"Tomorrow" / Paul McCartney
I spend way too much time messing around creating iPod playlists, I'll admit. Sometimes they work, sometimes they're just stupid. Recently, I've been experimenting with playlists that feature artists who all have the same first name -- "Doing Daves," "Going to the Johns," that sort of thing. The best one of these so far is my "Peter and Paul" playlist, which features everyone from Herman's Hermits (Peter Noone) to the Who (Pete Townsend) to the Jam (Paul Weller) and the Replacements (Paul Westerberg). I've even got a little Paul Simon and Peter Frampton in there (I'm sorry, but "Show Me The Way" is so bad it's good).
Naturally I agonized -- agonized! -- over which Paul McCartney track to include. Even setting aside the Beatles catalogue, I had way too many songs to consider from Paul's solo albums, not to mention the entire Wings oeuvre. After a long happy afternoon spent transferring the vinyl to digital, I'm amazed to find how much I still love those Wings albums.
Wild Life, for example. The first Wings album (it came out in 1971), it may be Paul McCartney's most stoned-out sonic ramble, but the very looseness of the jamfest endears it to me. It's one of the very few entire albums that I keep complete on my iTunes; I can't lose a single track, and I MUST listen to it in order -- no surprise, considering how many hours I spent in my college dorm room blissing out on Wild Life.
Wild Life's "Tomorrow" was my final choice for the "Peter and Paul" playlist, and I'll tell you why. To me it's the final proof that Paul McCartney is the world's greatest living composer. Notice that I say "composer," not "songwriter," because let's face it -- sometimes Paul McCartney's lyrics are embarrassingly stupid. There, I've said it. And I'm a words person; my devotion to Ray Davies, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe is largely driven by the wit and brilliance of their lyrics. If I can remain besotted with Paul McCartney for 45 years, it must be because his tunes are the best.
(This is all assuming that his enormous personal charms don't matter. Which of course they do. But still.)
This, after all, is the guy who wrote "Yesterday"; you'd expect "Tomorrow" to be a momentous sequel, just like Paul followed up his Beatle song "Blackbird" with Band on the Run's "Bluebird." But no, "Tomorrow" is slight and sloppy, with gauzy background oooh's, a plinky piano, and Paul warbling in his higher register. And the lyrics? Totally amateur. "Ooooohhh, baby, don't you let me down tomorrow, / Holding hands we both abandon sorrow, / Oh, for a chance to get away tomorrow" -- it's awkward, meaningless pap.
Well, hold on there. Actually, the song is written in an Italian verse form called terza rima, in which the first and third lines of a three-line verse not only rhyme, but are the exact same word. (I knew my English major would come in handy one day.) In classic terza rima, the end word of the middle line should become the first and third endings of the next tercet (the pattern is aba bcb cdc, etc.), but it's really hard to sustain that in English, where we don't have so many similar word endings. Paul's next verse is just another aba tercet: "Hey, baby's got a lazy day on Sunday, / Here's a pound, we hang around 'til Monday, / Oh, baby don't you let me down on Sunday." Clearly Sunday and Monday are introduced because they are the only days of the week that rhyme. The laziness of this lyric-writing is astounding.
Even this half-assed terza rima gets abandoned in the bridge, which offers a trite pastoral vision with weak, convenient rhymes: "Bring a bag of bread and cheese and find a shady spot beneath the trees / Catch a breath of country air and run your pretty fingers through my hair." (Just don't get the cheese in the hair, or vice versa.) The second time, he serves up different lyrics for the bridge, but they're no better: "Honey, pray for sunny skies so I can speak to rainbows in your eyes. / Let's just hope the weather man is feeling fine and doesn't spoil our plan." As if the weather depended on a TV meteorologist's moods. I'm tempted to wince every time I hear these lyrics.
And yet I could listen to this song all day. Instead of wincing, I find myself grinning affectionately at Macca's goofy exuberance. I feel buoyed by the song's soaring, up-and-down melody, that complexly layered syncopation that makes your heart skip. (Nobody knows how to play with the beat like a bassist.) It begins as a music hall softshoe shuffle, morphs into that jazzy bridge, switches into an anthemic rock phase, and winds up in full rockabilly mode, with Paul doing his best Elvis, building into wild wails and a driving bass line for the coda. He takes that simple, mindless song through all its changes, propelled by a sure sense of its infectious groove.
It's a song that always, ALWAYS, makes me feel joyful. That magic trick is what we need from music, and nobody -- nobody -- does it better than Sir Paul.