Updated: Sep 21, 2018
By Paul McCartney
Kisses on the bottom I’ll be glad I got ‘em
Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young
Shawn Colvin, a singer songwriter of merited repute, reports witnessing a friend interview Paul, describing herself as “devastated with joy” just to be in the presence. . .
How reasonable is it to apply the lofty term “art” to the craft of writing popular song? Surely it might have contemporaneously been employed to describe the works of Gilbert and Sullivan or George Gershwin? Was it too hastily adhered to the wizards of the recording studio who, with some art school sensibilities, began creating culture in the 1960s? But of course if one accepts the premise Dylan and the Beatles were indeed “creating culture, the question readily answers itself.
Paul McCartney has just done what his most exacting fans have always demanded - and often despaired of. With “Egypt Station”, if he hasn’t symbolically resurrected The Beatles, he’s embodied a spirit that, through a breathtaking combination of boldness, whimsy, and sheer creativity, somehow transcended “fab” only a few short years before the group spun itself off into four wildly successful solo acts which despite their glittering accomplishments left many longing for decades for whatever some reunion might have wrought.
When ranking the works of “The Beatles” it’s simply so much easier to focus on choosing the weaker songs than at picking favorites. The Fabs make “top ten lists” excruciatingly unsatisfying because the definition offers no way to cram in forty titles. And, of course, their “worst” songs, even those which could never have been “hits”, still tend to present multiple dimensions of wistful charm or experimental exoticism.
That said, I don’t know which is the weakest track on “Egypt Station”. Is it “Back in Brazil”? Well, that song reminds us that, unlike Bob Dylan who still mines the spiritual “old weird America” folk anthologies of the like collected by Harry Smith and the Lomaxes, The Beatles were mostly inspired by contemporary oracles, never seeming to listen much further back in time than the dance hall recordings (lightly?) cherished by their parent’s generation with their own so much more urgent concerns. Studiedly unstudied, innocent of musical notation, and blithely surprised by classical comparisons their music evoked, they just rocked on. But fifty years since the White Album, Paul now has his own traditions to mine. One is the “expropriation” of ethnically diverse traditions, subsuming their accents and rhythms into chirpy O Bla Di celebrations of everyday joys and challenges. Paul also has tropes from his “Wings” days to “recycle”. But then, in “Back in Brazil come some finalizing lyrics:
So we raise a family as the clouds roll by
making pictures of us in the sky
The kids are happy and they don’t know why. . .
Quaint cuteness is eclipsed.
Maybe the weakest song is “Come On to Me”? But that seems to be a featured single. Paul, now in his mid 70s, is apparently just never going to stop writing songs about ‘young’ urgencies of love and sex, the type of songs which launched his long career. Which brings us to “Fuh You” what Paul calls a “raunchy love song”. Was that John simulating sex sounds on “Lovely Rita”? Well, it was Paul’s song, and it came between the titillations on “Drive My Car Down Penny Lane” and “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”. But “Fuh You” is a bright sparkly pop tune intended to end up up making ya laugh. And anyway, whatyagonnado?
Life goes on, it does.
Could the weakest be “People Want Peace”? Maybe that’s it . . . because when it comes to political anthems, Paul was always secondbested by John Lennon. But Paul does not relent, nor should he. Will this one make stadiums sway, or will it simply persist, somewhat sadly in our mind’s ear, reminding us what we tend to settle for?
Then there’s “Despite Repeated Warnings” claimed to be about climate change and its buffoonish deniers. But this is another orchestral McCartney sound collage urging us to Grab the keys and lock him up, the answer to How can we stop him? Well, maybe this is the worst song - for trimp supporters anyway.
Yes we can do it.
The last likely candidate for the least strong song is “Who Cares”. Could it come across as easy preachings from an insufferable naif? Is bullying too topical a subject? Could it matter to some young victims that the illustrious Sir Paul claims to care about their lonely plight? Such questions defy selfish facile dismissals and force one to ask again, “What’s So ‘Funny’ bout Peace, Love and Understanding?” What’s so shameful about earnestness? Why wouldn’t someone, if they could, want to “fill the world with silly love songs”?
Maybe people really don’t want peace? But if that’s the case, then there’s nothing obvious about this type of song.
I don’t know.
If I don’t know the worst, it’s even harder to pick the best. “I Don’t Know” is perhaps not the best song on this album. It’s definitely not the best song ever to feature the lyric. That might go to George’s “Something”, but on this specific criterion my favorite is Paul’s “London Town”. But isn’t “not knowing” absolutely fundamental to wonder and awe?
Another great one that may not be this collection’s best is “Caesar Rocks”. But it’s a hot rocker with “matching teeth” that, aside from Paul’s still reliable Little Richard vocalization, stands strong on its own without invoking many old comparisons. The same might be said for the album’s concluding medley especially it’s opening segment “Hunt You Down”. Well, maybe this assemblage will never rival Side 2 of Abbey Road, but it’s a fresh new Paul McCartney medley whose second segment might make you wonder under what particular circumstances he might be “taken for his younger brother”? And though in the backs of our minds we may know this man lost his mother and the mother of his children to the same gruesome malady, we don’t often tend to think of him “broken in so many places”. Nor may many of us like to think of ourselves as one in a “sea of faces” but some things are worth trying to hold together. So are some people - even if that means all of us.
For me “the best” McCartney songs still have to be those which extend (through silliness or rapture) the beatitudes of the legacy he helped create. One candidate for this is “Confidante” which I originally took to be about the “secret friends” of some childhoods. And I’ll think hold to that interpretation despite Paul’s claim it’s about his old guitars.
where serpents turned to bits of string
and played like kittens in my hand
OK. Maybe there IS a guitar reference after all. But it makes me think of Harry Potter, the fabled British franchise of famous books and in the movies. And, speaking of movies, how was Ringo never invited to appear in at least a cameo? And was Paul really never asked to write a score? What exactly is the point of having a pompous monarchy if the Queen can’t simply call in the right people and set them straight on such obvious matters?
I don’t know
“Confidant” could be the best song, but “Happy with You” might never make it mostly because of the competition. Still it’s the kind of catchy simple little thing that just might grow on you until who knows? I got to admit it’s getting better, just a little better every time . . . and who even listens to albums now, much less over and over again? Well . . .
So that leaves only “Hand in Hand”, “Dominoes” and “Do It Now”. The first two are set together on the album in that order. The first with piano, falsetto, and flutes. The second with guitars and harmonies. You can’t help but feel Paul trying to engage his original fans, like him no longer young but still feeling eager and able to be stirred, looking both rearward and forward.
It’s been a blast.