Paul McCartney

the "non-raves"

1971 – Ram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year after the Beatle-thing fell apart and Paul’s first album, McCartney, was a hit, Paul dragged his family to New York to do some proper studio recording for the first time. The very strange Ram was the result.

 

I must precede this brief commentary by saying that I'm continually baffled by the post-millennial critical re-evaluation of this record, which has now taken it from a sticky turd (consensus in 1971) to a shining jewel (contemporary retrospective critical opinion). My own opinion is that the original 1971-evaluation is much closer to the truth.

 

Too Many People – Wow, great song. (Is the "She's waiting for me" line a warning from Paul that he could steal Yoko anytime...?) I love the natural sound of the instruments and Paul's raw emotion! Maybe he could have made the lyrics a little more focused, but anyway a really good track. Intense and passionate!

Three Legs – Second track, and already a nonsense lyric. I have to assume the "three legs" is an image inspired by three Beatles ganging up on Paul...? Nice guitar, but a boring bluesy progression for a tune. Already I'm disappointed.

Ram On – Ukulele, yeah! The counter-melody in the breaks is great, but the main verse/chorus of the song is slightly dull. Lyrics are utterly forgettable. Leaves no emotional impression.

Dear Boy – Starts well, but doesn't go anywhere. It's just a snippet dressed up with fancy studio vocals. Paul is in need of a songwriting collaborator here. Layered backing vocals in search of a song.

Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey – Musically interesting, but it's just a McDonald's commercial jingle novelty song. I find his 'Uncle Albert' falsetto annoying, and when he cuts into the 'Admiral Halsey' dopey-singing, it's just embarrassing. More nonsense lyrics, the low-point of which might be:

     Admiral Halsey notified me
     He had to have a berth or he couldn't get to sea
     I had another look and I had a cup of tea and butter pie
     (The butter wouldn't melt so I put it in the pie)

Ugh. This is the guy who sang “Eleanor Rigby” and “Maybe I'm Amazed”?

Smile Away – Wings finally sound like a rock band. Too bad the song blows, and the lyric is cringeworthy. "I met a friend and he said I could smell your feet a mile away", etc... really, Paul? Boring filler.

Heart Of The Country – Good song. It's not as convincing as Paul's White Album-era 'nature' songs, but it's quite good. I love the breaks when he scat-sings along with the acoustic guitar picking – that is cool.

Monkberry Moon Delight – "A piano up my nose"... thanks for comin' out, Paul. This song mines new lows of crap-lyrics. Musically, it's awful. It's also overlong. And his voice is annoying as hell. Just crap. Just to annoy me more, it's annoyingly mid-tempo. Get it off! The worst track Paul had ever released, to this point in time.

Eat At Home – This is a good composition (presumably about oral sex), and it's a really good recording and a great track. I'd forgotten this one, so it's good to rediscover it. This song apparently went top-10 as a single in some Scandinavian countries, and even Lennon liked it. This is the sound of Buddy Holly if he was still going in the early '70s. Great stuff!

Long Haired Lady – Linda's voice does not sound good here, whoa...! This song is mostly terrible. The main tune is the kind of thing Paul could make up in 30 seconds with a guitar in his hand. The only nice part is the middle-section ("love is long"), in spite of Linda's vocals. Despite the dullness, Paul's vocals do sound good when he harmonizes "with" himself. But the song is just totally forgettable, so it's all for naught. About 4 minutes too long.

Ram On (reprise) – Not sure what the point of this was....

The Back Seat Of My Car – A good song, from the Let It Be-era Beatle rehearsals. I like the melodic originality in the choruses; it has a very 'fresh' sound. Nice, but not great. It’s way over-produced and the orchestral flourishes are over-cooked. It sounds good compared to most tracks on this album, but by late-prime Paul standards it's distinctly second-rate. Flopped on the UK charts, which doesn’t surprise me.

 


Wow, this album is thin. I conclude that Ram has one truly great song (“Too Many People”), two quite good songs (“Heart of the Country” and “Eat at Home”), and one pretty-decent song ('The Back Seat of my Car”, despite its awful production). 

The other 7 songs, plus a pointless reprise, are disposable in the extreme. Maybe “Ram On” is at least listenable, but the others are total garbage. Honestly, I rate Ringo's 1970-1971 recordings well above 7 of the tracks on this album. And why didn't he put “Another Day” on this album? It's wimpy, but it pisses all over most tracks here. Nearly every song on Ram sounds like a TV commercial ditty Paul made up at the keyboard in the studio. Being McCartney, he's talented enough to dress these songs up in various arrangements and styles and cover some with orchestrations, but to my ears it all adds up to a big nothing.

 

I side with John and Ringo, both of whom rated Ram as weak. Ringo said, "I don't think there's one tune on it. I just feel he's wasted his time." It's not the worst album by Paul I've heard (stand up Press to Play), but arriving in what was still the "classic rock era", it was REMARKABLY insubstantial, which is why everyone crapped all over it when it was released. And frankly, they were right.

 

What's become clear to me about Paul's working method over the years is that he simply is not the kind of songwriter to take a lot of care over his lyrics, or even his arrangements, and that he is (almost) never willing to write anything honest or with any emotional weight. His songwriting method seems to be to spend endless time noodling around, alone or with his band, smoking endless doobs, and then because he is so insanely gifted at melodies and harmony he can just toss up new tunes with the frequency that most of us reach for a beer-nut at the pub. While this results in great musical freshness and a staggering array of great melodies, it also gives no emotional depth or vitality to his songs.

What's more surprising to me, though, about the post-Beatle Paul records, is how poor his arrangements can be. This would seem to be something he was a genius at in the Beatle-years, but without that Beatle-cocoon (or George Martin, or the late-60s' rock aesthetic, or something) he seems to have lost that confidence or swagger in realizing amazing sounds for his records.

1971 – Wild Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can someone tell me why you would like Ram and diss this one? I'm not saying either is super fabulous, but Wild Life is definitely better. This was technically the first “Wings” album, but as always Paul was calling all the shots. The record was recorded really quickly, and it was his second long-player issued in 1971, which might explain the mere 7 new compositions.

Mumbo – Great track. It's rough but ready, probably a one-take recording. This is clearly a song intended to be a live cut on the forthcoming tour. Maybe you'd ideally prefer a slightly more focused song as the opener to an album, but give me rough-Paul like this any day over the fluff to come on future albums.

