21
Jul 09

PAUL MCCARTNEY – “Pipes Of Peace”

FT + Popular68 comments • 4,480 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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Comments

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  1. 31
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 23 Jul 2009 #

    1984 was the big one for me, too. I was 9-10.

  2. 32
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 23 Jul 2009 #

    inception of the “blogosphere” = bad year for EVERYTHING

  3. 33
    Rory on 23 Jul 2009 #

    #29 – we’ve just had mine, but 1984 was pretty big too. After that looms the abyss…

  4. 34
    johnny on 23 Jul 2009 #

    this strikes me as the point where the ’60s icons ceased being young and relevant. some would cite the punk era but the pistols weren’t playing the same game as mccartney or the stones, at that point. they wanted to react against mccartney, not compete directly with him. logic would dictate that punk was also the impetus behind “some girls” and “mccartney 2”, ie old bands compelled to learn some new tricks. but by the mid-80s, young and old had at last met each other halfway. the new bands were arguably as commercially-focused as their elders, and the elders had finally run out of new tricks. even up to “tug of war” mccartney was trying some new things or at least actively perfecting his popcraft and updating it for the new decade. this seems to be his first single/album where he has relaxed and lost his ferocious competetive instinct enough to say “i’m paul mccartney and this is what i do. if you’re in the mood for something of this sort, here’s a new album/single”. i think the other ’60s acts were pulling this same move as well. this has been mccartney’s MO ever since. if you want a sandwich, you eat a sandwich. if you want some paul mccartney, you buy his latest. i’ve always loved mccartney, but aside from the odd catchy single or interesting album (“press to play” and “chaos and creation” being the only two i can think of post-’84) he was done and, cheerfully and good-naturedly, admits it for the first time here.

  5. 35
    will on 23 Jul 2009 #

    I think from any objective point of view 1984 was a momentous year for chart pop. Six singles sold over a million copies, a figure that’s unlikely to ever be repeated. The charts and those who were successful in them were central to popular culture in a way that’s unthinkable today.

  6. 36
    Conrad on 23 Jul 2009 #

    1981 for me – I was 14 mind, but I loved pop for all of 79-82, so 4 Years of Pop, greedy I know….

  7. 37
    lonepilgrim on 23 Jul 2009 #

    1984 was a great pop year for me too – but I was 24! I think this partly reflected the fact that I was in my first paying job and had disposable income to spend on records and gigs.
    Milestone years for me were 72 – first single (Metal guru) and 76-79 for punk, dub and disco.

  8. 38
    rosie on 23 Jul 2009 #

    I suppose 1964 was the year I really thought pop was mine (rather than, say, my 15-year-old sister’s). 1966 remains the greatest year for ‘my’ pop.

  9. 39
    Jonathan Bogart on 24 Jul 2009 #

    I suppose this is what happens when you grow up in a popless home: I never felt that pop was aimed at me, even in years when I loved nearly everything I heard. It was always something made by (and for) other people, more beautiful, more brave, and more certain of themselves than I could ever hope to be. (And if you were listening to the radio in the 80s, that includes you!)

    Even today, listening to pop can sometimes feel like reading a bunch of different fantasy novels: I have to work to keep straight the worlds in which these specific songs matter, none of which much resemble my world.

    Sorry! I’ll go off and be maudlin elsewhere now.

  10. 40
    Rory on 24 Jul 2009 #

    Jonathan, that’s a fascinating observation, which makes me think again about McCartney and the “Beatles-nut stage” that Will mentioned at #17, and which lasted for me from 1984-1988. For those of us who weren’t around or old enough in the 1960s or ’70s to enjoy the Beatles first-hand, or even to appreciate the best of their 1970s solo work, there was a real sense in the early-to-mid-’80s of having missed the boat. There were (and still are) two ways of dealing with that: ignore the Beatles altogether, dismissing them as irrelevant to today’s musical concerns (and depending on your musical subgenre of choice, that may largely be true), or immerse yourself completely, as a way of making them part of your world. Our mums and dads might have been there, but they didn’t have Mark Lewisohn’s Complete Beatles Recording Sessions to pore over, which I spent much of the summer of ’87-’88 doing; they hadn’t read the same minutiae about the Fabs’ lives in a dozen different doorstop biographies; they hadn’t heard EVERY track; and they’d probably lost interest after Imagine and Band on the Run, if not Let it Be. So we could catch up and overtake them, become more-Beatles-than-thou, just by studying hard – which a certain breed of teen/young adult has both the time and inclination to do.

