Now that my Yoko Ono series is over, I can safely return to my other regularly-scheduled Beatles blogging — and that means the Top 5 lists.
Clearly, it was time for a Paul list. I’ve done my Top 5 John vocals, my Top 5 George songs, and Paul needs a turn. Paul, like John, was a truly excellent vocalist (and though he’s lost some of his range with age, mostly still is). And putting together his list, again like John’s (which I would now change if I could), was difficult.
In his case, it wasn’t because there were so many incredibly above par songs, like there were with John, but because Paul was remarkably consistent with his vocal work. With the exception of, say, Wild Honey Pie, they’re all really good. Paul didn’t turn in bad or lazy vocals. Unlike John, who reportedly loathed doing a vocal take more than once all the way through, Paul would literally do it 100 times if necessary to get the exact sound he wanted.
So I’ve gone through, and tried to pick five tracks where Paul’s vocal work really just went that tiny bit above and beyond all the rest. And surely, someone is going to have my head for failing to include Yesterday. But . . . here we go.
1. Let It Be
There are few songs in this world that I would describe as “perfect.” There are also very few songs in this world that have ever made me cry just by listening. Let It Be is both. I personally think it’s the best song that Paul McCartney has ever written and performed. I think it’s one of the very, very best Beatles songs. And Paul’s vocal is a huge part of that perfection and emotion.
Written about his mother (whose name was Mary; and who died of cancer when he was 14, mere months before he met John Lennon), it shows a vulnerability that isn’t, frankly, often heard coming from Paul. And the way that he sings my favorite line — “there will be an answer” — gets me every time.
Blackbird is a truly great and understated little song. Paul’s vocal is extremely simple, and extremely exposed. It feels as though Paul’s singing only for himself, and that’s a beautiful thing. Though it’s a great guitar bit, the vocal really is the song. And it’s a wonderful song.
3. Got To Get You Into My Life
One of the best songs on one of their best albums, Got To Get You Into My Life is jubilant, and Paul’s double-tracked vocal reflects that. He gives it his all and delivers perfectly. Leave it to Paul to sing about drugs in such a way that a love song had never before inspired!
4. I Saw Her Standing There
From the exuberant count in and throughout, Paul’s voice sounds youthful, excited and unflinching — all of which, in 1963, he was. One, and perhaps the biggest, of Paul McCartney’s often exposed John Lennon-related inferiority complexes is that Paul feels he never gets the credit he deserves for also being a rock musician, like John, rather than just a writer of lovely little ballads. You want the credit, Paul? You got it.
(And thanks to Ian for necessarily drawing a completely obvious pick to my attention.)
5. Eleanor Rigby
Number 5 is always the hardest to pick. Indeed, I just changed my mind at the last minute while writing a description for my previous pick, which I intended to publish. But no, I’m giving it to Eleanor Rigby. Why did I change my mind? Because it’s better. Duh.
And now for a bonus track . . .
6. The Long and Winding Road… Naked
This was my real number 5. No, not the one I just replaced, but the reason why I had so much trouble coming up with a number 5 at all. Indeed, I might have actually placed it higher than that.
You see, I always hated this song. Because Phil Spector fucking ruined it with all of his strings and other ridiculous bullshit. I thought it was just a horrible, sappy piece of absolute shit, if we’re being perfectly honest, for many, many years.
That was until I heard Let It Be… Naked, released in 2003. I was really opposed to it being released when it first was. Because I don’t think that John and George would have wanted it (though George allegedly gave his permission before his death). They both wanted Phil Spector to produce, and they hated the infamous “Get Back” tapes. Paul was the one who liked them. And I didn’t like how Paul released them with both John and George now dead.
But once I finally heard the album, I did understood why he did it. With the single exception of the title track (and the tacked on Don’t Let Me Down, which is also better in its original form), every cut was vastly superior. And none more so than The Long and Winding Road.
It is, in fact a beautiful song. And Paul’s vocal is just wonderful. It is, like with Let It Be, a rare moment of vulnerability on Paul’s part. It makes you feel for him. It really does. And when he sings (again, my favorite line) “many times I’ve been alone/and many times I’ve cried/anyway, you’ve always known/the many ways I’ve tried” you’d almost swear that we see into his soul for just a moment.
That’s why it belongs up there, and why, if I could have managed to convince myself that it qualified as a part of official Beatles canon, I would have absolutely included it. That’s why it’s below.
And there you have it. Bring it on, Paul lovers. How have I managed to inadvertently insult your mighty hero this time? And, the more rational among you, what are your favorite Paul McCartney vocals?