Bip Bop – Earthy, fun track. The rockabilly melody brings the Quarry Men to mind. Yeah, it's lightweight, but so was Lonnie Donegan. (I do agree that this goes on a bit too long, but I'll take 30 minutes of this over “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.)

Love Is Strange – Great, perfect rendition of a well-worn tune. Wow, Paul's voice is awesome on this.

Wild Life – The weird one. This is certainly intense, with some strange, slightly under-developed lyrics. But the melody is as indelible as ever, the mood haunting, and his voice...! What a brilliant vocal by Paul. His vocal here gives me shivers. Fantastic.

(Basically 'Side 1' of this album is fantastic. It's not a frickin' masterpiece, but we're so far on solid 4-star territory.)

Some People Never Know – Not a bad song. Unfortunately, it, and some of the musical aspects of “Dear Friend” later on, call to mind the cheesier moments of Paul's mid-70s music. This is a basic Paul love song. He's probably also calling out John and Yoko, to tell them he's happier than they are.

I Am Your Singer – a bit throwaway, but I've always liked this one. The melody is really inventive and catchy. Linda's voice used to decent effect.

Tomorrow – Good melody, could have used a bit more thought-out lyric (see also: Paul's entire post-Beatles career). I must say, something about this song is depressing, though. Maybe it's the fake-happy vibe of it.

Dear Friend – This is a really interesting tune. Good song. People always say it's about Lennon, but it's hard to know what to make of a line like "I'm in love with a friend of mine".

 

 

Admittedly, Wild Life is an underwhelming album, wherein a cover song is probably the best track. But I don't hear any total embarrassments here (rare for Paul), and the melodies and vocals are superb. The record is very well-recorded, with an attractive, earthy sound. It even rocks out a bit! 

Fine album overall.

1973 – Red Rose Speedway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank goodness Paul was talked out of this one being a double!

 

Big Barn Bed – Pretty good opener! Ballsy guitar, good arrangement, good tune. Terrible lyrics, as usual ["armadillo"?], but that's becoming Paul-for-the-course by 1973.


My Love – Before very recently, I don't think I'd heard this in 25 years. It's a decent song with obvious commercial appeal. Good guitar-solo by the Irish guy! Lyrics actually aren't too bad. I dig Paul's vocal leap at the end just before the last "good to me". Having sort of praised it, I have to say this is also the kind of song that indirectly invented punk rock.


Get On The Right Thing – Lyric is about falling in love? Pretty cheesy. The basic tune isn't too bad, but way, way below Paul's former standard in The Beatles. I don't like his vocal on it, which is overblown and cheesy. Something about this reminds of Pipes of Peace. Filler.


One More Kiss – Just way too inconsequential, with a pathetic lyric. What on earth would inspire Paul to write a lyric like this in 1972? This is the kind of "shite" that caused Glyn Johns to walk out on this album when it was getting started.


Little Lamb Dragonfly – This is indeed a good song. (I'm not sure that it's a good sign when it took a sheep to inspire Paul to write something with emotional depth.) The song gets better as it goes, and his vocal is really impressive!


Single Pigeon – Completely inconsequential and pointless.


When The Night – Linda-backing vocals are noticeably poor. Horrible, pointless lyrics. Melody is sub-par McCartney, to put it nicely.


Loup (1st Indian On The Moon) – Waste of time.


Medley: Hold Me Tight/Lazy Dynamite/Hands Of Love/Power Cut – Holy crap, “Hold me Tight” is awful! (Did he really need to re-visit that title?) “Lazy Dynamite” is forgettable in the extreme, with woeful lyrics. “Hands of Love” is embarrassing – a tune like this should never be associated with a leading ex-Beatle. With “Power Cut”, the one and only verse is cute and harmless enough, lyrically-speaking, but the song in total is completely disposable. Has a little charm, though. (Mind the "little".)


Paul lacked the critical faculties at the time to recognize that this LP was below-par and hold it back a few months until he got some stronger material (John lacked the same faculties, obviously, as STINYC had proved, the previous summer). The entirety of Side 2 is utterly worthless, the worst side any Beatle had yet produced (yes, worse than either side of STINYC).

Listening again to these early-70s' Paul-recordings, it starts to become clear to me what the problem was. In The Beatles, Paul in the studio was sometimes first among equals... but they were always equals (okay, Ringo a little less so). He knew that John and George were there to challenge him and take his A-sides and so on if he didn't out-work them into submission in the studio. Add in his need to impress George Martin and the reverence he still held for Abbey Road Studios, and you got Paul at his very best – totally driven, full of confidence, and very motivated to out-compete his band-mates. In the mid-60s, he was also being stimulated by the Ashers (all intellectuals, artists, musicians) and of course the 'underground' Arts' scene in London, of which he was a high-end celebrity contributor to.

Once he went solo, he lost the competitive drive to work harder than others. That's why Glyn Johns, for example, quit on this album – Paul and 'Wings' were just too lazy, sitting around noodling endlessly in the studio, smoking reefer. (Linda, for her part, seemed to encourage Paul's "hippie" tendencies to slackerdom, which, while giving Paul domestic bliss, arguably didn't work well in his approach to music).

1973 – Band On The Run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, Band On The Run is not rave-worthy! In fact, not even close. It is a very solid, well-crafted album that shows Paul in confident mode. It’s very listenable. Those are the good points, but there are other points as well….

 

Band On The Run – Near masterpiece, let down only slightly by the weak lyrics in the verses. 

The intro. lyrics ("if we ever get outta here", "thought of giving it all away") are fine. Then when the song-proper starts, I really like this opening line:

     Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
     As we fell into the sun

That's cool! Vivid! Picturesque! Love the "mighty crash" part, and the abstract image of "falling" into the sun.

But then, as with most Paul hits, it goes severely downhill:

     And the first one said to the second one there
     I hope you're having fun!

I'm glad he clarified the first one and the second, 'cause I didn't want to misunderstand that it might be the third and the seventh! I mean, that's incredibly lame.... And then, "I hope you're having fun"...? 

Then Paul lazily repeats the "jailer man / Sailor Sam" part, which was pretty bad to begin with. But luckily, it ends well with the nice "desert world began to settle down" line. 

