Sunday, January 04, 2009

"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" / Wings

The songs from Electric Arguments, the new Fireman album, haven't yet grooved sufficiently in my brain -- but I'm sure that playing that album was what sent me off on this Band on the Run jag. Oh, there were months of my life (and not just in 1973, when it first came out) when this LP never left my turntable; playing it again feels like coming home. I still insist it's the best post-Beatles solo album by any of the Fab Four.

This track takes off like a rocket, with insistently stabbing syncopated chords on the electric piano, dark and minor-key; it's always made me think of movie chase music. (I guess that's part of the album's theme, though I never really consider this a coherent concept album.) The piano pumps on for quite a while, getting your pulse racing, before Paul even starts singing. That's the main thing, of course, Paul ripping loose with his rock-n-roller vocals (only topped on this album by the bluesy howl of "Let Me Roll It"). I'm suspicious of anybody who says Paul McCartney is all sappy sweetness; clearly they haven't listened to enough Paul McCartney.

At first glance the lyrics aren't what I'd call stellar -- "Oh no one ever left alive in nineteen hundred and eighty-five will ever do / She may be right, she may be fine / She may get your love but she won't get mine / 'Cos I got you." I really do wonder how Linda McCartney felt when she heard Paul singing this musical homage: "Well I just can't get enough of that sweet stuff / My little lady gets behind." Eeeeek.

Wait, what am I saying? Paul McCartney can write lyrics like that about me any time he wants to. Even better is verse two, when he marvels, "My mama said the time would come when I would find myself in love with you / I didn't think, I never dreamed, that I would be around to see it all come true." I think of poor motherless teenage Paul, insatiable for love and approval, and it gets me right here, especially knowing how many years he would enjoy connubial bliss with the lovely Linda. You've got to say this for McCartney; he's not embarrassed to lay his emotions on the line. I love Ray Davies and Nick Lowe, but face it, their love songs are so guarded and complicated -- a girl does like sometimes to hear her idols sing straight-out love songs. Bless you for this, Paul.

I dig that arresting little interlude, an abrupt shift in musical texture, where the boogie-woogie piano and drums are replaced by woozy "ooohhs" and synth strings and stately organ sustains. I don't know why it's there -- maybe that was just Paul being arty, like he does every third or fourth album, after the critics have taken him to the cleaners and he feels he has to prove something. (Paul, you don't have to prove anything to this critic.) Still, it wouldn't be the same song without it; it adds dimension, and sets us up for the layered build-up of the climax. Remember, this song follows "Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me)"; I suspect that McCartney was consciously making this song a big sound collage. After all, this was 1973, a particularly bloated era in rock, and the song does go on for five minutes plus. But I have to admire Paul for making the cacophony actually go somewhere -- adding first some grunts and moans, then a curling guitar riff, then crashing orchestral chords, a supple clarinet line, sawing strings, and ominous synthesizers -- all to end with a sudden sharp cut-off and distant reprise of the "Band on the Run" refrain.

Yes, I know 1985 is the year following 1984, George Orwell's fictional landmark; maybe this is Paul's half-baked attempt at literary reference. But except for a faint whiff of futuristic doom in the arrangement, this song has nothing to do with Orwell. It certainly took nerve to write a song about a date only 12 years away, especially when you're still in your 30s; he wasn't exactly planning ahead, was he? We're way past 1985 by now.

But McCartney's such a right-brained genius, he never sweats the logical details. It's just music about music -- exuberant, and simply delirious with love. Me, I love it. The days when Band on the Run is running through my brain are good days indeed.

Nineteen Hundred Eight-Five sample


Natsthename said...

LOL. We are definitely WAY past 1985 now. My older son was born that year!!!

Funny, this is the one song I'd skip on from BOTR. I just never did anything for me.

Alex said...

I read somewhere that Paul's notebooks with almost all the songs for Band on the Run were stolen his first or second day in Lagos... so he just wrote another 8 or 9 songs in the next couple of days... back when he could do such things! :)

Holly A Hughes said...

Wow, that's a cool thing to know. It always slays me how Paul and John could just go away for half an hour and come back with a hit song. I think it was equal parts having the craft down solid and also having an incredible confidence in their own melodic instincts.

Do you suppose someone deep in Nigeria still has those stolen notebooks and is just waiting for the right moment to post them on eBay?