Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Paul McCartney's Been Reading My Blog !

Well, it's obvious. Macca has been reading this very blog (Confidential to a certain "Firefighter": Hello Percy!). As readers of this blog know, last November I started a seven part series discussing a fantasy Paul McCartney solo concert experience. In the introduction, I suggested that Paul could do a tour where he played smaller venues like Radio City Music Hall, and celebrate his nearly four decade solo career. Paul seems to have taken my advice, and, while not following my exact plan, has indeed agreed to perform at Radio City, and has begun a celebration of his post-Beatles career by launching a month-long "Fireman Radio" channel on Sirius XM satellite radio.

The April 4 Radio City performance, which will also feature Ringo Starr in the role of David Grohl, is part of an all-star(r) benefit, organized by film maker David Lynch. The Beatlesque goal is to teach one million children the Transcendental Meditation technique - and change the world overnight (I couldn't make stuff like this up ). Other performers scheduled include Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow, Paul Horn, Donovan, and others.

[Side note: How can Paul, Ringo and Donovan all appear at this gig and not perform together? Back in the day, Donovan and Macca collaborated on "Yellow Submarine", "Atlantis", and Mary Hopkin's Apple LP "Post Card", among other projects and events (including going to India in 1968 to study TM with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ). Donovan also taught the Fabs his finger-picking technique, which influenced a handful of songs that appeared on 1968's "White Album". When I saw Paul at The Bridge Benefit in 2004, he generously sang duets with Tony Bennett as well as Neil Young. ]

Paul's "Fireman Radio" channel has been a lot of fun so far.The idea seems to be to create another way to build on the great press Paul has received for his new "The Fireman" project, "Electric Arguments". While "EA" was a more "high profile" release than the previous two Fireman albums (not to mention more commercial), it was still sent out into the marketplace without the fanfare usually associated with a traditional McCartney release. When the album started to create a buzz, Paul appeared on programs such as "The View" and "The Howard Stern Show", which pushed the album further up the charts.

"Fireman Radio" is like the ultimate Macca iPod (or maybe an Apple iPaul ?). It's a random sample of McCartney's solo work since 1970, including hits, deep album cuts, obscure singles, and, of course, a healthy dose of "Fireman" material - not just the new album, but the previous two "ambient" collections as well. There is also a heavy mix of live material, which is how he gets to sneak his 1960's classics into a "solo" selection of material. There was even some care taken to make sure that, for instance, the original album medley of "Venus and Mars / Rock Show" were played together as one (which has not always been the case with some of the other vanity channels).

The programming seems to be designed for short bursts of listening in the car as opposed to a serious (Sirius) marathon session while at home. While there seems to be large chunks of music that are part of a heavy rotation, there is enough variety to keep you tuned in waiting for different tracks. Some of the great finds, for me, include "Mumbo", followed a little while later by "Bip Bop" There was also an hour of programming where three tracks from "Ram" were randomly played ("Long Haired Lady", "Uncle Albert", "Dear Boy"). While you'd expect to hear "Band On The Run" and "Maybe I'm Amazed", what's interesting is to experience multiple versions of "No More Lonely Nights" (including the legendary "Mole Mix") and "Silly Love Songs" (including the "Noir & Kruse" edit ), not to mention obscure stuff like "Back On My Feet", "Zoo Gang", "Momma's Little Girl", and "We All Stand Together" (with the Frog Chorus ! ) Of course you could hear most of this stuff anytime you like - if you have the official releases - but when's the last time you've had a chance to do that ? Plus, when you hear an overlooked gem like "Somedays" (from "Flaming Pie"), out of context, you can really appreciate it for the beautiful song it is. It's also fun to spot the occasional error, like 1973's "Single Pigeon" showing up as "Single Person" on my Sirius screen (Freudian slip, Paul ?). It's also interesting to note that some tracks feature other band members (so far, I've heard Jimmy McCulloch, Hamish Stuart, and Denny Laine), but not any of his classical pieces, or Linda's "Cook Of The House" (yet). It's doubtful that "Heather" will make an appearance, I'd gather.

I just finished listening to a 30 minute exclusive interview with Paul, broadcast on the channel. While not really shedding any new light on his Fireman project that has not been discussed elsewhere, it's always nice to hear Paul talk about the joy of creating music. Which is really the best part of listening to this Maccathon.

John Lennon once famously said, "Fans tried to beat me into being a…Beatle or an Engelbert Humperdinck, and the critics tried to beat me into being Paul McCartney”. By the same token, Macca has always been compared to Lennon, and, by extension, Bob Dylan, and other rock "heavyweights'". If you put McCartney in the company of more melodic composers like, say, Brian Wilson, Elton John, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Phil Collins, it's easy to see Paul's strengths, and why he's still a vital, relevant artist.

While McCartney has certainly dabbled in every genre of music that tickled his fancy, there has always been a sense that he just enjoyed creating music, as well as other art forms (like painting), for it's own sake. His first solo album, 1970's "McCartney", is one of my all-time favorites, and has always given me a warm, comforting feeling. This, in retrospect, is all the more surprising considering it was recorded when the Beatles were disintegrating around him. It sounds like it may have been very therapeutic for him as well.

Paul's political/topical songs, like "Simple As That" and "Freedom", while not particularly insightful, work well in the context of this channel. With his talent for singing and songwriting, as well as mastering almost any instrument he felt like learning how to play, it's just a joy just to hear the decades of music that he has created since he became an Ex-Fab. While listening to "Fireman Radio", that seems to be a recurring theme - Paul enjoys making music, and that, in itself, is a reason to enjoy the solo work of James Paul McCartney. As a matter of fact, "Ballroom Dancing" was in my head all day yesterday !

And Paul, if you want to thank me, I'd sure like to go see you at Radio City . . . sounds like a great idea !

PS Happy birthday wishes to George Harrison . .I'm currently working on a blog about his music as well . . .

UPDATE : Starting Tuesday at 10 a.m eastern, guests DJs will be playing their fave Macca tunes, including Barbara Walters, Cousin Brucie, and a real NYC Fireman (no, not Paul . .)


Anonymous said...

They have indeed played "Cook of The House" and "Heather" numerous times. You can go to and search the playlist for The Bridge and it will bring up everything they've played since the show began.

Anonymous said...

Great blog - and I completely agree with your points about Paul and his place among the great composers of the era. In my view he's outperformed them all, Lennon included (though who knows what Lennon would have achieved if he survived to this day).