018 Sir Paul McCartney, ‘Distractions’

Posted by on Jun 17, 2021 in Rock, Song Of the week |

The Beatles, 50 years in the grave, made a major media brouhaha on 09.09.09 (wow, how cosmic! Just like ‘Revolution #9’, how, how—how—meaningless?), releasing lots of old tapes remastered, remixed, repackaged, and (most importantly) remarketed. I saw there’s also a really exciting (and expensive) new Beatles video game (which Paul admitted he hasn’t seen, so I’m not quite clear in what sense it’s a Beatles product).

From the little I read, I saw that George Martin’s son was responsible for some remixing, as he was for the ‘Love’ travesty (of which I’m proud to say I haven’t heard more than 10 seconds in passing on the radio). Young Giles Martin said about ‘Love’, “What people will be hearing on the album is a new experience, a way of re-living the whole Beatles musical lifespan in a very condensed period.” Really? What is this world coming to? What ever happened to ‘an artist creates his thing, puts it out for the public, and THAT’S IT‘. He dies. The work stays. Either stays interesting or not. But as for the creative act, it’s over, folks. LET IT BE. The Beatles are dead. They made some 12 and a half albums. Go listen to them and shaddap.

You want to be part of a living audience responding to great popular music? Create your own idols. Leave ours alone!
You don’t have any that good? Tough. Enjoy what you have.
You want to listen to ours? Please, feel free. It’s a wonderful thing to go back in time and become acquainted with the masters. But don’t fiddle with them. Don’t try to recreate them. Respect what they did and leave their legacy as they left it.

And for God’s sake, don’t try to resurrect the pitiful, withered old farts that are still touring. Is there someone who really prefers this guy to this one?

I don’t enjoy bashing Paul McCartney. Or John Lennon, for that matter. But with Paul it’s more of an issue. Because every time he releases a new CD and the kids and DJs and writers start with their “great, stunning, landmark, comeback though he’s never been away” litany, I get that fingernails-on-the-blackboard feeling. But I control myself, usually. I don’t go running down the block shouting “The new CD is crap, Paul is Dead, all you teenie-jerks don’t know what you’re talking about, the end of the world is coming.” It’s not until the eager-faced wannabes shove the CD at me and say, “Oh, you have to hear this, it’s as good as the Beatles” that I start to lose it.

That’s why I got such a snotty, perverse pleasure when asked some summers ago if I was going to spend a small king’s ransom (a full ransom for a small king, that is) to actually really be in the live presence of the septugenarian Sir Paul and his betty-boop boys singing “Band on the Run” just like it sounds on the CD, I tersely responded, “No, I’ve already seen him. With his original band.” And their jaws would drop open, and they would ask in awe, “You mean you saw Wings??” And I would let my eyelids droop just a little, to show the anguish their ignorance was causing me, “No, with The Beatles. And the show was crap then, 20,000 teenie-boppers screaming and drowning out a primitive sound system half a mile away, somewhere between the pitcher’s mound and second base. And I sure ain’t going back now to see a pitiful self-mockery of it.”

I had my Beatles. It was a private issue. I wouldn’t go see the movie “Hard Day’s Night” for months, till the theater emptied of the little girls, and I could commune with The Guys in private, in the dark. “No, actually we’re just good friends.” I loved my Paul, not theirs.

Which is why I don’t enjoy bashing him. And it’s also why I avoid listening to Paul’s CDs (and John’s). Because the best of it is so painfully 3rd rate in comparison to the worst of the Beatles. Almost without exception, excluding the aberrations such as ‘Birthday’ and ‘I Dig a Pony’. The only John song I know worth remembering is ‘Instant Karma’; and, of Paul’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and ‘Junk’. All three are, of course, essentially Beatles songs recorded after the split.

With one exception. Out of Paul’s 40something post-Beatle CDs, there’s one song and only one I know that deserves to be visited and revisited. So that’s just what SoTW is doing.

“Distractions”, from the utterly forgettable 1989 LP cassette CD “Flowers in the Dirt”. It was a tragic failure, that album. A number of the songs are collaborations between McCartney and Elvis Costello. I remember thinking back then that if anyone could retrieve Paul from his mawkish oh-so-cuteness, it was the cynical, strident, brilliant Elvis C. Remind you of another ex-partner of Sir Paul? But the album was a lot more dirt than flowers. Just the one rose, “Distractions”, and that’s all Paul.

