While it seems ridiculous that Paul McCartney is still judged in relation to a partnership that was dissolved 40 years ago, he is as culpable for the perpetuation of the John versus Paul diametric as anyone – referencing it at every opportunity, making sure we’re constantly aware that they were BFFs way back when and the acrimony that soured their relationship was merely temporary, or at least would have been, were it not for Mark David Chapman. Paul has repeatedly stated how they had reconciled before Lennon’s murder and also how desperate John was to write with Paul once more. Of course the late Beatle can’t very well deny it now, but that’s not to say it’s not true. The problem with Paul is that it’s sometimes hard to take him at his word, so very desperate for acceptance he is. He does tend to tell the odd porkie, here and there, in order to perpetuate his chummy image. It’s a shame, because ultimately there’s no need. If there was a music war between them, Paul’s won it. They say the best revenge is to live well, in Paul’s case it was simply to live, but even while John was alive, and in self imposed, bread baking musical exile, Paul was still at it, releasing hit singles, massive albums, touring the world and playing to huge audiences. Paul was huge, again.
Re-releasing all their Beatles catalogue, via Anthology, The Love Album, Rock Bandand the latest remasters is Paul trying to remind us he was cool, and not just by association. Let It Be Naked showed how he wasn’t the only Beatle who suffered occasional lapses in taste as it was, after all, John who took the tapes of the original to Phil Spector and asked him to pour his honey on them. In Anthology he cleared up the mystery of who the cool Beatle was, reminding us at every turn that all the good ideas came from him. Sgt Pepper’s was Paul. Magical Mystery tour too, Let It Be and Abbey Road. All envisioned by Paul, the counter culturalist pot lover who lived in the middle of swinging London town surrounded by the great minds of his generation. This is all, of course, true, but it hasn’t helped his cause, because John is dead, and is forever trapped in the amber of the young man who lived in a bag for a week for world peace and ended the Vietnam war in much the same way as Bono ended the latest Iraq debacle. The fight ain’t fair. All that meticulous work setting the records straight, for nothing.
It’s with the re-(re)-release of Band On The Run that Paul can’t lose. There’s no Lennon to queer the pitch. One wonders why it’s taken Paul so long to turn his attention back to his own canon. Perhaps, like so many people, he thought it impossible to undo the damage left by a slew of awful records. Alright, there were some poor choices, but is ‘Pipes of Peace’ really any more ludicrous than ‘Imagine’? And yes, John would never have released ‘The Frog Chorus’, but then it’s hard to imagine another artist on earth who could have. It’s a rich, varied tapestry, the back catalogue of James Paul McCartney, and it’s hideously unfair to tar it all with the brush of say…’C-Moon’. Or ‘Give Ireland Back to The Irish’, or….well. we could go on.
Band On The Run was McCartney’s most comprehensive release up to that point, losing the odd segues, rambling guitar solos and studio veritas of the first couple of albums for a collection of proper songs. Or, in the case of the title track, a song that’s actually a collection of songs, following on from Macca’s propensity for cramming as many changes and tempo shifts into a track as he could, as if to suggest that what most artists may find is a decent side one, is for McCartney a decent song one. ‘Jet’ is in a similar mould, but more bombastically pop, catchy and coherent in a way that makes it seem as if McCartney doesn’t have to work at this music lark, but just because it seems facile doesn’t mean it’s without merit. It’s a massive pop song.
After that he veers from the singer songwriter, in the vein of Apple alumni James Taylor, with ‘Bluebird’, to the Lennon piss-take that is ‘Let Me Roll It’ (which may be a veiled reference to Paul’s favourite inhalation based pastime) in which he even sings like John. Of course, he claims that’s purely accidental, it just happens that he used the same kind of reverb that John was enamoured of, and it’s most certainly not some kind of slight against the great pacifier. When John wrote about Paul, there was no equivocation. ‘How Do You Sleep’, he asked. “the only thing you did was, ‘Yesterday’”, he says. With Paul, his ripostes are more oblique. Later in the record ‘No Words’ sounds like a Harrison pastiche, right down to the slide guitar intro. Perhaps it’s reading too much into it all to think that Paul’s telling us he can do what they do without too much effort, but they’d never be able to do him. Well, not without a chorus of cartoon frogs, at least.
Paul’s cavalier approach to the truth of his own past shouldn’t be an obstacle to enjoying his back catalogue, and perhaps now, with this re-release people will find that, amid the mawkishness and cod-reggae, there are many hidden gems. He hasn’t always gotten credit for the good stuff in his 50 year career in the same way he gets pasted for the bad; ‘Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time’ may be the worst Crimbo song of all, but ‘Live And Let Die’ is THE Bond theme. Now maybe Paul can stop worrying about whether or not he’s the worlds favourite Beatle and accept the fact that he’s everyone’s favourite Wing.