Almost a classic, but let down only by some lame lyrics. Still, a great song and a highlight of the Fabs’ “solo” careers in general!

Jet – This one both rocks and has a strong melody, so I think the really highly-mixed backing vocals are way too much. It still sounds big and strong, but would have been better with a more sparse arrangement. It's a little too slick, in other words, to convince me as a rocker. Also, we've hit a new low in dumb, meaningless lyrics.

Bluebird – Attractive, pop-jazz lazy melody grabs your ear. Lyrics are pretty insipid, again, though. He managed to say a lot with a little in "Blackbird", but here says nothing but "at last we will be free", nice line though it is. The super-strong melody and nice sax-solo (very 70s) push this one into the "win"-column, but barely. Cheeseball "we're the bluebirds!" part at the end is saccharine. Unsatisfying, abrupt ending.

Mrs Vandebilt – Average tune with annoying lyrics. (She's in the jungle, living in a tent, but there's a bus stop?) The limitations of Paul-as-drummer can be heard here. Howie Casey's (he of Derry and the Seniors) sax solos are pretty bad. Please write some lyrics with at least a vague meaning, Paul.

Let Me Roll It – I've always liked this one. It's like a slicker “Cold Turkey” with a better chorus. Today, it feels a little longer than necessary since it's a pretty simple track, but of course back in the day it was the last tune on Side 1, so that's why. Win.

Mamunia – Holy cow, this is a good one!! Before now, I'd forgotten this song completely and hadn't listened to it for decades. Great tune, nice arrangement, and even some good lyrics! I like the idea that Paul wrote it at the hotel in Morocco. (Yet another song in which Paul mentions "macs". I wonder if he's ever figured out that North Americans don't understand this word.) I'm very glad to rediscover this one. Class tune, even if ultra-wimpy and reminds me of America or Bread.

No Words – Ugh. According to Wiki, this was written closer to the Red Rose Speedway sessions, which doesn't surprise me since it blows. Pass.

Helen Wheels – Not terrible, but I've never cared for it (“Hi! Hi! Hi!” I think is great, but this one is too throwaway.) A song about a Land Rover can only be so cool. I don't think this track really fit the album, and it's better off without it.

Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me) – I like the first part of the song. Once it breaks down into snippets (“Jet”, “Mamunia”) and random samples, it starts to sound very 70s' lounge-like, and also like time-killing filler. Basically, it's a one-minute song extended, but at least for one minute it's pretty good.

Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five – Meh. The piano-riffing is cool, but the lyric, his vocal, and especially the grandstanding arrangement are major turn-offs. Needless to say, the lyrics are complete hogwash. Overlong, too. Down south, this is what they call an "overcooked ham".


Three tracks here are all good and worthy of Beatle-records and Paul's talent. Three more are passable for the standards of Paul's solo career, but are ultimately forgettable and highly disposable. And four others are entirely forgettable. Typical of Paul's mid-70s through 80s' solo stuff, these tracks are fragmentary songs stretched out with padding to make album-filler cuts. 

 

This album is a pretty good solo-Beatle album, but nothing special. It's certainly not as artistically satisfying a listen as McCartney or Wild Life. The problem here, as usual with Paul, is (a) no emotional depth whatsoever, and (b) nonsense lyrics. If the lack of those two things don’t bother you much, you may rave over this album, as some Beatle-fans rate it considerably higher than I do.

1975 – Venus & Mars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venus And Mars – I don't like that drunken, hammy voice he uses sometimes... otherwise, nice little snippet.


Rock Show – This sounds like he's flirting with Suzi Quatro-Glam rock again. Horrid lyrics. Too long.


Love In Song – What the hell does "Happiness in the homeland" mean here??


You Gave Me The Answer – Another “Honey Pie” or “When I'm 64” was not needed.


Magneto And Titanium Man – Pointless lyric, as usual, but a very good melody and a nice, playful feel. I enjoyed this. His cute vocal somehow reminds me of Bob Dylan.


Letting Go – I like the slow-burn funky groove here, but the horn parts didn't work. This could've been great if he'd had some funky bass or guitar solos or something instead of brass. But not bad.


Venus And Mars (reprise) – Sounds exactly like the first one, so no point... and why is the reprise longer than the first one? And why all these reprises on Paul solo albums?


Spirits Of Ancient Egypt – Go, Denny Laine! Paul and Linda throw you a bone, so go chase it down, boy!


Medicine Jar – Good one, Jimmy! This is a cool song. Not exactly unique or special, but good. Some rawk.


Call Me Back Again – I like the vocal passion, but the song just isn't very memorable.


Listen To What The Man Said – Killer melody, and awesome sax-touches by Tom Scott! Horrible lyric again, but the sheer pop songcraft wins out. However, I've always hated the "wonder of it all, baby" part...


Treat Her Gently - Lonely Old People – Where's this been that I've missed it all these years? Great song! Very well done and even makes some sense, lyrically. Why did he hide it at the end?


Crossroads – Not much to hear, here. I think he'd have been better to have the “Venus & Mars” snippet at the very end.
 


This isn't a half-bad album. Five or six tracks are all fairly good (albeit one isn't by Paul). The bottom seven or so are disposable, but even though half the LP is garbage, I can at least say that the whole record is quite listenable. I'd rate this one as better than Red Rose Speedway (well, what isn't?), about equal to Ram, below Band on the Run, and way below McCartney and Wild Life

For me, this album begins a low-period for Paul that starts in 1975 and ends in 1997. (In between, there are a couple of minor 'ups' with half-decent records in 1982 and 1989.) It's a 21-year period of futility.

1976 – Wings At The Speed Of Sound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's amazing to me how commercially successful this album was in North America. It was one of those recorded-in-a-break-from-touring albums that was basically half-assed and filled with filler and non-Paul vocals. In short, a way to separate concert-goers from their money. And, at that, it was successful – seven

weeks at #1 in America? Seriously?? It just goes to show how in the 70s/80s/90s, a huge hit single was the key to advertising an album.


Let 'Em In – This would be good... if it were a Burger King jingle. Mines new lyrical lows.


The Note You Never Wrote – Sounds like a late-60s' Moody Blues or Procol Harum B-side.


She's My Baby – Ugh. Years later, Paul memorialized his late wife by singing its lines, such as: "Like gravy... I keep mopping it up!" Horror-bad.


