Weekly New Wonders Playlist #3 of 2021!

The odds of seeing not one but 2 discarded pink bears in less than 24 hours in 2 NYC locations miles apart has to be akin to those of winning Powerball. While there is some sadness here, I like to think that now that these bears have done their karmic earthly penance, they are ready to move on to a better place. And Bear # 2 is so dirty it’s clear he’s seen some shiz & has earned his freedom. Of course as a lame human I am wondering if there is some cryptic message they are trying to send & am pretending it’s a mystically good one that will show itself over the next day or so. Speaking of good, welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the absolute finest songs we have heard in recent days. They are all exquisite, embraceable heart barnacles.You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below. Dreaming of the pink bears…

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Weekly New Wonders Playlist # 2 of 2021 !

There is an awesome interview with the wondrous and brilliant Marianne Faithfull in the The Guardian this week which I highly recommend (read it here). In it she ruminates about being a muse to the grandest Rolling Stones songs (“A muse ? That’s a shit thing to be”), smoking (“Oh man, I wish I’d never picked up a cigarette in my life”)…and how close she came to dying during her recent bout with covid-19 (she was so ill that at one point it was recommended she be treated with “palliative care only”). While Marianne’s 1979 album Broken English album is rightfully regarded as her masterpiece I have to admit my absolute favorite song of hers comes from from one of her (far) less popular albums, 1983’s A Child’s Adventure. It’s called “Morning Come” (listen here) and is a million miles from the usual gritty graceful power hymns Marianne usually serves up. It is delicate and extremely melodic and while it does mention “riding on a hummingbird’s wings”, it isn’t happy. It’s more on the darkly hopeful side, a sweet and swoon-worthy heartbreaker.

When will the morning come?
I wait in darkness so long
Will the sun ever rise again?
Hours flowing over me
I wait in vain for some change
Will light ever pierce this pain?

“Morning Come” was the first song that came to mind as I read the last paragraph of the interview. A Doctor had told her that her lungs would likely never recover from the virus. Marianne goes on to say “Where I finally ended up is: OK, maybe they won’t, but maybe, by a miracle, they will. I don’t know why I believe in miracles. I just do. Maybe I have to, the journey I’ve been on, the things that I’ve put myself through, that I’ve got through so far and I’m OK. Does that sound really corny?…we must be hopeful – it’s really important. And I am, yes. I’m bloody still here.” As if we need any more reason to go blast some bloody Marianne 🌹

Welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest new music we’ve heard over the past week, one that was absolutely stuffed with wondrous, weird, in your face pop music (I’m tellin’ you we were absolutely blessed). You can listen below to the songs currently tied for Number # 1 over on earth 1 where they are hopefully having better days than those of us here on earth 2. On a hummingbird’s wings…

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Weekly New Wonders Playlist # 1 of 2021 !

That’s Sandy Denny (1947-1978), the late, legendary British vocalist & songwriter. Her birthday is January 7th & so I was thinking a lot about her this week. She is rightfully recognized as one the greatest vocalists ever to come out of the UK but that’s underselling her. It’d be more accurate to say she’s one of the greatest voices that the universe itself has ever produced. And good lord, her songwriting, sigh. Folk songs but pop songs. Epic & still utterly accessible. Mystical, romantic & melodic. Cryptic & obscure yet completely relatable. All delivered with a voice of unspeakable warmth & power. She was a contemporary of Nick Drake, part of the same scene, on the same label, utilizing the same producer but has received nowhere near the accolades & attention he has over the years. Uh oh, yeah, get ready, I’m gonna say it; I think she was better than him (more genius songs & of course that voice). The best quote about Sandy came in 2010 from Rachel Unthanks, an otherworldly singer in her own right; “Don’t listen to her ! You’ll realize that the rest of us are wasting your time”. This week has been horrific but a little Sandy can go a long way to quelling nightmares & calming the soul. And so pop on some “Northstar Grassman”, “Next Time Around” or best of all her signature song “The Lady” & let yourself get transported to another century for a few minutes, it’s just the most insanely beautiful medicine & damned if we all couldn’t use some right now.

And with that I welcome you to the first WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST of 2021 featuring the finest new songs we’ve heard over recent days ! They are also beautiful to the core & I am genuinely glad they exist at this insane juncture of humanity. Hopefully they too transport you to a peaceful place. Rock on…

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The Wonder Of It All: Paul McCartney’s Solo Years (Part 4-The 21st Century)

Over the course of 2020, my friend Matthew Restall, author of the brilliant Blue Moves book in the 33 1/3 series & I (Hope) started spontaneously breaking down Paul McCartney’s entire post-Beatle discography as if we were writing an actual essay (like you do, if you are a nerd). Well, turns out we were. Welcome to The Wonder Of It All, a 4-part series featuring our endlessly unspooling, unhinged, proudly contrarian, ridiculous & heartfelt correspondence regarding the Macca solo catalog. Ram On…

It’s A Fine Line: Just a note on the format of this essay, Matthew and I are going to be taking turns spilling our McCartney guts and our names will appear before our respective comments. Our album rating system is the classic best of 10, the pinnacle being 10 (it’s brilliant ), the bottom being 1 (it’s terrible). Our opinions will diverge at points but we are as one in our love of Macca.

2000-2020: Driving Rain to III…

MATTHEW: Cliche alert: happy artists make trite art, and the best stuff is made by miserable bastards. Happy Adele? Snore. Broken-hearted Adele? Now we’re talking. Yet I never believed that Macca had a silly love songs problem in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Nor did I imagine that the root of such a problem, had it existed, was his long and happy marriage. After all, I love “Silly Love Songs.” But then Paul’s happy streak hit some unimaginably tough twists and turns. In the decade following Flaming Pie, his “Lovely Linda” lost her hard-fought cancer battle, George Harrison died, and Paul’s new marriage ended after just a few years. Was there enough misery in there to temper the silly love and inspire some stirring new songs? Oh yes. Three albums of them. Three great albums. Three of his best.

And that wasn’t all. Sir Paul’s creative output this century has been extraordinary. And considering these are his senior years (he turned the Fab age of 64 in 2006), his productivity seems superhuman. We may be less enamored of his ‘10s than his ‘00s pop albums, but we’re still bowled over by the sum total.

Driving Rain (2001)

MATTHEW: Driving Rain (2001), 9/10: When Paul released his Pure compilation in 2016, Paul Sinclair of Super Deluxe Edition took a look back at Macca’s solo career; I usually agree with Sinclair’s opinions, but he judged Driving Rain as “frankly awful,” the worst album in the catalogue, with not one good track on it. I was stunned. Because I LOVE this album. I still remember the first time I played the CD, in my car; I sat in the parking lot at work unable to bring myself to stop listening. Macca was channeling his grief over Linda’s passing and his joy over meeting Heather through his well-honed pop filter, and the result was totally captivating. For me then, and now, there’s not a duff song on here. And despite its length, it doesn’t tail off at the end, only getting better. The sole blemish is the hidden extra track, recorded and added at the last minute in response to 9/11 (“Freedom” is indeed “frankly awful”). I don’t remember Rain getting bad reviews when it came out, but I do recall it selling poorly, and scathing reviews of it are not hard to find (Ultimate Classic Rock, like the aforementionedSDE, ranks it as Macca’s worst, #21 of 21). I guess there’s no accounting for taste; in this case, mine. I hear an hour of strong, intimate, engaging tunes, and I honestly feel bad for those who don’t.

HOPE: Driving Rain (2001), 8/10: Driving Rain remains one of the most hated and maligned albums of Paul’s solo years. And let’s be frank, whether or not people want to admit it, the disdain for the album has less to do with the actual songs than the person who inspired their creation, Paul’s then new wife Heather Mills. To which I say, who cares. He was in love and this album has some absolutely kick ass songs; why should it matter who the source of inspiration was? If you are craving sticky and swoon-some style melodies like the kind that dominated most Macca albums in the ‘70s and early ‘80s then you should absolutely spend time with Driving Rain. It is full of fabulous hooks, from the punchy loved up title track to the gloriously Nilsson-esque “Your Loving Flame” to the rainy day balladry of “From A Lover To A Friend” to the Wings flavored “Magic”. Point is, there’s a lot to love here, a helluva a lot more than there is on the far more heralded Flowers in the Dirt. And for historical purposes, I will concur with Matthew in regards to “Freedom” and state that while it has genuinely good intentions it is also unequivocally terrible.

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)

HOPE: Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (2005), 7/10: Chaos And Creation is one of the most traditionally Beatle-esque albums of Paul’s solo career, its best tracks sounding like not so distant relations of Macca’s White Album contributions. It is also home to a straight up, deep cut classic and what I regard as Paul’s absolute finest 21st century track. “Riding To Vanity Fair” is a clear-eyed, pragmatic and world weary ballad that’s flexible enough to accommodate the story of a friendship ending or the inability to be friends after a relationship has imploded. Either way, it’s an unadulterated, underrated beauty in the tradition of mist-inducing ballads like “Dear Friend” and “Love In Song” and I still swoon when it enters the room. While the album’s opening track and first single “Fine Line” is supremely bouncy and features an undeniably nifty piano based hook, the best tracks on Chaos are the ones with the most mournful melodies (“At The Mercy” and “How Kind Of You”). Chaos is a cloudy, wanting and lovely thing.

MATTHEW: Chaos And Creation In The Backyard (2005), 10/10: Paul has said that during the period of this great trio of albums (Rain, Chaos, and Memory), he never tossed out a song because his personal life had taken a new turn. So the songs take us to various points on his emotional roller coaster, but we cannot always be sure which ones; we can only guess at whom or what he is mourning, which love he is giddy over, what loss he is processing. For me, that—plus Paul’s undying gift for melody—makes Chaos one of his very best albums. As Hope says, it’s Beatle-esque, with all the praise that implies. Ten of its tracks are in my Macca Top 100, and I might as well have put the whole album in. Without the eccentricities that made most of his previous albums either annoyingly or charmingly quirky (depending on your taste or feelings for the record), this one is consistent, coherent, and compelling. Mature Macca’s masterpiece.

Memory Almost Full (2007)

HOPE: Memory Almost Full (2007), 5/10: When you listen to a new Macca album, whether you mean to or not, you are subconsciously comparing it to everything that’s come before. And if you are a crazy Macca-head you are also instantly attempting to put it into context. When I listened to Memory Almost Full for the first time, my matchmaking mind almost instantly honed in on its closest sonic relative, the less than stellar Press To Play. Go on and play them back to back. It’s all of a sudden gotten very 1986 in here right ? And while Memory is never boring, it never genuinely shines. Its best moments by far are where Paul gets weird. Both “House of Wax”, an eccentric, epic, slow moving cousin to Speed of Sound’s “Beware My Love” and “222”, a spiralling hypnotic sketch of song replete with tempo changes and the always welcome Macca falsetto, are fascinating and super fine slabs of oddball Paul.

MATTHEW: Memory Almost Full (2007), 7/10: I thought Chaos was just as good as Rain, but I was aware by the time Memory came out that the first was generally considered to be rubbish and the second great. So this third album of the decade was going to be rubbish, right? Not so much. Far from rubbish, it is a dozen strong songs, lots of melodic hooks, no unfinished fragments or self-indulgences of the kind that marred some other Macca albums. It’s in my McTop Ten. That said, it is a step away from the confessional intimacy of Rain and Chaos, and a step towards the so-so modern pop of Paul’s 2010s albums. It is best when it sounds more like a sibling to Chaos—for example, in “You Tell Me,” “Vintage Clothes,” “That Was Me,” “Feet in the Clouds,” “The End of the End.” I didn’t realize until a few years ago that all those songs were written and demo-recorded BEFORE Chaos was made. It shows. Perhaps if those demos are included in the Archive Collection reissue, whenever that comes, they’ll underscore how much this album might have been a Chaos twin. That said, I’d not want the final five tracks (which Paul has called a medley) to be any different (I’m generously pretending the album ends with “End,” not the 2-minute back-alley dentist visit that is “Nod Your Head”).

New (2013)

HOPE: New (2013), 6/10: New is an unpredictable and blessedly weird creature with moments that bring to mind everyone from Queen to The Killers to MGMT. It’s a dirty window of an album with a fair amount of “riffing” and “shredding” and ultimately more about sounds than songs. The Macca voice goes down an octave, the amps get turned up and things get wonderfully eccentric. You couldn’t call it outright Indie Paul, but there is something distinctly off-kilter in the construction of songs like the pounding “Road”, fuzzy singalong “Queenie Eye” and electro-peculiar “Appreciate”. You don’t necessarily see what’s coming, the hooks aren’t obvious and the instrumentation isn’t rote ( it should be noted that 2 of the aforementioned songs are co-writes with esteemed producer Paul Epworth). The song that best personifies New’s accessible weirdness for me is “Looking At Her” with its incongruous, where the hell did that come from synth-line. It’s the aural equivalent of giant neon brick being thrown through your living room window and is just yes, yes, yes.

