Paul McCartney's just brought out a new solo-career-spanning compilation, called Pure McCartney. It's available in all sorts of formats but the best is the 4-CD, 67-track 'deluxe' edition. (Links to Spotify and Apple Music.) I spent a week dipping in and out of it and then listening to the whole thing through and it's just a wonderful collection. You will know lots of the songs, of course, but there's plenty that you probably won't. It ranges right across the work though it's strongest in periods up to Tug of War and then from Flaming Pie onwards, which is right and proper.
The thing about Macca is that he's in a peculiar position, having probably the most beloved back catalogue of any musician currently living. He could play a four-hour concert and not just fill it with songs you've heard, not just songs you know, or know well, but songs you love, that you could stand up and sing along with the whole way through - and you'd still come out grumbling that he didn't play half a dozen of your favourites.
So inevitably, some of the grumblers got to review the collection and complain about what wasn't on there. And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know. 'Cos here I go again.
This is my Disc 5 of Pure McCartney. A few quite well-known songs that I was surprised not to see on his collection and then a bunch of slightly less well-known songs and a few 'deep cuts'. I've put nothing from Chaos and Creation in the Backyard because actually I think it's worth just buying the whole thing and listening to it on repeat.
I've added YouTube links to the individual songs, but here's everything on single playlist:
1. A Love for You (Jon Kelly Mix) (from Ram [Special Edition])
Recorded (very muddily) during the Ram sessions, it was remixed ready for a Wings out-takes album in 1981, until someone realised that in 1981 no one really wanted a Wings out-takes album. Then it ended up in a movie and finally got released on the expanded special edition of Ram. Catchy as hell - well of course it is, it's a McCartney song - and Paul does his Elvis impression on it, which always makes me happy.
2. Ever Present Past (from Memory Almost Full)
Nearly forty years later, it's a lyric which muses on how hard it is for the 65-year-old McCartney to quite believe he did all those things when he was young. But he muses in an absurdly, effortlessly hook-filled song that twinkles with the energy of a twentysomething. And the video, in which multiple digital supermodels dance in unison with his own sweetly amateurish moves, is particularly lovely.
3. Mamunia (from Band on the Run)
From Band on the Run, the first solo album to really get good reviews (though, in truth, most of them had been pretty good already), this is a lovely melody. Paul is often derided for his relentless optimism, because happiness is something we obviously have in abundance and can afford to mock, and here the verse is another vaguely environmental suggestion that we take the rain and turn it into love. The multipart vocals at 3'20" onwards are totes adorbs.
4. Spirits of Ancient Egypt (from Venus and Mars)
To be as stupidly gifted as Paul McCartney means that he seems unstoppably, throughout his life, to see a new instrument or hear a new type of music and think, I'd like a go at that. It's why I find his embrace of horrible horrible 1980s studio technology (try the song 'Press' on Press to Play) forgivable. He's not trying to make himself sound young; he's just excited by what he can do with sequencers... And here he turns his hand to a kind of psychedelic swamp blues, and finds opportunities in it for exuberant pop.
5. Old Siam Sir (from Back to the Egg)
Back to the Egg kind of killed off Wings. It got dreadful reviews and, no, it's not my favourite record though as ever there are gems. What's weird about the record - and you can hear it on this - is that it is both trying to be Led Zeppelin (this song has shades of 'Kashmir'; and listen to the way the drum sounds too) and the Sex Pistols (by which I mean, more attack, freshness, aggression ; and listen to him do a kind of Jimmy Pursey on the word 'Walthamstow' at around 3'34"). That's not a circle that needed squaring in 1979 and it didn't quite come off but the mist having settled on that particular battlefield, I think this does fine, rocking hard but with enough swagger to pull it off.
6. Looking for Changes (from Off the Ground)
What you don't associate McCartney with is political content. Though in fact there was 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish' and even, in 1968, 'Back to the USSR' was a fairly daring joke. This is off his probably least-loved record (oh no, wait, there's one worse, I'll get to that) and it's his animal rights song. It starts with some violent threats against animal experimenters but, because it's Paul McCartney, on the Oasis-y 'know what I mean' moment it becomes more upbeat and positive and the song drives on through with a kind of 90s clatter which we're now maybe far enough from to not wince at. It's way better than 'Meat is Murder', I reckon.
7. You Want Her Too (from Flowers in the Dirt)
A duet with Elvis Costello, who brings some welcome bitter perversity to a song of male bonding over a shared sexual partner who is clearly no good for either of them. Costello was a great choice in some ways, obviously bringing a kind of Lennon-like caustic savagery and readiness to 'go there' lyrically where Paul might pull back. This one builds something quite epic out of the nastiness and it's fun to hear Paul called 'stupid' in his own song. The Vegas showband ending makes you realise it's a kind of ratpack duet for the 1980s.
