Paul McCartney’s second solo foray into rock and roll and rhythm and blues history outdid the first, which was no small feat. Unlike CHOBA B CCCP, which had a tossed-off quality that sometimes helped and sometimes hindered the material, 1999’s Run Devil Run, consisting primarily of cover songs of mid-20th century classics and obscurities, benefits from what seems like a little bit more forethought. McCartney also found a wonderful ad hoc band for the project, featuring crackerjack guitarists David Gilmour and Mick Green. His three original songs aren’t anything too memorable, but his first album following the death of wife Linda found him on firm, familiar musical footing that must have been reassuring to him at such a difficult time.
15. “Try Not To Cry”- The staccato, herky-jerky feel of this McCartney original feels beamed in from a different era than the classic covers, breaking up the spell a bit. Plus it’s a rare McCartney song that is lacking in the melody department.
14. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”- Even though Chris Hall adds an excellent accordion part, zydeco is the one sub-genre represented on this collection where McCartney doesn’t quite feel at home.
13. “What It Is”- The band makes a pretty good ruckus on this one, but it feels a bit rushed in terms of the execution and a bit blah songwriting-wise.
12. “Shake A Hand”- McCartney gets a chance to tear up his larynx here. Maybe he gets a little silly with it here and there, but it slides by.
11. “Party”- One more wild rocker for the road sends the album out on a note of raucous fun. The prolonged ending is a nice touch.
10. “Run Devil Run” – The best of the three McCartney originals holds its own with the classics surrounding it. Frenetic but held together by the chemistry of the band and Paul’s powerhouse vocal.
9. “Blue Jean Bop”- Great way to start the album, with this modest little Gene Vincent number that gives Paul a workout on bass and lets Gilmour and Green cut loose on electric guitar.
8. “She Said Yeah”- The Beatles did pretty well with Larry Williams covers, so it makes sense that McCartney would look to one of his classics once again. The band revs this one up and provides some serious thunder, while Paul’s vocals are suitably wild and woolly.
7. “I Got Stung”- A great, relatively obscure barnburner on which the band to pack a serious wallop. That they do this while still sounding loose, not shambolic, is a testament to the unit assembled by McCartney for this project.
6. “Movie Magg”- McCartney slides into this Carl Perkins rambler like it was written for him. It would have been easy to do “Blue Suede Shoes” or something like that. He does more honor to the original artists by digging deeper into their catalogs, showing just how intriguing some of their lesser-known songs were. A wonderfully restrained and charming performance from Macca on this one.
5. “All Shook Up”- Here the band takes a well-known chestnut and imbues it with enough personality that it becomes their own. Each instrumentalist is fired up individually, but they also all come together cohesively for some unstoppable forward thrust. Explosive in a way that even Elvis’ original couldn’t claim to be.
4.”Coquette”- Of all the artists that McCartney has either covered or honored with homages over the years, Fats Domino is probably the one that, for whatever reason, has been the tightest fit. As Pete Wingfield knocks out the triplets, Paul struts through a standout vocal on this typically charismatic Fats’ composition. The lyrics don’t work unless the singer emanates confidence that the titular girl is going to realize her folly and come crawling back, and McCartney is on top of that all the way.
3. “Honey Hush”- What really stands out time and again on the uptempo numbers is how the originals are beefed up with modern rock heft while the original, classic feel is maintained. You can hear that balancing act pulled off most memorably on this rip-snorter. McCartney and producer Chris Thomas deserve credit for the arrangements they concocted on this and the other fast ones. Why would anyone want to hush up this glorious yakety-yak?
2. “No Other Baby”- This brooding slow-builder is one of the more obscure songs that Paul took on for this project, which works in its favor. Without the preconceived notions from the listener about what it should sound like, McCartney can turn it into a smoky, brooding slow-builder, the one cover here that you could say sounds “modernized,” and effectively so. He builds the tension expertly until finally uncorking with more emotive vocals as the song progresses.
1. “Lonesome Town”- Paul’s best decision on this classic ballad made famous by Rick Nelson was to sing it in a high register throughout. Whereas Nelson’s version is brilliant for all that it holds back, Macca’s take succeeds in a different way, spilling everything on the table. (Plus the original didn’t have a top-notch David Gilmour guitar solo in its favor.) I’m not one to jump to conclusions and say that he was thinking about Linda while he sang so emotionally here, but it’s certainly tempting to connect those dots. In any case, it’s a wonderful combination of songwriting perfection and interpretive feeling. And all of us who’ve ever been denizens of that figurative location can relate and wallow right along with him.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now. Order at the link below or at your favorite online bookseller.)
