The Beatles

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In defence of Silly Love Songs

If you listen to McCartney’s entire oeuvre, one thing is clear: in his work you'll hardly find angry songs. A song like Helter Skelter may sound aggressive, but the track from the Beatles' White Album didn’t came out of anger. It is no more than a very successful attempt to write a rocking rough number. McCartney obviously isn’t inspired by anger.

"I can be angry, but I can’t find a natural way to put it into a song," he recently admitted in an interview with Q Magazine. He tried it once, in the eighties. In the Press To Play-track Angry he’s shouting he is angry. But about what isn’t clear. It sounds forced, not convincing, despite contributions by Phil Collins and Pete Townsend. And yet they exist, angry songs by McCartney, only they are all packed in nice catchy melodies. The evil has to be found in the lyrics.

Silly Love Songs is a good example. Because of the cheerful, funky music you won’t expect it, but we're talking about a pretty angry song. McCartney finds himself in fact provoked. There are critics claiming he’s only writing silly love songs since the breakup of the Beatles. Criticisms he totally disagrees with: First of all he doesn’t write just love songs and secondly, what is wrong with that if he did do it?

In the first verse he turns directly to his critics: "You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs." Whereupon he’s immediately casting doubts: "But I look around me and I see it isn’t so." Then drops the question: what is wrong with silly love songs? He does not wait for an answer. On the contrary, defiant, almost teasingly, he introduces the verse: “cos here I go again". And cheerfully as ever it goes: “I love you”.

Silly Love Songs is one of the Wings' most successful hit singles, topping the Billboard Hot 100 of 1976. But the track didn’t make McCartney more popular among his critics. Most of them think the song is just terrible. But why? Musically it's a fine piece of craftsmanship: It starts really strong with one of the most recognizable intros from pop music. Then it's full steam ahead, swinging and funky. The modest piano part, the lightweight yet energetic drums by Joe English, Wings' brass section and above all the fabulous, pumping bass line by McCartney, all in perfect balance. On the live version Jimmy McCulloch’s sharp guitar riffs partly replaces the violins. The three-part canon at the end is just absolutely brilliant. 

Video: Silly Love Songs

So the criticism can’t be caused by a lack of workmanship. Maybe it’s related to the aversion by ‘serious’ music lovers to funk and disco. This contrast was rather sharp in the seventies, and Silly Love Songs is undeniably funk, even close to disco. That an ex-Beatle lowered himself into that genre...
Or is it the message that leads to aversion? Would the critics feel addressed to a bit? Because there's an element of truth in McCartney's reply: Love songs are extremely popular, are played by almost everyone and let's face it, also a band like The Beatles became big with ‘silly love songs’. What's wrong with that?

André Homan

André Homan is a Dutch writer and journalist.

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4 opmerkingen :

  1. I actually got to see McCartney and Wings rehearse at the Kingdome in Seattle during the 1977 Wings over America tour. They were traveling with an awesome horn section composed of about 8-10 horn players. The horn part they added to Silly Love Songs was one of the highlights of the entire show.

  2. I always had the feeling it was directed at John Lennon. John was one of the critics leading the charge against Paul, saying all he had done was Yesterday and even making it appear Like Paul had little to do with Sgt Pepper, when in fact, Paul inspired Pepper. Angry? Paul countered John's lies with "Dear Friend". "Silly Love Songs" is a fantastic.

    1. Thanks for your reply. He could have had Lennon in mind while writing SLS. But I think it's more directed to critics in general. After all, by 1976 the bashing between Lennon and McCartney was already over for a couple of years.