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45 at 45: Paul McCartney & Wings say Goodnight Tonight

They say it’s his birthday…

Shoot me now, but I’ve had a strangely off-on relationship with Macca’s music ever since I can remember. Despite having met him twice in very unexpected circumstances (an art gallery in Hackney and the premiere of a Pierce Brosnan era Bond film, both in the 1990s), the only post-Beatles albums of his I’ve ever owned in a physical format were the hit and miss compilations All The Best and Wingspan.

I came of musical age in Britain being taught to vilify, even ridicule Paul‘s solo work as proof that he was the softy of The Beatles, lacking the abrasive authenticity of a John Lennon, the spirit who ignited future rock attitude and lacking even the broadminded mysticism of George Harrison, briefly considered by some to put McCartney into Fab Third place. 

The thing is, McCartney did indeed nod to the grans – my English gran for a start (the Greek one preferred more highbrow European stuff). His lyrical world when with The Fabs was never contemporary, a la Lennon but referred back to his halcyon, pre-Beatles days, Ritas, Eleanors, men in the motor trade, Penny Lane, etc. 

But Macca could claim a much stronger interest in leftield than Lennon, even attending an AMM concert at a time when Yoko’s other half was his usual charmless self, dismissing avant garde as “French for bullshit.”

That’s not to entirely revise opinion of McCartney’s seventies stuff, however — whether it was hung on the Wings band brand or not. His ‘solo’ career peaks are much more widely spread than people give him credit for: he had and still has a magical gift for melody, so much so that I can even derive a perverse pleasure from the defiant slush of Silly Love Songs. 

While Let ‘em In, from the same album (1976’s Wings At The Speed Of Sound), totally reminds me of the only time my parents took us on a Butlin’s holiday (ahem) during that summer’s insane heatwave that fried the UK.

But for every Live And Let Die or Band On The Run there’s Mull Of Kintyre: a joyless dirge which became the first single to sell over two million copies nationwide. And which many Brits soon resented with comments like “is it ever going to fuck off from the No. 1 spot?” as it hung around the charts like a nine week fog.

By 1979, Paul McCartney was frequently derided as “silly” by critics. And Goodnight Tonight, his first release of the year, was panned by the press out of sheer automatic disdain for Macca and the fallen banality he supposedly represented. But, C’ moon, I was only nine when it was out, so I make no apologies for having a sentimental attachment to the songs of my school years. 

Owing a considerable debt to unconventional experimentation, the flamenco-fashioned 45 is a butter-smooth romp recorded with Wings’ seventh and final lineup (and Macca’s unbelievably funky bassline), gaining Macca another huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It was only later that I realised how utterly reviled by purist rock bores it was, particularly how the track (it’s barely a song, really) made liberal use of the contemporary dance rhythms of the day — before it began to be superseded by New Romantic electronica.

Guess what? That just made me enjoy it even more.

Though it didn’t occur to me that the delicious disco groove of Goodnight Tonight would be such a gay fave until I moved to Australia. A Sydney friend put the song on and proudly announced that it was his favourite Macca song, “because it’s a great feelgood tune,” at which point everyone in the room was on their feet. All three of us.

Some of us even captured the moment while dancing furiously, as evidenced by the image wot follows. 

Don’t say it.

Steve Pafford

Sydney’s Surry Hills, 2014

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