    After Lennon’s death, this was the only way to imagine and immerse oneself into a world where the Beatles themselves still existed, rather than just their legacy; thoughout the 1970s, the Beatles weren’t just history, they were potentially the future, because there was always a chance they might reform. That dream was well over by ’84 – we’d tidied away the Tug of Wars and the “All Those Years Ago”s – and until Lewisohn’s landmark book we didn’t realize that there could and would be a second coming in the form of the Anthologies. All that was left was the past, along with whatever new solo music emerged.

    But new solo music carried risks for the nascent Beatles nut. If it was too “now” (1984, 1986) it would break the 1960s and 1970s spell that we were trying so hard to weave over ourselves. If it was too obviously “then” too soon, it would risk coming off as try-hard and inauthentic, which is why Broad Street was such a naff project for McCartney to attempt in 1984. The 1990s were so much more satisfying for the Beatles latecomer: the Anthologies were new, they were now, but they were then as well. They were ours (the young CD-buying public) more than they were theirs (our parents’ generation, apart from the subset who had maintained their fervour for three decades).

    McCartney seems to have realised this by the late 1980s, when he recorded his much-heralded Flowers in the Dirt collaboration with Elvis Costello, an attempt to create a sound that built on his 1960s/1970s pop moment, rather than other people’s 1980s pop moments, without being an explicit homage to his past work. If he’d pulled it off it could have been one of his finest hours, but Flowers always felt a bit cold and distant to me (I much preferred Off the Ground, oddly enough). The one who really cracked the formula was George Harrison, tentatively with Cloud Nine and definitively with The Traveling Wilburys – a bunch of 1960s and 1970s rockers coming together as a new band creating new music that was definitely of its time, but which carried all sorts of pleasing connotations for the nostalgically inclined (and for latecomer Beatle-nuts). Mind you, McCartney almost got there first with Rockestra on Back to the Egg, but that pudding was over-egged and under-cooked: too many musicians, on too few tracks, ten years too soon.

    Too soon, Paul, too soon. Too soon in 1979 for Rockestra, too soon in 1984 for this “All You Need is Love”-revisited with its mellotrons harking back to Magical Mystery Tour. You had to give us time to study.

    It did go to number one, though, so what do I know.

  11. 41
    ace inhibitor on 24 Jul 2009 #

    I’m interested in this ‘my pop year’ stuff without really connecting with it… I wonder about the intersection with sibling order and rivalry here….is it easier to own pop if you don’t have too many people already claiming it? For me 73/4 was probably about the time I joined my 3 older siblings in the kitchen for the top 40, learning to listen/enthuse/sneer/argue… but ownership, claiming an identification with and through pop, was more gradual and partial – I remember one of them telling me sometime in 79 (aged 14)that Geno, or possibly Gangsters, ‘sounds like something you’d like’ and feeling pleased, recognised/identified. I may even have chosen to ‘like’ Dexys or Two-Tone, just on that basis.

  12. 42
    Billy Smart on 24 Jul 2009 #

    #40. Does anyone listen much to The Beatles’ Anthology albums anymore? The consensus amongst my pop friends seems to be that they can watch the documentaries time and time again, but they never find themselves wanting to listen to the demo versions of songs, although they see no harm in these things being in the public domain. And do we think that we’re going to end up buying the remastered CDs this autumn?

    #41. Yes, that’s the crucial other factor. I must be atypical here, because my lone sibling, my sister, is eleven years older than me, so I saw her passing through seventies youth cults through the dim eyes of an infant, and I’m some ways spent my own adolescence either competing with, or rejecting, the memory of this.

  13. 43
    LondonLee on 24 Jul 2009 #

    Not sure if I have a specific pop year. I turned 18 in 1980 so I feel like I lived through a lot of eras in a short space of time and they all have different meanings.

  14. 44
    johnny on 24 Jul 2009 #

    rory, you make some fantastic points about growing up a Beatles fan after the fact. i grew up in a beatles-loving household, though my parents were fans but not fanatics. it took me years to fill all the gaps in their collection (nothing between Help! and Sgt Pepper) and correct the misinformation (my dad assured me that ringo sang “back in the ussr”!). like you and jonathan, i eventually surpassed them in beatle fanaticism and they couldn’t care less. all the same, i really believe there are things to be learned from the memories of those who were there at the time. my uncle was a teenager with two older sisters and hated the beatles at the time because for seven years they were inescapable. my father insists to this day that Revolver is a weak album and that no one liked it at the time of its release. it and its accompanying singles sold comparatively poorly and was taken as proof that the fad was ebbing. i find this just as fascinating as anything lewisohn or macdonald has written.

    also a word about the rockestra: i think the difference between it and the wilburys is that Rockestra was composed (and in the video “conducted”) solely by mccartney, whereas the wilburys were very much a collaborative project, even down to all five members sitting down to write the lyrics together. if you’re interested in the Wilburys check out “A Conversation with Tom Petty”, a book-length interview in the style of the Shane MacGowan one from a few years back. he talks at great length about the formation and working style of the Wilburys.

    one more quick note, and i can’t stress this enough: “Chaos & Creation in the Backyard” from 2005 is fantastic and shows that Macca can turn on that incredible talent anytime he wishes to. I’d rate it with his very best work, and its best songs are more mature and introspective than possibly anything else in his catalog.

