CK Retro Review: Tug Of War by Paul McCartney

The show must go on, as they say, and Paul McCartney rose to the occasion on his first album following the death of John Lennon with one of his finest efforts in years. 1982’s Tug Of War reunites him with George Martin, who brings his gilded touch to the album, especially the ballads, which are uniformly fine and occasionally brilliant. The mid-tempo numbers glide about elegantly, while the harder stuff is feisty and fun. The first side outdoes the second side by a pretty good margin, but overall Paul was back on firm, crowd-pleasing footing with this one.

TWO STARS

12. “Dress Me As A Robber”- Way too busy, this Latin/disco number doesn’t ever settle on an identity.

11. “Be What You See (Link)”- Dreamy interstitial that’s gone almost as soon as it arrives.

10. “Get It”- McCartney’s chance to work with idol with Carl Perkins is far from objectionable. But there’s not much to it that will make it stick in your memory banks, other than Carl’s laughter at the end of the track.

THREE STARS

9. “The Pound Is Sinking”- It gets a little more twee than some of Macca’s biggest critics would like, but the bounciness of this rundown on the world’s currency keeps it in the black. Good enough to be somebody’s favorite on the album, for sure.

8. “Ebony And Ivory”- Hey, we’re not arguing that the views on race relations are anything too profound. But the melody is as comfy as old slippers, and the funky coda where McCartney and Stevie Wonder go to town with some vocal improvisations is worth the price of admission.

7. “Somebody Who Cares”- The way the bluesy, minor-key verses open up into the surging chorus is the evidence of an old pro at work. This one doesn’t do too much but what it does it does well. Pleasant on the ears, for sure, if not particularly challenging.

6. “Ballroom Dancing”- It’s kind of out of place on the album, but I guess it would be out of place on any rock album (except maybe the White Album, where stuff like this was all part of the crazy tapestry.) McCartney’s ability to pull off this antiquated material always amazes me; even when you don’t think it’s what you want to hear, he convinces you otherwise.

5. “What’s That You’re Doing”- Wonder revives some of his mid-70’s magic with this relentless funk workout, letting Paul tag along for the ride. It doesn’t go very far from its initial groove, which carries it a long way, although maybe not quite six-plus minutes down the road. Still, the two superstars fit together seamlessly on a song that easily could have been a hit had they edited it down and released it as a single. But “Ebony And Ivory” sold about a quadrillion copies, so who am I to quibble?

FOUR STARS

4. “Take It Away”- If there’s a fault to be found with this song, it’s that it very much sounds like it could have been on a late-70’s Wings album, not quite in synch the early 80’s times. Still, McCartney is relaxed and smooth throughout, with the lyrics tripping off his tongue effortlessly and the charging chorus, with “Savoy Truffle” horns and Ringo Starr and Steve Gadd pushing the beat recklessly onward, is grabby. Paul’s bass work counters the light-footed melody nicely. Everything in its right place.

3. “Tug Of War”- McCartney keeps the lyrics vague enough that they might refer to his relationship with Lennon or to actual armed combat. Or maybe both. It nicely captures the senselessness of combat, much like Floyd’s “Us And Them” in that regard. The inherent sadness in the song comes from the unspoken fear that the “time to come” and “another world” promised might not actually arrive. In addition, it smoothly modulates between the acoustic, dreamy opening section and the urgent, electric second half. An excellent starter, for sure.

FIVE STARS

2. “Wanderlust”- I know that Paul has certain crowd-pleasers that have to go into every concert, but I couldn’t believe when I read that he has never played this live. Ringo adds his inimitable sense of touch on the ballads here, the horns are suitably buoyant, and McCartney sings the stuffing out it. When all of those countermelodies start to crash into one another in the final moments, prepare for the chills you’re bound to receive. As moving a defense of restlessness as you’re ever going to hear; the Captain, representing the staid world that refuses to take chances, gets his head handed to him in this musical argument.

1. “Here Today”- Imagine the pressure McCartney must have felt to make some sort of epic statement on his relationship with Lennon. That he had the foresight to pull back and simplify things down to their essence is beyond admirable; it was a stroke of genius. The song sidesteps the sappiness that easily could have enveloped it while still delivering raw emotion, and Martin does one of his stirring without being showy arrangements in the fashion of “Yesterday.” Isn’t that what friendship is, the idea that someone gets inside the song that we sing in a way that mere acquaintances can’t possibly achieve? Hurting as we all were, McCartney’s song was as much what we needed to hear as it was what he needed to say.

(E-mail me at jimbeviglia@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, in the link below. It’s due out in March.)