MATTHEW: New (2013), 6/10: The modern pop tendencies of Memory Almost Full are almost fully realized on New (and are fully so on its sequel). The tortured Paul of the previous decade was gone, and while I’m happy for him, it meant the return of playful Paul—and songs that were more fun to create than they are to hear. If that makes it a hard album to love, one to pull songs for mixes more than to enjoy from start to finish, it also makes it endlessly interesting. Hope puts it perfectly: its the sounds, rather than the songs, that surprise and bewitch. “Alligator” and “Appreciate” are just the right balance of weird and melodic. The hidden 13th track, which sounds right out of the Rain/Chaos era, always arrives as an odd but welcome twist (and much better hidden after “Road” on the original release, instead of after the dispensable extra tracks on the so-called Deluxe Edition).

Egypt Station (2018)

MATTHEW: Egypt Station (2018), 4/10: I heard a couple of damning reviews of this, Macca’s 22nd studio album of originals, when it first came out. I tried to ignore them but I was put off by “Come on To Me” and “Fuh You,” which seemed just plain bizarre coming from a 76-year-old; the latter sounds like Coldplay production with Enrique Iglesias lyrics, but sung by an old geezer who refuses to do a clean version. I concluded that the slow downward trajectory from Chaos to Memory to New had continued with Egypt. Two years later, I still think there has been diminishing returns since Chaos. But my reaction to the two singles mentioned above smacks of ageism. Surely he’s earned the right to sing “I just wanna fuh you” to anyone who wants to hear it, regardless of how old he is! Besides, there’s one GREAT song on here (“I Don’t Know” is an instant Macca classic), and there are some pretty good ones scattered throughout the full Egypt sessions, enough to fill two sides of vinyl. The fact that one has to wade through an hour and a half of music (the original album’s hour, plus the bonus tracks and follow-up singles) to find one’s fine forty minutes is, well, all part of the pleasure and privilege of having access to so much Paul pop. He’s been doing it for six decades, and shows no sign of stopping. Let’s hope he never does.

HOPE: Egypt Station (2018), 3/10: I concur with Matthew heartily on multiple points; “I Don’t Know” is a freakin’ great song, vintage melodic Macca. And yes, the album is too damn long ( thanks streaming, you bastard). As far as the ageism, well, guilty here too…but then again is there such a thing as age appropriate music, should there be ? Rock stars are forever young right ? “Fuh You” does have a bit of a Grandpa posting stuff on TikTok vibe but it feels much truer to who Paul is at his core than something like Kisses On The Bottom ( his standards album which we discuss in the side projects section below). Still if Egypt Station makes one thing abundantly clear, it is that Indie Paul as heard on its predecessor New is infinitely more listenable than Modern Day Pop Paul as heard on a number of tracks here. There’s a fair amount of filler but the quirky, weirdness of electro-chant ”Back in Brazil” is pretty winning. And the bizarro “Caesar Rock”, a marriage of the sludgy and yes “Soily” sound of early ‘70s Wings and Talking Heads is a head-spinning and ridiculously fun melange.

McCartney III (2020)

MATTHEW: McCartney III (2020), 5/10: We had already written on all 22 studio albums above, when Paul announced that during “rockdown” he’d hammered out another totally-solo album—entirely written, performed, and produced by him, in the vein of 1970’s I and 1980’s II. As you can imagine, and no doubt like you and many thousands of others, we were excited, intrigued, apprehensive. So how did it turn out? Well, exciting and intriguing. There are some genuine new gems here; I really like the “Winter Bird” tracks that open and close the album, and I love the two deeps—“Deep Deep Feeling” and “Deep Down” (the sequencing on the vinyl version has them both on Side B, making that a fine 24 minutes of mature Macca, perhaps enough to push this from a 5 to a 6/10 as it grows on me). But III is not without the quirky flaws that divide opinions on I and II (“Lavatory Lil” is music hall juvenilia of the kind that has amused Paul since Beatle days, but to my tastes is—and here am I hypocritically sinking to the same level with a predictable metaphor—a turd to be flushed). In other words, it’s a typical Macca album, both brilliant and infuriating, an imperfect but very welcome reminder of how lucky we are to still have among us the extraordinary talent of King Paul (yes, after half a century of memorable solo albums, I think he deserves a promotion).

HOPE: McCartney III (2020), 5/10: We are totally in sync on this one Matthew ! The 2 deeps, “Deep Deep Feeling” and “Deep Down”, the former with it’s gorgeous darkly melodic piano line reminiscent of those on Back the the Egg ( as well as Chaos classic “Riding To Vanity Fair”) and the latter with its dirty Ram style groove are unquestionably the finest tracks on III. And my runners up are the birds that bookend the album (“Long Tailed Winter Bird”, “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes”) both of which are sonically splattered with vintage McCartney 1 and Ram mud. Still, the good stuff is countered by a lot of just okay stuff and one dyed in the wool nightmare (“Lavatory Lil”) so III is not the latter day classic some might have hoped for ( including me). Not sure why but I was expecting III to be more akin to McCartney II, full of electronic noodling and spacey intervals, in fact I was feeling pretty open to that idea so it was kind of surprising to hear him reverting to more traditional patterns. But that’s Paul. Predictably unpredictable. Able to raise a smile or induce a tear at will. Still the uncontested forever master of melody. And of course still pumped to make music ( and play drums!). It’s a beautiful thing.

Compilations, Live Albums and Side Projects (1970-2020) !

MATTHEW: Now to the hits and “best of” compilations, of which there are surprisingly only four (considering how many artists with a far smaller catalogue have squeezed far more compilations—or, more often, their labels have): Wings Greatest (1978), All the Best! (1987), Wingspan (2001), and Pure McCartney (2016). I think Paul is to be commended for not flooding and confusing the marketplace with compilations. He seems to give them thought and attention, and perhaps is mindful of the many live albums he released between 1990 and 2019.

Wings Greatest (8/10) was odd for not including all of Macca’s hits to date, but that would have required a double LP, whose cost and pricing Capitol weren’t willing to risk. Still, 5 of its 12 tracks had never appeared on a McCartney album, and it comprised 11 great hits and “Mull of Kintyre” (sorry, but I was living in England when it was #1 for 9 weeks, became the biggest selling single to date, and was inescapable; I’m still recovering). My cassette copy was fairly well flogged in the day.

By the time All The Best! (6/10) was assembled, there was no avoiding putting out a double album of 20 tracks (or 17 on CD, and a different 17 on the US vinyl and CD version). All three versions put me off a little by including the duets with Wonder and Jackson, edited versions of some songs, and (outside the US) the Rupert and the Frog soundtrack song. I made my own mix and almost never played the original compilation

By comparison, this century’s two compilations are superb. Wingspan (9/10) covers roughly the same period as All The Best! but does it so much better, its 40 tracks (yup, it has the advantage of 2 CDs) chosen, divided in two, and sequenced perfectly. I really flogged it. Finally, Pure (10/10) drew on Macca’s entire career since 1970, and by sequencing tracks non-chronologically it created some interesting juxtapositions. The 2-CD version is good but the 4-CD 67-track version is better, throwing old hits up against recent gems and surprising album cuts (like “Winedark Open Sea”). I made my own version of 100 tracks, but I actually play the Pure CDs more.

HOPE: Wings Greatest (9/10) I got this album for Xmas in 1978 and admittedly have a huge sentimental attachment to it. As far as engaging my child brain it worked effectively on many levels. It came with a poster (!). It meant I finally had the perfectly ponderous “Junior’s Farm” on vinyl (!!). I liked the whole thing meaning I could happily play both sides without skipping tracks (!!!). And the one song I most wanted to skip happened to be the last one, “Mull of Kintyre” which made things exceptionally convenient (tilt!). “Mull of Kintyre” fun fact ; when the single was first released in the U.S. it came in a plain sleeve. Imagine my dismay when only a few weeks later I saw it at Korvettes department store with a damned picture sleeve featuring a heretofore unseen photo of Paul, Linda and Denny. There was no way I was going to buy the same record again but I totally wanted the sleeve. After considerable shifting and shuffling, with 2 older sales ladies only feet away, I managed to “pour” out the 45 into the bin and pilfer the sleeve. I literally heard one say to the other as I casually toddled off, “did she take something?”. I did and let me offer my sincerest apologies to both of you ladies wherever you are. If it’s any consolation I still have and treasure it.

All the Best! (5/10) My rating on this is retroactive because I admittedly didn’t buy it upon release ( bad fan). By that point I was obsessed with making mixtapes and so the only thing I really coveted off of it was the new song it included “Once Upon a Long Ago” (which irritatingly was not included on the American version of the album and so I ended up having to fork out for an import version of the single). “Once Upon…” featured the classic “Paul in the ‘80s” combo of cringey lyrics married to a lustrous, unspeakably gorgeous melody. Since the latter is more important, I totally love and forgive it. As a result I only ended up getting the (U.S. version) album a few years after it came out and solely for the sake of completion. Looking back at its contents now, All the Best! was clearly constructed for the masses with it’s glut of single edits and is thus more straight up product than artistic statement. At this point it’s simply an artifact of another time.

Wingspan (9/10) is an infinitely better overview and curated with far more care though I admit I was far more excited about the brand new collectibles attached to it, namely the documentary and book of the same name ( truly engaging documents both). I was working at Virgin Megastore in Times Square at the time of its release and was able to blast it over our giant sound system for a nice patch of time. Hearing “Back Seat of My Car” echoing through that cavernous space with hundreds of people milling around was as transcendently and ridiculously beautiful as it sounds. Pure (8/10) is essentially a readymade, officially sanctioned playlist. Despite the presence of a few unwelcome interlopers ( “Bip Bop”, “We All Stand Together”) it’s pretty thoughtfully laid out and the cover featuring bearded ‘70s Macca is hot. Is it necessary or essential ? No, but it’s immeasurably better having Paul make the playlist than some ignorant, emotionless algorithm.

HOPE: It was inevitable that Paul’s relentless touring would spawn some live recordings but we had no way of knowing just how many (aka too many). Apart from the precious, emotionally charged document that is Amoeba Gig (the 2007 secret show at the brilliant, legendary LA record shop) the rest of Paul’s latter day live catalog is pretty superfluous. Tripping the Live Fantastic ’90, Unplugged ’91, Paul is Live ‘93, Back in the U.S. ‘02, Back in the World ‘03 and Good Evening New York City ‘09 are cool souvenirs if you were at any of the shows, but none are truly essential or a patch on the revved up oldie, 1976’s Wings Over America.

MATTHEW: I agree that the eight (!) live albums of 1990-2009 (that’s counting separately the two 1990 versions of Tripping the Live Fantastic) are enjoyable extras, with only the Amoeba Gig being essential listening. Tellingly, the only one I listen to regularly is GENYC, because it evokes the live shows I saw a few years before and after then. I also like how it connects the solo work to his Beatles songs (as the other live albums do, but none of the compilations do). And of course the live albums tap into the energy that mature Macca has sustained to a stunning degree.

MATTHEW: We’ve mentioned some of the classical and electronic pop projects in passing, but let’s round up everything not yet rated and summarized. After all, in addition to the 22 studio albums, 4 compilations, and 9 live albums covered above, there are 5 studio side-projects, as well as 7 classical and 5 electronica albums (according to the tally on Wikipedia)—for a grand total of 52 (in 50 years)!

The side-project albums, as I just called them, are the forgettably dodgy Thrillington (1976) instrumental album; Give My Regards to Broadstreet (1984), the ill-conceived soundtrack album that we justifiably dismissed earlier; and two albums of old rock ‘n’ roll covers. CHOBA B CCCP (1988) and Run Devil Run (1999) are interesting curiosities, no doubt adored by some fans, but not albums I ever choose over his original studio albums. As for the electronica albums, they are more varied than that genre tag suggests: experimental projects like Twin Freaks are one-listen-only curiosities; but the trio of albums made by Paul with Youth, as The Fireman, are worth exploring. I miss Paul’s quirky charm on these three albums, but it’s absence makes them more consistent. The best of the trio is Electric Arguments (2008), and it’s the closest to a Paul solo album. The most recent side project is Kisses on the Bottom (see below). My enjoyment of Pie also prompted me to buy Standing Stone, which came out the same year. It remains my favorite of Macca’s classical albums. The others are interesting and pleasant, but Stone is more original, complex, and rewarding (I particularly love the second movement with “Sea Voyage” at its heart).

HOPE: Ah yes, the dreaded “side projects”, the scourge of every completist on a budget. 1976’s Thrillington album featured instrumental, ballroom flavored versions of songs from the wondrous Ram. Unfortunately, despite it’s stellar source material, it sucks. Ram is a dirty, glorious mudball of an album and Thrillington conveys none of its charm. The terrible soundtrack Give My Regards to Broadstreet (1984) did possess a singular piece of precious cargo in the form of handsome mega-ballad “No More Lonely Nights” but it’s inclusion on the All The Best! comp a few years later stripped it of that lone virtue forever. The 2 rock oldies cover albums CHOBA B CCCP (1988) and Run Devil Run (1991) were clearly passion projects for Paul and while he sings with genuine fire on both I don’t ever feel the desire to listen to them. As a melody addict the meat and potatoes rock of the ‘50s and early ‘60s isn’t quite tuneful enough for me. Yes, this is what happens when children are raised solely on ‘70s AM and ’80s FM radio, you get a whole generation of kids with a ridiculously large sweet tooth and no appreciation of musical history (or, okay, maybe it’s just me).