  15. 45
    Rory on 24 Jul 2009 #

    I’m sure you’re right about Rockestra, johnny – Harrison’s willingness to collaborate served him so much better there. I’ll keep an eye out for that book; the Wilburys were my gateway to Tom Petty, who did fantastic work throughout the ’90s. And I’ll second your recommendation of Chaos & Creation. Definitely a solo Macca highlight.

    Billy #42 – can’t say I listen to the albums themselves much anymore, although the odd track turns up on shuffle on the iPod. But like other albums that I once had on high rotation, I don’t really feel the need, I know them that well. So much of the Anthologies was so revelatory at the time that it infected my sense of the originals, creating new personal Platonic forms of “Strawberry Fields” and “Across the Universe” and so on… actually, I think the Anthology “Across the Universe” is its Platonic form.

  16. 46
    johnny on 24 Jul 2009 #

    i love that version of “And Your Bird Can Sing” on Anthology 2…the laughing is a bit naff but there are bootleg versions available without it and the arrangement is beautiful. i wish they’d left it that way.

  17. 47
    MikeMCSG on 27 Jul 2009 #

    This got some unexpected extra publicity when Macca was busted for marijuana again. I remember my sister singing “Pipes of Pot” as an alternative lyric.

    Barring charity collaborations this is his last no 1 to date. No More Lonely Nights just missed out then came the Frog Chorus. After that he went into freefall commercially.

  18. 48
    wichita lineman on 27 Jul 2009 #

    Re 47: I remember my dad buying Press To Play for his fancy new compact disc player and thinking there wasn’t a single decent track on it. Lots of widdly guitar rock from memory, which I suppose was in the air by the mid 80s but is a genre that has rarely served McCartney’s songs well. His first truly bad album, I suppose, so no hit singles from it and his career finally lost momentum.

  19. 49
    crag on 27 Jul 2009 #

    My friend Walter did me a homemade 3 disc Solo Macca Best Of for Christmas this year and to my slight amazement its probably been my most played cd of the past 7 months. Even more amazingly theres no noticeable drop off in quality throughout the 3 chronologically arranged discs. The tracks from Driving Rain, Chaos and Creation and Memory Almost are just as good as those from the more lauded McCartney or Band On The Run albums. True, as mentioned above the tracks from the period just after Pipes Of Pipes do suffer from horrifically mid-80s arrangements and production values but otherwise the collection holds up(and holds together) extremely well.

    Mention of that Tom Petty interview book reminds me of my dream Macca project- a full length interview book in which he discusses in depth his whole musical career and approach to music as writer, performer, producer and listener. I think such a “McCartney On Music” book would poss have the same impact as Dylan’s Chronicles in its way but i feel McCartney is just too stubborn and precious to agree to such a project…

  20. 50
    Erithian on 27 Jul 2009 #

    Will #35: I don’t have the figures to hand, but thinking back to Channel 4’s definitive list, seven singles from 1984 are among the top 100 best-selling singles of all time in the UK, but that distinction is shared with 1997, another list headed by a charity behemoth (spring ’78 to spring ’79 is the other massive 12-month period).

    Strangely, though, since we’re talking about a momentous year for chart pop and singles sales, the year started very quietly – in fact “Pipes of Peace” set a record for the lowest sales achieved by a single in a week when it was number one: a record which, unless I’m mistaken, stood until it was beaten by Orson’s “No Tomorrow” in 2006.

    As a piece of work, this is well-crafted and very listenable, and as someone mentioned above does show the benefit of having had that extra bit of input (it’s not a song at the “Scrambled Egg” stage, as I used to put it re Macca). Good video too – it was a few years later that Blackadder would protest about the Christmas 1914 footy match “And I was never offside!” Funny we should be discussing this song and this video in the week when the last two WWI Tommies died.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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…)

  24. 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.

  25. 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….

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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

  33. 63
    punctum on 19 Feb 2013 #

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

  34. 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.’

  35. 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…

  36. 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

  37. 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.

  38. 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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