Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paul McCartney: Indie Pioneer

Despite my being a fan of about 98% of The Beatles' catalog (I could truthfully do without "Birthday," "Good Day Sunshine," and "Mean Mr. Mustard"), I sometimes wonder how many of their songs would actually be "hits" by today's standards.  Sure, one could argue "once a hit, always a hit" -- especially with The Beatles, but I think the legacy of their songs has more to do with the band's godly reputation than with the songs themselves.  Take for example, "All My Loving" -- still a finger-snapping, head-bopping, feel good tune -- but a hit? In 2011, no less? Highly doubtful -- unless of course, your goal is to be the most uncool bloke amongst the young ladies.  In reality, The Beatles "seal of approval" gave otherwise forgettable songs that extra sparkle in their eye (I mean, c'mon, if "From Me To You" was a Herman's Hermits get the point).  Nonetheless, it's hard to dispute that a majority of their songs -- and yes, even the early ones (which I admittedly have a soft spot for) -- remain as unique and inimitable today as they did when first released.  I know -- enough stating the obvious -- I do have a point, promise.

In any event, there is one song in particular that I think stands in a category apart from the rest; a tune so dissonant, hypnotic, and disturbingly elegant, that I have no doubt it would serve as a modern anthem amongst the current hipster/indie/hard rock scene: "Helter Skelter."  As edgy and raucous as it must have been when released in 1968 (to put things in perspective, Led Zeppelin I was released in 1969 and Black Sabbath's Paranoid in 1970), "Helter Skelter" completely enraptures us with Paul's grating vocals, George and John's lo-fi, sonic guitar riffs, and Ringo's uncharacteristic smashing about, all against a backdrop of  pure unadulterated, cacophonous beauty. Panic sets in.  Wasn't I just listening to "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da?" "Blackbird?" "Honey Pie?" "I Will?"  What the fuck is going on?!? This is--is-- fucking BRILLIANT!

Little did he know it, while attempting to make the "heaviest" song known to man (in response to The Who's  "I Can See For Miles"), Paul McCartney in effect, invented indie rock -- the same sound popularized years, even decades, later by bands like The Stooges, Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Strokes and The White Stripes.   That my friends, was the genius of The Beatles (though, I imagine George Martin must have had a coronary at the time).  So cheers to Paul, who despite his unabashed vanity and massive ego, albeit a deserving one, paved the way for a new generation of modern rockers; from Seattle to Manchester to Brooklyn and elsewhere.

And while I recently revered George Harrison as being the "coolest" Beatle, Paul was pretty hip himself -- stringy and bearded, thrashing around while an uber-cool Ringo goes cymbal crazy.  Speaking of, rumour has it Paul and Ringo are playing a secret show at Music Hall of Williamsburg this weekend...

The Beatles, "Helter Skelter"


Anonymous said...

do you guys ever wish there was just hours and hours of live footage available of these guys. from 68-70. just knockin em dead.

WeightStaff said...


And to the author, I have to question your taste in Beatles music. 'Good Day Sunshine' is a great song.

I would say that, while it is a less well known tune, 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is the template for electronic music and hugely influential.

WeightStaff said...

here we go...

respectfully, "Good Day Sunshine" is not a GREAT song. it is a run-of-the-mill album filler at best; plagued with an annoying chorus, which I'm sure is popular amongst the Toddler Tunes circuit, the song has predictably become a satire of itself, frequently used in commercials for over-active-bladder pharmaceuticals, household cleaning products, and according to Wikipedia, it's also played at Safeco Field, when the retractable roof is opened. Case in point.

but yes, "Tomorrow Never Knows" is undoubtedly a maverick in the electronica-pop realm. i agree with you there.

lastly, in response to capt. anonymous, for a band as ubiquitous as the Beatles, it is quite shocking that more of these clips aren't available -- publicly at least. i mean, can you imagine the outtake footage of harrison jamming with billy preston, or mick & keith visting Abbey Road during recording sessions, etc. what a shame.


Anonymous said...


How bout his pot stirrer...of all the beatle songs, the ones that could stand out as modern day hits by some bushwick based indie darling band were all written by George Harrison.

Blue Jay Way/flying
while my guitar gently weeps
only a northern song
its all too much
i me mine


WeightStaff said...

look, each of the beatles have written tunes that would unquestionably be hits today (e.g. and by no means an inclusive list: Lennon: "cry baby cry," "happiness is a warm gun," "don't let me down," "hey bulldog;"
McCartney: "helter skelter," "why don't we do it in the road," "i've got a feeling;"
each of the aforementioned George songs;
even Ringo -- whose "don't pass me by" could be a easily be a drunken dive bar sing-a-long)
Shit, I would argue that all of the White Album and Let It Be would be massively popular if released today for the first time.

But i do agree -- there is something about George (no pun intended) that transcends -- and for reasons i can't quite verbalize; his relevance resonates today in a much different way than Paul's or even John's -- and certainly more now than in the 80's and 90's; maybe it was his stoic snarkiness, his subtle wit, or his unassuming good looks *blush*, just to name a few qualities. George was no doubt "in" on the Beatles "joke" -- if I dare call it that. Take Anthology for example: in post-Beatles interviews, he never referred to the band as "we" or "us" -- always "them" or "the Beatles" -- always in the third person. paul was too accessible and too pompous; ringo too much of a ham; lennon too self-absorbed. but george, I think, was the only member who could candidly put the band's legacy in perspective; in a way, he got off on trivializing the band: E.g. on The Beatles' second visit to Shea Stadium : "Yeah, okay I don't remember ever going there twice..." Quintessential George! indeed, it's those who play hard to get who are always most alluring. okay, now i'm rambling. i'll stop.

on a related note, we could be very close to the release of Scorsese's long-awaited Harrison documentary, Living In The Material World: George Harrison. According to IMDB, the film is in post-production with a 2011 release date.
Scorsese + Harrison = Epic.