Posted by: coloradokiwi | November 6, 2007

Album Cajónes: Paul McCartney’s “McCartney” (1970)

Introducing a new feature, “Album Cajónes,” where I review an album to answer the question: was this album lame and safe, or actually rather ballsy? The answer to this question gets at the heart of pop authenticity — what is the intent of the music? Who’s it for? Are they playing to the crowd, giving the finger, both? Can it be ballsy to play to the crowd? Is expanding one’s commercial success selling out or expanding artistically? And so on. My first target: Paul McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney.

Released in April 1970, it came out merely a week after the official annoncement that he was leaving the Beatles. Generally speaking, the tracks are stripped down and the consensus critical view is that despite gems like “That Would Be Something” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” (I would also include “Junk”), the overall quality of the songs and the album as a whole is a bit “meh.” That is to say, it’s fine, and nothing on here is embarrassing per se, but it’s not exactly the nuclear blast of possibility from half of the most famous and talented pop songwriting duo ever (they left it to Ringo to surprise people).

So here’s the question: is this album ballsy? Does it have Album Cajónes?

All right, so let’s start by pointing out the lame quotient, because there nonetheless is one. Is it ever ballsy for a Beatle to release music of any kind? I guarantee you if there was a dusty recording somewhere of John Lennon taking a shit, it would go on auction at Southeby’s, insured for at least $25,000. Secondly, whether on purpose or not, as noted above Paul announced he was leaving the Beatles a week before this album’s release, which pretty much assured swift album sales with all the news and hype. Some other lameness: this is Paul McCartney after all, who while being a rock legend is not exactly someone with whom you’d associate the word “cajónes.” Particularly in contrast to Lennon, he seems to shun politics in his songs altogether, and while in his personal life he’s been very politically active, this is nearly always at the behest of whatever bird he’s banging. (One wonders about Paul’s suggestability index here, and whether if he’d ever been with a hot lady with very different sorts of political views, we’d all be humming along with his catchy, pleasant songs while he campaigns for liebensraum.) McCartney also has a long history of churning out incredibly lame, castrated ditties that make anyone with any sense of musical taste cringe. However to be fair, this is long after the fact — no sense in being ahistorical here.

So, let’s consider a different context, here. McCartney was not only depressed, but embarking on his own musically (at least officially) for…well, the first time. Secondly, we now know from the Beatles Anthology that several of the songs here were shot down by the other Beatles —“Teddy Boy” was even openly mocked, when Lennon and Starr started calling out square dance commands during an excrutiating first run through. Further, in utter contrast to the crisp, hyper-produced sound of Abbey Road, as if delivered from some magical music kingdom by rock angels, and certainly not sung or performed by actual humans, the songs on McCartney are bare and intimate, with audible mistakes and a few studio-riffic false starts and chord jangles (although arguably it’s a bit fuzzy: would it kill you to clean up the tracks a bit, Paul?). Lastly, McCartney played all of the instruments on here himself, save for some limited backing vocals from Linda; this is not the work of a shy, cowardly, or weak man.

Given that these are mostly Beatles rejects songs, that there was undoubtedly great pressure on McCartney to meet expectations, that he did the whole thing by himself during a difficult period…I’m gonna give it to Sir Paul. McCartney has Album Cajónes.

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Responses

  1. Ithink that of all the half baked albums Paul as put out this is his best. The half finished songs and arraingements work better here on the mcCartney album they work better then they do on McCartneys Debut with the group Wings Wild on their album wildlife

  2. With the exception of one or two tracks, this album was truly magical. I would suggest that around 1970, Paul McCartney was at his creative peak and just about everything after that went downhill (Band on the Run excepted – although that had its share of ‘duds’). No, ‘McCartney’ was an amazing album and I think proved who wrote the melodies particularly when compared with John Lennon’s first solo outing.

  3. When “McCartney” came out, we were in disbelief over the end of the Beatles. The album colors matched those of “Let it Be”. My brother and I rode our bikes to buy this at Corvettes. We loved it. Folky, like Rubber Soul. Home-made in a farmhouse in Scotland. What a change in sound and production…like Dylan going country.
    It’s his best solo, along with “Ram”. Needs to be remixed and remastered, is all.
    Dan 56

  4. Thanks for the comments, Dan. Agreed: remixed, remastered, maybe a few notes about the context of the album. It’s a beaut.

  5. I personally found this blog post , “Album Cajónes: Paul McCartneys
    McCartney (1970) The Pika of Caerbannog”, pretty pleasurable
    plus the blog post was a very good read.

    Thanks a lot,Windy


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