Paul and Linda McCartney: “Smile Away”
Normally, Friday posts are of the “Cover Friday” variety, but today is an exception: I’m taking my sons to see Paul McCartney tonight at Seattle’s Safeco Field. The seats aren’t great (the good ones were way too expensive), but no matter — it’s the experience that counts. Who knows how many more times Paul will go out on tour, after all — he sure isn’t getting any younger! — so I figured I’d better get the boys to the show while I still can. I saw him previously back in the ’90s in Foxboro, MA. I don’t necessarily have high hopes that this will be a great show, given that his voice isn’t what it used to be, but hey, we’re seeing a legend, so who cares?
Sure, I could have done today’s post as a Cover Friday post anyway, but oddly, there aren’t any particularly good McCartney solo or Wings covers that I can think of offhand — they all tend to mostly be songs recorded for the McCartney tribute albums a few years back. Very few McCartney covers sound like anything but imitations of his own performances — very little interesting is done with them. The most notable exception is probably the Faces’ excellent version of “Maybe I’m Amazed,” but even that varies little from the original. Something about McCartney’s post-Beatles work has proven to be somewhat cover-proof — I think he began to write so specifically for himself that he’s the only one who knows what to do with the songs.
Take, for example, “Smile Away,” a great yet goofy track from his second album, 1971’s Ram (the album is credited to Paul & Linda McCartney, just prior to the formation of Wings, and yes, Linda is featured more prominently than on any other McCartney album). It’s a great song, but like many of McCartney’s great ’70s songs, it’s set to some pretty silly lyrics:
I was walking down the street the other day
Who did I meet
I met a friend of mine and he did say
Man I can smell your feet a mile away
Repeat a couple of times, replacing “feet” with “breath” and “teeth,” and you’ve got the entire song. For someone who wrote some pretty great lyrics with the Beatles (although certainly not without plenty of silliness along the way — “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” and “All Together Now,” for example), McCartney rarely seemed to have interest in writing anything but lightweight lyrics throughout the ’70s. Thankfully, this is Paul McCartney we’re talking about, so while he tended toward the lightweight lyrically, he also had the ability to throw off fantastic melodies as effortlessly as most of us turn on the television. And that made all the difference. “Smile Away” rocks.
Ram is chock full of great little songs like this, with a homemade feel overall — and although I feel that it’s one of his top three solo albums, most of these songs are unfamiliar to the casual listener, save for “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and maybe “Heart of the Country.” And that says something about McCartney’s talent — that these songs can get taken for granted when they come from him. Some critics of the album have called it mostly “filler,” but this is only filler in McCartney terms. For many other songwriters, it would have made their career.