Beware My Love – Good example of Linda's fake accent in the intro... When Paul cuts in, the track really starts to cook, and his vocal is really good. Keyboards are still too wimpy, though. Lyrics total nonsense from start to finish, of course.


Wino Junko – In which Jimmy confirms his lifestyle. Not too terrible, but his song on the previous album was a lot better. Drifts by pleasantly enough.


Silly Love Songs – I sort-of rediscovered this one recently. It's pretty good – not great, but good. Love the bass.


Cook Of The House – Words fail me. Incredibly bad.


Time To Hide – Somehow Denny Laine songs always sound like... Denny Laine songs. This is a decent composition, but Denny's vocal – though better than Linda's, but what isn't? – is not very good. If Paul had sung this, it would have been a pretty good track. Nice harmonica.


Must Do Something About It – Good vocals by Joe English, but totally forgettable song.


San Ferry Anne – We got trumpets! But we don't got good song! Paul going through the motions to achieve requisite filler.


Warm And Beautiful – Very interesting melody. Terrible lyrics and arrangement.


Wow, I don't know what to say about this one! Holy cow, it's awful. This is the sound of Paul at his most commercially opportunistic and at his lowest level of artistic inspiration... I think the reason Denny, Joe, and Jimmy got their songs in was not to spread the love as much as to give Paul an excuse to write fewer songs, as he clearly didn't have more than one decent single's worth of tunes.

The only reason this album isn't looked back on as the biggest turd Paul ever dropped is that it is associated with a hugely successful tour and it had an enormous #1 single preceding it. At that, "Silly Love Songs" is a really good radio-song for the ABBA-era. I've always hated "Let 'Em In", yet it's one of the better songs on this awful record.

I'm gonna state it clearly: Wings at the Speed of Sound is the #1 worst album by any ex-Beatle to this point in time. Yes, worse than Some Time in New York City which, while misguided and amateurish at times, is at least vital, daring, and highly inspired (and thus interesting and provokes a response). This album, by contrast, is limp, conservative, and lacking in any sort of inspiration other than "tour cash-in". I mean, Dark Horse sounds like Sgt. Pepper compared to this steaming pile of rabid rodent feces.

For Paul, the period 1976 to 1980 was not to be a good one (capped off by John's murder). The cause of it is all here in Wings at the Sound of Shite – tossed-off product for the sake of commercial aims only.

1978 – London Town

 

London Town is pretty much garbage, for me. Uninspired product made by a perpetually stoned guy with absolutely no heart, soul, blood, sweat, or tears.

 

The song “London Town” itself is indistinguishable from The Carpenters (and has the gag-inducing Paul default filler lyric – "Well, I don't know" – that he always used in the 70s to fill in some syllables. Not to mention the video is humiliating). Lyrics aren’t exactly up to snuff, either: 

     I was accosted by a barker playing a simple tune
     Upon his flute – toot toot toot toot

At least there's some semblance of rock-guitar in “Cafe on the Left Bank”, but it still sounds awful. "Touching all the girls with your eyes" – really, Paul? John was the one who loved Paris, not you. What is the point of “Backwards Traveller”, since it has no melody or lyrical purpose, and it's one minute long? “Cuff Link” is dreadfully bad filler. “Children Children” is Denny Laine, and it sounds like he's trying to be Cat Stevens seven years after it was fashionable. “Girlfriend” is just embarrassing in the extreme – this is the guy who sang “Kansas City” and made his name in the 'Pool doing Little Richard? “I've Had Enough” isn't too bad, and at least seems to have some discernible traces to rhythm & blues... but wow, the guitar-solo is bad. “Famous Groupies” is in the Oxford English Dictionary under both "forgettable" and "embarrassing" – nice attempt at foreign accents there, Paul (not)! The lyric hits new lows, which is saying something. This might, in fact, be the single worst song Paul had put his name to up to this point. “Deliver Your Children” is not-bad Denny Laine. “Name And Address” (the Elvis attempt) is formulaic rockabilly, which Paul probably started writing in 1958 or something, and sounds completely out of synch with the rest of the album (to its credit). “Morse Moose” or whatever it's called is a boat song with a decent melody, but is undone by cheeseball vocals and crap lyrics (long before the vastly superior “Wanderlust”). Shall we examine the lyrics?:

     As we were sailing 'round the rocks
     The mate took out his compass box
     And said the wind is like a fox...


With A Little Luck” (despite the disco production) is a good single. I quite like it, I have to admit. It is actually a really great track. After vocally lazing his way through much of it, Paul pushes his voice into high-gear for the ending and outro, and it’s a thrilling thing to listen to, on an LP that otherwise barely had a pulse.


This album isn't nearly as bad as Wings at the Smell of Shite. It has a few quite good songs, and it's sort of interesting in its aural diversity (even if, as usual, it sounds more like Paul just throwing together random song-fragments from his memory and dressing them up with dummy lyrics). 

Call this one mini-Ram

(By the way, I just realized what a windfall Denny Laine must have had in 1978. He got 1/2 the publishing royalties on "Mull of Kintyre", and then has co-writer credit on 5 songs on this album!)

1979 – Back To The Egg

 

Back To The Egg on Paul's face…. Well, this one was recorded in 1978-79, and was designed, it seems, to get Paul back to rockin’ after the easy-listening piffle of the previous two albums. This is the only album of the Wings mark-3 line-up that toured in 1979 and was supposed to tour Japan in early 1980… Whoops!

 

The first half of the record isn’t all that bad. “Getting Closer” (the almost-opener) and “Old Siam, Sir” do rock. On the latter, Paul even digs in for a bit of that Little-Richard voice he’d mastered back in Liverpool. It’s telling, though, that AOR tunes like “Arrow Through Me” have enjoyed more of a shelf-life than the supposedly core-rockers that inspired the project. That tune is nicely melodic with some good vocals, but what’s with the horns? Weird.

 

Into the latter half of the record, the “Rockestra Theme” is an instrumental by the all-star band of soon-to-be rock dinosaurs, assembled by Paul. It’s rather pedestrian. After this track, the rest of the album descends into the standard throwaway ditties and snippets that we by now expect to fill-out a McCartney album, akin to the latter part of Red Rose Speedway. Pass.