8. Daytime Nighttime Suffering (b-side to 'Goodnight Tonight')
Apparently Paul invited the rest of Wings to write the b-side to their next single but then, the next morning, turned up with this and the contest was over. Who wants to be in a songwriting competition with Paul McCartney? This is a plea to a woman in a crap relationship to throw over her terrible boyfriend and come to Paul instead, but somehow he makes it sound generous and loving rather than creepy and manipulative.
9. Take It Away (from Tug of War)
This is the only one I was genuinely surprised not to see on Pure McCartney, one of my very favourites of his solo stuff. George Martin's the producer which helps - when McCartney does solo albums he sometimes plays all the instruments himself and that can lead to a slightly sterile feeling of someone playing along to a tape (there's a slight feel of that in 'Ever Present Past', I think). The arrangement is quite AOR/MOR but with a drive and cheerfulness that overwhelms that. The lyric is effortless and the tune sits so happily in there, just not a thing wrong.
10. Keep Under Cover (from Pipes of Peace)
From a pretty patchy record, this has a George Martin string arrangement that propels it gloriously throughout with a great crunchy up-and-down bass line that almost rivals Paul's own bass line on 'All My Loving'. I wince at the 'what use is art if it hurts your head?' line but then remember Paul has always been rather fond of head-hurting art, to the extent of getting The Beatles to record 'Carnival of Light', a 15-minute sound collage to be played at a psychedelic Roundhouse event in 1967 that makes 'Revolution #9' sound like 'From Me To You'. Again the song is actually about feeling abandoned and alone in the absence of a loved one but it turns again into something joyous.
11. Little Lamb Dragonfly (from Red Rose Speedway)
This is an adorable, wistful children's song. Inevitably this means people have scorned it, because what is a Beatle doing writing children's songs? And when I say 'people' I mean 'idiots'. See also the Frog Chorus.
12. Some People Never Know (from Wildlife)
Wildlife is a funny old record. It was recorded at enormous speed, apparently inspired by rumours that Bob Dylan had started going into the studio and recording his songs in one take. The whole record took two weeks to record (though that's 14 times longer than it took the first Beatles album). It got slammed when it came out; not quite 'what is this shit?' but pretty close. So people haven't really listened to it since, assuming it's a disaster. And they are so wrong. It's a beautiful collection and fits into that late-60s/early-70s thing where bands started living on farms and recording rootsy, folky albums. This is a classic McCartney affirmation of love. Without bitterness, he laments hardly believing it that 'some people get sleep at night time / Believing that love is a lie'. This sounds to me like Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and in fact if they don't get back together and record it, I shall be livid.
13. Only Love Remains (from Press to Play)
The production does get in the way of this album, but here's a piano ballad which the production doesn't ruin. And god it's lovely; a soaring and heartfelt and beautiful. He's been writing about love for nearly 60 years and to me there's something defiant and serious about that persistent affirmation of love. One thing that fascinates me is the way he doesn't seem quite to know how to deal with having been in The Beatles; half the time he's trying to puncture things a bit ('they were just a good little band') and at other times he's weirdly desperate to ensure people think they were unfailingly good (hence his constant campaign to have the Magical Mystery Tour TV movie revalued). At one point, maybe in that Beatles Anthology, he reflects that one thing he's glad about is that the Beatles pretty much only sung about love and peace. I mean, that isn't true, but over the years, it amounts to a credo for Paul and it's not the worst legacy to leave.
14. Cut Me Some Slack (with Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear) (from Sound City Real to Reel)
In which seventy-year-old McCartney jams with the surviving members of Nirvana and the thing sounds completely convincing, with Paul tearing apart his fantastic voice on a nonsense lyric. It's a kind of twenty-first-century 'Helter Skelter'.
15. Monkberry Moon Delight (from Ram)
Ram was hated when it first came out, mainly, I guess, because it wasn't The Beatles. Strange that, because, from this distance, it's his most Beatles-y record, full of day-glo psychedelia like this one, which sounds like a paean to hard drugs but is apparently about milk, wouldn't have sounded out of place if recorded in 1967. Must have been an odd feeling for McCartney, thinking but when I did this exact sort of stuff before you loved it. It's a pity because it's a stunningly good record with a handful of his greatest stuff (listen to 'Back Seat of My Car', if you haven't already: it's his 'Surf's Up'). I think Linda sounds pretty great on this too.
