It’s weird how some people are born with powers of persuasion. They can talk you into anything or at the very least, they can change your mind – sometimes without you even noticing it. I used to work with this guy David from New Orleans, a great salesman, who was seriously into Paul McCartney. I am an ardent Beatles fan, so whenever we got a chance, we’d talk about the fab four. The thing is, I’ve always been more a Lennon man myself but lo and behold, after talking to David for more than an hour, I became convinced that McCartney was God. In fact, David was so convincing that it would take at least the drive home for me to realize what had happened, that my mind had been tampered with (smiling even as I write this). The cool thing about these drives though was that for the first time ever, I truly began to listen to McCartney’s albums. I bought them all one by one in a rather short while. I knew the hits but obviously, there were many killer tracks on those CDs I had never heard: “Big Barn Bed,” “The Note You Never Wrote,” “Letting Go,” “Café On The Left Bank” and “Somebody Who Cares” – to name just a few. And it was through these slightly more obscure tracks that I began to appreciate this immensely talented man, who more often than not, was the driving force behind the Beatles.
The problem with getting into Sir Paul’s music lies, believe it or not, at least partly with the critics. Here’s how the Time Magazine critic Josh Tyrangiel described the relationship between music critics and McCartney in his praising review of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard: “If you want to scare a music critic, whisper these four words in his ear: new Paul McCartney album.” Given that music critics often praise albums that are mediocre at best, I have a hard time understanding why McCartney is such a red rag to them. For some very strange reason, McCartney is often slagged off as nothing more than a soppy balladeer. I’m not saying he hasn’t been guilty of this on an occasion; I am, however, claiming that this characterization is too one-dimensional to describe McCartney as an artist – not to mention more than a little unfair.
And here’s another claim, regardless of what the critics say, a big portion of his post-Beatles output has been pretty brilliant. However, it’s always been trendy for critics to bash McCartney, so in a way, the quality of the output never really mattered. And it seems that the harder he tried, the harder they hit. And obviously, what John said in his interviews during the seventies didn’t really help. Our track of the week, McCartney’s “Lonely Road” off his excellent Driving Rain album, is a good example of how time and again Paul delivered tracks that were every bit as good as the ones he wrote for the Beatles and for the most part, this wasn’t really acknowledged.
A Wings-flavored rocker, “Lonely Road” starts off with McCartney’s whimsical bass and grows little by little: in comes the guitar, the lead vocal, the percussion, the keyboard, the drums and by the time we get to the first chorus, it’s already a party – and the best thing here is that it’s a rock’n’roll party. And to sell this track even more, this song’s from 2001, so McCartney still has almost full control of his voice and as a result, delivers an incredibly inspired vocal performance on this track. And no, I’m not just talking about the lead vocal (although that alone is enough to send shivers down your spine – check out the ad-libbing towards the end). The harmony that kicks in at the start of the third verse is phenomenal, bringing back memories of a guy who used to harmonize with John Lennon on songs such as “Hey Bulldog” and “Come Together.”
Lyrically, “Lonely Road” finds McCartney somewhere in between trying to cope with the loss of Linda and attempting to find courage to move on with his new love (most likely his now ex-wife Heather Mills).
I tried to get over you
I tried to find something new
But all I could ever do
Was fill my time with thoughts of you
These are the words of a man, who is trying his best not to move on. He is trying to shake his old love off his mind but he’s not being very successful.
This inner controversy, the doubt about letting go of the past to have a chance of happiness in the future, is described well in “Lonely Road” and if you only allow it, it’ll bring tears to your eyes. I’m sure losing your spouse is a nightmare regardless of the circumstances. However, theirs was more than your usual marriage. Paul and Linda shared pretty much everything: they watched the Beatles break up, wrote awesome tunes together, toured the world with Wings, brought up kids while doing it all and fought for animal rights as a united front that never wavered. It’s very seldom that I look at other people’s marriages with utter and profound admiration, especially if they are perfect strangers to me, but I did admire what the McCartneys were able to build together and continue to do so. And needless to say, what makes “Lonely Road” even more touching than anything I’ve mentioned so far is the trepidation in the lines: “Don’t want to get hurt second time around/Don’t want to walk that lonely road again.”
Both “Lonely Road” and Driving Rain, the album it’s featured on, rank among McCartney’s best work. His decision to go back to a little four-piece rock’n’roll band on this album really paid off. Come to think of it, perhaps that decision is at least one reason why the tracks on Driving Rain are such triumphs. Another reason is that for this album, McCartney clearly went back to the music of his youth and it really does make all the difference in the world. These songs are inspired and have bite, proving that in 2001 McCartney’s career was far from over. In fact, little did we know then that he was embarking on what ultimately has become the most critically acclaimed phase of his solo career. So much so that in 2018, the man is still going strong. And if there’s one thing that Driving Rain proves better than any other McCartney album is that Paul McCartney is one damn good bass player, truly one of the best. Listen to “Lonely Road” and the accompanying tracks and you will know what I am talking about.
And now back to Sir Paul and music critics for just a bit before closing. While critics haven’t always been kind to him over the years, he has struck back quite a few times – the Beatles were always rather clever with the press. My favorite response of his has to be the one he gave to a music journalist criticizing the Beatles’ White Album. It’s the type of response that I’m sure quite a few musicians and rock stars have wanted to give over the years. Here’s what he said: “It’s the Beatles’ White Album. Shut up!”
Check out the official music video of “Lonely Road.”
And here’s McCartney talking about the songs on his brilliant Memory Almost Full album from 2007. Any fan of Paul will enjoy this a lot.
You can learn more about Paul McCartney here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.