There are so many albums coming out this summer—Bon Iver, Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab for Cutie, Junior Boys, Beirut, Cults, Gillian Welch, Beyoncé—it seems as if something new pops up every day. New music is fun and all, but sometimes I just want to hear something familiar. Sometimes I want my music to be old.
Last week a copy of the Paul McCartney’s 1970 solo debut, McCartney, arrived in the mail. When I opened the package and saw the maraschino cherry cover art, I smiled. I already knew this album! I hadn’t listened to McCartney in over a decade, but thanks to a particularly virulent strain of Beatlemania that struck me during adolescence, I could still sing along to most of it.
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Here’s the thing about Beatle solo albums: the quality decreases over time. The more years that elapse between the Beatles’ break-up and a solo album’s original release date, the more likely that album is to disappoint. George Harrison’s 1970 masterpiece All Things Must Pass contains several songs that should have made it onto actual Beatle albums. But his 1982 album Gone Troppo? Let’s pretend that one never happened. There are exceptions to the rule of course—John Lennon’s last album, Double Fantasy, contains some of his best work—but unless you’re Beatles junkie you can pretty much discard anything released after the mid-1970s. (Disclaimer: none of this applies to Ringo.)
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McCartney was originally released in April 1970, just days after Paul publicly announced the Fab Four’s tumultuous split. It’s a collection of light, largely acoustic songs featuring Paul’s signature catchy melodies, the kind that burrow into the recesses of your brain and stay there for weeks. (Just try to get “Every Night” out of your head, I dare you.) The album is anchored by Macca’s soaring piano ballad “Maybe I’m Amazed” (watch the video above; how does he scream like that?) and it ends with an instrumental drumming-and-panting number called “Kreen-Akrore,” after the indigenous tribe in Brazil. Half of McCartney feels expertly polished and the other half feels unfinished—almost as if Paul were used to having band mates to help him work out his ideas.
McCartney will be reissued on June 14 along with McCartney II, an experimental 1980 album that, in keeping with the solo Beatle rule, isn’t very listenable. (Case in point: “Temporary Secretary.” I mean, what is this crap?) Apparently Paul was listening to a lot of Talking Heads at the time. That’s still no excuse, of course. Just stick with McCartney.
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