Jul 09

PAUL MCCARTNEY – “Pipes Of Peace”

FT + Popular68 comments • 4,426 views

#530, 14th January 1984, video

“In love our problems disappear”: ever since the high days of the Beatles, Paul McCartney had a thing about love. Even after – especially after – he’d had to play the hard-nosed one and break up that band, “love” remained as a presence in his songwriting, something increasingly abstract and mystical: a universal solvent.

There are worse things to have a bee in one’s bonnet about, of course. It’s easy to use McCartney’s lyrics to mock or dismiss his drippiness: the words to “Pipes Of Peace” are certainly clumsier, possibly even triter than those of “Ebony And Ivory”. “Songs of joy instead of burn baby burn”: eek! It’s a similar record, but I think a rather better one. Both songs walk a tightrope over an abyss of crassness: “Ebony” topples in, while “Pipes” has a humility and sincerity that lets it (just about) cling on.

It’s also – though George Martin’s attention-deficit production tries its best to disguise the fact – a sterling melody and a well-put-together song. The calm solemnity of the opening lines, the sad turn on “planet we’re playing on” and the carefree tumbles in the instrumental break are affecting no matter what guff Macca is singing. McCartney’s professed ideal of love is as inert as ever: as usual, it’s prettiness that pulls him through.



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  1. 51
    Matthew H on 27 Jul 2009 #

    1984’s my year too, I guess. I turned 12 at the end of May (1984, that is) and although I see ’82 as the year I first really cottoned on and ’83 the year I stepped gingerly in, ’84 is when I went ballistic with 7″ buying and chart-obsessing.

    Pipes Of Peace was the passing of the torch, the first single my mother ever asked me to pop out and buy for her, and probably the last single she ever spent money on. After that, she regularly asked me to make her tapes. I was now music chief of the household.

    I like Ps of P well enough; its B-side So Bad makes me cry.

  2. 52
    wichita lineman on 27 Jul 2009 #

    Re 49: Thanks for the tip-off, Crag. 222 on Memory Almost Full is something else, like a Ghost Box ersatz 70s school TV interlude with McCartney doing rather sinister high pitched ad-lib vocals every so often.

    The genuinely touching End Of The End tells us what to do when he dies as well – it isn’t ‘rush out and buy Mull Of Kintyre’. Thumbs less aloft, more at half mast.

  3. 53
    crag on 27 Jul 2009 #

    thanks Witchita, End of the End is indeed something of a gutwrencher- I also love She’s Given Up Talking from Driving Rain which funnily enough sounds more like a Nigel Godrich production than anything from Chaos!

    I remember Elvis Costello saying he wished McCartney would do a tour w/ just a piano and an acoustic guitar and play 30 of his best songs each night- I’d imagine in that context if he performed a run thru of Every Night, Jenny Wren and I’ve Just Seen A Face, say, or Beautiful Night, Fool On The Hill and Pipes Of Peace then musically speaking you wouldnt really be able to see the join…(as it were)

    I suppose when you reach Macca’s level however nobody can really stop you from just pleasing yourself. (Something he has in common with Dylan, usually seen as his exact opposite- although for some reason Dylan is praised for such behaviour and McCartney is slagged to death for it…)

  4. 54
    johnny o on 28 Jul 2009 #

    crag – i’ve often thought about that interview book myself. there was just an editorial in the US mag Newsweek (of all places) lamenting Macca’s tendency to trot out his not-so-great Beatles songs in concert rather than treat the audience to the fresher new material from the past few years, or even older chestnuts that weren’t hits. the specific example the author gives (and one i couldn’t agree with more) is that macca should drop “drive my car” and do “mrs vanderbilt” instead.

    i honestly am surprised that this tactic wasn’t used in the “hey what about me?” PR campaign he’s been waging for the past 10 years or so. you were the innovative beatle, paul? ok SHOW US. to some extent, his last two albums (especially last year’s Fireman disc) have done this. i would love to see him do a tour where he played his very best songs, regardless of popularity. i think him being one of the most succesful and loved songwriters in history but never having released a b-sides collection gives a pretty good indication of how he measures the worth of any individual song in his catalog.

  5. 55
    crag on 28 Jul 2009 #

    Mrs Vanderbilt-Top tune! Ho-Hey Ho!

    Come to think of it when compared to Lennon, how much does the gen pub really know about McCartneys real personality beyond the bare rudiments- arrogant and bossy at times, bit of a tightwad, really loved his missus, veggie and um…thats about it. Hes done an incredibly good job at keeping the “Real McCartney” from us by projecting the usual bland nice bloke image over the years so that people have turned to the songs to find it but found the music so varied in approach and style that even when he appears to be opening his heart in a song such as his paens to Linda or the aforementioned End of the End its still difficult to get a fix on the real man. Its like he’s hiding in plain sight.

    I feel McCartney’s two opposing attitudes to his craft-on the one hand the”Mr Entertainment-give the people what they want thumbs aloft fab macca”angle, on the other the “couldnt give a toss” experimentalist” approach are- what makes him such a frustrating and/or fascinating artist to many.

    IMO the problem is that whilst McCartney is well aware how great he is(and isnt always shy to mention it awkwardly in interviews) he doesnt seem to always realise exactly what it is about him that MAKES him great….