I agree with Matthew’s assessment on the electronica excursions and that Electric Arguments (2008) feels the most like an actual Macca album. He included the album’s rousing single “Sing The Changes” as part of his setlist on the ’09 tour and I can confirm it sounded shockingly good in the stadium environment, filling the impersonal space with something akin to actual joy.
The gaggle of classical albums Paul’s kicked out over the years within the decade are home to a handful of genuinely transcendent moments. Working Classical (1999) features some seriously moving orchestral versions of old classics (“Junk”, “My Love”) as well as several sweet originals (“Spiral” is lovely). But the best of the classical excursions is unquestionably Standing Stone (1997) most especially the aforementioned epic, cinematic and okay, slightly militaristic “Sea Voyage”. It remains my absolute favorite Paul-strumental, even over “Singalong Junk” or “Hot As Sun” and continues to occupy a galleon-size space in my heart.

HOPE: Kisses On The Bottom (2012), 2/10: Back in 2007, Daryl Hall gave a revealing interview to Pitchfork and said this about Rod Stewart’s string of successful standards albums; “You can be Rod Stewart, and be Clive Davis’s dog, and have a career at the expense of your artistic soul. I have nothing but negative things to say about that, because I respect him as a singer, and I hate what he does. He sold his soul. And I take that personally.” A very cutting observation there but also painfully true. And having watched the Rod do a show at MSG during that era where he donned a dinner jacket for the first hour, then reverted back to sleazy rock star for the latter half, it was clear where his heart was i.e. not in the jacket. This will sound nuts, but I didn’t want Kisses On The Bottom to be successful because I hated the idea of Paul falling into a Rod style quagmire. Of course as a songwriter who loves/lives to jam, it wasn’t likely but hey, I don’t think Rod ever saw himself heading down that path either. The album is an inessential curiosity.

MATTHEW: Kisses On The Bottom (2012), 3/10: I too feared this was the start of a whole new “standards” post-career, with multiple volumes to drive multiple nails into the coffin of Sir Paul’s credibility (a la Sir Rod). It’s certainly pointless (and even has a pointless, less-good remake of “Baby’s Request” from disrespected Egg). It’s best song, “If I Take You Home Tonight” isn’t even on here (it went to Diana Krall, who made it a stand-out track on her brilliant Wallflower album). But it isn’t terrible, it has one good new song (“My Valentine”), and I’d rather listen to it all the way through than his worst 80s-90s albums (mmm, maybe). (It’s a good way to mollify people asking for Christmas music, without having to suffer actual Christmas music; how’s that for damning with faint praise?!)

In Conclusion…

HOPE: I know. You are exhausted from reading this 4 part epic. We are too. If you are not already hammered from having a drink every time we uttered the words “Archive Collection” then please, relax and have a drink, you freakin’ deserve it for making it this far. And Thank You for indulging us, seriously, THANK YOU.

Right, because I can’t let sleeping dogs lie, I wanted to close this insanity with our personal Top 5’s for both songs and albums…but Matthew told me it would be impossible to narrow our picks down to only 5 songs. And he was right. 5 isn’t gonna do it. And so with that in mind, we now humbly offer our Top 10 songs in alphabetical order ( and our Top 5 albums in the order of all our aforementioned grades).

MATTHEW: Hope, you asked me for my Top 5 Macca songs. Too hard! I can get it down to ten (with the proviso that such a list changes from week to week—as you and any fan will understand—and this week it happens to heavy on ‘70s singles). Here’s that Top 10 in alphabetical order:

MATTHEW’s Top 10 songs

1.Arrow Through Me

2.Back Seat of My Car

3.Band On The Run

4.Beautiful Night

5.Goodnight Tonight

6.Live and Let Die

7.Maybe I’m Amazed

8.Riding To Vanity Fair

9.Silly Love Songs

10.With A Little Luck

MATTHEW: As for my Top 5 albums, many Macca fans would agree with the first and last of those five, but far fewer would understand my other picks! Yours are a similar mix, aren’t they, Hope? My Top 10 is rounded out with albums stretching from 1970 to 2007, reflecting the staggering fact that Macca has not only been churning out songs for sixty years, but most are good and many are great.

MATTHEW’S Top 5 Albums

1.Band on the Run

2.London Town

3.Back To The Egg

4.Driving Rain

5.Chaos And Creation In The Backyard

HOPE: While my favorite songs are generally determined by whatever headspace I am in at a given time, I will say that my picks stay relatively steady for the most part. And while I’ve listened to the ones I’m about list hundreds upon hundreds of times at this point in my life they never stop feeling like home. In alphabetical order they are…

HOPE’S Top 10 songs

1.Arrow Through Me

2.Back Seat Of My Car

3.Don’t Let It Bring You Down

4.Jet

5.Listen To What The Man Said

6.Little Lamb Dragonfly

7.Once Upon A Long Ago

8.Riding To Vanity Fair

9.Some People Never Know

10.Take It Away

HOPE’S Top 5 Albums

1.Ram

2.Back To The Egg

3.Tug of War

4.Band on the Run

5.Driving Rain

MATTHEW: We’ve tried to be critical and discerning, as well as fawning and fanatical in our reviews of his albums. That is partly to make our comments less predictable, partly because our opinions have been formed by personal experiences, and partly because the full Macca catalog is deep and wide, varied and complex, packed with experiments and surprises—some less welcome than others. Too often, the missteps have been used to dismiss the Macca legacy, when the real cause of that attitude is a lazy and unjust perpetuation of the old blame-game: blaming Paul for the Beatle breakup, for being happily married and relishing ordinary life when John offered angst and drama, for surviving when John was martyred, for making everyone else seem inadequate by being tirelessly productive. Sure, across the hundreds of songs, there are highs and lows, but the highs are scattered across the decades. This is not a tale of brief brilliance followed by slow decline. There are gems everywhere, and at any minute another one could surface. It’s extraordinary. When you add in the songs he wrote with The Beatles, the sheer magnitude of his impact on popular culture over the past six decades—his contributions to the daily lives of many millions of us—it is staggering. As Ian Leslie recently posted on The Ruffian, there are only three emotions that Sir Paul and his music most justifiably evoke: “awe, gratitude, and love.” How lucky we are to live in the Age of Macca!

HOPE: I concur with EVERYTHING Matthew just said! Digging deep and dissecting the Macca solo discography has been an absolute joy for us. Despite having heard most of the aforementioned albums ten trillion times, we still somehow rediscovered songs we’d previously ignored as well as came to appreciate the ones we already loved even more. We hope that this crazy thing has maybe, just maybe inspired you to dig, revisit or just plain explore the vast and wondrous Macca solo catalogue.

Gonna give the last word to the tiny machine below, the first iPod I ever owned (2001-2009 r.i.p.). Take it away dear friend…

The Wonder Of It All: Paul McCartney’s Solo Years (Part 3-The ’90s)

Over the course of 2020, my friend Matthew Restall, author of the brilliant Blue Moves book in the 33 1/3 series & I (Hope) started spontaneously breaking down Paul McCartney’s entire post-Beatle discography as if we were writing an actual essay (like you do, if you are a nerd). Well, turns out we were. Welcome to The Wonder Of It All, a 4-part series featuring our endlessly unspooling, unhinged, proudly contrarian, ridiculous & heartfelt correspondence regarding the Macca solo catalog. Ram On…

I Can See The World Tonight: Just a note on the format of this essay, Matthew and I are going to be taking turns spilling our McCartney guts and our names will appear before our respective comments. Our album rating system is the classic best of 10, the pinnacle being 10 (it’s brilliant ), the bottom being 1 (it’s terrible). Our opinions will diverge at points but we are as one in our love of Macca.

1990-1999: Off the Ground & into the Pie

MATTHEW: Considering how productive he was in the ‘70s (9 original studio albums) and ‘80s (5 of them), it is striking that Macca made only two albums of new material in the ‘90s. Yet the reasons for this being the least productive of his five solo decades are obvious: a series of huge world tours; and Linda’s long battle with cancer. Which excuses the weakness of Off the Ground and makes the strength of Flaming Pie all the more notable.

Off The Ground (1993)

MATTHEW: Off the Ground (1993), 2/10: This was Paul’s only pop/rock studio album between 1989’s Flowers and 1997’s Flaming Pie, but he was as busy as ever: he released the first of what would be several album collaborations as The Fireman; the first of half a dozen classical albums; and around the time when Off the Ground was being written and released, he put out no less than three live albums (Tripping the Live Fantastic in ‘90, Unplugged in ‘91, and Paul is Live in ‘93). All that activity, the live albums and massive world tours they captured or reflected, made OtG somewhat irrelevant to his public profile and career. It was certainly irrelevant to me; I was still listening to most of what Paul had created during the first 18 years of my life (1964-82), but I had given up on everything since then. I wasn’t alone; OtG did poorly (except in France, Germany, and Japan—a knock-on effect of his touring, perhaps). In retrospect, it is not an irredeemably terrible album; it has its moments. But, like PtP, it isn’t great; it lacks a single really great song (although I do like “Winedark Open Sea”), and we know that Paul can write those in spades.

HOPE: Off the Ground (1993), 1/10: As Matthew states so succinctly above, OtG lacks a single really great song. The only track I ever spent time with was, yes, “Winedark Open Sea”, a decent enough slow groove…but it’s still not worthy enough to make a post Beatle Macca Top 100. Paul’s never made an album that could be scored as a straight up zero out of 10 as his inherent melodic gift is always somewhere in the fabric of every full length he creates…which is to say there will always be at least a minute of head spinning pop beauty on whatever he does. But out of all the latter day Macca releases, those sweet bits are by far the hardest to find on OtG.

Flaming Pie (1997)

MATTHEW: Flaming Pie (1997), 8/10: I’d pretty much given up on Macca by this point, no longer listening to anything recorded by him after Wings disbanded. But “Beautiful Night” got my attention: it captured those elements of melody and inventiveness that made Paul’s pop so brilliant. I loved it and still do. It took me to Pie, a year or two later (yeah, I was a tad slow, but it was that mid-30s crazy busy career and family time for me), and suddenly I was one of those Beatle/Macca fans between youth and middle age revisiting and rebuying albums. (As I was getting back into ELO too, the Jeff Lynne varnish on much of the album appealed to me.) So how does Pie stand up now? As we write, the Archive Collection reissue recently came out, getting attention and praise. And the album is pretty damn good. In fact, I still love the first six tracks (nicely sequenced from “The Song We Were Singing” to “Calico Skies”); the title track grates a tad, and in the second half there are a few of those collaborative tracks that Paul had more fun making that I have listening to (often the case with his 80s-90s albums), but they are offset by gems like “Heaven on a Sunday,” “Little Willow,” and “Beautiful Night.” For me, this is by far his best album of his varied 80–90s middle period.

HOPE: Flaming Pie (1997), 5/10: True confession. In the years leading up to Pie I’d fallen completely under the spell of Britpop, utterly besotted with everything from Elastica to yes, unabashed Beatle worshippers, Oasis. And so when Pie was released I was not really receptive to it, as I was so entrenched and enraptured by big brash Britpop with it’s massive singalong chorus’s and druggy, sexy looks. And so I listened to Pie a few times, cherry picked the couple of songs I liked, popped them on a mix cd and filed it away. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate it a bit more. I get why some people find that Jeff Lynne production stamp irksome on the albums he produces but it’s not as intrusive here as it was on say George Harrison’s Cloud Nine. The songs I like best on Pie actually remind me of vintage Wings tracks namely “Great Day” which sounds like a not so distant cousin of Red Rose Speedway’s groovy, dirty “Big Barn Bed” and “Heaven On A Sunday”a sort of soul song with a really fine vintage Speed Of Sound guitar break hiding in it (from Paul’s son James ). Pie is a slow burn of an album, the kind you need to play on repeat for a while before it infiltrates.

End of Part 3

Coming in Part 4, the 21st century! Plus a whip ’round the Macca side projects and compilations. Get comfortable, it’s a big one…check it out here

The Wonder Of It All: Paul McCartney’s Solo Years (Part 2-The ’80s)

Over the course of 2020, my friend Matthew Restall, author of the brilliant Blue Moves book in the 33 1/3 series & I (Hope) started spontaneously breaking down Paul McCartney’s entire post-Beatle discography as if we were writing an actual essay (like you do, if you are a nerd). Well, turns out we were. Welcome to The Wonder Of It All, a 4-part series featuring our endlessly unspooling, unhinged, proudly contrarian, ridiculous & heartfelt correspondence regarding the Macca solo catalog. Ram On…

Once Upon A Long Ago: Just a note on the format of this essay, Matthew and I are going to be taking turns spilling our McCartney guts and our names will appear before our respective comments. Our album rating system is the classic best of 10, the pinnacle being 10 (it’s brilliant ), the bottom being 1 (it’s terrible). Our opinions will diverge at points but we are as one in our love of Macca.

