"Little Lamb Dragonfly" / Paul McCartney & Wings
Listen to this recording; hear the clicks and pops? That's because I converted my old well-loved LP to a digital recording so I could hear the old Wings stuff on my iPod. Of course I could have bought a clean digital version of it, but why? I love hearing the scuffs and hisses that years of overuse left on the vinyl.
My private theory about "Little Lamb Dragonfly" -- and I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong -- is that this was yet another of the many coded messages that the former Beatles sent back and forth to each other. After that Paul Is Dead hoax, I always scrutinized Beatle lyrics for secret messages, and really, who could ignore the message John sent Paul in his song "How Do You Sleep?" I have to say, I never felt the same about John after that.
So my theory --- which sprang full-blown into my head the very first time I listened to Red Rose Speedway -- is that this is really two songs, "Little Lamb" and "Dragonfly." (Red Rose Speedway is full of such medleys, or collage songs, Paul falling back on his old tricks from the second side of Abbey Road.) And while "Little Lamb" is addressed to George Harrison, "Dragonfly" is written to John Lennon.
Listen to that opening guitar riff on "Little Lamb," lacy and loopy and sitar-like; listen to Paul's vocal, which sounds uncannily like George. The melody, too, is dominated by downward swoops, another George trademark. He calls him "little lamb" because a lamb is such a gentle, peaceful animal, and wistfully reflects "I have no answer for you, little lamb / I can help you out / But I cannot help you in" -- a reference, surely, to Harrison's continuing inward spiritual quests.
Lennon, however, is a "dragonfly" -- Paul may have been thinking "gadfly," but wanted to make it fiercer and yet more noble. And his message to the dragonfly is even more touching: "Dragonfly, fly by my window / You and I still have a way to go / Don't know why you hang around my door / I don't live here any more." That complicated, intense relationship between Lennon and McCartney is not so easily put to rest, and Paul no doubt resented John criticizing him for songs he'd written years earlier. My heart almost breaks to hear Paul yearn "since you've gone / I never know / I go on, but I / Miss you so." (As he sings this, however, his voice soars upward, sounding like early Bee Gees -- who knows why.) Later on, he puts it even more ruefully: "How did two rights make a wrong." Indeed, how could the conjunction of two such amazing talents be a source of regret?
Macca certainly spends more time on the Dragonfly part of the song -- defending himself ("I'm flying / Can't you see me I'm flying"), hoping for the future ("You and I can find a way to see . . . the years ahead will show / How little we really know." Oddly enough, although Red Rose Speedway didn't come out until 1973, this song was originally recorded in 1970 when Paul was working on Ram, so it wasn't a response to "How Do You Sleep?" (which John put on his 1971 Imagine album). When I first heard this song, though, I couldn't help but see it as Paul's rebuttal. And being a confirmed McCartneyite, you know which side I was on.
It's a lovely track, though. Even though it runs to over six minutes, I never feel it's too long (maybe because it still feels like two songs for the price of one). It starts simply and then builds; being a 70s record, of course, it overdoes the synths, and I can't ignore those cheesy Linda-and-Denny echoes ("I'm waiting, can't you see me, I'm waiting"). But if you want fluid, gorgeous melodies, Paul McCartney is always your man, and here they are. There's a reason why this song, once in my head, won't leave. And any day when I've got Paul McCartney in my head is a good day for me.