16. Ballroom Dancing (from Give My Regards to Broad Street)
Yep, this is probably Paul's least loved album. The soundtrack of a frankly rather awful, trite movie about Paul McCartney zooming around London recording various new versions of his old hits for no good reason which then becomes a silly story about stolen mastertapes. It seemed particularly odd that he re-recorded Ballroom Dancing, since it had only been released in its original version two years before. But actually, I think he improves it. McCartney insisted that the music performances in the movie were actually live and that gives this a bit more energy and swing than the studio version (on Tug of War) and after the instrumental break, the way the music comes charging back in with a Dave Edmunds rock 'n' roll riff at 3'10" (in the audio not the video...) is genuinely rather thrilling.
17. Driving Rain (from Driving Rain)
I find Driving Rain quite a tough record to listen to, because for much of it I just hear Paul deep in mourning for Linda. So the songs are beautiful but sometimes there's a hollowed-out just-stopped-crying quality that makes for tough listening. Especially, I guess, because McCartney is so much the person who writes about love, it's a bit heartbreaking hearing his voice cracking at its loss, although something that makes records like this and Chaos and Creation so satisfying is that, with age, that angelic sweet voice of Paul's has got a bit more weathered which becomes a better vehicle for deeper feelings. This one is the more jolly of my two choices; but don't be fooled, it's his 'Fort Da' game, just about facing his love's loss and then fantasising her return ('You come walking through my door / Like the one that I've been waiting for') but I just hear loss in it, for all its exuberance.
18. Soily (from Venus and Mars [special edition])
This is another nonsense-lyric rock jam. This version is from a Wings movie, One Hand Clapping, but that didn't get released officially (though much of it can be found on YouTube). It drives nice and hard and once again Paul is channelling Elvis. If you don't know, I bet you actual money you'll think nothing of it first time you hear it and then later today you'll find it going through your head and you'll need to hear it again.
19. See Your Sunshine (from Memory Almost Full)
It baffles me why Take That haven't already recorded a version of this; it even sounds like one of Gary Barlow's very best moments. It's light as a feather but moves sinuously through its sections, each one hookier than the last. It's perfect sunny pop of the kind that he pretty much invented fifty years ago.
20. From a Lover to a Friend (from Driving Rain)
Oh god and this one tears me up. Apparently Paul's never quite said definitively what this is about, but it sounds to me like an agonized plea to Linda for permission to love Heather, but at the same time a plea to Heather to understand that he will never stop loving Linda. It's one of his greatest songs, I think, and I'm including the Beatles stuff in that. Worth playing to anyone who thinks he is superficial. And since I seem to have started a thing of commanding bands to cover these songs, I would now like to hear the Jayhawks version of this please.
21. Somebody Who Cares (from Tug of War)
Basically, I want to cheer you up slightly after that last one, without killing the mood. And if I'm being honest, I kind of want to cheer Paul McCartney up too, so this one, which urges us to seek out the ones who love us does the trick. It's is a lovely country-ish ballad from Tug of War. Not all the lyrics feel quite right (if someone took the wheels off my car when I had somewhere to go, in fact even if I didn't have somewhere to go, it would be more than 'annoying'), but Paul's not a poet, he's a songwriter and somehow his clumsy moments seem to add to the feeling.
22. Beware My Love (from Wings at the Speed of Sound)
You remember what music journalists would say of a song that 'From a quiet acoustic opening it builds to a blazing rock finale'? Well this is kind of what they mean. I like how the song (and the title) stays ambiguous throughout: is it 'beware of my love' or 'beware, my love'? There's an alternative version of this with John Bonham drumming, but actually the pounding doesn't really help it; this version is a bit more emotional and needy. The Four Tops of course should record this.
23. Coming Up (Live in Glasgow 1979) (from McCartney II [special edition])
'Coming Up' is on the Pure McCartney collection but in the studio version. And, great though that is, I thought I'd want a live McCartney track; he's released a slightly crazy number of identical live albums but it's clear from this that by the late 70s, Wings were actually a fucking great live band. And this version, loose and groovy, is just such jubilant fun with its funk-pop-disco silliness. The Scissor Sisters actually did a good song called 'Paul McCartney' but they should cover this.
24. Tomorrow (from Wildlife)
From the underrated Wildlife, this song is again about love, about wanting the perfect loving moment never to end. I think this is a stunning song, but never see it talked about and it never ends up on the compilations or best-of lists. I would love to hear the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris version of this, though I am now prepared to concede this is unlikely.
25. Check My Machine (b-side to 'Waterfalls')
Consider this a bonus track. A 'Her Majesty' or something. I want to end on this because there's always been this utterly weird side to McCartney. Sometimes it's wilfulness that heads him off into rather sentimental areas, but sometimes he just pursues fascinating strange ideas, which are in their way as odd as mainstream pop ever gets. This is both a peculiar experiment with studio technology and a fascinatingly catchy earworm.