1980-1989: Macca II to The Dirt

HOPE: The ’80s were a markedly confusing and dark time for many of the music world’s more established and beloved artists. With the new decade came a dramatic, seismic shift in pop sights and sounds. Sure there were the inevitable sonic advances in recording and such but the shift was mostly down to this one particular thing, an immense, all consuming behemoth called MTV that took near complete control of music culture (as well as my own teen brain). The garish, glossy videos they showed 24/7 became as crucial to an artist’s success as radio airplay, the visuals and visages as important as the songs themselves. Yup, once MTV hit, like some musical equivalent of Logan’s Run, any musician over 30 suddenly seemed genuinely old indeed. The acoustic sounds that had been so mega and pervasive only a handful of years before now seemed criminally dated.

The need to sound “modern” to stay relevant proved to be problematic for many of the established rock and pop superstars of the ’60s and ’70s, resulting in some truly disastrous sonic (enter sexy saxes) and sartorial decisions (hot mullet action). Of course there were artists who were able to transition and/or evolve with enormous success as the ’80s progressed like Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and even, surprisingly, The Kinks. And there were others who while not necessarily progressive sound-wise, resoundingly found their niche as the decade evolved (Linda Ronstadt). But alas others stumbled. Hard

Which is to say welcome to Paul McCartney’s ‘80s. The decade began with Paul’s being arrested and detained for bringing a cache of weed into Japan where the Wings tour was set to begin. He was subsequently deported and plans to continue the tour were aborted (and as such the USA never got to experience the Back to the Egg live, dammit Paul dammit). Once summer hit though, things in Macca world took a marked turn toward the better as Paul’s new single, an oddball pseudo-new wave chant called “Coming Up” ascended to the #1 spot in the singles chart. The success of that song then supercharged sales for the ponderously weird and uncommercial album it called home, 1980’s McCartney II helping drive it up the charts to similar heights. Then on December 8 of that same year, everything changed.

The tragic death of John Lennon invariably threw an intense spotlight on Paul and left many wondering how he might ultimately address this immense loss within his music…or if he would at all.  The answer came in the form of an album that he’d begun recording prior to John’s death, 1982’s Tug Of War. Within it he spoke eloquently and emotionally about John ( in the song “Here Today”) while also delivering one of the finest full lengths of his entire post-Beatle career. Little did we know at the time that it would serve as the high water mark for all of Macca’s ‘80s output. The quality of the releases that followed Tug Of War whipped wildly from intermittently strong to outright terrible

Check out any career-spanning album ranking list and you will invariably find the 2 studio albums that came in the wake of Tug Of War, namely Pipes of Peace and Press To Play as well as the soundtrack to Paul’s ill-conceived (disaster) film Give My Regards To Broad Street firmly lodged at the bottom. And in the case of Broad Street, it’s a 2-fer as it’s also arguably one of the worst films of the ‘80s. While we can cast a legitimately critical eye at these albums with their mullets, smarmy, thumbs aloft videos and clunky attempts at modernity, we also can’t entirely dismiss them for there are in fact some true gems living within their grooves. But be warned, if you choose to listen to Macca’s ‘80s albums in their entirety, you are gonna get dirty.

McCartney II (1980)

MATTHEW: McCartney II (1980), 4/10: derided as a featherweight failed experiment at the time, especially in the US (where it’s chart showing was Paul’s lowest since Wild Life), it is hailed today as a bold, experimental, unappreciated gem. So which is it? Both and neither: it’s an experiment that works at times, but ultimately isn’t experimental enough. The electropop tracks are very 1980, but in a good way; they stand up pretty well (although surely “Frozen Jap” is an unnecessarily offensive title, even if Paul was still grumpy about his recent drug arrest in Tokyo airport). But they would have been more compelling if sequenced together—perhaps as a semi-instrumental Side B (like Bowie’s Low and Heroes). Instead, as if he was wary of asking fans to embrace something too novel, Paul interspersed them with more conventional songs. Two of those are great (the singles “Coming Up” and “Waterfalls”), but the other four are like forgettable outtakes from the pre-Egg Wings era (and “Bogey Music” comes unforgivably close to completely ruining Side B). Left off the album was “Blue Sway,” which would have been one of its better tracks (it is on the Archive Collection edition, which also has the excellent live Wings version of “Coming Up” and the extended—too long!—versions of the electropop numbers).

What’s the solution? The best I can come up with is a double EP (3-4 tracks on 4 sides, grouped by style, allowing for both versions of “Coming Up,” “Blue Sway,” and some longer edits). But a double EP was almost never done by anyone, for good economic reasons. Not a great idea. So maybe the solution is that we must be content with playing around with the original track and outtakes from what is a flawed, confused but ultimately worthwhile addition to the catalogue.

HOPE: McCartney II (1980), 5/10: The release of this album was preceded by the single ”Coming Up” a song with a cute modern haircut and no discernible melody. I’ve never liked it and at the time wished it hadn’t gotten to # 1 because I was genuinely worried Paul would take it as a sign to write more songs like it (I miss the days when that was the kind of shiz I was actually worried about). I know McCartney II has received a lot of latter day love for it’s prescience and supposedly ahead of it’s time electropop experimentation which I kind of get…but to my ears there aren’t enough fully fleshed out songs to latch onto. Which is to say several tracks feel like incomplete sketches and/or straight up noodling (“Front Parlour”, “Darkroom”, “On The Way”), not to mention that things get seriously cringey in a couple of places ( “Frozen Jap”,”Bogey Music”). On the up side, I love the ethereal and woozy “Waterfalls”; though it’s the most prototypically Macca-style song here, maybe the least adventurous, it is by far the most memorable track on all of McCartney II. And I want to award honorable mentions to a couple of deep cuts from the same cloth, “One Of These Days” and “Summer’s Day Song”. While not up to the melodic standard of “Waterfalls”, they are similarly hazy and hypnotic and often insidiously sneak into my Macca playlists when I’m not looking.

I was hoping that I would have an epiphany regarding McCartney II once I spent time with the Archive Collection edition, but apart from discovering the plush nighttime in the city groove of bonus track “Blue Sway”, nothing had changed; I liked the same 3 aforementioned songs I always did and felt nothing for the rest. I agree with Matthew’s assessment that while Macca sometimes colors outside the lines on McCartney II, he doesn’t go far enough to make it genuinely interesting…but think that applies the other way too, as in he skates around his melodic tendencies without digging in; there just aren’t enough hooks here and brilliant hooks are what define the best Macca songs and set him apart from the songwriting herd.

Tug Of War (1982)

HOPE: Tug of War (1982), 9/10: If you are a hardcore Macca fan chances are you have a pretty tough skin. When haters want to trash post-Beatle Paul they tend to wave the same tired pieces of dirty laundry in the air to make their point. And the Exhibit A of total suckery is always the same. Yes, “Ebony and Ivory” is ridiculous. When they premiered the song on one of the big NYC radio stations back in the day I remember being embarrassed on Paul’s behalf after it had finished. Still, while it’s clumsy as hell and I don’t care if I ever hear it again, I know it’s heart is in the right place and the tune itself is kind of sweet. But yes, I get the hate. We all do. I just wanted to get that out of the way before we talk about all the beauty and joy surrounding it.

Critics were falling all over themselves to praise ToW upon release…which even in my youth I recognized as unusual having become so accustomed to their bashing him. In fact it sort of seemed like the extra praise was their way of offering Paul sympathy and love after what happened to John. I admit I thought this, like oh now you think Paul is good, feeling ever so slightly pissed at his prior treatment and their convenient new magnanimity. But then again, ToW was pretty great.

I love the overall sequencing on ToW…how the handsomest stuff is served up first and how the lesser lights are discreetly tucked away ( those being the other sadly pedestrian Stevie W collaboration “What’s That You’re Doing” and the Carl Perkins duet “Get It”). And there couldn’t have been a better opener than the epic and wistful title track. I love, love “Take It Away”, it is one of my all-time favorite solo Paul tracks, right down to it’s fantastical video with John Hurt as “some important impresariooooo”. The harmonizing in the coda is straight up heavenly and I could listen to it playing in an endless loop forever. “Wanderlust” often gets singled out as the album’s finest ballad, but I’d nominate the rainy “Somebody Who Cares” with its slightly mournful melody for that accolade (plus it sounds like “Waterfalls” little brother). I think ToW is a great record, literally, in that it is so perfectly suited to be absorbed on a turntable, having to be flipped over. It’s never boring and remains utterly listenable in every way.

MATTHEW: Tug of War (1982), 7/10: In the early 80s, I was a fanatic, chart-obsessed English consumer of pop music, and thus a witness to the stumbling of ’70s rock and pop stars that Hope describes. I was also part of their problem, quick to give up on the likes of the Stones, Floyd, Supertramp, Elton John—and Paul McCartney. I was not alone in dismissing these artists as no longer uncool even while still listening to their “old stuff”; that sounds contradictory, but their nostalgia status was part of their uncool-ness. Macca was really up against it, lumbered with the albatross of Beatles uber-nostalgia and the deeply unfair resentment of Lennon mourners. Back to the Egg and McCartney II were still cool to me because I read their experimentalism as Paul not caring what we thought. But the run of albums from 1982-86 suggested he cared too much, trying different duet partners, different producers, veering into children’s music, capitalizing on old Beatles songs but with inferior new versions. The embarrassing “Ebony and Ivory” seemed to set the tone for the decade. It tainted ToW for me at the time, and each subsequent album (not to mention the Rupert the Bear moment) seemed to confirm and further lower my expectations.

None of that was particularly fair, and as a result I failed to give Tug of War a fighting chance. But I came back to it in the late ‘90s, when Macca lured me back with his creative renaissance and when I no longer cared what was cool or uncool. And yes, both Stevie Wonder duets are still embarrassing (calling each other “girl” and squealing “What’s That You’re Doing” to each other would have been less awkward had it been deliberate). But in retrospect ToW sounds like a sequel to pre-Egg Wings, with a few new collaborators, and the same mix of catchy melodies, pseudo-oldies (“Ballroom Dancing” was leftover from Egg days, I believe, and sounds like it—that’s a compliment!), disposable oddities (“Get It”), memorable ballads (“Wanderlust” is great, and “Here Today” is by far the best ode to Lennon by any of the Fab survivors), and solid singles (I love “Take It Away” too). ToW was a hit then, it held up well, and it positively shines in comparison to what followed it.

Pipes Of Peace (1983)

HOPE: Pipes of Peace (1983), 6/10: When I went to purchase this album upon release the guy at the counter told me it was “shit” (turned out he was 10 years off and had the wrong album but I digress). PoP is for all intents and purposes a watered down version of ToW , in other words, not awesome but a long, long way from the shiz pile. I do want to note that while the albums pair of duets with Michael Jackson “Say, Say, Say” and “The Man” have become problematic for me because of MJ’s well-documented issues, I do believe they are 2 of PoP’s strongest tracks. In fact “The Man”, was my absolute favorite track on PoP for ages. I found it’s lightness, slightly eccentric lyric and hook impossible to resist; it sounded like a pop-ified version of “San Ferry Anne” off of Speed of Sound. And Paul’s vocal on the track is downright exquisite, just absolute sweetness. I also confess that the “Say Say Say” video enhanced my experience of the song as it provided ample opportunity to swoon over how hot Paul was ( of course at the time I was a teen and Paul was over 40 but let’s just look at it as a tribute to how well he was aging). And I have to shout out plush, corny, epic, arms wide open on a mountain anthem “Through Our Love”; it is pure ’80s glory-osity and just plain rules. Now the bad news…and excuse me for acting “like a dustbin lid” for a second if you will ( please listen to track 3 of PoP if I just confused you with that characterization). While PoP has some undeniably engaging hooks threading through it, it also has filler, the latter half of the album making for a particularly tough trawl ( up until “Through Our Love”). Which is a shame because the first 6 tracks are genuinely lovable in their own individual, idiosyncratic ways.

But what I want to say most regarding PoP is that it makes me genuinely sad. Not for it’s inconsistency but because I miss this version of Paul, when his default button was set to “melody”, where every song was seemingly built for that thing called radio. And so while it isn’t perfect, PoP remains a sweet document of the straight up “Pop Paul”, a throwback to his ‘70s styles which were never to be seen again after this in such a fulsome way. And hey, NYC record store guy, wherever you are, I think you were wrong.

MATTHEW: Pipes of Peace (1983), 5/10: I’m tempted to give this a lower rating because of the Jacko duets, but that’s far from being Paul’s fault and the songs aren’t bad. Actually I did rate it down for that. Sorry. There’s also the “Tug of Peace” mashup, which reminds me of the turd that was sequenced after “Amazed” on the first album; only this is worse, because it’s a turd pile one has to leap over to get to the closing ballad—which is pretty good. In fact, the whole album is only a little less good than ToW. Which really damns it with faint praise (and a very unoriginal evaluation on my part). But it’s surely less of a drop-off than Bowie’s Tonight was to Let’s Dance (although I admit I prefer both of those to both of these). I think “The Other Me” and “So Bad” and “Through Our Love” are underrated pop nuggets that sound great in Macca mixes. I put my favorite dozen tracks from ToW and PoP in a playlist along with “No More Lonely Nights” (from the Give My Regards to Broad Street fiasco) and the result is a fine hour of Paul pop. I did that last week, and I rather wish I’d done it decades ago.

