“Nothing Is Real” is an excellent podcast. Two Irish guys talk enthusiastically and knowledgably about The Beatles. They respect each other’s point of view but don’t always agree on everything. Jason is a Paul McCartney fan and Steven is a George Harrison fan. They both love the Beatles and their solo work but are not afraid to criticise when they don’t like something. In anticipation of “McCartney III” which is released in a few weeks time, they devoted yesterday’s podcast to “McCartney”, his first solo album released in 1970. It has inspired me to listen to it again with a fresh perspective. They mentioned that a few of the songs from that album are on “Unplugged” and that has led me to dig this album out from the shelves. I bought it second hand a couple of years ago and I’d forgotten how good it is.
Between 1989 and 1999, the MTV channel hosted a number of acoustic concerts which they called “Unplugged”. Some of the performances are amazing, others less so. Bob Dylan allegedly gave a fantastic rehearsal concert and then changed all the songs for a more mundane broadcast version. Some artists cheated and played electric and/or amplified instruments. Many artists released albums called “Unplugged”.
At this concert, Paul McCartney played with Linda McCartney, Hamish Stuart (formerly of The Average White Band on bass), Robbie McIntosh (formerly with The Pretenders on guitars), Paul Wickens (keyboards) and Blair Cunningham (percussion).
The album starts with “Be-Bop-A-Lula”, originally recorded by Gene Vincent and a highlight of The Beatles’ Hamburg shows. John Lennon recorded it for his 1975 album “Rock’n’Roll”. “I Lost My Little Girl” was the first song that Paul McCartney ever wrote, in 1956. It was never recorded by The Beatles unlike “Here There And Everywhere” which follows and is generally considered to be one of his best compositions. “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was written by Bill Monroe and made popular by Elvis Presley; it was almost certainly a favourite of The Beatles in the Fifties. “We Can Work Out” was half of The Beatles first Double A side with “Day Tripper” and was probably written about his relationship with Jane Asher. On this performance, Paul McCartney gets the words wrong at the start and they have to restart. “San Francisco Bay Blues” was made popular by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot whose real name was Elliot Charles Adnopoz. “I’ve Just Seen A Face” was written in the late Fifties by Paul McCartney and released on “Help!” in 1965.
“Every Night” was originally released on “McCartney” and was one of the few genuine songs to appear on the album, bearing in mind that most of the songs were either instrumentals, very short or a bit
unlistenable experimental. The opening lines refer to his wanting to leave home and “get out of his head” but what he really wants to do is to “stay home and be with you”. Whilst the release of this song after the breakup of The Beatles has often been considered to be about his reaction to the dissolution of his “family”, it is worth considering that he first tried this song out in the “Get Back” sessions in early 1969 and it was written on holiday in Greece in 1967. It’s a lovely song and this is a great version.
“She’s A Woman” was the B side to “I Feel Fine” and contains the lines “My love don’t give me presents. I know that she’s no peasant.” Good rhyme, poor choice of words. This was the first Beatles song to last for more than three minutes. In the original version, Paul McCartney is imitating the vocal style of one of his musical heroes, Little Richard. This version is taken at a lower pitch. “Hi-Heel Sneakers” was originally written and performed by Tommy Tucker in 1963. “And I Love Her” is a beautiful song and is showcased in a lovely scene in “A Hard Day’s Night”. Paul McCartney always gave George Harrison credit for the guitar riff on the original song which is missing in this much slower version.
“That Would Be Something” was also originally released on “McCartney”. It was a song that George Harrison particularly liked. There’s no record of Paul McCartney giving this title as the answer to a question about what George Harrison song he most admired. This version has a lovely guitar solo played on a National guitar by Robbie McIntosh.
“Blackbird” is a phenomenal song which was written in Rishikesh in 1968 and was his reaction to the protests over race relations in the USA at the time. This is a great version. “Ain’t No Sunshine” was a hit for Bill Withers in 1971 who was a factory worker making bathrooms for 747s when he wrote the song. (Cue Ben’s favourite joke – Q: How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? A: Put it in an oven and wait until it’s Bill Withers). After the song became a huge hit, Bill Withers’ record company presented him with a golden toilet seat. “Good Rocking Tonight” was a hit for Roy Brown in 1947 and some people contend that it is the first ever rock’n’roll record. “Singing The Blues” was a US hit for Guy Mitchell in 1956 and a UK Number One hit for Tommy Steele in 1957 which was presumably Paul McCartney’s first exposure to it.
“Junk” is the third song on this album that was released on “McCartney”. It’s another perfect melodious Paul McCartney song. He rehearsed it with The Beatles after returning from Rishikesh and versions of it appear on “Anthology 3” and “The Esher Demos”. The version on “Unplugged” which closes the album is an instrumental, played wonderfully well.
The release of “McCartney III” on December 11th is eagerly awaited in this corner of West Sussex. “Unplugged” is a bit of a throwaway album but the musicianship on display is unbeatable. The man is a genius, easily misunderstood because of his approachability, his thumbs up gestures, his self effacing Liverpudlian wit and some of the mistakes he has made over the course of the last 78 years. Make no mistake, in a hundred years time, in a thousand years time, his legacy will be live on and our descendants will look back enviously at our luck in living in the time of McCartney.