  6. 56
    wichita lineman on 29 Jul 2009 #

    Totally agree. Nice Dylan comparison, too.

    I think that if McCartney thought too hard about what makes him great, or his place in cultural history, he’d lose it. The ‘thumbs aloft bloke on the bus in his Fairisle tanktop’ (which fitted modish Hoxton a couple of years back) is what keeps him sane; his fame is comparable to Michael Jackson and Elvis, after all. I reckon this is why he’s loathe to delve too deep into his legend and is happy to trot out the perceived “Macca” greats on stage and familiar sweet nothings in interviews.

  7. 57
    johnny on 29 Jul 2009 #

    there is also the theory that linda was so much a muse/partner that he can’t do those hidden ’70s gems (“little lamb dragonfly”, “back seat of my car”) anymore because it’s simply too painful.

  8. 58
    intothefireuk on 7 Aug 2009 #

    Pretty and innocuous stuff from Macca with excellent production (esp. the percussion) – IIRC this was kind of sold as a Christmas record which I didn’t really get. Still probably closer than the vile pickets. As is usual in this tale the better single ‘Say, Say, Say’ is the one that didn’t hit No1.

  9. 59
    Billy Smart on 24 Sep 2009 #

    NMEWatch: Tony Parsons, 10 December 1983;

    “I find it touching that since John Lennon’s murder Paul McCartney seems to want to be in a duo again. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson – I am expecting a call in the new year, but don’t try reversing the charges again, McCartney.

    Here though he is alone apart from a cast of thousands and while I am certain that it was made with the best will in the world – think of Linda’s Fortnum’s food parcels to the women of Greenham Common – the combination of an ex-Beatle, a song with ‘Peace’ in the title and an angelic chorus of brats appearing at this time of year adds up to something as easily contrived as any of the above monstrosties [various Xmas singles]. Bah! Humbug!”

    No single of the week was awarded. Other releases reviewed included;

    Bob Dylan – Jokerman
    Gloria Gaynor – I Am What I Am
    Dennis Waterman & George Cole – What Are We Ging To Get ‘Er Indoors?
    Malcolm McLaren – Duck For The Oyster

  10. 60
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    I loved this song back then because the video had people in the trenches and the FWW christmas truce and stuff, but now I hate it for its Macca cheesiness. Also, I am fed up of hearing about the FWW christmas truce and think there should be a ban on books and songs about it.

  11. 61
    Chelovek na lune on 10 Sep 2010 #

    I can only conclude that Macca was such a national treasure by now that he could churn out any old dross, dress it up with a meaningful and heartfelt video, and the people would say, Gor Bless ‘im, we’ll take ‘im to our bloomin’ ‘earts. We’d been singing “When I’m 64” round the old joanna at primary school a couple of years earlier than this, too. (My pop year: definitely 1982, aged 7; the month of May in particular. One lost gem – “I Specialize in Love” by Sharon Brown. And anything by ABC from then, obviously. But, ABC’s excellent, underrated, underplayed album apart, definitely not 1984)

    Anyway, the fact that this song has hardly been played on the radio since (at least within my earshot) – even at Christmas – says something about its enduring quality. Or lack thereof.

    Not the first dreadful record that Macca released. And certainly not the last, either. But, really: pure, dross. Road to hell, good intentions, etc. One out of ten.

  12. 62
    flahr on 19 Feb 2013 #

    “Six singles sold over a million copies, a figure that’s unlikely to ever be repeated”

    tee hee hee

  13. 63
    punctum on 19 Feb 2013 #

    Wasn’t it seven, or did “Ghostbusters” just miss the cut?

  14. 64
    Lazarus on 21 Feb 2013 #

    What were the six then? Two Frankies (not, I’m guessing, ‘The Power of Love’) Band Aid, Wham! (Last Christmas), Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie?

    Wiki tells us that ‘Ghostbusters’ sold 1.09 million but it was on the chart well into 1985 – so it did pass the million, but in all likelihood not before Dec 31st.

    And did ‘Last Christmas’ sell a million before year’s end? Sales are high at that time of year of course, but its chart life was extended considerably by making it a double A side with ‘Everything She Wants.’

  15. 65
    DanH on 9 Aug 2013 #

    Still can’t believe this made it to #1…it’s not so bad, in fact it’s miles better than most of the rest of that album. what a fall-off from Tug of War that was. I distinctly remember “So Bad” being listed as a top hit the day I was born (Mar 1984) on some ‘on your birthday’ thing my parents had from the hospital. It was that one, some Dan Fogelberg song, and (I think) “Got a Hold On Me” by Christine McVie. Maybe they were looking at the A/C charts?

    BTW, Press to Play is horrendous. The mid 80s were very bad to the ’60s music regulars, like Macca, Clapton, the Stones…

  16. 66
    punctum on 19 Apr 2014 #

    The closing song on TPL #298: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/various-artists-now-thats-what-i-call.html

  17. 67
    weej on 29 Dec 2017 #

    I heard this on Costa Coffee’s Christmas playlist the other day, so maybe it’s a Christmas song now.

  18. 68
    Lee Saunders on 30 Dec 2017 #

    We might have Sainsbury’s to thank for that (actually though I’d see it sporadically on VH1/MTV Classic Christmas things in the early 2010s).

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