With a couple days to kill in the studio and some ace session men on hand, Paul McCartney ripped off a bushelful of songs consisting mostly of classics from the first wave of American rock and roll. The resulting album (CHOBA B CCCP or Back In The U.S.S.R.) was released only in the Soviet Union in 1988 before finally getting a worldwide release three years later. Although the arrangements sometimes betrayed the tossed-off, hurried nature of the sessions, McCartney’s affinity for and ease with this material makes it an invigorating listen, reminding anyone who might have forgotten how great a rock and roller this guy is.
14. “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”- A rock arrangement of this standard might have worked with just a tad more lightness to highlight the deft nature of Duke Ellington’s melody. But the band sort of bludgeons it, even if the instrumental break is well-done.
13. “Ain’t That A Shame”- Cheap Trick had a pretty good go at this song by not playing it too close to the vest. The respect that McCartney shows to the original smothers it a bit and makes it come off as more imitation than inspiration.
12. “Midnight Special”- Maybe too light a touch is employed here by McCartney and the band, with the arrangement by Paul not quite capturing the darkness in the song that makes that ever-loving light so important in the first place. Nice guitar work on this one by Mick Green though to recommend it.
11. “Lucille”- The groove is a touch mathematical here, especially when you compare it to Little Richard’s raucous original. McCartney has fun with the vocal though, inspired by one of his true idols, and there’s no denying that this is a bona fide classic that’s hard to botch as long as you bring the energy.
10. “That’s All Right, Mama”- You have to hand it to McCartney on one account: He certainly didn’t back away from the behemoth songs of the genre. His take on this track that Elvis immortalized hews a bit more country and western, with the exception of the robust guitar break. Doesn’t threaten the original by any stretch, but a fine turn nonetheless.
9. “Kansas City”- McCartney knows his way around this song, as it was included way back in the day on Beatles For Sale. His voice sounds remarkably spry considering the quarter-century between recordings, doesn’t it? But, then again, it sounds pretty spry today even further down the road. Pretty good heft delivered by the band on this one.
8. “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday”- McCartney is, for sure, a “real gone cat” throughout this collection. On this, one of three Fats Domino-penned songs on the album, he and his buddies bust it up pretty good and vigorously sink their teeth into a tale of romantic revenge.
7. “Twenty Flight Rock”- This one holds a special place in Macca’s heart, as it was his knowledge of the song’s lyrics and changes that allegedly impressed John Lennon back in the day when the pair first met. Mick Gallagher gets a nice showcase on piano, as the band, taking the Eddy Cochran classic at a lope instead of a sprint, keeps their footing very well.
6. “I’m In Love Again”- Anybody’s who’s ever heard “Lady Madonna” should know that McCartney can do Fats Domino better than anyone save Fats himself. He slips into this rambler with no sweat at all, as Gallagher nails the piano triplets to anchor the music.
5. “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy- Man, does Paul sing this one wonderfully, touching every bit of the playfulness and bluesiness in the lyrics with ease. The fuzz of the guitar doesn’t quite square with the swing of the arrangement, in my humble view, but that’s nitpicking. The positives far outweigh that little nick.
4. “Crackin’ Up”- This is the most obscure song on the album, and it benefits from that, sounding alive and fresh rather than encased in glass. McCartney gets a lead guitar showcase and makes the most of it, while seeming to enjoy the quirkiness of the lyrics.
3. “Just Because”- The quartet nails the rockabilly vibe of this one, an antiquated song that Elvis also made famous. Great interplay among the musicians, while Paul’s bass and vocals bring a lot of charm to the proceedings. Certainly one of the most fun recordings on an album where “fun” was the operative word.
2. “Bring It On Home To Me”- Taking on a Sam Cooke song isn’t for the faint of heart if you’re a vocalist. McCartney tears into it fearlessly, adding a bit of a grittier edge in the higher notes compared to Cooke’s break-no-sweat smoothness. The call and response at the end leaves everything on the floor. A great showcase for his vocals, which retain their youthfulness and yet still reference the heartbreaks only life experience can engender.
1. “Summertime”- Taking this George Gershwin song and giving it an arrangement that hits the ominous notes of “House Of The Rising Sun” proves to be a stroke of genius. It really transforms it into something that Gershwin himself might not have realized possible. And it’s the one place where the heavier tones of the electric guitar don’t sound like they’re overwhelming the content of the song. Paul puts everything he has into the vocal; Ella would have been proud.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter & JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives in March. You can preorder it at the link below.)
Wings’ 1973 album Red Rose Speedway doesn’t deserve the clunker reputation that generally hangs about it. The first side is actually pretty good, with a classic ballad surrounded by a decent collection of songs rendered imaginatively. That second side certainly seems like Paul McCartney had run dry on ideas, however. Certainly better things were just around the bend for McCartney and friends, but this one, while not even in the ballpark of a classic, aims to please and hits the mark at least until halfway through. Here is a song-by-song through
9. “(Loup) First Indian On The Moon”- Pink Floyd need not have fretted; Wings’ entry into the spaced-out instrumental genre stays stubbornly earthbound.
