I doubt if I will ever visit America again which is very disappointing. Between 2001 and 2019, I had 12 holidays there and only the New England trip didn’t live up to expectations. In particular, everywhere West of the Mississippi River was fascinating. At first, everything seemed familiar but, over time, the differences between the U.K. and the U.S.A. became apparent. The language caused many humorous moments – I asked for butter and the waitress thought I was referring to her butt; Pete said “please” and was given a “police” discount. Monument Valley is the most remarkable place on Earth and San Francisco is the most vibrant city. Some great memories.
Ah! Great: I’ve used a superlative about America. Why is the baseball competition the “World Series”? Why are the pockets on an American pool table bigger? Why is it possible to “supersize” a takeaway order? Why did Trump become President by promising to Make America Great again? Does everything have to be bigger? Why do we all have to have a “great” day?
Much of the music I like originated from America. Hang on, the music probably originates from Africa or the Celts. I’ll rephrase. Much of the music I like was written and/or recorded in America. Nobody writes in a vacuum and every song that anyone has listened to informs a writer’s composition and playing. So it’s true to say that songs written by Americans between 1920 and 1960 are important and influential. Referring to a canon of showtunes, jazz standards and other songs as “The American Songbook” seems entirely appropriate. But no, that’s not good enough. These songs have to be called “The Great American Songbook”. To be frank, in my opinion, these songs are not great. Most of the songs from The Great American Songbook are not to my taste. I can respect their influence and I understand that many people love these songs. I just don’t like them very much and I’d leave it there except the use of the word “great” implies an objective statement of fact rather than a subjective opinion. We don’t refer to The Great West Coast Scene of the late 60s. That would be presumptuous.
The first “rock star” to record a selection of standards from The American Songbook, was Ringo Starr, whose “Sentimental Journey” * was recorded soon after John Lennon told the rest of The Beatles, in late 1969, that he was leaving the band. Its release on 27th March 1970 occurred during a frantic period of releases which included “McCartney” (17th April 1970) and “Let It Be” (8th May 1970). Ringo Starr’s album reached Number 7 in the U.K. Charts.
Since Ringo Starr’s breakthrough album, many artists have recorded similar albums. “A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night” by Harry Nilsson (1973), “Stardust” by Willie Nelson (1978), “What’s New” by Linda Ronstadt (1983), “Pop Pop” * by Rickie Lee Jones (1991), “Songs From The Last Century” by George Michael (2000), “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell (2000), “The Great American Songbook Volumes I-V” * by Rod Stewart (2002-2010), “Shadows In The Night” (2015) have all been albums with a similar concept to “Kisses On The Bottom”, digging deep into The American Songbook.
*These albums contain a version of “Bye Bye Blackbird”, a song that has also been covered by Joe Cocker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Van Morrison, Nina Simone and Alison Moyet. The optimism of the song made it popular during “The Great Depression” (why was it “great”?). Some people have conjectured that the blackbird is a sex worker and the singer is about to return home to a wholesome girlfriend. Other interpretations suggest that the singer is a sex worker and the blackbird refers to the mean streets where she works. During the Sixties, the American Civil Rights movement found that segregationists were using the song as an anti-black anthem.
“Kisses On The Bottom” was released in 2012, five years after “Memory Almost Full” and one year before “New”. The two original songs, “My Valentine” (which he has performed during his recent shift US tour) and “Only Our Hearts” represent his only original material released during a six year period, during which he divorced Heather Mills and married Nancy Shevell.
A few days ago, there was a silly article in “Far Out” magazine, listing the one song to skip on each Beatles album. “There’s A Place”? Please Mr Postman”? “Doctor Robert” ? Come on! I, of course, listed my own songs and decided that “A Taste Of Honey” and “Till There Was You” would be my choices from “Please Please Me” and “With The Beatles”. Paul McCartney grew up in a music loving household and his love of show tunes was always evident and possibly an important factor in developing his artistry in creating melodies. So it was no great surprise that he chose to record an album of “standards”.
Paul McCartney has a great voice. The guy that recorded “I’m Down”, “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and “Yesterday” on June 14th, 1965, has a brilliantly versatile voice. I make no apology for using the adjective, “great”, in this context. However, it is a matter of opinion whether or not his voice is suited to songs such as “Bye Bye Blackbird”, “The Glory Of Love” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”. What is not in question is the musical brilliance of the musicians he worked with on this album. Diana Krall is Elvis Costello’s wife but, more importantly, is a phenomenal piano player and she assembled a stellar cast of jazz musicians to perform on the album.
The album reached Number 3 in the U.K. Charts and Number 5 in the USA. Bob Dylan once released an album called “Another Side Of Bob Dylan”. This album could have been called “Yet Another Side Of Paul McCartney – The Versatile Genius”.