And no, I’m not talking about Alan McGhee or Creation Records. Nor am I talking about the place of religious discourse in modern music. You can discuss that particular topic amongst yourselves. (Although whilst we’re mentioning it, check out ‘The Aetheists’ Hymnbook’ page on Facebook, it’s a hoot.)
No, what – or rather who – has been playing on my mind this week is Paul McCartney.
I heard you. That great inhalation that leads to the inevitable sigh. ‘Not another bloody piece proclaiming that The Beatles are the greatest band of all time,’ you’re thinking. Fear not. This is not that piece. But events have conspired in the last couple of weeks to make me (re)consider McCartney’s music and subsequent standing in my own mind.
I’ve listened to a lot of polemic over the years about the various members of The Beatles and their musical output since that behemoth of a band split. The message that has come through loud and clear – the perceived wisdom if you will – seems to be that Lennon was the real genius of the group; the driving force; the x-factor that made them what they were. In the post-Beatles landscape it is easy to see how that opinion would have been formed.
Lennon opted to record Plastic Ono Band and go through a course of scream therapy with Yoko. The album was stripped down and confessional. A zeitgeist capturing piece of work that suited the national mood following the death of the 60’s. McCartney opted to retreat to a small-holding in Scotland with Linda, shear some sheep and record McCartney, an album of light-hearted melodic rock and pop that was seen as just a little throwaway.
And, frankly, that’s the verdict that history has continued to hand down over the last 40 years. Lennon the edgy, cool, arty outsider; writer of Imagine and countless other ‘classics.’ McCartney the whimsical, lighthearted melodicist, plagued by nagging accusations of mediocrity throughout his career.
Well, stuff that.
I came to The Beatles relatively late in life at the age of 20 or so, when a college room-mate played their albums incessantly. Then, in the last twelve months, we have seen the remastering and re-release of the entire Beatles catalogue, some of which I have bought and played plenty. Then, in the last month, I’ve quite accidentally picked up McCartney’s 2005 album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, and found it to be a pop classicist’s dream. I’ve visited The Beatles experience at The Albert Dock in Liverpool and then ploughed my way through two articles in Uncut magazine, one-a-piece on Lennon and McCartney.
And you know what? You do. You’ve already guessed. I really, really rate McCartney’s actions and output. Here is a man who, rather than butt heads with press, fans and ex-colleagues, decided to remove himself from a toxic situation and pull himself together in private with his family. Here is a man who has spent his life working away at the pop wheel, creating pure melodies and capturing a certain English musical sensibility. Here is a man who has created gems of albums, just such as Chaos and Creation…, that have been well received but certainly not canonised in the way Lennon’s have been. Albums that are of astonishingly high quality nevertheless.
Shout me down if you will, but following his early solo purple-patch, Lennon produced a lot of mediocre music. Call me insensitive and unfeeling, but I suspect that some of that music – a lot of it straight-ahead, bland rock n’ roll, pumped out with seemingly little thought – might not have been so revered had Lennon’s life not ended so abruptly and tragically.
By contrast, McCartney’s music has – Rupert and The Frog Song aside – been consistent in it’s quality, taking in pure pop, rock, classical, experimental electronica and more traditional rock n’ roll. It might not be cool, but in it’s own quiet and increasingly reflective way, it is remarkable.
Not cool? So what. Not edgy? Who cares. Not confrontational? It’s overrated.
When you’re 69 years old and still writing brilliant, adult pop music, you deserve some applause and – in the the case of Paul McCartney – some reassessment.