Saturday, September 12, 2009

Layer 195 . . . Born To Be Wild, Route 66, and the Long and Whining Road


In response to the panning I gave this song in a recent blog about The Beatles, a friend asked me this week, what's wrong with The Long and Winding Road? It's difficult to know where to start, and I'm bound to say, what's right with it?

It's an appalling, turgid, mawkish, sentimental piece of crap - maudlin, nauseating  and insipid. Look at this -

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day

Well now. Rain is the product of a wild and windy night – how on earth can it wash one away? And how can a 'pool of tears' (nonsense, hopeless imagery) do anything, let alone cry? 'For the day'? What's that supposed to mean? This is just silly, lazy, unimaginative wordplay - a McCartney trademark. As are mawkishness and sentimentality.

This is a guy who turns up at a recording studio, feels desperate for some songwriting inspiration, thinks of an image (a long and winding road!) and a tune, and dashes off several lines of trite rubbish as lyrics. Don't try to tell me he worked long and hard at it. That would make it really bad.

It doesn't work on the musical level either. Dee dah deeee dah dee dah. Dee-ee dah, dah dee dahhahhh . . . It's a ditty - a little lightweight piece of fluff by way of a melody. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing. But then there's the awful orchestration – da DAH! da DAH! Please!

Syrupy, sludgy ballady crap. So far away from where the band started - from the optimism and energy and dynamism of their younger days. And why should young people be the only ones entitled to optimism, energy and dynamism?

This is a young man sounding both immature and prematurely aged. “Don't leave me waiting here.” Pathetic and hopeless. Makes you feel like giving him a slap and saying, “Don't wait there you pillock – get up and go somewhere else – hopefully a better place. You're pitiful and a prat. You expect someone to feel sorry for you?” Wallowing in self pity is not a good place to be.

Contrast this with other songs about roads. Chuck Berry's Route 66, for example. It's basically a list of places en route to California, a mythical place of sunshine and plenty, of opportunity and optimism. And a hook by way of advice - “Get hip to this kindly tip - get your kicks on Route 66!”

It's a song about freedom, and it's some sound advice to grab it, embrace life, and explore the big wide world. The music drives you clean through Oklahoma City (oh, so pretty), Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico . . .  all the way to the West Coast. Macca's preferred west coast environment was the dreek of the Mull of Kintyre, mist rolling in, bagpipes and all.

Another song about hitting the road, and about a world of opportunity opening up to those who have the energy to get out and explore it, is Steppenwolf's classic - “Born To Be Wild”. “Get your motor running – head out on the highway!”

Of course if you're a pop and rock megastar like Paul it's a little hard to do this. He may have fantasised about being the leader of a 'band on the run' (another atrocious song) but his band (the unlamented Wings), after a couple of exploratory weeks driving around the country in a large van doing impromptu gigs in various uni bars, did no more than cruise from place to place in a luxury coach, with Macca and Linda making their own way to the next tour stop in a limo.

Superstardom tends to preclude anyone from a normal life, from the opportunity to do normal things, like getting out on the highway and having unpremeditated adventures. It also gets in the way of authenticity and spontaneity. The Maccas of this world have to find other ways to get their kicks, since simple pleasures aren't easily available.

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
- Born To Be Wild

The idea here is embracing the world and life itself, not escaping and hiding from it. You only get one chance.

The Beatles crashed on to the scene with a blast of bluesy harmonica (Love me Do!) at a time when the British popular music scene was dominated by terrible manufactured rock and roll wannabies who had quickly retreated to crooning Tin Pan Alley ballads (a la latter-day Macca) as soon as they realised they didn't have the aptitude or the temperament to be authentic rockers – Cliff, Adam Faith, Billy Fury, etc

The Beatles in those early days were absolute masters of passionate and optimistic love songs, and were able to express the libidinous energy of youth with dynamic songs that grabbed you with the absolute conviction and authenticity that told what it felt like to be young and alive and in love with life itself – I Wanna Hold Your Hand! Please Please Me!  I Saw Her Standing There! I Wanna Be Your Man!

What a long strange trip - a long and winding road indeed - from all of that to the dreary witless hopelessness of TLAWR and the uninspired mess of the Let It Be album.

One way to read that song is that it's about a man crying out to his estranged partner, Lennon, who had clearly moved on and, in spirit at least, abandoned his former bosom buddy - who was now left behind,   begging to be reunited, calling out, “Don't leave me standing here!”

Alternatively you can see it as a desperate love song to the real love of his life, Jane Asher, written some time after she'd abandoned him.

Macca's most successful Wings album was Band On The Run, and a total bummer, a complete dog's breakfast, it was.

Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever,
Never seeing no one nice again like you,
Mama you, mama you.
If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get out of here.


Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun,
And the first one said to the second one there I hope you're having fun.


Well, the night was falling as the desert world began to settle down.
In the town they're searching for us everywhere, but we never will be found.

The poor guy couldn't even find himself. Glory days over and gone, he goes through the rest of his life doing pastiches of previously great work - the songs that were written when he was one half of Lennon/McCartney - whilst going through a series of relationships with inappropriate women who have been no help whatsoever in helping him find either his true potential or his true self.

It's possible Paul never really got over Jane Asher after she broke off their engagement and baled out of their five year relationship. She was and still is, after all, a very good looking, creative and intelligent woman. It's obvious the majority of Paul's best songs were written whilst they were together, between '63 and '68. It's difficult not to see Jane as his real muse, as well as the great lost love of his life.

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