Press To Play (1986)

MATTHEW: Press to Play (1986), 2/10: Hope says PoP makes her sad; Press to Play makes me very sad. It’s the first Macca album that in real time struck me as an end. I thought, poor Paul. He still has the skills, but the creative genius is gone. The fact that buried in the very middle of an otherwise almost unlistenable album is one of his best ballads—“Only Love Remains,” a modest UK hit soon forgotten because Paul’s magical chart run of two decades was over—only makes Press to Play more depressing (depress to play? Oh dear. I apologize). In fact, to give it a full chance and dig a bit deeper, there are some good moments in here, in parts of songs (in “Feel the Sun,” “Footprints,” “Pretty Little Head,” and a couple more); but the songs as a whole aren’t great, and great is what Paul has given us too many times for this to get played much again.

Nothing from the album made it into any of the versions of All The Best, the big hits collection released the following year—which made #2 in the UK but only #62 in the US, perhaps reflecting the damage done by Broad Street and Press.

HOPE: Press to Play (1986), 2/10: Matthew, believe me when I tell you, Press to Play makes me sad too…but even more than that, it makes me angry knowing what Paul is capable of. There are flourishes of divine melody on PtP and melodically epic ballad “Only Love Remains” is an underrated gem…but, and it genuinely pains me to say this, the lyrics throughout the album are atrocious. I admit that at the time of release I found the video for PtP’s first single “Press” pretty irresistible for reasons that had zero to do with the song. Watching classic “cute” Paul mugging, grinning and running his hand through his lustrous hair as he surprised commuters on the tube was kind of all kinds of charming & I totally wished I’d been there, on that train. Pause. Damn. As I have been writing these blurbs, it’s become clear to me that MTV had a cult like influence over me and seemed to rule my entire waking existence in the ’80s. Shit, maybe those angry PRMC ladies were onto something. Right, so back to “Press” the song. The tune was nice enough, but the chirpy, winking sexuality in the lyrics was embarrassing especially in light of what Prince was kicking out with such wit and brilliance at that same juncture. And I found the “I love you very, very, very much” bit in the song to be particularly grating ( it’s right up there with Kiss’s “crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy nights” on the irritation scale). Oof. Fittingly (?) the album closes with the overwrought “However Absurd” which sounds like a substandard Rutles song, right down to it’s title. PtP is Paul on autopilot and simply put, it just kind of sucked.

Flowers In The Dirt (1989)

MATTHEW: Flowers in the Dirt (1989), 5/10: With only one original studio album in the six years since PoP, and it relatively unsuccessful, this was a potential comeback record. It did well enough (#1 in the UK), and was generally considered a “return to form” (forgive the cliche); but of its four singles, only “My Brave Face” was Top 25 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Hope says there is nothing essential on here and I agree (I like “We Got Married” and “Motor of Love,” but they’re hardly essential). The Elvis Costello collaboration was heavily publicized, but it sounds far more like a Crowded House album than a Costello one—reflecting the influence of Mitchell Froom, lead producer (after Paul) and also producer of the first three Crowded House albums (1986-91). I was a huge CH fan at the time, so the comparison helped me like this more—but not as much as the CH albums. It still is, for me, in that quite-good category with VaM and PoP. It gave me hope that Macca would make a few great albums in the ’90s…but it would turn out to be merely the high point of a low patch lasting most of the ’80s and ’90s.

HOPE: Flowers in the Dirt (1989), 3/10: It’s true that to my ears there are no essential tracks on Flowers. It was certainly a step up from it’s studio predecessor PtP but nothing stuck to the wall for me. It’s one of my least played Macca albums. I was working at CBGB’s Record Canteen at the time this came out and as I was playing it one day, one of my co-workers, who like me was in her early 20’s said, “Wow, I think my Mom would like this album”. While she hadn’t meant it as an insult and was just making an observation, I admit that it changed how I heard Flowers for a minute. To make matters worse, she’d made the remark while my favorite song off the album was playing, the catchy, poppy and goofy “Figure of Eight”. Flowers was indeed polite, clean, undemanding and overly cloying ( “Put It There,”How Many People”, ugh). Which is to say it didn’t feel especially cool. In other words, your Mom and Dad would very likely enjoy it ( this despite the participation of Elvis Costello and Mitchell Froom who gave the whole thing some credibility amongst both critics and nerds). I’ve periodically revisited Flowers hoping something might resonate but it’s just never happened. My best memory of this release is that it preceded the first Macca tour of the U.S. since 1976 (!) and thus prefaced my first opportunity to see him play live. It didn’t matter that it was from the back of a stadium in New Jersey in the presence of the asshole guy I was seeing and Paul was a barely discernible dot on the horizon, the important thing was that after what felt like a lifetime of waiting, I was there, in the same “room” as Macca, finally .

End of Part 2

Coming in Part 3, a dissection of Paul’s ’90s discography. Let the resurrection begin. Read it here

The Wonder Of It All: Paul McCartney’s Solo Years (Part 1-The ‘70s)

Over the course of 2020, my friend Matthew Restall, author of the brilliant Blue Moves book in the 33 1/3 series & I (Hope) started spontaneously breaking down Paul McCartney’s entire post-Beatle discography as if we were writing an actual essay (like you do, if you are a nerd). Well, turns out we were. Welcome to The Wonder Of It All, a 4-part series featuring our endlessly unspooling, unhinged, proudly contrarian, ridiculous & heartfelt correspondence regarding the Macca solo catalog. Ram On…

So Glad To See You Here: Just a note on the format of this essay, Matthew and I are going to be taking turns spilling our McCartney guts and our names will appear before our respective comments. Our album rating system is the classic best of 10, the pinnacle being 10 (it’s brilliant), the bottom being 1 (it’s terrible). Our opinions will diverge at points but we remain as one in our eternal love for Macca.

HOPE: By 1976, something weird was brewing in Beatle world. Thanks to the consistent radio plays, latter-day exposure to the Beatle movies and the influence of millions of older siblings, cousins and babysitters, a new generation of fans were starting to discover them. And so began the first pop music perfect storm. These newbies were kids who’d been born in the late ’60s and beyond and hadn’t experienced the band in real time. They were frequently referred to as “Secondhand Beatle Fans”, a short-lived, semi-official moniker that was both condescending and lovingly true.

One of the best parts about becoming a Beatle fan in the mid-’70s was that not only were there innumerable older albums to consume and catch up on, but a constant stream of new releases by the now solo Beatles to look forward to. Which was something of a divine gift for the Secondhand fans. For while they couldn’t experience the excitement of buying a newly recorded album by The Beatles and being part of the cultural zeitgeist that surrounded them, they could still enjoy something that felt like theirs, something new. And when it came to kicking out new music, the most motivated and driven ex-Beatle by far was Paul McCartney aka Macca. He proved to be staggeringly prolific out of the gate, kicking out 9 studio albums plus a triple lp live album between 1970 and 1979 alone, as well as a stellar array of stand alone singles.

Paul was plain unavoidable in the ‘70s which is to say, he was f-ing everywhere, emanating from every radio, appearing on countless magazine covers, invading every city to rock every coliseum, filling the charts end to end with a continuous stream of, well, stuff. Paul’s star wasn’t flatlining, it was manically ascending, his music becoming as omnipresent as that of The Beatles as the decade unfolded. This goes some way toward explaining and understanding why the post Beatle Paul McCartney catalogue meant so much to the latter day generations of Beatle fans. It was as close as they could get to experiencing the Fab Four in real time. Like the tagline for the short lived 1977 Broadway show Beatlemania so hopefully and desperately declared, “Not The Beatles, But An Incredible Simulation !” . That was Paul McCartney in the ‘70s. And as it happened, it was a damn good simulation…so good that you could sometimes forget about that other band he was in, especially if you were a kid at the time.

And with that, welcome to THE WONDER OF IT ALL : Paul McCartney’s Solo Years !! Join Secondhanders Matthew and I (Hope) as we bravely trek through 50 years worth of the post-Beatle Macca discography, dissecting it’s contents, grading the albums and generally over-sharing for context (half truth, it’s mostly because we get exceedingly emotional when discussing Macca). We will be exulting the underdogs, nudging the sacred cows and venturing into the darker corners of the catalogue fearlessly, heartlessly exposing what lives there ( yes “Mumbo”, consider that your official warning). And oh yes, one last thing, we will occasionally spew cutting references to the McCartney Archive Collection, the ongoing deluxe reissue project begun in 2010 in regards to their nonsensical, non-chronological order of release which has been a major source of frustration for Macca nerds ( feel free to turn it into a solo drinking game). Yes, there’s something here for everybody, young and old, dabbler and obsessive and we hope you like it.

MATTHEW: Yes, throughout the 1970s, the Beatles were omnipresent and inescapable.  There was always something in the papers, on the TV, or on the radio from or about the Four, either from when they were Fab or from their post-Fab musical and personal lives.  As Bob Stanley noted in his book Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, for most of the ‘70s, “the States were still pretending the Beatles hadn’t split” (p.247, also see my 33 ⅓ book on Elton John’s Blue Moves, p.61; forgive shameless plug). Although Beatlemania (and that Beatlemania show) was, ironically enough, bigger in the US than the UK, the phenomenon was similar on both sides of the Atlantic.  Re-released Beatles songs and new solo releases charted quickly and sold well.

At the top of that heap of new music was everything by Paul, Linda, and Wings.  Between 1970 and 1979, they released ten albums (two under the McCartney name, seven studio albums under Wings, and a Wings live album; we are not including the Wings Greatest compilation).  Eight of the ten reached #1 or #2 in the US and Canada (five of them did in the UK), charting and selling millions all over the world. In terms of quantity—the number of albums and the number of units moved—Paul outdid his former bandmates many times over. In our view, he outdid them too in terms of quality.  All those albums and singles yield hours of melodic pop marvels.  But critics were less generous.  Many of them were unenthusiastic, if not downright rude and derisive, about most of these albums; in fact, with the exception of Band on the Run, all these records were generally given a rough ride by reviewers.  Why?

Much ink has been spilled on that question and on similar ones, but we are going to stick to one, simple theory that helps take us to the task at hand (rating the albums): Paul refused to release a perfect album, and that got under the skin of critics. The first trio of albums were so obviously and blatantly LPs that Paul wanted to make, for himself and Linda—without giving a monkey’s about anyone else or what they might think or want. According to this theory, nothing on these first three albums pandered to bandmates, managers, producers, record company suits, fan clubs, record store buyers, or critics. Some people in that last category took it personally. The fourth album did, at last, seem to be reaching for critical and commercial approval, but it wasn’t good enough for the critics. Then, when the fifth album did prove to be perfect (at the very least, close to it), that only enraged them more. As if Macca could have made a Band on the Run every year, and he was deliberately, bloodymindedly choosing not to!

Well, the critics were right—in a way.  The albums weren’t perfect. As Rob Sheffield notes a couple of times in Dreaming the Beatles, some of the songs, even whole albums, had an unfinished feel to them. And I must admit that I found that a little confusing at the time. I was a kid during this decade and missed the early albums in real time. I was 6 and living in Madrid when McCartney came out, so I was already a Beatles fan but was oblivious to their breakup and the solo sequels.  But in the five years between Band on the Run and Back to the Egg I was in school in England—and increasingly obsessed with pop music.  I loved the steady stream of Wings hit singles, and acquired the albums as I could, at first a year or two behind their releases, and then—with the last two of the decade—in real time.  By then I had accepted the imperfections of these albums as part of their charm. Their flaws were minor, endearing, and above all forgivable, considering that the other ex-Beatles had, by 1979, produced so little—and so much of it total shite—by comparison. After all, if Wild Life was Paul being selfish and inconsiderate to fans, what about (as of 1979) Ringo’s dismal seven albums, or George’s failure to make anything close to All Things Must Pass, or the fact that John gave up mid-decade completely?

1970-1979: From Cherries to the Egg

MATTHEW: The first three post-Fab Paul albums always seemed like a trilogy to me. Although released under three different names (McCartney; Paul and Linda McCartney; Wings), they all came out within a 20-month period in 1970-71, and they seem to stem from that short creative period (even if some songs had late-60s origins). They also bear that period’s unfiltered hallmark—for better or worse. Without John, Ringo, or the Georges (Harrison and Martin) to reject, rework, develop, or approve his draft compositions, Paul clearly felt deliriously free to simply jam out the bits and pieces constantly emerging from his fertile mind, pop them onto acetate, and let Bob be his uncle.

When it works, it feels thrillingly like sitting in Paul and Linda’s kitchen, drinking their wine, while they make up songs. The invention of Indie Rock? That more likely emerged from the use by multiple artists of cheaper, smaller recording technology. But I see why some critics (and fans) have given Macca that credit.

