An appetite for Paul
Paul McCartney was big. Huge, as DJT might say. He's way too big for one little blogger to cover in four-hundred odd words. These are opinions; I'm not presenting anything as absolute fact.
He's young and vain. He mugs cute a little too much. He writes what he thinks the girls will like. He can cover any style and mimic so many voices — "Here's one, here's my opera voice!" The ladies twitter.
But then Paul McCartney has a few hits that are strictly his own and writes a couple of more under a pseudonym and they become hits. Paul is way smart, so he thinks, "You know I've got everything already, so I should really let myself go as a songwriter. I should work very hard at this and hear what really wants to pop out."
Suddenly, everything he looks at could become the subject of a song. Maybe "Paperback Writer" set him off. It is around this time that the bass guitar gains definition; it's thumpy, perhaps a little too thick, but it will be heard on the AM. The sounds he places above that bass begin to take on a swirl. "Hello, Goodbye" suggests that the whole stage is being moved into an acoustically perfect pavilion at some great musical entertainment theme park.
He drives the others crazy. I think they are confused because usually they just, you know, rehearse it a bit and see what shakes out. Paul's already got the schematic in his head; he needs skilled tradesmen to execute his architecture. Sergeant Pepper reflects that otherworldly aspect of Paul's mind. "Fixing a Hole" is so delicately placed upon the thin upper branches of a scale in F that I'm surprised it didn't shatter upon delivery. In fact, I think it is an ode to his musical solar system — "I'm painting the room in a colorful way, and when my mind is wandering there it will go."
Someone asked if I would address the "Long and Winding Road" controversy, but I can only guess. In Let it Be, the movie, he plays and sings it in a pianistic sense that seems to draw from the distant planet named Burt Bacharach. I think Paul loved those piano lines and wanted them to be front and center. Phil Spector really lushed it up, that silly wall of sound thing, and we were left with only Paul's superb vocal performance. That's what I like to think, but I don't think too hard about these matters.
Paul likes bands, and so when this first one breaks up, he starts to look around. He knows what he's capable of, so he has to find people he can work with, people who have to listen to him but can also contribute because Paul McCartney is used to bandmates who can underwrite his ideas.
The pavilion goes under construction, but the weirdness continues in "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and "Monkberry Moon Delight."
Then a remodeled pavilion appears; it's lean, clean, and ready to rock the new arena scene. It's called "Wings" because Paul is ready to fly and maybe wants John to know it. Big Arena Bands need Big Arena Songs with Big Arena Guitar Sounds. Listen to "Jet"; it may be difficult to find any other Arena Song of such solid rhythmic construction. Once I saw it draft all the air out of a whole crowd at a huge stadium.
I'll never see that again.
"Wings" albums are all meticulous in production, letter perfect in a Paul way. He led an overdue last Ballroom Dance and then the show sort of closed and slowly became a memory like something out of Liebling's Paris of 1927 — still there but no longer shiny and new, tempting and vivacious.
But what a grand epoch it was. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Michael James has been a professional guitarist and public school music educator for over forty years.