27 July 2010

"Did I ever touch you on the cheek, say that you were mine..."

This One by Paul McCartney. It was his last Top 40 hit of the 1980s, a decade when the fashion to scorn the most successful man in popular music had reached new heights.

I was 16 and, if McCartney was meant to mean anything to me, it should have involved discovering Beatles albums for the first time, rather than enjoying what became little more than a passable solo single within a career of passable solo singles. All I really knew about the music of the Beatles was contained on the cassette edition of their singles collection that had been in the family tapeholder for some time. I knew how big they were, though. I watched the documentaries and my parents, plus my maternal aunt, told the stories.

The first time I ever became aware of Paul McCartney was when Mull of Kintyre was number one. I was only four years old but I distinctly remember my mum sitting my brother on her knee (he's now 40) and teaching him the words. Looking back, I often wonder how she knew those words. The lyrics weren't printed in any publications back then and she didn't buy the record. My brother became a Motörhead and AC/DC fan at the age of ten and his McCartney moment remained just that.

Pipes of Peace was the first single of his I bought, having acquired it with Christmas money in 1983 and thereby aiding it to number one in the process. A significant number one in his ridiculously varied career, when one looks at the statistics. And not just because it finally rid us of the Flying Pickets garotting our festive season.

And through the 1980s we went until this period of his life, when Flowers In The Dirt was released and My Brave Face, written with Elvis Costello, followed by This One, were issued.

This One is a gentle, melodic, catchy record. It's very McCartney in that sense. And this kind of enjoyably trim pop had become both his signature and a major millstone as far as his 1980s output was concerned. There has been a lifelong frustration with McCartney that he has somehow chosen to appeal to the masses rather than innovate since the day his association with John Lennon ended. The pop fraternity didn't really want to know him because he wasn't doing something new and edgy and different with every song he wrote and album he released. Yet in his post-Beatles career, he wrote My Love, Band On The Run, Jet and No More Lonely Nights. These, to me, rank alongside some of his work prior to 1970. The problem was that Lennon, the more wayward and interesting as a personality, was producing Jealous Guy and Number 9 Dream during the same period (don't mention Imagine as I absolutely hate it) and so everything had to be a comparison and a competition.

Anyway, what's not to like about This One? The video is all very coloured and psychedelic, which is how people choose to remember McCartney, and features Linda - whom, lest we forget, was slaughtered beyond all comparison by the press throughout her marriage for the heinous crime of making this man happy - singing her backing vocals while keeping her eyes shut. The hand-jiving choreography is all a bit of a lark - I expect it took a while to come up with something to show a god riding on a swan's back - and we get McCartney with painted eyes and, for some reason, a lingering close up of one of his musicians at the end who looks like Roger Moore.

Lyrically, I do wonder whether this is about Lennon in some way. After all, even a prolific songsmith like McCartney must have found it difficult to write about failing relationships given that his marriage to Linda was solidity defined throughout his solo career until her death. So maybe the regrets expressed in this song were aimed at a partner of another kind. I particularly refer to the middle eight lyric: "What opportunities did we allow to flow by, feeling like the timing wasn't quite right; what kind of magic might have worked if we had stayed calm, couldn't I have given you a better life?". Then add to that the cross-legged imagery, complete with round scarlet glasses and you have to admit it's possible.

This One reached No.18 in the summer of 1989, the same position as its predecessor My Brave Face, a song that really was about a failed relationship but had Costello's influence all over it.

If you really do want to find a terrible McCartney solo composition, then the fairly recent Dance Tonight will do just fine, bland and shallow to the end. We should leave his 1980s body of work alone.


John Medd said...

Aah Matthew, where do you even begin with Macca? Even the man himself has openly admitted he'll never write another Eleanor Rigby. He got lucky in The Beatles - he was sparring every day with Lennon. What that meant was that, Yellow Submarines aside, they had a pretty good shit filter. When he called it a day in '70 he then compounded the problem by writing McCartney, the best ever solo Beatle album after All Things Must Pass. It would be nearly 30 years 'til he ever came close again (Flaming Pie) and it'll probably be another 30 'til he does it again with his 'deathbed' album.

JM said...

This One is a sweet enough song but it marks the point for me where McCartney's idea of his own abilities as a singer drifted forever away from reality.

He was getting older, his voice was huskier and had moved into a completely different register to that of his youthful heyday. Yet he persisted in writing songs that required him to warble in the kind of high pitched squeak that he used to such effect on Hey Jude.

Hence This One is at times horrible to listen to as the man manifestly cannot sing the song in tune. As early as the second line of "did I ever look you in the eye" he is straining to hit the note and even on the final take misses it totally with a kind of strangulated warble that would shame an X Factor auditionee.

The problem was he was surrounded by yes men producers who did not have the balls to tell him the song was fucked up and he should adjust it. Pete Waterman often tells the tale of the recording session for the Ferry Cross The Mersey charity record in spring 1989 where he ordered Macca out the studio after he'd insisted on take after take of his bit. Linda regarded him with admiring eyes and told him she wished more people were prepared to stand up to her husband like that.

Macca had learned his lesson by the mid-90s. Flaming Pie remains for me his last great solo album, a brief flash of genius from a man whose best days musically were long beyond him.

Jon Peake said...

I remember my mum telling me the Beatles had split up!

I love a lot of Wings stuff and Paul's early solo stuff, but it all went wrong after Tug of War. No longer interesting. I hate that Dance Tonight song with a passion. I always think it's a case of trying too hard now.

I had tickets to see him last December, but in the end I sold them. The one regret about that was I'd have loved to have seen the full pipe band doing Mull of Kintyre, a song I still find very moving despite it being number one forever.

Simon said...

My favourite Macca moment was when my brother was accused of being too young to be a fan when purchasing the 12" of Once Upon A Long Ago. Am going to have to revisit this though.