Friday, February 12, 2010

"Jet" / "Let Me Roll It"
Paul McCartney and Wings


Okay, no more Beatles songs. But does a Wings song count?

Ah, Band on the Run -- what more proof did you need in 1973 that the spirit of the Beatles was alive and well? I remember sitting by my little fold-up stereo in my college dorm room, listening to this LP over and over, usually in the dark, and being thrilled by it in ways I still can't fathom. And whenever I heard these two songs on the radio, I felt so proud of my boy Paul.

"Jet" made such a triumphant album opener, with that dramatic movie-music intro. (Remember, Paul's James Bond theme song "Live and Let Die" was still fresh in our memory.) After a few chanted "Jet!'s," it switches into major key, Paul taking center stage to sing, "I can almost remember the funny faces / That time you told them that you'd gonna be marrying soon . . . " To me, this has always triggered memories of the global fangirl grief raised by the news that Paul McCartney had married Linda Eastman. (Yes, I did cry at the news. Wanna make something of it?)

Now, Wikipedia tells me that Jet was supposed to be Paul's pet Labrador retriever, but I didn't know that in 1973. And that still doesn't explain who the "Sergeant Major" is, or "Mater" or the "lady suffragette" . . . but I have to say, I don't care what it means. Hey, you don't go to Paul McCartney for lyrics. You know me, I'm usually a lyrics girl, and even I don't go to Paul McCartney for the lyrics. I'm too busy soaring on the long arc of that melodic line, punctuated with the action-movie strings, then chants of "Jet!" followed by a squiggle of harmonized "oooooh whoo-ooh whoo-ooh." (C'mon, admit it, you sing along on the ooooh's every time.) The melody gets picked up a synthesizer, then a saxophone, and Paul is ad-libbing yelps and groans all over the place. No matter how many times I hear this song, I can never remember what's going to happen next; I just have to submit to its crazy, impulsive logic.

Originally the flip side of the record was, apparently, "Mamunia" -- and I love "Mamunia" too, don't get me wrong. But I'm so glad the record company decided to make "Let Me Roll It" the B-side on later pressings. Again, the lyrics aren't much -- "You gave me something / I understand / You gave me lovin' in the palm of my hand" -- it's hardly literary stuff. "I can't tell you how I feel / My heart is like a wheel / Let me roll it / Let me roll it / Let me roll it to you." Oh, how profound.

While "Jet" is all joyous energy and impulse, "Let Me Roll It" offers something more visceral and, well, sexy. Like "Helter Skelter" (surely one of my top ten Sexiest Songs Ever), "Let Me Roll It" is all about physical movement -- I defy you to sit still while listening to it. The tension between that lounging bass line and those spasmodic quivers of guitar is intensely erotic, especially when those whacking drums are added in, and the long slow exhale of the organ. Paul's vocal wanders through, a little tinny and distant, searching vaguely for words, erupting into glissandos of ecstasy. This singer is not in control of the song; the bass line is.

With both on one single, McCartney scored a rare double hit. I've always had a problem with Paul's choice of tracks to release as singles -- he seems determined to ruin his own critical reputation by going for the lowest pop denominator. Really, it's so hard to defend being a Macca fan sometimes. But "Jet" and "Let Me Roll It"? No apologies necessary.


Alex said...

An excellent, excellent choice! (And there's something so great about Band on the Run that it almost forgives a lot of Paul's other... um... lesser albums.)

Also, Robyn Hitchcock recorded a pretty great version of "Let Me Roll It" (which doesn't have much to do with Paul, but makes me happier about the song in general).

Mister Pleasant said...

All those great McCartney/Wings rockers from '73-74 are great, and Jet is one of my all time faves. And Paul's good-natured knock off of John Lennon's vocal style on Let Me Roll It makes me feel all warm inside. Absolutely a classic pairing.

Holly A Hughes said...

I'd love to hear that Robyn Hitchcock "Let Me Roll It" -- got to go look for that. And Mr. P, I had never really thought about how Paul's singing on "Let Me Roll It" sounds like John, but you're so right. Now I'll hear it that way every time -- thanks!

Alex said...

The Hitchcock is on a comp called Listen to What the Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney, which came out (literally) a week after 9/11.

It's up on Grooveshark (where you can listen to it for free)...

Mark said...

I agree with Mr. Pleasant that Paul is aping John's vocal style, "Let Me Roll It" always reminds me of "Yer Blues."

And "Jet," I still have no idea what the lyrics mean, but I sing along every time.

wwolfe said...

I like "With the wind in your hair of a thousand places." Very romantic and adventurous. As far as "Let Me Roll It," according once again to Geoff Emerick's book, Paul told him to get the same vocal sound as "Oh! Darling," which would seem to disprove the understandable notion that Paul was imitating John's famous bathroom echo. When the White Album came out, the Rolling Stone review said in reference to "Helter Skelter" that there needed to be a compilation called "Paul McCartney Screams Rock and Roll." I'd still like to make a version of that. I saw a critic on TV once say that Kurt Cobain and John Lennon were the only two rock singers whose voices sounded good screaming, and I thought at the time, "How about the guy standing ten feet to John's right on stage???"

Holly A Hughes said...

Now you've convinced me, I really have to get that Emerick book!

I supposed it's possible that John "invented" that style of singing back in Hamburg, but it's true, Paul's competitive juices compelled him to prove repeatedly that he could do it too. And "Oh! Darling" is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.