I’ve been on a “Paul McCartney’s solo career immediately after the Beatles” kick lately, after realizing just how much I’d underrated his work on those last couple of Beatles albums. There’s a lot happening in McCartney in particular that feels just weirdly important to the music that I’d grow up loving, if that makes sense — it’s both throwaway (The number of instrumentals! “Junk” appearing twice!), yet some of the arrangements (especially “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Singalong Junk”) are just perfect. It’s so much more influential than I’d realized, I think.
(It’s also one of those albums that makes me wish I had any musical talent; I wish I could something like this album, in so many ways.)
Firstly, I have no idea why this video for Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Band On The Run” seems to be all about the Beatles, but I kind of love it.
Secondly, and more importantly: I’ve never really got into a lot of McCartney’s post-Beatles career (I’ve really only started investigating it in the last couple of years, to be honest), but “Band On The Run” is pretty much a return to the kind of track that McCartney was playing with on Abbey Road, isn’t it? The song-as-song-cycle that, to my ears, Pete Townsend was doing far earlier with The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away.” It’s not as catchy as something like the “You Never Give Me Your Money/Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” sequence from Abbey Road, sure, but it’s still an enjoyable spread of a song, weirdly luxurious and amorphous in construction.
Oddly enough, I’m not sure I’d ever heard the entirety of this song in its original version before I’d heard the Foo Fighters’ cover from just a few years ago; I was still in my “If It’s Not ‘Jet’ Then I Don’t Want To Know About It” phase of my reactions to McCartney’s post-Beatles work, and so when the Foos’ version started I was very “I don’t want this oh no” until the 1:18 mark, when a sense of “What is this?” came over me and took me through the end. By the time I was thinking “You know, this is a great chorus,” I knew I was in trouble. Damn you Macca!
It’s possible that, if someone said to you, “what do you get when you put Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles output together,” your answer would be “an unlistenable, sentimental mess,” and – let’s face it, in most cases, you’d be entirely correct. But then you get this, as the exception that proves the rule.
I’ve always loved “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which I’m pretty sure I first heard as a Carleen Anderson cover (produced by Paul Weller) at some point during the mid-90s. There’s definitely the McCartney sentiment at play, but it’s phrased in such a way – and couched in such wonderful music – that it doesn’t feel treacly or overly saccharine, as so much solo (and Wings-era) McCartney can; instead, it feels genuine and quite lovable. The original version is a great performance – Paul is in belter-mode (Listen to his voice at 0:47!), and the odd arrangement has an intensity and a push there that seems at odds with the vocal at times, but adds to it, at the same time; I especially love that the song seems to finish at 3:01, and then comes back for an instrumental coda that ends with a stompy, jammy mess. There’s a messiness there that really appeals to me, and makes it just ugly enough to feel like something more than a pretty love song.
Recent cover versions have lost this; you hear Jem covering it, and it’s… pretty, but that’s it (Pretty vacant, says John Lydon from thirty years ago, and he’s right). At its best – the McCartney version or the Faces version I started with – this is a weirdly masculine song because of the awkward interplay between the lyrics, the vocal performance and the guitar rock structure that goes off into riff-city when it gets too embarrassed by the honesty of what the words are trying to reveal. Yes, the basic melody means that it can be a pretty song, but I always think that it’s not meant to be; it’s supposed to be something more complex and confused.