1980 – McCartney II

This one emerged from a bunch of home recordings Paul was making in England in 1979, prior to Wings going back on tour. It’s the “Paul-on-synthesizers” album.

 

Coming Up” is nice and bouncy, but something about it is aggravating. Maybe it’s too repetitive, or too lightweight or something. (The live cut by Wings that topped the American charts is better, but it isn’t here.) “Temporary Secretary” is one of the most embarrassing piles of shit Paul has ever shoveled in front of his public. If there was ever a track that proved the theory that Beatles shouldn’t go solo, it was this one. One wishes that Paul had sent this to Lennon at the Dakota to get his reaction first – John’s laughter over it might have convinced Paul to drop it. (Then again, John later said he loved “Coming Up”, so his own critical faculties might have been haywire by 1980.) “On the Way” is a slow groove, with some nice McCartney-esque lead guitar. “Waterfalls” is one of the better melodies Paul wrote in this period, but is also possibly the wimpiest thing he ever laid down, with some of the dorkiest lyrics, including the oft-noted polar bears. Speaking of dorky, what was Paul thinking with the haircut and nerd-outfit he sported in the video for this, in which he appears to be applying to join Haircut One Hundred? That might not too much of a stretch actually, as this record is really Paul’s reaction to new wave and the emerging synth-scene.

 

 

Toward the middle of the record are a couple of instrumentals, including one titled “Frozen Jap”. Uh-huh. Perhaps this title was copyrighted in Japan before the Wings tour-party arrived, and that’s why the customs agents were ready to pounce on the big bag of pot Paul had in his carry-on...? (In reality, Paul was just a complete idiot.) These songs are completely forgettable, by the way.

 

Bogey Music” is like synth-rockabilly with massive distortion in Paul’s vocal, for reasons unknown. Ugh. “Darkroom” is just awful. However, a decent, more minimal ballad, “One of These Days”, closes the album in better fashion.

 

This album is the product of a time when Paul still wanted to try new things and was still bothering to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ in pop music styles. That’s admirable, but if you’re going to try on a bunch of “here today, gone tomorrow” trends you should at least have some solid tunes. It’s a pretty woeful album, both stylistically and song-wise.

1982 – Tug Of War

Here is where the McCartney-Mad-Hatters will really lay into me. Tug of War is an 80s’ masterpiece,” they will say! But I will say, “No, it isn’t!”.

 

Tug Of War – Nice melody, good vocals, and the bridge ("in years to come...") is staggeringly strong. Unfortunately, the problem with that verse, as with much of Paul's output in this era, is the lousy lyrics:

     In years to come they may discover
     What the air we breathe and the life we lead
     Are all about
     But it won't be soon enough
     Soon enough for me

What does that even mean? It's like demanding to know what life means NOW! So, what's this got to do with a tug of war? I don't know.

George Martin's glossy (and very tasteful) production touches were appreciated, but Paul really needed someone here to straighten out his lyrics and get to him to actually focus on making some kind of point. 

Maybe it's just me, but I really hate listening to overblown production and "important" songs that actually have nothing whatsoever to say. Unfortunately, that really turns me off this fluff-piece, despite its winning tune and fantastically-constructed bridge. Much ado about nothing.

Take It Away – I like this very much. Production goes overboard at the end with the horns, and it's about 45 seconds too long, but it's bouncy and tuneful as hell. Do I really have to say the lyrics are trite? They are. But at least it all makes sense this time. This is the 2nd-best tune on the LP.

Somebody Who Cares – Another wimpy ballad (2 out of 3 so far)? It's a decent song, though. The guitar-picking is a welcome touch after the overproduction of the first two tracks. Very "early-80s" sounding, like Steely Dan or something.

What's That You're Doing – Stevie Wonder was still red-hot up to 1982. For a decade, he had been the coolest guy in music (well, he and the late Bob Marley). In spring 1982, his hot period ended following the release of Original Musiquarium I, an awesome two-disc collection of his best tunes from 1972 to 1982, which featured four new songs, all of which were great (like "Do I Do" – class hit tune!). This funky number (much more a Stevie-tune than a Paul tune) is pretty good, too, if not exactly prime Wonder. But it's worthy enough.

However, it was the release of another Paul-Stevie track that officially ended Stevie's great period and Paul's commercial-solo period... more to come later.

Here Today – I don't really get off on this one, like some of you do. "Mawkish" is the word. But it's very tasteful.

 


(Interlude to say: This ends Side 1 of the vinyl LP. It was a pretty solid side, his best since Band on the Run.)

Ballroom Dancing – And then he ruins it with this smelly cheese. There's a bit of a hook in the chorus and... there's nothing else here. Just embarrassing. I am willing to bet George Martin tried to stop this one.

The Pound Is Sinking – Forgettable tune, with a lyric about... Paul's stock investments at home and abroad. What? Lyric completely pointless; annoying affected voice in the middle-bit.

 

And then, suddenly…

Wanderlust – One of the three or four greatest tracks Paul has put his name to since The Beatles' split. The arrangement is brilliant, as is George Martin's production. And Paul's vocal is fantastic. Here we finally get a solo-Beatle track with brass that works! Hooray!! (The only thing that slightly mars this one – as usual – is the dopey lyrics in the bridge, but I guess it makes some sense if you consider that the lyric was inspired by Wings being almost busted for pot-smoking on Paul's boat.) Anyway, a staggering track. The final few bars resonate with me more than anything he recorded between 1972 and 1980, with the notable exception of the amazing "Daytime Nighttime Suffering", which never made it to a Paul album, incredibly.

Get It – Result of Paul's inviting Carl Perkins to Montserrat. Really forgettable song. The pair should have just duetted on a classic rockabilly tune. (Hm, Carl was there was Paul in his hour of need. Where was Paul when Carl was straightening himself out for his late 1985 Rockabilly show? His ego couldn't get over Beatle business to show up.)

(The "Be What You See [link]" is actually good.)

Dress Me Up As A Robber – Under the Oxford English Dictionary under "filler". Why the hell would he put this on the album when "Rainclouds" (strong B-side) was available?

Ebony And Ivory – The song that ended, with brutal finality, Stevie Wonder's prime period and confirmed Paul's fall from critical approval in the ears of casual rock fans. In Stevie's case, he was re-invented as a smooth-pop balladeer ("I Just Called to Say I Love You") and token charitable-causes celebrity face. In Paul's case, he overnight went from pot-smoking hippie-ish ex-Beatle family-guy to square dork of Dad's generation, completely out of touch with reality. It's truly sad that someone could go from "Blackbird" to "Ebony and Ivory" in just 14 years.


