Let’s get this straight up front. Luca Perasi’s Paul McCartney: Music Is Ideas – The Stories Behind the Songs (Vol.1) 1970-1989 is a big, weighty tome. It is way more book in real life than you might imagine from seeing it pictured on the web. At over 520 pages Music Is Ideas is thick and packed with tons of useful information. Its an obvious labour of love into which he’s poured an enormous amount of thought, hard work and creative effort.
Obviously Music Is Ideas serves as a very handy adjunct to McCartney’s own award-winning, two-volume set The Lyrics (published in 2021) which covers off a selection of just 154 songs from Paul’s earliest boyhood compositions, his Beatle days, some Wings songs, and solo work to the present day. Perasi’s book however extends and amplifies this with it’s aim (eventually in subsequent volumes) to detail absolutely every post-Beatle composition we know of. This first installment – Volume 1 – closely examines 296 released songs, plus a further 50 unreleased works. It should be said too that The Lyrics is a book Luca Perasi knows extremely well. It was he who officially co-authored the translation for the Italian market.
Music Is Ideas is also a natural partner to the terrific Allan Kozin and Adrian Sinclair release published just at the end of last year, The McCartney Legacy – Volume 1 1969-1973. While that work deals more with the day-to-day life of McCartney (and so far only goes up 1973), these two books together will provide the reader, collector, or anyone even vaguely interested in popular music and the process of songwriting with an in-depth examination of the life and work of one of our most important creative artists.
And let’s not forget Perasi’s previous runs on the board in the form of his 2014 book Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions 1969-2013 – A Journey Through Paul McCartney’s Songs After The Beatles, and his work with McCartney’s MPL company with additional research for the recent The 7″ Singles Box Set. So, there’s no question – this guy knows his stuff.
As mentioned, this latest book includes all the songs released by McCartney on album or as singles, plus side projects or songs written or co-written by him between 1970 and 1989. In other words, everything from McCartney to Flowers In The Dirt. That’s a total of 296 entries. This includes songs he didn’t write himself but has recorded (think Choba b CCCP), plus songs composed and recorded during the preparation of particular albums but maybe not released until much later. These are clustered together at appropriate points in the timeline so as not to be missed. In addition there are 50 completely unreleased songs detailed. There is also an index and a bibliography at the end which is always good to see.
Each entry deals with the story behind the song in detail: its inspiration, the demos that were recorded, as well as the studio recordings themselves. How were they made? Where was each song recorded? Are there alternative versions? And on which album or albums does the work appear?
As you read it becomes clear that Perasi tries to cover off five main aspects for each entry. He begins with an analysis of the songwriting technique employed by McCartney for the particular work – in other words how the song came into being in the first place, and by which means.
A second analysis is around the genre utilized. Paul McCartney’s vast catalogue ranges across experimental and rock’n’roll, to traditional music hall and classical. Over the years he’s dabbled in reggae, blues, folk, country, disco, children’s music and new wave, a huge array of influences – sometimes following but also often leading the way with avant-garde and electronic sounds. So, what are the influences? These are mentioned in each entry.
The third examination in each entry is how Paul worked in the studio to get the recording down. The Beatle years were a steep learning curve for him of discovering just what could be achieved in the studio and how to use the studio as an instrument in itself. So, what were the processes for each recording. These are touched on in each entry in the book.
Fourthly comes an accounting of the instrumentation used on each track. McCartney is well-known as a master of many instruments – not the least of which is his own voice. There is an in-depth look in each entry at who played what, and how. Specific attention is paid to the many vocal influences and techniques employed too. What is the style at play in any given song?
Lastly there’s consideration paid to the lyrics. What is the song about? How has it been written? What is McCartney’s main theme? Perasi breaks down each of the songs in an effort to understand and appreciate the poetry (and sometimes call out the doggerel!) for each entry.
Let’s take one example to illustrate for you what a typical entry might involve. A prime candidate is that quintessential McCartney song from the 1970s – ‘Silly Love Songs’.
This is entry 126 (on page 233) of Music is Ideas. Composition is credited to Paul and Linda. We learn in the first instance that the basic track was put down at Abbey Road Studios on January 16, 1976 with just guide vocals and piano from Paul and drums by Joe English being recorded. Overdubs were added during February. The engineer was Peter Henderson. A faster tempo version that is quite different appears on Give My Regards to Broad Street in 1984, there’s a live version on Wings Over America (1976), and its also appeared on the compilation albums Wings Greatest (1978), All The Best! (1987), Wingspan (2001), Pure McCartney (2016), and as a single in the The 7″ Singles Box (2022). Oh, and a demo alternate version appears on the 2014 release Wings At The Speed of Sound – Archive Collection. This demo is important as it clearly shows – which Perasi expands upon in his entry – that ‘Silly Love Songs’ was already a completely well-defined song. All the different melodies characteristic of the final version are in place. We also learn that, according to an unofficial source, McCartney had second thoughts about the initial arrangement and that a reggae version was tried out but put aside!
Then follows an in depth examination. ‘Silly Love Songs’, Parasi writes, is “…a prime example of McCartney’s polyphonic art, here using a contrapuntal technique, piling three different melodies on top of each other over the same chord pattern. The song….masterfully alternates between verses, chorus, bridge and instrumental breaks, while concentrating on a bass line that is technically simple but full of invention and which binds the whole track together….”
There’s then an explanation of how the song was arranged and how the horn and string arrangements (by Tony Dorsey) were added. Another interesting sidelight for me was that ‘Sha La La’, a hit for soul singer Al Green in 1974, was probably an inspiration: “The link between the two is clear in many respects, such as the horn and string arrangements as well as the melodic and jagged bass line.” True.
The single was a huge hit around the world, reaching number 1 on the Billboard charts in the US, and was also number 1 in Canada and in Ireland. In the UK it peaked at number 2. (Incidentally, it only got to number 20 here in Australia!)
And so similar information is provided for each of the 296 song entries. There’s also a mix of shorter and longer entries for the 50 unreleased tracks, making this book is a great companion as you listen to your Paul McCartney collection.
It all adds up to an intriguing mix of information that truly demonstrates that music is indeed about ideas, and that the prolific Paul McCartney is never short of them.
Music Is Ideas – The Stories Behind the Songs (Vol.1) 1970-1989 is guaranteed to inform, stimulate, and lead to further exploration of the music.
Highly recommended. Bring on Volume 2!
Find out a whole lot more at: www.mccartney-musicisideas.it/
Luca is already working on the next in the series, in fact the whole series is mapped out as follows:
– Paul’s discography (Vols. 1 and 2)
– Collaborations and appearances on other people’s records (Vol. 3)
Volume 2 is expected mid 2024, and Volume 3 is due mid 2025.