So here it begins, the part of the series that’s even more purely hypothetical and less believable than before. Starting here we have to cope with long layoffs between recordings, imbalances between available Paul material vs. anybody else (until the 2000s, when Ringo suddenly gets prolific — and then we have the opposite problem), diminishing quality of said material in many cases, and of course the absence of John Lennon.
We are dealing with that last part by using Julian Lennon’s sporadic output (as explained in Part 2, that was the least of all evils for me). Here, at least, the transition from John to Julian is made smoother by the fact that most of Julian’s best known and most Beatlesque songs are on his 1984 debut album, Valotte. I initially thought that, combined with the best of Paul’s early ‘80s work, would combine to create one of the best albums of this series.
But for some reason, I don’t think it does.
Maybe it’s because for the first time, the Beatles don’t come off sounding like they’re doing anything remotely groundbreaking compared to what else was going on musically at the time. Amidst the zenith of the second British Invasion, the Beatles would embrace the concept of making videos seamlessly (after all, they’d already been doing it for years – the ‘60s movies were essentially 90-minute music videos), but would not have attracted the same fan base as the MTV stars of the day such as Duran Duran, the Human League, etc… Rather, they would have reached “elder statesmen of rock” status by this point. Tug Of Peace would certainly have been a hit, and perhaps a Gen-X guilty pleasure as it aged, but ultimately not a true Beatles classic.
Of course, none of the post-1980 albums in this series can truly reach ‘classic’ status without John around, so let’s all just lower our standards a bit and enjoy them for what they are, which would still be the highlight of many bands’ careers.
“Tug of War” – The real life McCartney album for which this is the title track was universally praised at the time (probably because it sounded more like the Beatles than anything since Band On the Run), but hasn’t aged as well for me as I thought it would. Still, certain tracks, such as this straightforward cry for peace, hold their own.
“Take It Away” – I couldn’t break up the sequence here, so we have to start with a double shot of Paul. I couldn’t go more than 45 minutes on the radio without hearing this in the summer of ’82, but I’ve gotten over that and now can’t help but sing along. And hey, look who’s on drums!
“OK For You” – And here he is, with the biggest shoes anyone ever had to fill. This album track from Valotte has an early ‘80s energy that is somewhat lacking on Tug of Peace overall, so I thought it would be a good addition. And it’s finally happened: I’ve picked a song with NO YOUTUBE LINK! Well, I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.
“Sat Singing” – Another thing I never knew before starting this blog is how George’s record label bullied him into starting his Somewhere in England album over from near-scratch because the songs weren’t upbeat enough. Most of that album has never done much for me, but then I discovered that two of the scrapped tracks are, in my opinion, better than any of the ones that made it. This is one of them; the other is coming in Part 9.
“Valotte” – Julian’s first and vastly underrated single, which drew obvious comparisons to his dad and put some ridiculously unfair pressure on him. The guitar solo still gives me goosebumps. So where did the title of this song and the album come from? Simple: it was written at a French Chateau called the Manor du Valotte. I honestly think this would’ve been a bigger hit if he’d given it a more accessible title. And another YouTube mystery: the studio version doesn’t seem to be out there. So we’ll have to settle for this live version, but it’s pretty faithful to the album.
“Blow Away” – So why did this end up here instead of on 1980’s Rockestra? Well, I was struggling with fitting all the songs I wanted to on Rockestra, whereas George’s two early ‘80s albums are not exactly chock full of killer tunes, to put it nicely. And I’ve always thought this song had more of an early ‘80s feel to it anyway, so I think it fits better here.
“So Bad” – I don’t know why I’ve always liked this one so much, I just do. Probably for the same reason I like “Girlfriend.” Another Ringo sighting on drums. I forgot how cool this video was too, with the black and white photos morphing into live action color. So ‘80s…
“Say You’re Wrong” – One of my favorite segues, as the drums kick in to pick things up after the cheesiness. This is another Julian song that was a reasonable-sized hit but that you just never hear much these days, and kind of has a Rubber Soul era feel to it.
“You’ve Got a Nice Way” – From Ringo’s Stop and Smell the Roses LP in 1981, because 1983’s Old Wave was his last album for nine years and only had one song on it I felt was worthy (which we’ll get to next time). A recording that could only have been made in 1981-83. You’ll see what I mean.
“Wanderlust” – The whole concept of a counter-melody, where two different parts of a song are sung separately at first, but then eventually brought together and sung over the same chords, is a trick used often in show tunes, but I can count the examples of it in the rock genre on one hand: The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature,” UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” Manfred Mann’s “Runner,” and this track from Paul’s Tug of War. Can anyone think of another example? It’s things like this that keep me up at night.
“Life Itself” – The only track from the REAL Somewhere in England I can appreciate for its finer points. The excessive bounciness of the rest of the album just doesn’t hold up; what can I say.
“Pipes of Peace” – And another somewhat embarrassing solo Beatle LP, from which this was the title track, was released in 1983, quite obviously mostly an unfinished-sounding collection of songs that weren’t good enough to make it onto Tug of War. But it has a couple shining moments, and this is one of them, making a bookend to the album opener (which may have been the original intention when Paul was envisioning a double album). And what a statement to have the video re-enact the Christmas Day in WWI when the British and Germans stopped the fighting and played football and drank together.
“Too Late for Goodbyes” – Except it’s not quite a bookend, because we get this bouncy little number to let off tension at the end. I’m sure we’ve all heard this song way more than we can stomach, but just try and imagine never having heard it before and then having it as a cute little coda to this album. Come on, work with me here.
WELL KNOWN SONGS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT
Numerous duets – you know them, you love them, you hate them, whatever, they don’t belong here. Guest background vocalists maybe, guest keyboardists for sure, but as much as I love ‘em both, I don’t see Stevie or MJ taking over half the vocals on any “official” Beatle track.
“All Those Years Ago” – If Julian is actually John in the Fixing a Hole blogosphere, this wouldn’t have been written. If John still died, the Beatles would’ve put out an emergency single in 1981, but I have a feeling that Paul’s “Here Today” would’ve been the more likely candidate. Perhaps with this as the B-side. Or something better (sorry George).
“Dream Away” – Mom, dad, don’t touch that! It’s evil!
Take it Away b/w Blood From a Clone, #4, 1983
Valotte b/w The Other Me, #2, 1983 (kept out of the #1 spot by Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart,” much to the disgust of Beatle fans across America)
Blow Away b/w On the Phone, #12, 1983
Say You’re Wrong b/w Dress Me Up as a Robber, #16, 1984
Next Time: Beatles…. in…. spaaaacce!!!!! (crescendo)