McCartney II (Archive Collection) by Paul McCartney

August 3, 2011

Paul McCartney released his second self-titled solo album during May of 1980, just about ten years after the first. He spent the intervening decade touring and recording with Wings, with whom he sold tens of millions of albums and performed to sold out stadiums and concert halls worldwide. It cemented his reputation as one of the superstars of the music world and established his identity outside of The Beatles.

McCartney II was a return to basics as it was recorded in his home with the microphone plugged directly into the back of a 16-track tape machine. He wrote all the tracks, played all the instruments, sang all the songs, plus produced and engineered the album. The only help he received was Linda McCartney’s backing vocals.

The album has now returned in in a cleaned-up, remastered form with a bonus disc of songs, which is ten minutes longer than the original release. This album, and its predecessor McCartney, are the latest additions to his Archive Collection. As with all the releases in the series, there is also a 3 CD, 1 DVD box set, and for the brave at heart, a 180 gram vinyl edition.

I tend to prefer his 1970’s work with Wings as it has more punch and the group setting tended to keep his lightweight pop tendencies in check. Still, the years have been kind to McCartney II, and while it may not be his strongest release, it has grown on me and there are a number of tracks worth revisiting.

The studio version of his number one live hit, “Coming Up,” the ballads “Waterfalls” and “One Of These Days,” the fun “Bogey Music,” and “Nobody Knows,” which has a “Get Back” vibe, remain excellent, if underappreciated Paul McCartney songs.

The bonus disc is hit-or-miss, but there is some very worthwhile material. There is the live version of “Coming Up”” that includes another verse but not the introduction and chanting contained on the original single release. “Blue Sway,” with the Richard Niles Orchestra, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Paul McCartney has created. “Mr. H Atom/You Know I’ll Get You Baby” has a goofy appeal. On the other hand, the ten minute, mostly instrumental “Secret Friend” is a bit much, as is the non-orchestrated, ten minute version of “All You Horse Riders/Blue Sway.”

While McCartney II may not be a consistently strong album, it is nevertheless representative of Paul McCartney’s mind and music circa 1980. It is not a starting point when exploring his music, but is essential for any serious fan.

McCartney (Archive Collection) by Paul McCartney

July 18, 2011

I’m old enough to remember The Beatles as a working and recording band, having bought their albums when they were released. Their career just about corresponded with my teenage years, so they were always a part of the musical landscape during my formative years. So it was a big deal when Paul McCartney released his first solo album during April of 1970.

McCartney has just been reissued as a part of the “Paul McCartney Archive Collection.” It was issued in a number of formats. I am reviewing the two CD Special Edition, which includes the original remastered album, plus a separate disc of bonus tracks. There is also a two CD, one DVD Deluxe Edition, which includes a 128 page hard cover book. Then, for the real adventurous, there is the 180 gram vinyl edition for your old time listening enjoyment.

I was immediately struck with how young Paul and Linda McCartney looked in the photographs. He was about to embark upon a new musical venture and looks fit and in the prime of his life.

It’s always difficult to review an album 40+ years after its release. Times change, people change, music changes, and his solo career has now lasted almost four times as long as did his career with The Beatles.

When the album was originally released, it opened McCartney to a lot of criticism. He was not The Beatles and he was not John Lennon. He was, for better or worse, Paul McCartney, and for the rest of his life he would be judged as such.

McCartney is a simple album, especially when compared to the final Beatles studio releases, which were still fresh in everyone’s mind at the time. It may have been one of McCartney’s most anticipated albums but it was not his best. There are, however, several outstanding songs interspersed among the 13 tracks. When taken as a whole, it is a pleasant and historically interesting album, but not a consistently excellent one.

The love song for Linda, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” remains the best and most memorable track and is as good as anything he would ever produce. “That Would Be Something,” with its gentle acoustic guitar is only a cut below “Amazed.”

“Every Night,” “Oo You,” and “Man We Was Lonely” are all above average McCartney creations. But there are some undecidedly below average songs as well.

The bonus tracks on disc two are more interesting than essential. It was a wise decision to group them together on their own disc so as not to detract from the original album. There are also live versions of “Every Night,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “Hot As Sun” recorded during 1979 at Glasgow, as well as outtakes of “Suicide” and “Don’t Cry Baby,” plus a demo of “Woman Kind” and another version of “Maybe I’m Amazed.” They are all nice to have but not something I will listen too very often.

The sound has been enhanced and is far superior to the original vinyl and other CD issues that have appeared down through the years.

In some ways McCartney is a product of its time and needs to be approached that way. Still, it’s nice to have the album back in circulation and available in a very clean form. It’s well worth the price of admission.

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Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Will and testament of George Harrison (DVD)

August 17, 2010

Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament Of George Harrisonwas a waste of 95 minutes of my life, which is time that can never be recovered. I kept waiting for someone to pop up and tell me this was all an April Fools joke even though we are nowhere near April First.

