Back in 1965, while they were pioneering all sorts of other pop music conventions, the Beatles came up with the idea of a "double A-side" single.
"Day Tripper" and "We Can Work it Out," were released on the same 45 rpm vinyl disk with both tunes marked as the single's A-side. It was a signal to fans and radio that the band considered both tunes of equal merit. They refused to categorize either as the single's B-side, where, generally, lesser songs go to die.
The band also released "Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby" and, probably most famously, "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever," as double A-sides.
Neither tune on Paul McCartney's new double A-side single is as good as those Beatles songs. Also, his release is not a "double A-side." Not if, and until, it shows up on vinyl, anyway. Right now, the tunes can be streamed online or purchased - each song separately - via Amazon, iTunes and other retailers. This is not a two-for-one deal.
Calling this release (or, more accurately, these releases) a double A-side is mainly just a bit of hype and, perhaps, Paul letting us know he's proud of both tunes and wants to see them both succeed. Clearly, he'd love to have a song or two in the charts again - whatever charts are these days, when tunes needn't even be purchased to listen to.
In any event, the media attention Paul enjoyed by releasing the songs simultaneously after some social media teasing and, especially, following his recent appearance on James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke," the tunes are being heard by a lot of people. And that's great. It's just too bad the songs - or at least their lyrics - aren't better.
It's easy to criticize Paul for writing bad lyrics. He's written loads of them. It's his greatest downfall as a songwriter. He can come up with the most memorable, hummable tune in the world, put it to a wonderful, imaginative arrangement and then sabotage it with terrible words. And that's what he's done here.
"Come On To Me," which I view as the A-side despite what Paul says, is a jaunty rocker that starts with a crunchy guitar riff that's soon joined by pounding drums, organ, a fun rollicking piano part and, eventually, some harmonica, electric sitar and (what sounds to me like) synth brass. It's a great, instantly catchy tune. But the words! Oh man.
The tune's title, repeated again and again throughout, barely constitutes a double-entendre due to it's being so obvious and dumb. And the fact that its sung by a 76-year-old man just makes it creepy. It the tune had a video (apart from the lame "lyric video" available on YouTube), I imagine it featuring two pensioners putting the moves on one another in a bingo hall.
After the life he's led and the experiences he's had, surely Paul has something more interesting, and less predictable, to say. I want to like this tune, because it's great musically. But the lazy lyrics kill it for me.
Likewise, "I Don't Know" (what I call the B-side) features a nice, memorable melody. This one has a 1970s R&B feel with lovely piano and Paul's signature, melodic bass playing underneath. Many fans have remarked its similarity to John Lennon's "Now and Then," a officially unreleased tune that Paul, George and Ringo reportedly worked on but scrapped during their Beatles Anthology reunion sessions, and I hear that, too.
But, again, the words! And by this I mean the three in the title, which are repeated (it seems like) 5,000 times throughout the song. I'm sure someone out there will eventually provide a more accurate count - but it's a lot. The lyrics, what there are of them, seem to portray a crisis in confidence. It's hard to imagine Paul McCartney having any such thing and his vocal performance makes it even harder to believe. The song doesn't feel lived-in at all. Paul sounds as if he's singing newly penned words off a lyric sheet, not from the heart.
There's nothing new in Paul writing bad lyrics, but - as we all know - he can also write great ones.
His previous album, New, featured a number of from-the-heart songs, such as "On My Way to Work" and "Early Days." But it was also full of tunes with workaday, just-get-the-song-done lyrics. Most of Paul's songs, unfortunately, fall into this half-baked category. It's an old refrain, but if he would only take the time to work harder on his lyrics he'd continue to produce great music. When he doesn't, as is the case here, the results are both frustrating and disappointing.
Maybe Egypt Station, the upcoming LP that includes these two new tunes, will feature one or two more great McCartney songs. But these two certainly aren't among them.