Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Dear Boy" / Paul McCartney

I'm still mad at the Beatles for breaking up. How dare they?! The only consolation I had back in 1970 was that at least Paul McCartney was still making records, and of course I loved them. I was obsessed for months with his first solo effort McCartney, his handmade homemade one-man show with that spilled bowl of cherries on the front and the scrapbook of happy family snapshots inside (man, how jealous I was of Linda McCartney!). Totally unlike the Beatles' densely crafted LPs, it seemed wild and unpolished and vital and divine. And it wasn't long before the prolific Mr. McCartney cranked out another one, the equally primitive Ram.

I suppose if I listened to these records now for the first time, I'd think they were silly. So many of these songs are little more than fragments, scraps of private meanderings that only Paul could decipher. But I'll never know what my honest critical reaction would have been; all I know is that I love love love these records to death.

McCartney was recorded before the Beatles broke up (in fact it precipitated the break-up); Ram was written and recorded after all that brouhaha, and therefore this is the one we have to look to for "messages" about the Beatles. That photo of two beetles screwing each other on the back of the album cover is hard to miss, isn't it? And the song "Too Many People" seemed pretty clearly aimed at the other Beatles. But apparently John Lennon smarted when he first heard "Dear Boy," too, thinking it was written about him ("Guess you never knew, dear boy, what you had found...Hope you never know, dear boy, how much you missed.") Paul, though, has said it was written to Linda's ex-husband, marveling that anyone would have let such a woman go. That does make more sense out of lines like "she was just the cutest thing around" and "When I stepped in, my heart was down and out, / But her love came through and brought me round / Got me up and about." Of course, that didn't stop John from going off and writing the supremely nasty, bitter "How Do You Sleep?" in retaliation.

Well, anyway, back to the song McCartney did write. Forget the lyrics; it's the melody and the syncopation that make this song so irresistible. A pounded piano takes the place of the signature McCartney bass line, climbing darkly up beneath a tripping melody; that capricious rhythm keeps you delightfully off balance as the minor-key melody circles around. It's a simple song, but he keeps layering on more textures, with guitars and drums and backing harmonies and a vocal counterpoint. I could make up all sorts of reasons why this dense tapestry of sound suits the theme of the song, but this is Paul McCartney after all; he probably just did it because he liked the way it sounded. Well, when you've been blessed with the amount of sheer musical instinct this guy has, you can afford to operate like that.

It sure sucks me into its vortex, anyway. The melody's so restless, the rhythm so edgy, it makes me almost intoxicated. I know that the very sound of this man's voice sends me into a special zone; there's no accounting for the way I love McCartney's music. But really, anyone but the worst kind of music snob has to admit this is fine stuff indeed.

Dear Boy sample


IƱaki said...

I think the Beatles had to break up, it was necessary for them seeing how things were developing. The sad thing for me is not that they broke up, but the fact that they couldn't get together.

Today is a sad day. Bless you Lennon.

Holly A Hughes said...

So many years later, I know you're right. But it was impossible to take that perspective in 1970, especially those of us who had never really known rock & roll without the Beatles!

Funny, I'd forgotten that this would be the Lennon anniversary. It's kinda spooky that I was thinking so much about the Beatles yesterday . . .