As for the trilogy: not as bad as many critics claimed in the ‘70s, but also frustratingly flawed. Each one has a handful of songs that are not only among Paul’s best, but hold up well in the catalogue of pop’s greatest, full stop. But then Macca can’t resist tossing them in with tracks that should have gone straight into the B-side bin—or the bucket of half-baked ideas to be revisited later.

McCartney (1970)

HOPE: McCartney (1970), 6/10: I know for a long time people thought this album to be the product of clueless hubris, but honestly it’s homespun sloppiness feels so genuine and heartfelt to me; it’s the sonic embodiment of muddy boots, wet dogs, worn wool sweaters and Linda’s home cooking…which is to say, it’s an unbelievably warm and cozy record. And I should add, it’s aged surprisingly well. But, but that’s not to say it isn’t scarred by filler. While it’s home to blindingly beautiful romantic constellations like “Every Night” and “Junk”, it also contains some outright shiz, namely “Ooh You”, “Momma Miss America” and the exceptionally awful “Kreen-Akrore”. No matter how much of a Macca contrarian someone is, no one should be willing to die on a hill for any of those 3. And I know it’s semi-blasphemous to say but here goes; I prefer the raw emotional live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” that came later on 1976’s Wings Over America over the original here with its fat, intrusive organ.

At the end of the day though, the bad tracks are outnumbered by the good. “Man We Was Lonely” is a total sweetheart of a song, a soundalike sibling to The Beatles “The Two of Us”. And I quite like the acoustic, candy-coated instrumental “Hot As Sun” though admittedly it has something to do with a weird, sentimental childhood memory. At some point in the late ’70s one of our local TV stations in NY started using it as the theme music for the Popeye cartoon show that was on at 7 am before we went to school. Yes, “Hot As Sun” was the daily prelude to an hour of spinach fueled revenge scenes…which is both utterly bizarre and strangely perfect.

MATTHEW: McCartney (1970), 8/10: Cherries (as I’ve always called it) is for me the best of the first three: a half-hour of beautiful, tuneful, whimsical pop (“Every Night” and both versions of “Junk” are Paul-pop bliss), culminating in the insta-classic “Maybe I’m Amazed” (yes, the live version is better, but it doesn’t replace this one).  If only he’d stopped there or waited until a couple of the better songs from the next album were already written (or included “Another Day,” which had been written during the Let It Be sessions the previous year). Instead, he takes us to the 35” mark with a stunningly crappy final track (was he taking the piss? Having a laugh? He must have been, right?).

Two of the themes that run through our whole blog essay are the issue of track selection and sequencing, and the impact on the listener of her/his personal history with an album. Both of those come together for me with Cherries, as my father gave me the pre-recorded cassette of the album when I was a boy; it was a cherished item in my small, fledgling tape collection, and I still have it.  But the tracks were re-sequenced by the label (“Amazed” on Side A, the two “Junks” together on B, etc.). When, near the end of the ‘70s, I heard the proper sequence and made a tape from the record, I realized how much of a difference it made; a beloved but admittedly bumpy album became smoother and better.

Ram (1971)

HOPE: Ram (1971), 10/10: I love Ram. Love it. Okay, I will admit there is 1 song I don’t really care for and yes I’m talking about you “3 Legs” you freakin’ monster, but since it’s short and sandwiched between 2 stellar songs “Too Many People” ( anxious, angry and devilishly beautiful) and “Ram On” (delicate and swoonworthy), it’s easy to ignore. But I have nothing but endless adoration for the rest of Ram. For one thing, it’s home to one of my absolute favorite McCartney songs ever (Beatles included), the plush, gorgeous and semi-carnal “Back Seat of My Car”. It’s simply off the charts on the swoon-meter (and majorly so on the mono version that’s included as part of the deluxe Archive edition of the album, listen here). “Smile Away” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” are batshit crazy, and I love songs where unhinged, old school rock ‘n roll Paul crashes into melodic and tuneful Paul ( more of that to come later). And throughout Ram, Paul confirms that he is KING of the coda, from the aforementioned “Back Seat”, to “Long Haired Lady”, to “Too Many People”,to “Uncle Albert”, ending them all with completely new hooks and twists, I mean who on earth has ever, will ever do it as well ?? No one that’s who.

MATTHEW: Ram (1971), 7/10: For me, Ram is neither front nor end loaded. It scatters its great songs throughout the album, making it easy to overlook the weaker ones. As with Cherries, there’s a full half hour of music on here that sustains countless listens (“Dear Boy,” “Uncle Albert,” “Heart of the Country,” and “Back Seat of My Car” among the highlights—yes, the latter is indeed gorgeous and romantic and freakin’ perfect)! And a riveting example of the melodic codas or outros that Paul does SO well. That means it (just) makes my favorite 10 Macca albums. But unlike Cherries, savoring that half-hour requires skipping tracks. Or doing the digital equivalent of what I did decades ago with a C-60 cassette, on which I put 11 of Cherries’ 13 tracks on one side, and 7 of RAM’s 12 on the other. A killer hour.

Wild Life (1971)

HOPE: Wildlife (1971), 2/10: All that talk about this being one of the worst Macca albums of his career ? It’s true. I cannot comprehend why this was given the deluxe Archive treatment over London Town or Back to the Egg, 2 far superior records ( Archive Collection complaint # 1). Out of the 10 songs on offer, I only listen to 2 with any regularity; stunning, bitter rainy day ballad “Dear Friend”, and gorgeously poptastic “Some People Never Know”. Both are superb Macca songs by any standard. The only possible way I could imagine enjoying the other 8 tracks would be if Paul and I were sitting on a porch on a breezy afternoon and he was strumming his acoustic guitar and singing them to me and me alone. That’s the only scenario in which “Bip Bop”, “Mumbo” or “I Am Your Singer” might sound “good” or at least marginally appealing ( doors open Paul, in case you want to try changing my mind).

MATTHEW: Wild Life (1971), 4/10: this has a pretty great Side 2, culminating in a pair of fine Macca songs, “Tomorrow” and “Dear Friend.” But then it is followed by another absurd piss-take closer—this time, mercifully short, but unfortunately a reprise of the painful track that opens the relatively weak Side 1 (ok, weak is being nice; its atrocious; I can never get through “Mumbo” without lunging for the skip button). I’d rate Side 1 a 1/10 and Side 2 a 7/10; so my final ranking splits the difference. That’s probably being too generous as, in the end, there are only two true keepers on here; and considering the plethora of perfect pop songs that Paul penned in the 70s, that’s pretty sad. 

The next two Wings albums, in my mind, are a pair—most obviously because they both came out the same year (1973), but also because they came to me on the opposing sides of a C-90 cassette about a year later (when I was 10, courtesy of Carol, an honorary teenage cousin—I called her parents uncle and auntie).  Band on the Run overshadowed Red Rose Speedway commercially and critically—and on my tape deck.  Carol had added “Live and Let Die” to the end of the BOTR side of the tape (for years I assumed it was actually the album’s final song).  007 is a hard act to follow; “Red Barn Door” ( aka “Big Barn Bed”) just didn’t cut it. So, nine times out of ten I didn’t flip the tape, but pressed rewind or put on something else.

Red Rose Speedway (1973)

HOPE: Red Rose Speedway (1973), 7/10: I have a real affection for this album and while it’s not entirely successful ( “Loup” is pure evil), it’s infinitely superior to Wild Life. And it’s home to another one of my all-time fave Macca songs, “Little Lamb Dragonfly” ( I will take as many epic hook-filled ballads from Paul as he can serve up). I confess I’m a complete sucker for Macca tracks where he employs his trademark improv quirk; all those “do-do-do’s” on The Beatles “Mother Nature’s Son”, “ooh-ooh-oohs” on “Back Seat” and “la-la-la’s” on “Little Lamb” and on and on. I even like the ham-fisted medley (“Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands of Love/Power Cut”) that closes this album which is clearly bits of other potential songs awkwardly sewn together. Plus there’s another wonderful “tuneful screamy” here,”Get On the Right Thing” that I can’t get enough of. The album is slick and slight but it’s hidden gems justifiably kick up the score for me. And though I know it was the thing back in the day in the UK to release stand alone singles that didn’t land on actual albums, I think the double A-side from ‘72 featuring  “Hi Hi Hi” and the candy-coated “C Moon” would’ve fit quite nicely on RRS, the latter in particular.

MATTHEW: Red Rose Speedway (1973), 6/10, lacks history for me, and although it has grown on me through many recent listens, I still find it rather flat. It has ups and downs, like its three predecessors, and there’s nothing awful on it. For some, it is probably as good as Ram. For me, it’s a notch or two above Wild Life but falls short of Ram. I understand why EMI opposed making this a double album; with the exception of one or two tracks (I rather like “Country Dreamer,” for example), the rejected numbers were even less memorable. It’s as if instead of developing unfinished songs further, Paul just kept writing more of them. The “Kiss/Dragonfly/Pigeon” trio in the middle of the album have particularly grown on me, but they need something more compelling around them. For example, with many of these Macca ‘70s albums, one wishes in retrospect that some of the between-album singles had been substituted for the weaker tracks. RRS, for example, had one big hit (“My Love”), but (as Hope says) imagine how much better it would have been had it included the earlier single “Hi Hi Hi” and its B-side “C Moon,” and the later single “Live and Let Die”!

Band On The Run (1973)

MATTHEW: Band on the Run, (1973), 10/10, on the other hand, deserves its accolades. It is one of those albums that simply works. The Paul & Wings ingredients are the same, but the formula is tweaked, and the result is finally the record that one imagines the previous four might have been. Play the late Beatles albums to someone who (somehow) has never even heard of them, then play BOTR and say it was the Fab Four’s 1973 record, they’d surely believe you (they might ask why only one Beatle sang, but musically they’d accept it).  As a result, it thus never ages. Like Abbey Road, it is immortal.  RRS sounds like the early 70s. BOTR sounds like a great rock/pop record. I admit I’m pretty much over “Jet,” which has become tiresome after a thousand listens; and the original UK album version without “Helen Wheels” is better. Nor is it my absolute most-loved Wings album (that’s still to come). But there’s surely no doubt that it’s the best album Paul made in the 70s (and one of his best two or three ever).

HOPE: Band On The Run (1973), 9/10: BOTR is like Sgt. Pepper to me. As in the first Beatle album I owned as a kid was Pepper and in turn BOTR was the first Macca solo album to find it’s way into my meagre collection. I played it endlessly, front to back and it invariably became the gage by which all other Macca records I got would be compared to. But as Pepper has gradually descended down the Beatle album ranking lists over the years making way for the likes of Revolver, White Album (and lately Abbey Road), somewhere along the way the charms and virtues of other Macca albums, including Ram, came to knock BOTR off the top spot as far as frequency of listening and overall love for me. In fact, there are at least 5 other Macca albums from the ’70s I listen to with more frequency than BOTR. But my feelings are driven solely by over-familiarity, it is still a ridiculously wonderful pop album and is deserving of every accolade it gets! 

 I think the real stars of BOTR are not the piano pounders, but the gentler animals, specifically “No Words” and “Bluebird”; both are melodically stunning and I absolutely adore them to this day. Still, I have to offer a true confession that you ain’t gonna like Matthew… which is that the song I play the most is, okay, it’s freakin’ “Jet”. Ah Mater, I’ll never get tired of yer.
I do think though, that the overwhelming praise for BOTR did a bit of a disservice to what came both before and after it release-wise. For years critics held to the claim that every post-Beatle Macca release was significantly inferior to it. Patently untrue but they clung to that opinion for eons, cutting Paul no slack until the release of Tug of War in 1982. It still kind of irritates me, it felt like there was a concerted effort to drag him down, but I digress! BOTR deserves a near perfect score and if I were to offer one artifact to a space alien unfamiliar with solo Paul to investigate, it would unquestionably be this.

Venus And Mars (1975)

MATTHEW: The next three Wings albums are very much a trio that go together, all released between May ’75 and December ’76, with the third being a live album that promoted the previous two. For some reason, I don’t remember listening much to Venus and Mars and At The Speed of Sound at the time; but I still have my cassette tape of Wings Over America, which I played a lot. Looking back, that kind of makes sense, as WOA arguably renders its two predecessors redundant.

HOPE: Venus and Mars (1975), 6/10: Nerd fact, when iPods were launched in the early ’00s, you could get the back of the device engraved with whatever personal wording you wanted. I chose the lyric “Venus and Mars are alright tonight” because what the hell else was I going to do; like christening a boat, I had to bestow my new precious, incredible life-altering device with an equally meaningful “name”. V&M is not my favorite Macca album but I do find a lot of it to be exceedingly embraceable. But bad news first. “Rock Show” is a bit silly, not the tune but it’s genuinely cringeworthy lyrical content, “behind the stacks you glimpse an axe” being a particularly egregious line. I think Paul was aware that he wasn’t perceived to be as hard and tough soundwise as The Who or Led Zeppelin at that time but still reeeeally fancied the idea of the proverbial ‘kids’ thinking Wings ROCKED ( of course by the time they did officially, convincingly ROCK on 1979’s Back to the Egg the kids could not have cared less).