8. “Hold Me Tight”/”Lazy Dynamite”/”Hands Of Love”/”Power Cut”- For a guy who pioneered the art of smushing bits of songs into wholes so much greater than the sum of their parts, he took a huge header with this one. There’s little musical invention here, just a lot of refrains and, most surprising of all, plodding melodies. I sat through eleven minutes of this so you shouldn’t have to.
7. “Single Pigeon”- In another life, McCartney had to have been an ornithologist, such is his songwriting interest in using birds as metaphor. Alas, this ain’t no “Blackbird” or “Bluebird” or “Jenny Wren,” for that matter. It’s not objectionable, but it’s not memorable either.
6. “When The Night”- McCartney’s always solid Fats Domino impersonation (he even lets out an “Oh Darling”) is somewhat undercut here by lyrics that make “Blueberry Hill” seem like James Joyce. And still it’s catchy, effortlessly so, so you can’t be too mad at it in the end.
5. “Big Barn Bed”- Slightly funky music and nice harmony vocals attached to some lyrics that hint at paranoia when they hint at anything at all. It works itself up into a decent lather by the end, just enough to make it worthwhile as an energetic opener.
4. “One More Kiss”- I guess after all these years he still has to follow the sun, so, in this song anyway, he leaves behind a saddened paramour. It’s genial enough, even if it doesn’t change the world.
3. “Little Lamb Dragonfly”- Call me a Beatles obsessive (I’ll own it), but I hear the lyrics in this one as a message to John Lennon, full of regret and yet still holding out hope for some kind of rapprochement. If that were true, the good intentions might be cancelled out by the subtle condescension. In any case, it’s an effectively atmospheric ballad, even if it’s not quite the epic that it seems like it was intended to be.
2. “Get On The Right Thing”- Left over from the Ram sessions, it has that kind of one-man band feel to it. McCartney’s hyperactive but fun drumming calls to mind his work on “Dear Prudence,” and the melody takes so many twists and turns that it keeps you on your toes. The backing vocals are a tad overbearing for my taste, keeping it from four-star territory.
1. “My Love”- Maybe the most polarizing song of McCartney’s solo career, and this ranking should tell you what pole I’m straddling. People get after the lyrics, but my take is that complicated words would only have distracted here. The point here is to keep the sentiment as simple as possible and let the music do the talking, and boy, does it ever. This is one of those Macca melodies that hits all the emotional peaks and valleys, rising to intense moments and then relaxing again to luxuriate in it all. And Henry McCullough’s guitar solo is one for the ages, as it somehow lives inside the lush walls of the song and explodes into the ether all at once. Be cynical if you want, but I’m slow dancing with the missus to this one at every opportunity.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on McCartney’s “other” group, check out the link to pre-order my upcoming book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March of 2017.)
Only Bob Dylan can tell you his exact motivation for 1970’s Self Portrait, a double-album collection of odds and sods so bizarrely random and maddeningly inconsistent that even his most ardent supporters were left scratching their heads. It still mystifies and intrigues to this day. Here is a song-by-song review.
24. “In Search of Little Sadie”- The narrator may have found Little Sadie and shot her down, but Dylan certainly never finds the right feel for the arrangement here. This schizophrenic reading of the song is almost so bad it’s good, but not quite.
23. “Little Sadie”- She apparently escaped the first murder attempt, but “Little Sadie” gets it again in this version, which makes the dubious trade-off of being saner than “In Search Of Little Sadie” in favor of being more boring.
22. “Early Mornin’ Rain”- The great Gordon Lightfoot deserved better than the soporific reading of this oft-covered hit. Dylan doesn’t seem to know what to make of the material here.
21. “Gotta Travel On”- The critique of Self Portrait that probably sticks the most after all these years is the fact that there is so much about it that is capable but uninspired. Most of us would prefer Dylan trying hard and failing, rather than, as he does on this song, mailing it in.
20. “Blue Moon”- For fans listening to the album for the first time back in 1970, I would guess that this was the point where rage started to kick in. Once Dylan turns in a somnambulant reading of this evergreen, there is just no hope for Self Portrait to turn itself around and become anything more than a bumpy curiosity.
19. “Woogie Boogie”- Bob cuts his band loose on some basic chord changes in this piano-driven instrumental. There’s nothing wrong with it, but just about any bunch of professional musicians could have managed it.
18. “The Boxer”- One of the more befuddling moments in the Dylan oeuvre. First of all, the bluegrass rendering undercuts the song’s grand melancholy. Then there’s the self-harmonizing, which sounds like Dylan had a time machine which allowed him to access both his smooth Nashville Skyline croon and his gravelly rasp that he utilized for just about every part of his career. At least it’s crazy enough to be semi-interesting.