In conclusion, another mediocre album of Paul's 1974 to 1993 Commercial/Sell-Out period. Based on Side 1 alone, it's a strong collection. But Side 2 of the album just kills any chance it had of deserving raves. Sorry, Paul – this site is ReganRaves, not ReganAlmostGreatButNotQuite!

1983 – Pipes Of Peace

 

Pieces of Poop is a special one for me, simply because it's the 2nd album I ever owned. It's also the 2nd album I actually went to a shop to buy, with my own money.


Anyway, I'm always torn on this LP because, on the one hand, I have fond memories of it and admire its rock-solid melodies, which are on par with anything Paul did post-60s; but on the other hand, I'm somewhat embarrassed now by how wimpy it all is. I mean, this is about as wimp-tastic as any solo-Beatles can be. Paul was certainly going for the money at this stage, which is understandable in that he was beginning to realize (by summer '83) that Give My Regards to Broad Street was going to be a turkey that would cost him millions. He smoothed over almost everything on this record and brought in Michael Jackson to help him get some chart-action. He succeeded at that (in the UK, anyway) but lost all credibility in the process. Then, whatever shreds of his cred that yet remained were obliterated when his ego-project was released to theaters the following year.

For the defense, however, there is a certain easy-listening charm to this album. I honestly think it is better than Tug Of War. Sure, there's no masterpiece like "Wanderlust" anywhere in sight, but that track aside, I don't think Tug of War is anything great. 

Maybe what Paul should have done here is drag Joe Walsh away from Ringo (and away from the pub) and get some kick-ass electric guitar draped all over these tracks. Couldn't have hurt. At this point, it was getting hard to tell Paul's music from Dan Fogelberg and Barry Manilow.

Pipes Of Peace – Good melody and nice vocal arrangement. I do like the odd instrumental break right after the first chorus, and the (also) odd "burn, baby burn" line. This is the only single by "Paul McCartney" (alone) to ever hit #1 in the UK. I like this song more than the overblown title-track on the previous album. But it's wimpy.

Say Say Say – Not aging well, and it wasn't that essential even in 1983/84 when it spent six weeks (!) at #1 in the USA. Poor synthesizer AOR "funk". And what the hell is the lyric trying to say (if anything)? Utter nonsense. It's also difficult to distinguish the song itself from its video, which is probably the most cringe-worthy such by Paul (if you haven’t seen it, YouTube it for a good laugh).

The Other Me – I like this one. It's generic 80s' wimp-pop, but it has a good tune, a great chorus, and EVEN A ROCKIN' OUTRO with Paul scat-singing over some (but not much) electric guitar. Yes, even Pipes of Cheese

has a little rock'n'roll if you dig down deep enough. It's nice to hear Paul criticizing himself in the lyric, in fairly effective fashion, too. And the "But if I ever hurt you..." bridge is good. I also like when there's a vocal pause and you can hear him breathing deeply as if stumbling over the next line.... That's cool.

Keep Under Cover – Is this Paul McCartney or bad Billy Joel? Can't tell. "What good is butter when you haven't got bread?" To be fair, the chorus is pretty catchy, but holy hell what are those "drums"? Sounds like he hired the programmer from A Flock of Seagulls.

So Bad – Not-bad Macca balladry in decent fashion. The falsetto works for me. "And if you leave / my pain will go / but that's no good to me". What does he mean here? The girl is his pain? I could almost get behind this song if it weren't so shockingly wimpy. I've no doubt Paul hid this record behind locked doors when Dave and Krist from Nirvana came to see him.

The Man – Great melody, good singing (Paul sounds awesome here), even a not-bad arrangement with a bit of fuzz-guitar off the top. But after a fabulous opening, the chorus is full-on wimp again. And – sorry to harp on it, but – what the hell are the lyrics about? After 34 years I still have no clue. Too pointless and limp-wristed to even make it to the finish-line.

Sweetest Little Show – I've always enjoyed this one. Finally some down-to-earth acoustic playing to ground us. The acoustic-picking in the 2nd half is just great. (Yeah, also not sure we needed the canned applause.)

Average Person – Paul "man-of-the-people" McCartney! He seemed to have a need to demonstrate this side of himself in the mid-80s, as evidenced by this song and the "Press" video. I think I speak for us all when I say I'm glad Paul shared the story of meeting a dude whose ambition was to work with lions every night. If that isn't dynamite song material, I don't know what is!! My goodness, this is fruity.

Hey Hey – Is this the one with Stanley Clarke on bass? A little fusion-cred there for Paul. Or not.

Tug Of Peace – Starts off sounding like the soundtrack to The Exorcist, then suddenly switches to the soundtrack to Tarzan the Ape-Man, and then resolves as a hyped-up, funky lyrical knock off of this and the previous LP's title songs. Or something. Filler.

Through Our Love – I didn't care much for this one when I was 8, but now I really like it. It's quite uplifting, and even though it's wimpy, it doesn't really sound like it. His voice actually gets a bit raw in the second verse as the orchestration builds, and it all works pretty well. 

 

 

I don't know what to say about this album. It just does my head in. Great melodies are present in large amounts, and George Martin helped make some tracks sound better than they probably should have. It’s a highly listenable record, but it’s also frustrating as hell. And things are going to get (a lot) worse for Paul before they get better.... 

1984 – Give My Regards to Broad Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I listened to a rip of the vinyl release of this album (excepting the two or three tracks that weren't on the vinyl, which I just listened to on YouTube). So, here we go:

No More Lonely Nights – I've always liked this one, and it gets extra points for the awesome guitar solo by Dave Gilmour.

Good Day Sunshine – This sounds all right to me. There's something attractive about it, and it has a slightly different vibe from the '66 version. (The version I'm hearing on vinyl is a bit shorter than on the CD.)

Yesterday – A decent version except for the brass, which for me does not work. But as with all the remakes, the whole thing is pointless.

Here, There And Everywhere – So-so. Feels too close to the original to have the slightest point, but is noticeable as being not as good, which just underscores the first impression.