The DVD centers on the old McCartney is dead rumors except here they are not rumors. During the summer of 2005 a package was delivered to the Hollywood offices of Highway 61 Entertainment from London with no return address. The package contained two cassettes dated December 30, 1999 with the label, The Last Testament Of George Harrison. A voice purporting to be George Harrison tells the story of the death of Paul McCartney and the decade’s long cover-up. The cassettes narration is overlaid against a montage of Beatles clips and stories which are used to support the McCartney is dead theory.

After McCartney was killed in a car accident during November of 1966, British Intelligence forced the remaining Beatles to cover up his death to prevent mass suicides among his fans. (Please note that they are serious.) The Beatles of course tried to inform their fans on albums and in some of their songs. They hint that John Lennon’s death was connected to the hoax as he wanted to come clean. Of course Harrison’s revelation put his life in danger as well. (Please note that they are still serious.)

I guess if you want a trip through the Paul is dead legend then you can give this DVD a try. There is some nice archival footage but that does not save the film. The George Harrison voice does not really sound like him.

It can’t get much worse or can it? The bonus feature is “Bob Dylan meets The Beatles.” It begins with a Bob Dylan non-look-a-like.

If I could get them back, what could I have done with those 95 minutes of my life?

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London Town by Paul McCartney and Wings

July 6, 2009

The musical worth of an album can partially be determined by how many times you have actually listened to it in the years it has been out, especially albums well over 20 years old. It’s also telling if you can name the songlist without having to look, even after all those years.

In view of those two criteria, London Town disappears into the large catalog of McCartney’s post-Beatles material.

London Town ended McCartney’s United States run of No. 1 albums. Band On The Run, Venus & Mars, Wings At The Speed Of Sound
and Wings Over America, released between 1974-1977, all reached number one and attained platinum status. London Town did reach No. 2 but did not have staying power and sold poorly. McCartney was so miffed by the lack of support for the LP by Capitol Records that he would leave the label for Columbia for a little while.

There was a lot going on in Paul’s life in 1978. Linda McCartney gave birth to a daughter. Jimmy McCullough and Joe English left Wings, which reduced the group to the trio again. Then there was the odd story of the single “Mull Of Kintyre” backed with “Girls School.” Released in Great Britain before London Town was released, it became the largest selling single in U. K. history and still ranks fourth.

Capitol released “Girls School” as the A-side and it quickly disappeared. Amazingly, both songs were left off the original release of London Town. They would have made London Town a much better album as they are equal to or better than all the material on the album. The 1993 CD reissue adds both of these songs as bonus tracks.

There are a few good points musically. The hit “With A Little Luck” puts McCartney’s vocals out front against a lite rock background. This is typical good McCartney but had been done many times before. The title track is an interesting combination of instruments. The keyboards are out front with brass and guitar mixed in. “I’ve Had Enough” rocks more than most of the other songs and London Town could have used more of this type.

On the other hand, Denny Laine co-wrote five of the songs and sings lead on two of them. His vocals on “Children’s Children” and “Deliver Your Children” just don’t measure up. “Backwards Traveller” had potential but is cut short, while the rest is just filler.

London Town brings to an end the first Paul McCarney solo era. McCartney takes no chances here and his effort is questionable. It all adds up to some mostly forgettable music.

Venus and Mars by Paul McCartney and Wings

July 6, 2009

Rightly or wrongly, Paul McCartney’s music will always be measured against that of the Beatles, and will always be found wanting. Yet over the last three-plus decades, Paul McCartney and Wings have produced a fair amount of pop/rock when taken on its own terms.

The Venus And Mars album, released in 1975, was the second of four consecutive Number One, platinum-selling albums and is part of the five year period that represents the apex of McCartney’s commercial appeal post-
Abbey Road.

1974’s Band On The Run was more of a solo effort by McCartney, who played many of the instruments, wrote the songs, oversaw production and so on. The additions of Jimmy McCullough on lead guitar and Joe English on drums for Venus And Mars allowed Denny Laine to switch to bass. Linda McCartney would continue to contribute on keyboards, while Dave Mason, Alan Toussaint and Tom Scott were imported for additional support.

This allowed Venus And Mars to have a real group feel, more so than the 1972 Wild Life album that allegedly did the same, but never felt like it. More importantly, McCartney was freed up to concentrate on writing, vocals and production — which is good, as his strongest suit has always been his songwriting.

The disc has somewhat of a theme of the two plants (Venus is Linda and Mars is Paul, maybe?). The opening title tune slides into “Rock Show,” while a reprise of “Venus And Mars” reappears later. It would have been interesting if the theme would have been woven throughout the album.

Yet there is a lot of good here. “Listen To What The Man Said” was a Number One single hit in the United States and presents McCartney at his best. His vocals are out front with minimalist musical background. “Letting Go” is similar, but the song is not as strong, while”Medicine Jar” — with vocals by McCullough — has a nice bluesy feel. “Call Me Back Again” has a 60’s soul sound and is another highlight.

As with most Wings albums, Venus And Mars remains pleasant and somewhat interesting but not essential. Its legacy, then, is that of a good album from a very productive period in Paul McCartney’s solo career.