17. “Take Me As I Am”- Another country ballad, which is rendered a bit less artfully than “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.”
16. “Alberta #2”-The harmonica helps to make up for the overdone female vocals, but overall this one is a bit weaker than “Alberta #1. The fact that it’s entirely forgettable makes this in a way a fitting closer to the album.
15. “Belle Isle”- It’s a pretty Celtic melody and a sweet tale, but Dylan’s vocal wobbles like a top at the end of its spin. It’s got just enough charm to get by though, certainly better than some of the other clunkers on the album.
14. “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know”- Dylan has contended that many of the songs on Self Portrait were essentially warm-up material for the Nashville Skyline sessions. In this case, the band locks into the classic country sound and Bob sings it tenderly, making this one of the more effective covers on the album, even if the song itself is a bit by-the-numbers.
13. “She Belongs To Me”- The live take on this classic from Bringing It All Back Home is a bit too busy, as if The Band didn’t know quite what to do with Dylan’s original laid-back take. Still a great song though.
12. “Alberta #1”- There is a nice little swing that the instrumentalists achieve on this rearranged traditional. Dylan’s voice loses some of the Nashville Skyline luster on the track, and that actually fits the bluesy material quite well. Pleasant if inconsequential.
11. “Let It Be Me”- Dylan does better by The Everly Brothers elsewhere on the album. He sings this classic like Elvis for some unexplained reason. It’s a good thing that the song is so fine that it’s hard to completely butcher.
10. “Living The Blues”- It sounds like Hank Williams by way of Fats Domino. Dylan sings it with a twinkle in his eye and an aching in his heart, and it rambles genially enough to be one of the album’s more worthy tracks, even if it would rank near the bottom of the similarly country-tinged material on Nashville Skyline.
9.“Minstrel Boy”- An oddity among Dylan songs in that it’s only official release came in a live version, in this case one taken from The Isle Of Wight performance with The Band. It’s certainly has a Basement Tapes vibe, benefiting from The Band’s inimitable ability to create arrangements which lope along in such a way that they practically hang suspended in the air. The harmonies in the refrain provide the most memorable moments.
8. “All The Tired Horses”- Only Dylan would start off an album titled Self Portrait with a song where the only vocals featured aren’t his. I actually like the swirling strings here. It has always sounded to me like the start of some concept album that Bob never got around to writing.
7. “Like A Rolling Stone”- It takes some effort to turn this incendiary track into a relatively pedestrian live number. Yet that’s what Bob and The Band manage in this live take of his most well-known song. Dylan’s mangling of those famous words is the main culprit, but the arrangement neuters the song as well.
6. “Wigwam”- It’s fun to think of the fact that Dylan, rock’s ultimate wordsmith, released what was essentially an instrumental (save for some “la-la’s” and other incantations by Bob) as a single in 1970 and actually hit #41 in the charts. (Too bad it didn’t do one better; it would have been fun hearing Casey Kasem describe it.) The languorous, horn-filled groove really grows on you after a while.
5. “Take A Message To Mary”- Resting somewhere between folk-rock and pure country, Dylan’s version of this Everly Brothers’ hit written by Felice And Boudleaux Bryant nicely serves the dark tale of an outlaw trying to deceive his love about his true fate.
4. “It Hurts Me Too”- Dylan re-wrote the lyrics to this bluesy ballad from the original by Tampa Red, but what makes this stand out from some of the other wrongheaded covers on Self Portrait is that the spare, acoustic approach allows the song some breathing room.
3. “Days Of ‘49”- He seems to fumble the words at times as the song goes on, which can be frustrating, but Dylan sounds energized and feisty on this recording, which immediately distinguishes this from much of the album. It’s a neat little song choice too, a chronicle of a rough-hewn prospector looking back on the Gold Rush days. The band gives it a tense reading which even elicits some surprised exhortations from Bob.
2. “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)”- One of Dylan’s most enigmatic songs is given a fiery live reading with The Band at the Isle Of Wight concert in 1969. Robbie Robertson’s searing solo is the exclamation point, while Levon Helm’s shouts in the chorus provide much of the heart. Dylan also gives a spirited performance, which, compared to the listless vocal on “Like A Rolling Stone,” shows that his enthusiasm at the time was mostly reserved for the more offbeat material.
1. “Copper Kettle”- Here is a case when the imperfections in Dylan’s vocal actually add to the power of his interpretation, yielding just the right amount of grit to fit his character. This is a really beautiful rendering of a moonshiner’s how-to manual, the strings soaring above Bob’s powerful and urgent vocals in moving fashion. The standout by far and away.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)