When I was kid I loved kitschy retro “You Gave Me the Answer” which I find completely insufferable now (I would actually play act Paul and I dancing to it which is as humiliating as it sounds ). I do adore “Love in Song”, think it’s a total sleeper, so handsome and full of rain. And the sad soul of “Treat Her Gently-Lonely Old People” qualifies it as a keeper as well. At the end of the day though  “Listen To What The Man Said” is the indisputable star of V&M, just an unimpeachable melody and production (and it still has the ability to make me sigh out loud). If I’d have been rating this album as a kid I would’ve awarded it a 10/10 solely because of the stickers and poster it came with. That stuff was as important to me as the actual record. I immediately slapped the stickers on my school notebooks and while they served as a nice compliment to my masterfully drawn ELO logos, I feel an insane, undeniable twinge of regret that I no longer have them.

MATTHEW: Venus and Mars (1975), 6/10: I see why “Rock Show” flopped as a single; it doesn’t rock well, it lacks the charm that imbues so many Macca songs, and it wears thin very fast. I suspect it put me off the album back in the day. But even now, Venus and Mars strikes me as a very mixed bag. I like “Love in Song” and “Letting Go,” but there is simply nothing great here until the end.  The closing cluster is REALLY great (“Call Me Back Again,” “Listen to What the Man Said,” and “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”; I’m going to pretend the “Crossroads” TV theme was not tacked absurdly on the very end). But those fine 15 minutes remind me of how disappointing the rest of the album is. And to return to my point earlier about between-album singles: “Junior’s Farm” would have made a great substitute for “Rock Show”!

Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976)

MATTHEW: At the Speed of Sound (1976), 7/10: For decades, in my mind this was as good or bad as Venus and Mars, but I recently realized how much better Speed of Sound is. For starters, Sides A and B kick off with great singles—“Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs.” The whole of Side A stands up well. It closes with a nice pair of mellow Macca ditties. And as for Paul’s controversial inclusion of songs written and sung by other Wings band members: when it works, it works really well (“The Note You Never Wrote” is excellent, perhaps the best Denny Laine song on any Wings album); but when it bombs, it bombs big (“Cook of the House,” cute enough as a B-side, as it was to “Silly Love Songs,” where it should have remained).

HOPE: At the Speed of Sound (1976), 7/10: I’m pretty sure this is the first Macca album I bought in real time. And to be frank I wasn’t sure what to make of it with it’s overly democratic song distribution. Which meant it didn’t rank highly for me in the beginning because all I wanted was Paul. But like you Matthew, as years went by I came to love it especially the cryptic and cloudy “The Note You Never Wrote”. There is something very overcast and gloomy about the whole of the record that appeals to me, I feel the presence of a very particular sonic vibe on tracks like “San Ferry Anne”,”Time to Hide” and “Wino Junko”, as well as the 2 stellar singles “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs”. And I think “Beware My Love” is a total powerhouse, one of his best ever rockers, I mean the construction of it is just so clever. And Paul’s vocals on those “I must be wrong’s” are absolutely killer! All hail screamy Paul.

Wings Over America (1976)

HOPE: Wings Over America (1976), 5/10:  While WOA is generally fun I have problems with how the setlist is arranged as well as some of the actual choices. There are at least a dozen tracks from post-Beatle Paul that are more worthy of inclusion than the dreaded “You Gave Me the Answer”,“Richard Cory” or “Spirits of Ancient Egypt”. Having said that, the version of “Listen To What the Man Said” on offer here is absolutely smokin’ and I especially love when Paul introduces the Thaddeus Richard sax solo with a “take it away Thaddeus”. And what is there to say about “Maybe I’m Amazed” at this point, I mean what an absolutely spectacular vocal good lord

MATTHEW: Wings Over America (1976), 7/10: comparing live albums to studio ones is always an apples/oranges challenge (and a cliché to point that out!), especially a triple live album to single studio ones. But this one is so closely tied to specific studio albums that the task is made easier. Although it came out of the summer 1976 tour that promoted Speed of Sound, WOA overwhelmingly favors Venus and Mars above all others. If we count the V&M title tracks as one, and we discount the 1-minute “Crossroads” outro, WOA includes almost all of V&M, 9 out of it’s 11 songs. In contrast, there are only 4 songs from Speed of Sound (and 5 each from Band on the Run and from the Beatles catalogue). But here’s the thing: the live versions of the V&M tracks are better than the original ones; even the dodgy “Rock Show” is elevated by being in a medley with “Jet.”  The use of songs written and sung by band members other than Paul somehow works better live than in the studio. And there are just the right number of Beatles songs. Ok, the result is not amazing (don’t hate me if I prefer the other big hit live album from 1976, Frampton Comes Alive!), but it is pretty damn good.  My old cassette got played hard (admittedly it was an Indonesian bootleg with the tracks muddled up and tracks like “Answer” and “Egypt” missing), and I’ve gotten my money’s worth from the 2013 Archive Collection CDs too.

London Town (1977)

MATTHEW: We both recognize how much our—and anybody’s—appraisal of an album is tied to our personal history with it, to deep-rooted emotional connections and associations that interfere with our vain attempts to be objective.  Well, that factor plays more of a role with my feelings—yes, FEELINGS—about the last two Wings albums than with any other albums in the entire Macca post-Beatles catalogue.  London Town came out right after my 14th birthday; I was 15 the summer that Back to the Egg was released. I bought them both right away, flogged them without mercy, and absolutely adored them. I still do. They are, hands down, my favorite Wings LPs and my favorite Macca LPs. I listen to them now, trying to understand why they have reputations as reflecting the decline and collapse of Wings, why Paul has slighted them by not releasing Archive Collection editions, and I just can’t. It makes no sense. They are full of energy and creativity and melody and so many masterful pop music moments. Why, Paul, why?  These records are so freakin’ GOOD!

HOPE: London Town (1978), 7/10: I think LT is a stone cold crazy record. It’s the most disparate bunch of songs Paul had ever assembled on any of his solo albums to that point and despite the title has no discernible theme. The weirdest and most disturbing thing is that the song I think most about on this album, find myself mindlessly singing to myself most often, isn’t even one of the genuinely good tracks, it’s “Cafe on the Left Bank”, an insidious piece of filler I refuse to accept that I like. But then again that’s part of why I’m so completely charmed by LT as a whole. It’s like a bunch of TV commercials gathered together masquerading as a pop album. All that isn’t to suggest that it isn’t home to some stunners. “With a Little Luck” remains eternally gorgeous and I love “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” with its dark melody tied to what’s meant to be an uplifting lyric…but cherry picking songs does LT a disservice. These songs quite literally need each other, 90 % of them can’t stand up on their own. No, LT sounds best when listened to in sequence, each song leaning against the other like the bunch of sloppy drunks they are. Please Paul, time to top up and let the endearingly problematic LT into the Archive room ( Matthew and I will get the door).

MATTHEW: London Town (1978), 10/10: I am incapable of being objective about this album. It is so deeply familiar, and every single track just right and in the right place. Giving it less than a 10/10 would just be pandering to you, Hope, or (God forbid) to the cretinous critics who trashed it with knee-jerk derision just because it was made by happy Paul not angsty John. Like Speed of Sound, it’s two sides begin with smooth, well-crafted, comfort-food singles (the title track and “With a Little Luck”). But LT is better than Speed of Sound for being all-Paul (9 tracks) or Paul co-writing with Denny Laine (5): tuneful, inventive, varied in style but not overly so, quirky but not whacky. It isn’t even missing a non-album single (“Mull of Kintyre” stay where you are). Intellectually I can accept that Band on the Run is better, but if I could only take one Macca album to the proverbial desert island, it would be this one.

Back to the Egg (1979)

HOPE: Back to the Egg (1979), 10/10: Egg is a loud, beautiful, blaring down the highway, mess of an album and I think it’s the most criminally underrated release of Paul’s post-Beatle career: the catalogue’s true sleeper. With it’s fat riffs, sludgy chords and throat shredding vocals, Egg is most certainly Satan’s favorite post-Beatle Macca album. Okay, let’s just call it what it is, PAUL’s METAL ALBUM. Out of all the grungy noise makers, I feel most worshipful toward the maniacal “Spin It On” and Cheap Trick-ish “So Glad To See You Here“. But I also love the dirty power pop of “Getting Closer”, which I think is one of his most underrated singles. And let’s talk about “Arrow Through Me”, one of the all time greatest McCartney songs ever ever ever, a sublimely melodic lament and deep catalog dark horse which can never be exalted and appreciated enough. That hook is positively sublime.

The album was the recipient of some savage reviews which led to Paul distancing himself from it, talking it down, and most significantly from a hardcore fan perspective (as of this writing) depriving it of the deluxe treatment within the acclaimed and exhaustive Archive series (wishing you took us up on that suggestion of a drinking game now right?). In what universe is Wild Life more deserving of the fancy pants treatment than Egg? Egg is loud, lyrically cartoonish, romantic, weird, occasionally somber and staggeringly melodic; what’s not to love ? It’s one big confusedly beautiful piece of noise. And for the record, I loved the freestanding single that came out just prior to Egg featuring the lush disco-lite “Goodnight Tonight” as well as it’s perky b-side “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”. I know Paul didn’t feel they fit the vibe on Egg and hence didn’t include them on the finished album but honestly I don’t think anything is “missing” from Egg as a result of their exclusion. To be frank, at the time, it didn’t occur to me that they could or should have been on there. I was just happy there were multiple new Paul records to get! And, added bonus, Egg is also the ideal gage for verifying whether someone shares the same worldview as you and is ultimately worthy of your lifelong friendship.

In the late ‘80s, I had a job at the CBGB Record Canteen, the decidedly sleazy and noisy shop located next door to the club. One day, my boss asked me to help train a new girl they’d hired. She and I were both very young and cynical and so circled around each other music nerd style, tentatively dropping band names and monitoring one another’s reactions. We somehow got on the subject of McCartney ( though to be honest, I’m sure I brought him up), and without prompting, she said that she particularly loved Egg. That was it. Egg was the magic sign that let me know she was cool and we are still friends to this day. It is truly magical.

MATTHEW: Back to the Egg (1979), 9/10: The fact that you & I agree on this, Hope, but Paul and his critics apparently don’t, logically makes us wrong. But here’s the thing: we’re not! Because this is a weird and wonderful Wings concept-album experiment that simply works; despite being far more varied and quirky than London Town, Egg has a momentum and energy that holds it all together and carries it breathlessly through its 42 minutes as if it were half the length. It’s nod to the punk/New Wave movement that was peaking at the time is just right: neither forced nor half-hearted, it infuses the album with a hard rocking edge that no other Macca album before or since matched. As Hope notes here (and in a stirring ode to the album elsewhere on Picking Up Rocks), some of Egg is HEAVY. But the hints of metal don’t mean it skimps on melody. The riffs are hefty but buoyant, driving multiple singalong moments. “Getting Closer” and “Arrow Through Me” are primo Paul pop singles; the bass line and hook in “Arrow” are like a shot of bliss right to the heart.

Having gushed thus, I can’t resist one caveat. Macca albums almost always beg to be resequenced or edited, as there were usually non-album singles far better than his dodgier album tracks. Exceptions are Band on the Run (the UK version is perfect) and London Town (for me, if not for many others, perfect as is). But Egg is not an exception, as it’s sessions also birthed non-album Top 5 (US & UK) hit single “Goodnight Tonight” and it’s also excellent B-side, “Daytime Nightime Suffering.” In 1980 I made a tape with both those on the album instead of the non-songs “Reception” and “The Broadcast.” Ok, I still listened to the original version more. But my edited version is pretty great. (In case you’re curious, “Tonight” follows “Arrow,”  starting Side B, and the Grammy-winning “Rockestra” closes the album.) By the way, I also think Egg suffered from a record label change and competition with back catalogue: in the US, Paul switched from Capitol to Columbia after LT; Capitol’s response was to release Wings Greatest, which was packed with hits, five of them previously unavailable on an album. It thus competed with Egg, released only six months later. (Elton John’s Blue Moves suffered similar competition for the same reason; that’s the last plug for my book, I promise.)

End of Part 1

Coming in Part 2, we examine Paul’s ’80s discography. You might wanna put on a seatbelt. Ready? Read it here

Weekly New Wonders Playlist # 45 !

This past week legendary NPR Program Director/Host & full-on music champion Rita Houston passed away. Back in the early ’90s we worked together at HMV in NYC where she was the store DJ. She was the coolest & I had a lot of fun nerding out with her over bands & exchanging mix tapes ( “you’ve gotta hear this !”). I was obsessed with singer John Martyn at the time & was so desperate for someone to get him like I did that I gave her my special mix cassette that I used to play before I went to sleep every night. But my main memory of her has nothing to do with the nerd stuff.

