Friday, March 8, 2019

One More (?) Go Around: A Hundred Songs I Absolutely Must Have With Me on 1/48/50

#376 -  "Arrow Through Me" by Paul McCartney and Wings - Seems every time Sir Paul winds up on this 1/48/50 list, I have the same glowing things to say, primarily about his range as an artist. There's a lot of good music out there, fine songwriters, musicians and performers, but a very short list of artists who have been able to swing so effortlessly between styles, with no awkward (read: unconvincing) overlap, and all music that they wrote themselves. 

Just within the short six years The Beatles were in America, he gave us, "Helter Skelter', and "Yesterday", "Oh Darling!" and "Let It Be", "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" and "Mother Nature's Son".  "Penny Lane", and "And I Love Her". Yes, I know they're all credited as "Lennon-McCartney", but any Beatles fan worth his/her salt knows that they mostly wrote their own music. To that end, Lennon certainly contributed mightily to that which made the Beatles The Beatles, but was he as far-ranging as McCartney, musically speaking? As seamlessly adept at the execution? Nah, I don't think so.

And McCartney kept up this unique musical range throughout the 1970s, with Wings: "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "Let Em In".  "Silly Love Songs" and "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey".  "Jet" and "Listen to What the Man Said".  "Live and Let Die" and "My Love". 

And then there's "Arrow Through Me" (like Maude!), from 1979.  Just when you think there isn't anywhere else for the man to go musically, or perhaps more accurately, nowhere else you think he will go, along comes something almost experimental-sounding, with an undulating melody and crisp, funk-inspired rhythmic and bass hooks, a kind of a musical mélange, to which McCartney adds some sassy brass and clavinet chords being turned inside out repeatedly, like someone working a stress ball, as he alternately (and handily) shrieks and croons in his inimitable Macca style.  

It's completely different, and yet unmistakably McCartney. A perennial joy to listen to. Far and away my favorite from the Wings era, and I'd venture one of his best of all time, although when it comes to McCartney, perhaps that notion is more open to debate than your average artist.

"You wouldn't have found a more down hero ... "

#377 - "Sunday Will Never be the Same" by Spanky and Our Gang - I was lucky, I think. This and so many other songs like it from the 60s and 70s formed nothing less than the architecture of my emotional state when I was kid. My parents owned a bookstore and there was a little AM radio on the window sill behind the cash register, and whatever station they were tuned into always played "sunshine pop" and "AM gold", all of the music that to this day people are quick to scorn and/or mock, yet secretly love at the same time. I wouldn't want to be my age and only ever listening to The Carpenters, but it's not a bad serenade to being anywhere from four to ten years old. 

Some insist on dismissing this kind of music as bubblegum schlock, and maybe that's what it was at the time. Maybe it could be argued that in 1967, songs like "Sunday Will Never be the Same" paled in comparison to what innovative and ground-breaking stuff the Beatles or the Stones or the Who were putting out, and might also be argued that even today the two camps don't compare.

But perhaps they don't compare because it's apples to oranges. If you want to go apples to apples, a fair, direct comparison, you have to compare the "schlock" (the one hit wonders, fast buck feel good ditties and cheesy love songs) of the 60s and 70s to the "schlock" of 80s, 90s and beyond, and by that yardstick, I maintain that post-1980 schlock does not age as well as pre-1980. 

I think much of this has to do with the fact that songs of this type were once built upon melody, rather than rhythm, and more so the fact that the whole process of writing popular music and either performing it yourself or finding someone else to perform it, did not take a pre-fab concept of "celebrity" into consideration so readily.  Nowadays, some form of a slick, glittery celebrity aesthetic is never too far removed from popular music of any kind or quality.  Artists need to look a certain way, comport themselves just so, say the right things at the right time (and lately, take caution never to say the wrong thing, while praying nobody discovers the "wrong" things they may have said 15 years ago). It's all slick and polished, carefully prescribed, produced, and more importantly, presented to a painstakingly scrutinizing audience who know nothing else other than the brightly but artificially colored, hi def world they grew up in, in which image isn't everything, it's the only thing. And that's not even to say that the music is better or worse, necessarily, just different. There are talented artists now, and good music being made, but it is roundly less organic, less accessible, less viscerally felt, I'd say, because the emphasis, the driving force, is always on the artist before the listener. 

"Sunday Will Never be the Same" wasn't about Spanky and our Gang as a group, as entertainers, so much as simply about the Sunday it speaks of, the park, the dying embers of love as clouds roll in. The listener could relate without any need to see Spanky and Our Gang, or care whether they were cool enough to be celebrities. This is a tricky and subtle point I'm making, open to debate surely, but definitely worthy of debate. 

Er, right? 😉

"Nobody waiting for me / Sunday's just another day..."