 

 


CK Retro Review: McCartney by Paul McCartney

Never has such a humble album caused so much stir as 1970’s McCartney, the first solo album by Paul McCartney. The reason, of course, wasn’t the album itself, but rather Macca’s disastrous strategy for publicizing it, during which he announced its release in concord with the breakup of the greatest musical group the world will ever know. But if you can set aside McCartney‘s place in history as the final straw that broke The Beatles’ back, you’ll find a sweet, tuneful, unassuming collection of tossed-off ditties with one or two excellent ones in there just to remind us what he could do when he was motivated. It’s an album that’s not trying to beat the world so much as get away from it. Here is a track-by-track review:

TWO STARS

13. “Valentine Day”- Paul has admitted that the instrumentals here were used more to test out his recording machine than anything else. Alas, that motivation comes through all too clearly here.

12. “Lovely Linda”- It’s just a fragment, albeit a pleasant one. Important as a statement though because he brings Linda into the songwriting picture just like John brought in Yoko.

11. “Kreen-Akrore”- McCartney’s tribute to a Brazilian Indian tribe is ambitious if a bit overdone. Fancy him taking all those drum solos when they only ever let Ringo have one.

THREE STARS

10. “Hot As Sun/Glasses”- Too bad this instrumental didn’t last a little longer, because it seems to be just getting warmed up (no pun intended) when it trails off.

9. “Oo You”- If nothing else, McCartney seems to anticipate the way outtakes and cutting-room floor material would soon be fetishized by rock aficionados. Hence Paul has no problem leaving a song with nothing much to recommend it besides a gritty groove in the running order.

8. “Teddy Boy”- A poster-child for the kind of thing that drove critics mad about Paul’s solo career. The music is effortlessly catchy and ingratiating, while the melody latches on to the listener immediately. The lyrics are simplistic to the point of childish. The tune wins the tug of war, but still.

7. “That Would Be Something”- It has the focused vibe of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”, that one idea pounded in over and over again. As usual with Macca, the bass ups the melodic quotient considerably, and the scatting vocals in the connecting sections are fun.

6. “Momma Miss America”- McCartney would marry similar minor-key intrigue to nonsensically brilliant lyrics on “Monkberry Moon Delight,” from Ram, not too far down the road. This is like a test-run. The first part of the song is much more engaging than the second, however.

5. “Singalong Junk”- Oh so pretty.

FOUR STARS

4. “Man We Was Lonely”- The jaunty refrains play well off the meditative verses, with McCartney seeming to reference his life story at the time. The chorus wants you to believe in a happy ending, but the tug of the other sections causes us to think that it’s not going to be quite so easy. Some nice steel guitar in there as well by the ever-resourceful Paul, and the intro and outro are moodily pretty as well.

3. “Maybe I’m Amazed”- I think people grab on to it because it’s the most finished thing on that album (and certainly the most Beatles-y), but it’s by no means the best. The performance is better than the song by a good margin, with McCartney’s leave-nothing-in-the-tank vocal putting across the message, about needing someone so desperately that it doesn’t even make sense anymore, better than the words or even the music, which gets the benefit of a stirring arrangement and excellent guitar and piano work from Paul.

2. “Junk”- Call me a sentimentalist (you’d be accurate), but the idea of discarded household trinkets representing a kind of loss of innocence gets me every time. It helps that McCartney hangs it on one of his most wistful melodies. And, again, his wordless vocals say a lot.

FIVE STARS

1. “Every Night”- It comes on like a lovely love song, but there are darker themes playing about. The bit about not wanting to get out of bed hints at the depression through which McCartney was working as his group shattered around him. “Resting my mind” likely seemed like an unattainable goal but for the love there to pull him back to warmth and humanity each evening. The falsetto “ooo-ooo” vocals are triumphant release in this context. The first one of his where you could say, “Hey, this is as good if not better than some of the best stuff he did with The Beatles,” and you can’t hold a song to a higher standard than that.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out the link below to pre-order my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due in March.)

https://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Beatles-Their-Finest/dp/144227154X


CK Retro Review: Shot Of Love by Bob Dylan

Some aficionados see Bob Dylan’s 1981 album Shot Of Love as the culmination of a religious trilogy that began with Slow Train Coming. Others see it as the beginning of his return to secular music. It’s probably a little of both, and it’s definitely a little unfocused in terms of its LA studio sound. Yet it also has one of Dylan’s finest songs ever and several others that show his less-heavenly muses exhibiting their pull over him once again. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “Watered-Down Love”- One thing that you never want a Dylan recording to be is benign. This easy-listening exercise with cliché-ridden lyrics qualifies. Watered-down indeed.

9. “Heart Of Mine”- Ringo Starr is credited with playing the tom tom (apparently he didn’t bring the rest of his drum set) while Ronnie Wood is on guitar for this track. The recording actually ends up being a bit disheveled despite all the big names on tap, but the reason the song doesn’t ignite is that Dylan’s admonitions to his heart (a songwriting tactic used to better effect in the Jerry Vale chestnut “Pretend You Don’t See Her”) are downright bland.

THREE STARS

8. “Trouble”- The lyrics aren’t too impressive by Dylan’s standards, just a laundry list of loosely-defined ills that mankind has little choice but to endure. It’s a good thing that the band works up an engaging stomp and Bob sings it with the kind of vigor that can push even mediocre blues lyrics up a notch or two.