Wanderlust – Not as good as the ancient, two-years-ago [!] original. His voice sounds weaker when he warbles "Light out Wanderlu–u–u–u-u-u-ust". The arrangement is more corny and not as stately as the Tug of War one. In particular, the big final note is not as impressive-sounding. Note, however, I'm listening to the shorter, LP-version.

Ballroom Dancing – Bucking the trend, I for some reason enjoyed this more than I did on Tug of War. Seemed a bit more swingin' and rockin', and slightly less twee. But why is he re-making songs from two years ago?

Silly Love Songs – Instead of a disco, trend-aping sound as in 1976, we now get... the gated-reverb-drum, Phil Collins’ trend-aping sound of 1984! Despite more prominent guitar, this somehow seems even wimpier than the mostly likable original. His vocal also isn't as good.

Not Such A Bad Boy – Ugh... maybe an album of re-makes wasn't such a bad idea after all... Vocal does not impress, here.

So Bad – Something about the arrangement sounds "off", and the occasional backing vocals, which aren't in the original, sounded discordant to me. Tempo a little faster than the 1-year-old original? Meh. I guess it wasn't terrible, but since it's not as good as the previous one and it's only one year later, what the heck was the purpose?

No Values – Not much value.

For No One – The beautiful minimalism of the classic cut is "busied" a bit, to bad effect. Vocal weaker.

Eleanor Rigby/Eleanor's Dream – The 'Eleanor Rigby' remake is the epitome of pointless – same arrangement, same tempo, same violins, same everything as the original but with a slightly weaker, more middle-aged lead vocal. I tried to stay awake through 'Eleanor's Dream', and I succeeded, but it wasn't easy. Being charitable about it, I suppose if we viewed it simply as some new Paul-music recorded for a film, it's quite good. But we all know it's a George-Martin arrangement-assisted rehashing of an 18-year-old classic. Every time there was a break or a change, I thought, "At last! It's over!"... and then it went on... and on... and on….

The Long And Winding Road – Late-period Beatles by Kenny G! Hot dawg! And why the orchestrations? Isn't that exactly what he supposedly didn't want in 1970? The sax solos are remarkably impotent. This is the weakest of the 're-makes' by some distance.

No More Lonely Nights (playout version) –  The LP version is slightly shorter. I think it's safe to say I don’t need to hear this again. Press to Play, here we come!

Good Night Princess – Throwback to the good ol' 1940s. Cute enough, but hardly going to win Paul any respect.


To give you an idea of how Paul’s career as world-beating megastar was slipping in this period, here’s how this album and its two predecessors fared in my native Canada in terms of peak positions on the pop charts:
#1 Tug of War
#10 Pipes of Peace
#24 Give My Regards to Broad Street

That's a slippery slope!!

Paul was still stuck in a cloud of pot-smoke from 1977, but it was now 1984 – and MTV, hip-hop, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna ruled. This album just passed people by, and those who bought it soon regretted it and went back to the superior Beatle recordings.

It's really hard to imagine what Paul was thinking here. Most likely, he wasn't. He just had some vague inkling of a concept for a really bad film, and then indulged some whims to "redo" some Beatle tunes and pass it off as a soundtrack. For one week, he sat at #1 in the UK charts, but the rest of the world gave this one a pass, and this one finished what Pipes of Peace had started – the termination of Paul's commercial grace period, particularly Stateside. 

I really believe that Paul, in this period (and probably going back to at least 1977, when he was rolling in money after the Wings' tour and when "Mull of Kintyre" came out), was quite arrogant and just could not see past his own, "brilliant" ideas. Isaac Asimov recalled the year of 1975, when he was commissioned by Paul to write a screenplay. Said Asimov: "He had the basic idea for the fantasy, which involved two sets of musical groups – a real one, and a group of extraterrestrial imposters. The real one would be in pursuit of the imposters and would eventually defeat them, despite the fact that the latter had supernormal powers." This was all Paul gave Asimov to work with. Asimov described what Paul gave him as "a snatch of dialogue". Asimov nevertheless went to work on an original screenplay, which he later described as "suspenseful, realistic and moving". Paul of course rejected it. Asimov said, "He went back to his one scrap of dialogue out of which he apparently couldn't move."

You can kind of see how he arrived, 7 or 8 years later, at a film as horror-bad as Broadstreet. And perhaps why the accompanying soundtrack was so erratic and conceptually pointless.

1986 – Press To Play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stranglehold – Only 2 seconds in, and we get the full-on Hugh Padgham gated-drum reverb sound! This at times sounds like The Police in 1981-1983 (whom Padgham produced). Unfortunately, the song itself is dull. The alto sax seems discordant. Bummer opener. 

Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun – I'm not feelin' 'Good Times Coming'. The "I'm lovin' it, I'm lovin' it" bridge is quite woeful. A wretched mini-guitar solo follows it. Typically forgettable Macca-TV commercial ditty. 'Feel the Sun' is a bit better, as it has more impressive chords and a bit of balls, but it only lasts about 40 seconds. Overall a frustrating and forgettable track... and one of the better ones on this record.

Talk More Talk – I don't even know what to say about this. Disposable in the extreme.

Footprints – Well, this is at least listenable. Is this maybe about Paul's dog whose mate died, or something? The plucked guitar notes at the end are nice.

Only Love Remains – This feels like an early-80s' Stevie Wonder tune, minus the soulful vocals. Lyrics are very Stevie-like. Production is too dry and sterile.

Press – Finally, a bit of a catchy tune. But it's also the worst-produced track with the worst lyrics. Nothing says 'romance' more than lines like the following:

     When you feel the stress / Don't just stand there / Tell me to press!
...especially when delivered by a 44-year-old millionaire. And what's with the "Oklahoma! was never like this" part?


Even better:

     Maybe we should have a secret code / before we both get ready to explode!

Ugh. 

Oh yeah, and it's too long.

Pretty Little Head – According to Wiki: "The track was McCartney's 38th single, and his first which failed to chart, so, in an attempt to boost sales, he released his first ever cassette single. It still failed to reach the top 75." Ouch.

I am absolutely stunned that Paul thought this ultra-boring track worthy of being the 2nd single. I think, no matter how many times I were to listen to this, I wouldn't be able to hum a few bars. It has another way-too-long outro that simply isn't justified by any musical interest. 