Another Bad Creation were an R & B boy band discovered by Michael Bivins of New Edition. And they were literally boys, with average age of about 10. They had a couple of hits with truly infectious bubblegum new jack swing songs “Iesha” & “Playgound” which you should absolutely check out on YouTube. We did a little in-store one day & Rita had to actually interview them, these 5 little kids in the DJ booth. There were a gaggle of similarly aged girls screaming as Rita was asking them questions. And she was unbelievably cool with these kids, didn’t talk down to them, asked them funny questions & it was literally the sweetest thing ever. At one point they spontaneously started singing “Iesha” over Rita’s DJ booth mike which prompted a singalong with the girl fans joining in ( “Iesha so glad to meetcha”, I can still hear it now ). But the best part came last. After they emerged from the booth, Rita came out smiling & almost emotional. Because she’d been so cool to them, these little kids, they all literally raced to hug her when it was done & it had totally taken her by surprise. “They all hugged me !” she said. They’d been so enamored with her warmth & kindness that it literally turned them from posing boy idols into little kids wanting hugs from DJ Rita who’d been so nice to them. I know it seems like such a tiny thing in light of all she accomplished but it was the first thing that popped in my head upon hearing of Rita’s passing & I’m telling you it was as sweet as it sounds.She was just the coolest.

And now I welcome you to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest songs that have crossed our path this week. They are gorgeous & wonderful to the last. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify. Hope you find a song to fall in love with. Rock on.

Listen on Soundcloud

Listen on Spotify

Weekly New Wonders Playlist # 44 !

As great as Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas album is, once December hits, I tend to crave a sound even more grim, ghostly, wintry & demented, specifically something by Kate Bush from 2011…which is to say we are now officially in 50 Words For Snow season. The album’s contents are eerie, epic, melodic & often weird as shit & it may well be a straight up masterpiece. It features the most erotic song ever written about a snowman in the history of recorded music (“Misty”) & it’s ballads offer the most empathetic embrace you’re gonna get this side of Mom. A big ole snowstorm is descending on NYC in a few days & I’m actually looking forward to watching it whirl around out the window to the strains of the blessed 50 Words. What a perfect freakin’ album.

And now, welcome to the latest WEEKLY NEW WONDERS PLAYLIST featuring the finest new songs that have crossed our path this week ! They are all exceedingly beautiful & hopefully #1’s in a sweeter universe. You can listen on Soundcloud or Spotify below.

The world is so loud
Keep falling
I’ll find you

Listen on Soundcloud

Listen on Spotify

And hey, here’s 50 Words For Snow just cuz 🙂

PuR’s Best Albums of 2020 !

This list probably bears no resemblance to any of the Best Albums lists you’ve seen so far. But just so you know, my picks weren’t inspired by my wish to be a contrarian; I wholeheartedly believe these to be the some of the best full length album listening experiences of 2020. And while they span several genres they are linked by one particular quality, specifically, their devotion to melody, their hook-filled songs, their proper tunes. And so this list is less about “grooves” or “beats” and more about the twists and turns that with a little luck, will induce butterflies or cause spontaneous swooning.

When I was young and had to invest my entire allowance to purchase a single album you better believe I squeezed every bit of life out of each one I managed to acquire. I would play my precious handful of LP’s over and over, beginning to end, wearing down their grooves to unlistenable crunchy nubs (as well as ripping the seams of their inner sleeves from sliding them out so frequently). This complete immersion in a small pile of vinyl is how I came to know every John Oates song on the Hall & Oates albums. It ensured my intimate familiarity with the Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland tracks on The Police LP’s. “The telephone is ringing, is that my Mother on the phone !”, Andy scream-screeched on Synchronicity… and I gladly accepted that aural abuse because I’d ridden my bike to the next damn town to buy that album with my meagre savings and was doggedly hellbent on getting my money’s worth. I even exchanged my 45 of “Every Breath You Take” because there was a scratch on the b-side ( “Murder By Numbers” fact fans) and there was no way I was going to accept that only $1 of my $2 purchase was playable. And so I endured another treacherous bike ride on an unpaved road next to the highway because I had a right to my f*cking b-side.

Excuse me Mister, side 2 skips…

Even as our collective listening habits have evolved over the course of the streaming era, there is still something genuinely rewarding about immersing yourself in a whole album. Settling in, spending time, looking it in the eye and really listening to what it is saying, willingly buckling in for a long journey of the sort you experience from a good book or movie. While I am an undisciplined Soundcloud addict and enjoy the glorious high I get going from song to song, auditioning and discovering within it’s never-ending stream of new anthems, I also find it completely exhausting. The river never stops, the blood never staunches. And I worry that if I don’t keep up that I will potentially miss the “greatest song I’ve ever heard™” ( private note to self: you’ve already heard the greatest song you’re ever gonna hear, by the time a person turns 20 they have generally heard it and it’s really time you accepted this, jeezus). And truth be told, having to trawl through stuff that isn’t awesome to find the diamonds can sometimes be a drag.

Well, I self-admitted myself to an album listening recovery/rehab program over this past (horrific) year. I am officially trying these days, which is to say I now make a concerted effort to listen to whole albums just like the olden days when I had no other choice. And know what, based on the stuff that’s surfaced this year, it’s been 100% worth the effort. Yup, I may well have taught myself something about the virtues of patience.

And with that I now offer you the PuR picks for the Best Albums of 2020. The most consistently hypnotic-melodic and enveloping pieces of work from the past (hell) year. Not a bunch of disparate songs all working as individuals competing to be the one piece of spaghetti that sticks to the wall but real, genuine albums. I truly, truly hope you find something to fall in love with. Here we go…

Ane Brun: After The Great Storm

Ane Brun: How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow

No you are not seeing things. Wondrous Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun really did release 2 albums in 2020 ( in October and November, boom). They were her first offerings of new music since 2015, the time in between marked by the passing of her father, illness and the lack of inspiration both situations and just plain life itself engendered. The contents of both albums were written by Brun during a 3 week flurry in the summer of 2019 and the plan was to release the songs as an old school double album. But Brun had a rethink during the 2020 lockdown and decided to divide the set of songs in half, categorizing and breaking them out by “mood”.

The first release, the electronically tethered After the Great Storm alternately sounds like a classic ’60s Motown album recorded during a particularly frigid winter (think the seminal Supremes track “Reflections” ) and Kate Bush’s painterly latter day masterpiece Aerial. Which is to say it’s full of infectious songs brimming with unbridled emotion that clock in at an average of 5 minutes…so basically it’s end to end gorgeous. “Honey” is a stunner, a pop-tastic, icicle strewn anthem of reassurance (oh lord, if only it had been alive for Martha and the Vandellas to do back in the day but we can dream right ?). Other highlights include “Feeling Like I Wanna Cry”, all swelling synthetic swooshes rising from the ashes of despair and the heartbreakingly haunted wintry soul ballad “Fingerprints”. And if you are hungry for a twirl on the dancefloor, the mesmeric pulsating swirl of “Take Hold Of Me” is here to soundtrack your moves.

How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow is a more delicate affair, featuring skeletal piano and guitar backdrops and the soulful otherworldly voice of Brun pushed up front and center. There are songs that sound as old as time ( hymnal, gothic and poetic “Closer”, “Last Breath” and “Meet You At The Delta”) as well as straight up nods to now (a stunning and stark piano version of After the Great Storm’s chugging dynamo “Don’t Run And Hide”). And the absurdly handsome pair of “Gentle Winds Of Gratitude” and “Trust” score perfect 10’s on the swoon meter, all hazy heat and dizzying headrushes.

The Wall. Songs In The Key Of Life. Blonde On Blonde. Double albums were once regarded as the grandest statement a musician could make. It showed you meant business artistically, that you were f-ing serious. And having been exposed to their epic gatefold grandeur at a vulnerable age, I still perceive them that way, and continue to fetishize their all-consuming bigness, the commitment they required to create and the time required to listen to ’em …which is why my preferred (deranged) way of listening to both Brun albums is to stuff them into one playlist and pretend I’m listening to a double album called After The Great Storm How Beauty Holds The Hand Of Sorrow. And so go on, give in and let Ane Brun lead you on an extended existential pop journey; she knows what she’s doing.

 

Tenille Townes: The Lemonade Stand71aBQy3d4kL._SL1200_

The Lemonade Stand is Canadian country singer-songwriter Tenille Townes’s third album. She’s toured with Miranda Lambert and comes from a similar sonic place…which is to say there are some pop-like flourishes here and there but her songs never veer too far out of the hometown of Country. Townes’s voice is just plain super fine, with hints of Lambert, Maren Morris and yes, even a little Dolly. The Lemonade Stand is Hallmark card sentimental, occasionally silly, supremely sticky and fascinatingly cynical. “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking)” is a direct message to God, a relentlessly melodic passive aggressive query pondering why bad things happen. It’s freakin’ great…as are the punchy “White Horse”, the lush “The Way You Look Tonight” and heart-squeezin’ “The Most Beautiful Things” ( and there’s more). If you need further convincing to listen, please know that the album was produced by Jay Joyce who was at the helm for albums by legends Patty Griffin ( including her brilliant Flaming Red) and Emmylou Harris as well as modern day country megastars Eric Church, Brandy Clark and Ashley McBryde. It is a damn fun ride.

 

Bibio: Sleep On The Wing

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My ongoing fascination with ’70s pop duo Seals & Crofts continues to baffle me. A few months ago I wrote a bit about how I had finally gotten past my fixation… but as it turned out I was only on hiatus; a mere month after bragging how I was done, I was back to breathing in the fumes of “Summer Breeze” and worshipping the “Diamond Girl”. While Bibio aka Stephen James Wilkinson is British and his admitted influences reflect that and include things like the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake, all I can hear in Sleep On The Wing is, you guessed it, Seals & Crofts. It’s melodic acoustic ramblings bear a peculiarly striking resemblance to the sort of thing you’d hear soundtracking an American ’70s Afterschool Special or PBS kids show. It’s evocative, transportive and ridiculously pretty, all hazy summer days, fireflies and bicycles ( and with it’s 28 minute running time is as fleeting as childhood itself). And so while Bibio didn’t necessarily experience those aforementioned ’70s era American touchstones he somehow manages to evoke them here; Sleep On The Wing is uncanny and utterly charming.

 

Jonathan Something: Cannibal House Rules

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Jon Searles is Jonathan Something and Cannibal House Rules is an unabashed love letter to the neon sound (and soundtracks) of the ’80s. It’s full of endlessly lush and evocative synthpop storytelling and is the perfect backdrop for all the fantastical zombie populated, blood-soaked love stories with ambiguous, sequel ready endings you could ever want to daydream. As someone who “teen-ed” in the ’80s, hearing this thing was like stepping straight into a time machine (or in my case, an eternally shitty Ford Granada); amongst other things, there were hints of “Let’s Dance” era Bowie ( “Power Moves”), Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (“Firestarter”) and Howard Jones’s earnest balladry (“Cake World”). It’s a veritable panorama of endlessly sweet and reverential nods to the glossy synthesized pop universe of the era. And so, if you feel like stepping away from the current mayhem ( yeah you do), slip on some headphones and let Cannibal House Rules cosmically transport you to 1984, to a suburban 7-11 parking lot at 2 am, where you can enjoy your Big Gulp™ whilst reclining on the hood of your car under a bed of stars, while you figure out how to stop the zombie apocalypse, save the world and get the crush of your dreams to fall in love with you.

 

Le Pie: A Room Of One’s Own

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” I step into the ring and take my best swing! I look up to the clouds and scream it out loud!” Yes girl, YES. The debut album from Le Pie ( of Sydney, Australia) is an epic collection of fantastical pop heartache, a lovelorn diary that is equal parts dreampop, Ronettes, Shangri-La’s, Siouxsie, Liz Fraser and Sinead. It’s full of gorgeous, painfully cathartic girl group laments with a beating Rock heart. There are so many great songs on here it seems unfair to call any out but okay, anthemic opening track “Circles” and the runny mascara’d “If Misery Loves Company” are particularly, ridiculously glorious.  A Room Of One’s Own makes crying into a pillow feel positively heroic.

 

Bonus Cuts !

I also want to acknowledge a couple of big name albums that you will likely notice on some of the other 2020 best of lists out there. Both of the titles that follow have been written about in a far more eloquent and succinct manner than I’m remotely capable of,  which is why I’m basically sitting this one out, but please know they are extremely luscious and worthy of your time :

Fleet Foxes: Shore

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Shore is a gorgeous, transportive coastal and emotional travelogue, a marriage of classic Beach Boy-esque shuffle to Milton Nascimento’s classic 1972 album Club Da Esquina 1. It’s the sonic embodiment of a truly noble, romantic red/orange/yellow sunset.

Owen Pallett: Island

Island_Owen Pallett

Composer-multi-instrumentalist Owen Pallett’s 5th solo studio album Island has a slightly complex backstory you can read about in this interview from earlier in the year. But you don’t have to know anything to appreciate it’s regal, airy, emotional classical/folk/chamber pop. Cryptic mystery and beauty abound on Island.

 

Look I made something for you ! I’ve assembled a playlist featuring highlights from all the aforementioned albums so you can digest things a bit easier. Check it out below and listen on shuffle for added enjoyment!

Best Albums of 2020 Highlight Playlist: