Paul McCartney made his reputation on songs like this, and he knew well enough what some people thought of him for it. There’s nothing like a born optimist’s good cheer to grate on the nerves of the cynical. I guess the same people who felt ready to drop-kick Tiny Tim also are also the ones who want to punch Paul McCartney. Who does he think he is, with his unshakable faith in goodness and love? Well, Paul McCartney wasn’t so out to the heart of the country that he didn’t hear his own best friends calling him mawkish and shallow. His response showed that kindness was the best clap-back. (And success.) In his usual mild-mannered tone, he asked, what’s wrong with silly love songs? Really, though, what is it about other people’s happiness that irritates you so much? Obviously, happiness without a heaping downside of misery – even the outward appearance of it – is irritating to us angry cynical people because it’s unattainable to us personally and we think that anyone who says they’ve attained it should get some kind of cosmic comeuppance for their hubris. Paul McCartney irritates the fuck out of cynics because he appears to genuinely be the kind of person who sees sunshine and rainbows wherever he goes. And he makes more money than God rubbing everyone’s noses in positivity. But, as he states, in the most tuneful way possible, there’s nothing wrong with that. Silly love songs make people happy. And even the most cynical bastards among us – the ones who gripe that the idea of romantic love is nothing more than a conspiracy designed to make people tolerate each other’s company just long enough to make a baby and keep it alive until it learns how to walk – sometimes find themselves right in it, and all of their intellectual posturing goes straight out the window, and suddenly it isn’t so silly after all. Paul McCartney is really on to something here, and we should all actually make an effort to follow his lead on it.
This is Paul McCartney at damn near his most McCartneyish. It’s everything that makes a McCartney a McCartney. It’s a love song that’s trite and daft and sugary and lyrically lazy – and inescapably whistleable. You can’t get this tune out of your head, and you just bob along to it whether you like it or not. Whether you find it heartwarming or nauseating really depends on how devout your faith in love is. Honestly it’s hard not to feel at least a little warm and fuzzy, or at the very least envious at how unabashedly happy one has to be to write a song comparing their loved one to delicious gravy. Paul McCartney, of course, happened to be extremely lucky in love, so he wasn’t dragging around the residual angst of repeated heartbreaks the way most of us do. He just loved being in love, with no trace of irony or self-consciousness. Since most of us see the experience of being in love as a mixed blessing at best, that kind of soppy-eyed optimism can be a little hard to relate to. We fall in love with a little wariness. This is why Paul McCartney’s brand of sentimentality grates on a lot of people. However, McCartney also happens to be the kind of musical wunderkind who snores out bank-breaking hits in his sleep, and even the harshest critics can’t argue about that. You will take your sugar and like it, because it’s such a flawless meringue.
Ça fait rien. Wings are really criminally underrated. They’re not, like, The Beatles or anything but… But of course that’s woefully unfair to say. It’s Paul McCartney at or very near the top of his game, which is always a welcome thing to hear. McCartney’s lifelong problem, notoriously, is that he badly needs someone to bring some pith to his sweetness. None of the members of Wings were ever near John Lennon’s level of salty, but they provided just enough leavening. A good-natured attitude is an underrated quality in entertainment, and people with la-di-da attitudes were nearly their most unfashionable in 1976. But, come on, have some positivity.
Paul McCartney, the ever egalitarian, will sometimes allow other members of his band to sing lead vocals. It’s a very democratic and fair policy that stems all the way back to the days of letting Ringo do one. Shockingly, even when Paul McCartney steps back and lets someone else take the vocal reigns, it still sounds exactly like a Paul McCartney song. Does that defeat the purpose of letting other people take the spotlight, or does it do the opposite? I think it shows that there’s definitely a ‘Wings sound’ that doesn’t have to be all Paul all the time. As it happens Wings at the Speed of Sound is the most egalitarian Wings record, with songs allocated to each member of the group, then numbering five. Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch even got songwriting credit. It also happens to be one of the better wings albums. More contributions from more people help keep it from sinking into the love song after love song formula McCartney is prone to, but it still sounds cohesive. In this case, drummer Joe English takes on frontman duties, tackling a song written by Paul and Linda. It sounds like Paul wrote it for himself – it is very, very McCartney-esque, and English nails McCartney’s vocal cadences so well that if you didn’t know it, you’d think it was the Cute One himself.
The defining characteristic of Wings; overwhelming cuteness. Which would be Paul McCartney’s natural element, I suppose. He always got labeled ‘the cute one’ and he did little to combat that assessment. Then, in the seventies, he settled into a life of familial bliss that was the antithesis of every rock’n’roll trope out there. For that he became the butt of mean jokes. A strong faction of critics and fans dismissed him as a mawkish sentiment-meister who just wanted to rub his cheesy happiness in everyone’s faces. But what a stone hearted cynic would you have to be to hold it against him? All those homemade tour videos show a cuteness so unforced and so real that it’s impossible not to get the warm fuzzies. Paul and Linda always seemed to be having so much fun together, with their pile of children and animals, and their nature hikes and horseback rides and poolside picnics. Some people envy ‘real’ rock stars of the sort who stagger about in a narcotic haze surrounded by hangers-on whose names don’t even know, and yes, death-wish glamour is very appealing. But, in all honesty, most of us don’t really want to live like that. We just a want a home in the heart of the country. We want a horse, we want a sheep. We want all the corny Paul McCartney things. Things that aren’t very cool, but which make us happy. And I truly think that McCartney is the smartest of all his peers, because he figured that out years before everyone else did. He knew right away that he would not be a happy, healthy person if his life revolved around drugs, groupies and trashed hotel rooms. A truth everyone else did eventually cottoned on to, although usually not until after a series of overdoses, arrests, scandals, divorces, and other life tragedies.
Goddamn it, Paul McCartney, stop being so cute! Ridiculous. I say Band on the Run was as good as anything McCartney produces with The Beatles. He wasn’t able to keep it up for very long, but for a few years in the seventies, Wings were absolutely amazing. They had that happy-making quality which is like aural crack for the brain, and which McCartney seems to have a disproportional level of access to. The man is like a lightning rod for melodies. To his credit, he seems to still be amazed and delighted at the talents that he’s been given. And I in turn am amazed and delighted to still have the sane and humble Paul McCartney to show everyone else how to wear bigger-than-Jesus fame with grace.
The rewards of exploring the ‘deep cuts’ are varied and rich. I’ve said it before and I’ll go on saying it. Some of the most interesting output is often hidden in the middle of the back side of an obscure LP that hasn’t been pulled off the shelf in decades. That’s where you find it.