BBC Radio music programme Mastertapes normally focuses on one album in an artists’ career, but fawningly threw its format out the window for a recent special episode with Sir Paul McCartney that offered close to nothing in the way of real insight and instead – appropriately enough with Pure McCartney around the corner – ended up being a rambling and unfocussed ‘greatest hits’ of Macca stories, quotes and ‘revelations’.
Not sticking to the format was a disaster, since everything was skimmed over with a glossy lack of detail. Of the nine albums Paul issued in the 1970s only two were even mentioned by Paul, McCartney from 1970 and Band on the Run from 1973. For the latter, all the usual stories came up which Paul has talked about regularly (band members quit before leaving for Lagos, studio not ready, being mugged etc). To be fair, host John Wilson did try to bring Paul around to RAM, but nothing came of it.
Wilson did talk briefly about McCartney II and in particular Coming Up from 1980. He couldn’t resist bringing up the oft-quoted line about how it stirred John Lennon into action with Double Fantasy. Here Today from Tug of War was referenced, but no other albums issued in the 31 years between 1982 and 2013 were even considered worthy of a mention!
Paul was allowed to cruise through the interview on automatic pilot, talking about how he ‘dreamt’ the melody to Yesterday, the ‘heavy’ Beatles break-up, heading up to Scotland with Linda, playing to Universities with Wings, going to Lagos to record Band on the Run, and making up with John in the late 1970s by discussing things like baking bread, etc. There was no turbulence at all for Mr McCartney. Anyone with half an interest in the ex-Beatle’s career would have heard these stories so many times before.
Paul Weller, one of the many celebrity guests (why do celebrities need to be in the audience?) actually asked the most interesting question of the session when he queried whether Paul resented always having to play Beatles hits in place of newer material. McCartney batted it away with a rather bland answer about how when he goes to concerts, all he wants to hear is the hits, too! This rather misses the point that McCartney doesn’t play his own ‘hits’ either. Say Say Say and No More Lonely Nights have never been played live, for example.
Paul’s collaboration with Kanye West was brought up which was probably the only uncomfortable moment of the interview. Not because John Wilson put Paul under any pressure but rather because McCartney seemed oblivious to the fact that, for many, West is a talentless fool who shouldn’t have got within a mile of a songwriter of Paul’s calibre.
The event reached its nadir when friend-of-the-family Noel Gallagher was allowed to ask Paul a question, and wasted it with the oh-so-hilarious inquiry about which of his daughters, Mary or Stella, Paul liked the best. Seriously. Remember, there were probably disappointed fans in the audience, who wanted to ask an intelligent question and didn’t get the opportunity.
Mastertapes could have picked an interesting McCartney album to analyse forensically such as Wings’ Wild Life, or Back to the Egg. Neither of those works have been discussed to death and both would have surely proved a worthy area of discussion. But inexplicably Mastertapes simply allowed Paul to ramble on in very familiar territory about his life, with nothing contentious ever brought up, such his split with Denny Laine in the early eighties, his ‘wilderness’ years in the second half of that decade, or Paul’s commercial decline (he hasn’t had a UK top 10 single for close to 30 years).
The BBC and John Wilson appeared rather star struck and the whole thing seemed designed to appeal to the widest audience possible and to look good, visually on iPlayer, with all those famous faces in the audience. As a journalistic endeavour to deliver new insight into McCartney’s approach to recording albums, it was a total failure and to be frank, a complete waste of licence fee.
You can watch/listen to Mastertapes here (geographical restrictions will apply)