7. “Dead Man, Dead Man”- As a contrast to “Trouble,” this one has fascinatingly dark lyrics, but I’m not sure if Dylan ever fully commits to the reggae groove eked out by the band. For the most part, there was a welcome feistiness that returned to Bob’s religious treatises on Shot Of Love, and “Dead Man, Dead Man” is emblematic of that. Here he suggests that the nonbelievers are already pushing up daisies; they just haven’t been told about it yet, and Dylan bears the bad tidings with a bit of barely-concealed triumph in his voice.

6. “Shot Of Love”- Again, the music, while forceful enough, isn’t all that memorable here, which is too bad, because Dylan is again careening down some intriguing lyrical alleyways in the title track. He alternately seems desperate and paranoid, ready to confront his persecutors yet trying to stay righteous all the way. Even his car is giving him trouble. The tension in the song comes from the fact that, for one of the first times since he started his religious odyssey, he doesn’t sound sure that the heavenly aid he’s requesting is definitely coming.

5. “In The Summertime”- Even though Dylan seems to still have his heart in the heavens on this track, it’s got the same kind of feel as wistful love songs from further on down the road like “Shooting Star” or “Born In Time.” The implication here is that the narrator’s time in the sunlight was brief, but the memories and the gifts he received are enough to sustain him in his long winter he’s living now. The strolling music is just right on this one, with Bob’s harmonica gliding beautifully over everything.

4. “Lenny Bruce”- There are very few people who have lived on this planet who could share a taxi with Bob and make a compelling case that they’re the most interesting person in the vehicle. Lenny Bruce would be on that short list. Dylan’s tribute might seem like faint praise at times, but his lines about Bruce not killing babies or robbing churches are Bob’s way of saying that what the comedian’s detractors had against him was ultimately trivial stuff. The skewed logic somehow begins to make sense at the end, especially when it’s married to Dylan’s deeply-felt piano work.

FOUR STARS

3. “Property Of Jesus”- Dylan has his dander up in this one, and the song is all the better for it. Although the song is ostensibly about a third-person believer that Bob defends by showing the weightlessness of his enemies’ slings and arrows, you could just as easily hear this song as what the songwriter has to say about the critics who would sneer at his religious conversion. And so “Property Of Jesus” can fall into line with songs like “Positively 4th Street” and “When The Ship Comes In” in this regard. I would even say that the music has a little of that 60’s thin, wild mercury about it, at least until the howling refrains break that spell with their pure force.

FIVE STARS

2. “The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar”- This one nearly became a casualty of Bob’s odd song selection for the album, a problem that would plague his next album, Infidels, even more. Luckily enough, this searing blues was added to the cassette version and was then included in the running order of all subsequent Shot Of Love releases. It’s an early example of a song framework to which Dylan would keep returning from the 80’s on: Richly-described, merciless landscapes inhabited by a resolute but wary narrator in pursuit of an elusive woman. We should all thank Claudette, whether she’s “respectably married or running a whorehouse in Buenos Aires” for adding the hellfire of desire to Bob’s serenely chaste outlook.

1.”Every Grain Of Sand”- Whatever peaks and valleys Dylan’s songwriting traversed in the Born Again period, it all culminated in this astoundingly lovely and unflinchingly honest ode to the difficulty of keeping faith when human frailty keeps pulling us stubbornly earthward. I actually prefer the barking-dog version on the Bootleg Series, if only because the higher octave Bob tackles brings out the anguish and deep feeling of his lyrics a little better. But this version has the harmonica solo at the end, so there’s that to consider as well. Let’s just say that this song soars no matter what, as Dylan’s poetic gifts are used to optimum effect. The final verse is one of the most powerful in his canon, as the narrator, who admits to weakness and temptation throughout, tries to maintain his sporadic hold on a divine light. He ultimately finds God in small gestures and subtle nuance, which, ironically enough, are the very things that his critics always claimed his religious-themed music lacked.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0810888238


Tom Petty Countdown #31: “To Find A Friend”

It’s a distant cousin of “Yer So Bad” in terms of the episodic nature of the lyrics, but “To Find A Friend is the less whimsical of the two songs. While the adults in the song bounce around with frenzied unpredictability, I’ve always looked at the song from the perspective of the unmentioned children of this family. They’re the ones I believe Petty has in mind when he talks about this sequence of events changing lives and plans.

This song is an excellent example of Petty’s underrated melodic flair. The refrain is especially tuneful, and it features an effortlessly moving lyric that details what it feels like when your life becomes unmoored: “And the days went by like paper in the wind/Everything changed, then changed again/It’s hard to find a friend”.

While Benmont Tench’s saloon-style piano solo is the thing that sticks out on the instrumental end, the most notable contribution on the song is the drumming of the one and only Ringo Starr. Ringo bumps things along gently with his undeniable feel for such things. After all, who else would know better about drumming for a song with a great melody?

(E-mail the author at countdownkid@hotmail.com.)