Was Paul trying to do a Peter Gabriel or something on this track? I'm not feelin' it. Charitably speaking, we could say that Paul was quite ballsy to put this out to pop radio where it didn't stand a chance, but we all know that Paul isn't interested in such things – no doubt, he was fuming when this was destroyed on the pop charts by Wang Chung. This was his first complete and total flop since "My Bonnie" in 1961-62.

Move Over Busker – Mines lyrical lows not reached since London Town. Tune nearly forgettable.

Angry – With baldy-Phil (sounding like a broken drum machine) and Townshend. Absolutely awful. Is Paul trying to do Robert Plant here?

However Absurd – Is it just me, or do the chords sound like “Isn't It a Pity”? Anyway, what in the world was he thinking with lyrics like:

     Ears twitch, like a dog, 
     Breaking eggs in a dish. 
     Do not mock me when I say 
     This is not a lie.

(Shakes head in disbelief.) This song blows, in the extreme. What the hell is the alto-sax doing over the outro? This may be the single worst-arranged Paul song ever.


Words almost fail me on this one (but not quite – sorry). When I tuned into “Stranglehold”, I at first thought, “Wow, this is bad. Must be one of the worst tracks here.” But of course it ended up being one the strongest.


Look, there are no excuses for this album. I suspect Paul knew how bad it was because he gave Eric Stewart co-writer credit on 6 of the 10 tracks, as if to have someone to blame if this tanked (as it did).

It pretty much sums up mid-1980s Paul when we look at his managing only about five solo compositions between 1983 and 1986 (four on here, plus “No More Lonely Nights”) that were deemed LP-worthy. Clearly his well had run dry and he was running on (pot) fumes by 1985; hence the hiring of a young, hot producer to replace inspiration and songcraft with trendy bells and whistles (and yeah, the gated-reverb drum sound). Paul probably was inspired to make such a dopey record after hanging around the hairspray, mullet, and shoulder-pad crowd at Live Aid.

There simply is no worse Paul McCartney album on the face of the earth. I seriously rate the late-70s' Ringo albums above this one, which is quite an insult. The absolute low-point, recording-wise, of any Beatle.

1989 – Flowers In The Dirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1989. A big year in western culture and politics, and a big moment in English-pop music, when mainstream pop, hip-hop, new-jack swing, smooth R&B, and heavy metal vie for airtime. In the UK the beginning of indie-rock in the mainstream (Madchester) and in the US the slow rise of college-rock (alt. rock) are becoming noticeable. Oblivious to all this was Mr. James Paul McCartney, who, for the very first time in his career, seemed no longer to care about aping contemporary trends and decided to just go his own (sorta retro) way. From this point, Paul eternally became "Beatle Paul" for perpetuity, playing a Hofner bass and doing a “thumbs up” in photos. In part this was of practical necessity, since he was about to undertake a massive tour. Press To Play-type synthesizer tunes were pensioned off, with such experimental instrumentation and styles never to be heard again on a Macca record (those sorts of things saved for side-projects like The Fireman). So, we have a very conventional-sounding LP of Merseybeat and guitar-pop, with the lead single sounding very much like a Beatle tune from 1964. Being the late-80s, however, Paul could not escape the horrendous production style of the time, and this album suffers terribly from some lowly-mixed bass and sterile-sounding drums. Around 1987, however, Paul did have the great idea of inviting Elvis Costello to his studio to do some collaborative songwriting. A few of those made it to this record....

So, anyway, the songs:

My Brave Face – Awesome Macca/Costello tune, though Paul overdoes it a bit in the guitar break between verses by singing the chorus again when just letting the lovely guitar riff soar would've been preferable. Slight overkill there, but classy, irresistible song anyway.


Rough Ride – I don't get Paul's Viagra-lasting chubby for this song. 2nd from the top? Noooo....


You Want Her Too – This is pretty good. I dig the chorus. Thanks, Elvis Costello.


Distractions – I should hate this, but actually it's not bad. Schmaltzy, but at least it has some style.


We Got Married – The pseudo-heavy metal (with horns) break and outro are weird... I can never decide if that works or not. Probably not. Main song has a great tune and rhythm, though.


Put It There – Class all the way. Hits all the heights. Has he released a better song since?


Figure Of Eight – Another one that Paul thought was better than it actually was. Did he really open the world tour with this? It's not terrible, but very average. Lyrics are trite in the extreme. From a band perspective, I do enjoy the jaunty guitar riff, but I think Paul failed to write a good melody over it.


This One – Really good song, great chords. (What the hell is going on in the video? And why does Linda look pissed off?) The first of an endless stream of pop-chart flops in the USA.


Don't Be Careless Love – Don't be careless in songwriting, Paul and Elvis. Paul's voice is really straining.


That Day Is Done – This is kind of cool, and I like Paul's vocal here. Sounds cool. I dig this. A bit mournful and soulful. (This one has the "flowers in the dirt" lyric.)


How Many People – Has that cold Trevor Horn/Steve Lipson sound that “Rough Ride” and “Figure of Eight” also have. It's not a good sound. And not a very interesting song, going back to “Figure of Eight” levels of lyrical triteness. 


Motor Of Love – This just doesn't do anything for me. Chorus isn't strong enough and it kinda drags on. Paul doing Sade and Tears for Fears. ("Plastic soul, man, plastic soul...".)


I nearly fell off my chair several years ago when I first heard outtake / demo “Tommy's Coming Home”. It was so good I almost couldn't believe it. Here was a beautiful, poignant lyric that Bob Dylan would have been proud of and a fabulous, loose vocal duet that rivaled the best of Lennon/McCartney. For me, that's one of Paul's five greatest solo songs. Yet Paul chose to dump it (or not finish it) and didn't put it on this album, like an idiot. It does suggest a real missed opportunity for a better LP with more Costello collaborations. But Paul usually thinks his own ideas, alone, are best. Elvis Costello talks up “The Lovers That Never Were” (the '87/'88 demo) as the great track they did together. It's also quite good and should've been on here, ramshackle and all. “Back on My Feet” from late '87 was another strong track that Paul might've better saved for this album than tossing it away on a B-side.

Anyway, this isn't a bad LP at all, and has some great songs. It also has a few truly forgettable ones. It's probably one of the most uneven Macca albums. But the wheat outweighs the chaff, so it’s all good.

See also:

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