Saturday, June 18, 2011
How Can I Tell You About My Loved One?
It was 35 years ago this month that Wings' "Silly Love Songs" was in the midst of ruling the Billboard charts, staying at Number One for five weeks and putting up the longest chart-topping reign since Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" had also been Number One for five weeks, back in the winter of '73. "Silly Love Songs" was greeted by the critics as the apotheosis of McCartney as the Cute One, a harmless bit of fluff that was better off ignored. But it has held up remarkably well, not just as a superbly crafted pop single but as McCartney's cri de coeur.
"Silly Love Songs" was in a way a step forward. McCartney had been in the habit of constructing multi-part pop suites, like "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and "Band on the Run" - arguably dating back to "Hey Jude" - but for "Silly Love Songs," he integrated all those ideas into one fluid number. "Silly" has as many moving parts as those earlier records, but by sliding back and forth between them, he creates a song that floats along ephemerally without ever seeming repetitive. Did you realize this thing goes on for almost six minutes? At the time, it was the fifth-longest Number One single of all time,* yet it never flags for a second.
The lyrics are as much a statement of purpose for McCartney as "1999" is for Prince, or "I Hate Music" for the Replacements. This is a man who made his bones on silly love songs, as the early Beatles basically put dummy lyrics into many of their songs. If you want to hear a really silly love song, go listen to "Eight Days a Week."
The biggest problem for McCartney, with respect to these '70s records, was that he just may have been too happy. Sting famously said about songwriting, "If you have not got any pain, you better go get some." I think that's probably a pretty good idea, especially since most of us wouldn't pass up an opportunity to inflict some pain on Sting. But Paul in the 1970s seems just plain glad to be alive. The Paul and Linda marriage was more durable and equitable than the much ballyhooed John-and-Yoko union. Until Paul was jailed in Tokyo for eleven days in 1979, they had never spent a night of their marriage apart.
Paul didn't go around writing songs that claimed, "I just believe in me, in Linder and me," because he didn't have to; his music said it for him. Paul was devoted enough to always keep Linda in the band, but sensible enough to let the soundman turn down her mike during concerts. That seems like the right balance to me.
Is there a McCartney song expressing genuine anguish between "Let It Be" and the death of John Lennon? I don't think so. I think his only real option was to express how full of delight his life was, and so that's what he did. "Silly Love Songs" fosters that sense of joy and optimism, and even its length bespeaks a man who never wants his life to end. Plus it has one of the most indelible basslines of all time. And what's wrong with that? I'd like to know.
* "American Pie," "Hey Jude," "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," and Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."