Paul’s musicality is legendary, at times divine. “All My Loving”, “And I Love Her”, “Another Girl”. And that’s just the A’s up through 1965. But honesty, depth, soul-searching, have never been his fortes, to put it mildly. At his worst, the Prince of Plastic, the Sheikh of Shallow. At his best, a modern-day Mozart. Even the brilliant “Penny Lane”, a nostalgic trip back to childhood, leaves your heartstrings unplucked (compare it to the flip side of the single, “Strawberry Fields”). It’s just not what Paul does. Which is what makes “Distractions” so unique. It’s mature, it’s straightforward and honest, heartfelt. More than ‘All My Loving’ ever was. And, in addition, it’s beautiful. It’s what all of us adults feel so often in real life:

Distractions, like butterflies, are buzzing ’round my head.
When I’m alone, I think of you,
And the things we’d do if we could only be through
With these distractions.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’

112: James Taylor, ‘Yesterday’

128: The Isley Brothers, ‘Twist and Shout’

207: The Beatles, ‘Rocky Raccoon’; and Bob Dylan, ‘Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’/’Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’214: The Beatles, ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’

229: The Beatles: ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ (“Rubber Soul”)

251: The Maysles Brothers, “The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit”

252: The Beatles, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’


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Taco Goulooze
Dec 9, 2011 at 11:21 am

“What ever happened to ‘an artist creates his thing, puts it out for the public, and THAT’S IT‘. He dies. The work stays. ”

Iconic works of art are re-imagined, and expose new audiences to old classics. If people liked ‘Love’, they will LOVE the original Beatles catalogue. Why do you think people still revere the Mona Lisa? Because it is printed everywhere, from calendars to coasters, from curtains to carpets. Cheap derivatives, but all of them keep the interest alive in the original artwork.

David Rubin
Jun 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Perhaps your best rant ever.

John Hyams
Jun 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I kind of disagree… Flowers In The Dirt was definitely different, but a superb album of Paul McCartney. Yes, on first listening it was hard to digest because it was something new that Paul did. But I remember listening to it a few times and then I realized that it’s just a great album, a masterpiece that opened the 90s for me. The album was meant for a different generation, one that knew little or was less intimate with the old Beatles songs. The beat was adequate for the time and it simply captured me back then.

Recruiting Animal
Jun 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Just like you I didn’t spend much time listening to Wings but Paul did have some good songs immediately after the end of the Beatles and he might have had some good ones later, too, that I don’t know.

Maybe I’m Amazed is a good song. So is Another Day.

Here’s a great version of Maybe I’m Amazed by Betty Lavette – http://bit.ly/12pPzZQ – I was surprised when I first heard it.

Orrin Persky
Jun 14, 2013 at 6:04 am

Suggest you listen to his jazz album “Kisses on the Bottom”- on a good sound system. Mixed by Al Schmitt and played by Dianna Krall, John Pizarelli, Chistian McBride and Clapton, among others. His musicality is there – in spades – and it makes for superb jazz listening.

Paul Jay
Jun 14, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Jeff; I really enjoy your posts and choices of music, I greatly respect you as a person. but I do disagree with your comments about reworks of past Beatles music! If we were at a festival in Stockholm or somewhere I know we would have a good discussion over a beer about this, but given the separation we’ll have to do it over a transatlantic fibre cable full of internet packets instead!
As someone who still has several first issue 45rpm singles of Beatles hits, bought the week they came out, and who more recently bought the many CD set of ‘complete works’, I nevertheless very much enjoy Giles Martin’s remix of the early pieces, and the inventive combinations of original material into new combinations or contexts.

I think you should cast aside your pride and spend more than 10 seconds listening to the LOVE album before you criticize it so profoundly! If we were in a bar in Sodermalm I would pull out my mp3 player and get you to listen to ‘Because’ in pure instrumentless a cappella plus birds. I think you would enjoy it once you allowed your blood pressure to back off a little. (You might even be interested to use my a cappella transcription of it and try that with your own group!)
I also like the freshness of some of the other tracks that hadn’t been public before, like George’s lost verse in’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.
I do envy Giles Martin having the opportunity to listen to those raw takes of individual voices, and being able to combine many of our favourite bits into new medleys laced with familiarity.
Ok, so the original version is the one we grew to love and all others are different, but any work of art is never perfect, never finished – it can always be reviewed from a different angle and then the new lighting sometimes illustrates otherwise hidden perspectives and previously attenuated beauty!
Be open-minded!!

(Although provocation does make for a more interesting column, I will grant you!).

All the best, Paul Jay.

Jun 15, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Hey Paul. I know, I really do like getting responses to my blogs, and see? You catch more flies with vinegar than with honey. I’d much rather hear your reworking of the Beatles than that of a purportedly official one. I wrote a whole blog about “While My Guitar”, the acoustic version. But I really don’t like adulation clouding peoples judgement. Don’t you feel that people today need to recreate The Beatles so that they can feel part of it? Well, I guess not…

naphtali meshel
Jan 4, 2020 at 10:52 pm

did I already mention how much I identify with this song? love, your son

Jun 18, 2021 at 11:20 am

Two Words: The Fireman
Two more words: glaring omission.

Maggie Evans
Jun 18, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Like a great cup of coffee, Paul’s sweet brew was always tempered , and its flavor enhanced by John’s acidic angst. I want to go back and hear Love again, I m not certain I agree with you on it. I found it much like spending time with old friends and discovering new facets of their personalities.



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