonymous says:

              Re: You Don’t Sound Like A True Fan Saying The Beatles Message Songs “Suck”!

              I just realized I made a few typing mistakes,I really wish there was an edit button on here!

  2. craigjclark says:

    Funny, I was just listening to “Silly Love Songs” the other day (the version on the Give My Regards to Broad Street soundtrack) and I was thinking that was quintessential post-Beatle Paul. A statement of purpose, indeed.

    I don’t know how much of “Flying” can be attributed to Paul 4 since that’s one of the few compositions credited to all four Beatles. It may very well have sprung from a jam session, which is how “Dig It” came about. Since it hails from Magical Mystery Tour, which was Paul’s project from start to finish, I can see where you would get the impression that it was Paul’s doing, though.

    Also, I’ve always figured “Dear Friend” was Paul’s answer to “How Do You Sleep?” since it followed more closely than “Let Me Roll It.” I’ve always read “Let Me Roll It” as kind a song of (hoped for) reconciliation, recorded in what Paul imagined to be John’s stripped-down style.

    • Todd says:

      “Flying” is credited to all four Beatles in a jam session, but Paul directed the session and wrote the melody. Or so he says.

      (Paul, it seems, completely took over the Beatles in 1967 as John retreated into drugs and romantic troubles. Sgt Pepper was apparently all his idea, the others weren’t into it at all and distanced themselves from it afterward. According to the new issue of Rolling Stone, Pepper‘s up-and-down reputation over the years stems less from its quality and more from its association in people’s minds as a McCartney project, and people’s changing attitudes toward McCartney. Abbey Road, of course, bears all the classic McCartneyisms.)

    • craigjclark says:

      Oh, yes. I wanted to add that it’s interesting that you mention Eno in conjunction with Paul 4’s interest in abstract soundscapes. I’ve just spent the morning and early afternoon listening to Eno’s first four solo records, which were released between 1973 and 1977 — at the height of Paul’s solo success with Wings — and Eno frequently employs the same kinds of nonsense lyrics as Paul 3. The difference, of course, is that Eno’s style of lyrical carelessness still has a sense of mystery and poetry three decades on, but Paul’s merely shows up his seeming failure to apply himself.

      • Todd says:

        I thought of that as well — Eno has a great deal of Twee British Nonsense to his lyrics — “The Fat Lady of Limbourgh” being a prime example.

      • Anonymous says:

        Paul Has Always Been More Of A *Music* Genuis Than A Lyric Genuis!

        I have to say that it really bothers me when ever i see sombody complain about Paul McCartney’s lyrics being too simple. Paul can write very good lyrics and there are many song examples where he has but he often doesn’t but he really doesn’t have too because even when his lyrics are very good thats not what is so great about his songs,it’s always his *music*!

        Paul McCartney’s father Jim McCartney was a naturally musically talented self taught jazz pianist and the leader of his own jazz band called Jim Mac’s Band and they were popular in clubs in the 1930’s. But Paul’s father wasn’t a poet and he even wrote an instrumental song called Walking in The Park With Eloise which Paul recorded and included on the 1976 Wings At The Speed of Sound album. So Paul inherited his father’s natural *musical* talent to the extreme.

        Paul is really like the Beethoven of rock who sometimes writes very good lyrics and Beethoven and Mozart didn’t write lyrics. And Paul has even written a lot of classical music and one of his classical CD’s was on top of the classic music charts.John Lennon was somewhat stronger lyrically as a poet.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Paul Has Always Been More Of A *Music* Genuis Than A Lyric Genuis!

          Paul can write very good lyrics

          Yes he can. When he wants to.

          Paul is really like the Beethoven of rock

          I’d put him closer to Mozart, or maybe Brahms, but I take your point.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: Paul Has Always Been More Of A *Music* Genuis Than A Lyric Genuis!

            Hi Todd,

            I posted that post about Paul being the Beethoven of rock almost 3 years ago and I never checked to see if you responded until now! I had, had your great series bookmarked but I got a new computer in September 2008 so I just re-found this site looking on google,Paul McCartney is a genuis.

            What is the difference between Beethoven and Mozart as brilliant classical composers and why would you put Paul closer to Mozart instead of Beehtoven? Alsp I had forgot to mention that Paul has written some good interesting instrumental songs with no lyrics and he usually writes his music first because that is where his brilliance really is.

            Paul was already playing the guitar and writing his own songs at age 14,and he began soon after his mother Mary who he wrote the beautiful Let It Be about,died from breast cancer when he was only 14 and his brother 12.Paul wrote the very pretty song I’ll Follow The Sun at age 16.

  3. dougo says:

    I have a hard time calling “Helter Skelter” twee, although I guess it is nominally about playground antics.

    • Todd says:

      I only mean that the lyrics are completely meaningless, something for Paul to holler as the music screams and thunders, much like, well, “Long Tall Sally,” pushed into a more abstract dimension.

      • Anonymous says:

        Regarding “HelterSkelter” I thought the “when I get to the bottom I go back to the top” etc… section was just about the song construction itself. The famous McCartney working-method lyrics left in place. And the rest well…whenever a “dancer” appears, beware.

        • Todd says:

          Of course, today it’s perfectly obvious that what McCartney “meant” by this song was simply that he wished for Charles Manson to kill people.

    • Anonymous says:

      What?? Helter Skelter Has Been Rihtfull Called My Many The First True Heavy Metal Song!

      What?? How could you possibly call Helter Skelter “twee” in any way??! It has been rightfully called by many people the first true heavy metal song! It was the hardest loudest rock song at the time and still is a pretty heavy sounding loud rock song!

      Not for nothing did Ozzy Osbouene say in a 2002 online Bender Magazine interview that Paul McCartney is a genuis and he said The Beatles Are The Greatest Band To Ever Walk The Earth! He’s been a huge Beatles fan since he was a teenager and She Loves You is even one of his favorite songs.

      He says not loving The Beatles is like not loving oxogen!

      • Todd says:

        Re: What?? Helter Skelter Has Been Rihtfull Called My Many The First True Heavy Metal Song!

        How could you possibly call Helter Skelter “twee” in any way??!

        The recording of “Helter Skelter” is absolutely, thunderously, magnificently spectacular. But the lyrics are as twee as a Hummel figurine. As with many many of Paul’s Beatle songs, the strength lies in the arrangement and production, not in the lyric.