Jul 09

PAUL MCCARTNEY – “Pipes Of Peace”

FT + Popular68 comments • 5,021 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. 1
    Tom on 21 Jul 2009 #

    Actually, playing the video just now I was a bit mean on G.Martin, who deserves credit if only for that proto-Timbaland tabla break near the end!

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 21 Jul 2009 #

    I definitely agree with you Tom re the comparison with ‘Ebony and Ivory’ – this is better and feels like it could have been a whole lot better if Macca had taken more care with the lyrics.
    There’s a strange atonal orchestral bit at the start of the video, not sure if it’s on the actual single – reminiscent of the end of ‘A day in the Life’. That and touches like the tabla make it a little out of the ordinary.
    I find the video quite affecting and it serves to undercut the sentiment of the lyrics as does the vocal which has a melancholy quality which is present in a lot of McCartney’s ballads (Yesterday; For noone) – as if in his heart of hearts he can’t believe in the power of love no matter how much he professes to do so.

    The call for peace reflects a martial theme to several of the song this year, including ‘Love Wars’ and a forthcoming number 1. Cruise Missiles arrived in the UK in November 1983 and Thatcher and Reagan were cranking up the Cold War rhetoric – beware the savage claw…

  3. 3
    Tom on 21 Jul 2009 #

    Two forthcoming number ones!

  4. 4
    Conrad on 21 Jul 2009 #

    Magnificent songwriting craft, yes some of the lyrics are a bit iffy, but I love when a song unfolds, and it seems to have so many options, so many parts working so well off each other.

    It’s a far sight better than most of the last few number 1s, although I still prefer the Frog Chorus :)

    A 7 from me.

  5. 5
    rosie on 21 Jul 2009 #

    Pleasant enough, but to one who grew up with the Beatles it’s a long way from Paulie at the height of his powers.

    For me, it’s rather ironic that 1994 should begin with a voice and a style as comfortable as an old pair of slippers, because a look at what’s to come suggests that it’s this year when my engagement with pop begins to crumble. I’m turning all bourgeois you see – from being on my uppers I was in a position to start looking for a house to buy, and zooming in on a terrace house in an unadopted road in Bedfordshore. In those days before the railway was electrified and the City boom really took off, property in rural Beds – often former brickworkers cottages – was plentiful and relatively cheap, and I would have secured it but for the building society – one Northern Rock – cavilling about the unadopted road. I never tried again. By the end of the year my situation was looking very different indeed. But that’s a story to be unveiled as the year moves on.

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2009 #

    My chief reaction to the ascendency of this as an eleven year-old was relief at the vanquishing of The Flying Pickets.

    It’s very much the sort of single that rises to the top a week or two after Christmas, isn’t it? Everyone who was going to has bought the seasonal records, nothing specificly of the new year has yet replaced them… This old guy has had a pleasant tune around for a few weeks by now – I’ve heard it so many times that its really got into my head.

    I think that this might be the first song on Popular where i always remember the video a lot better than the song. You have to admire the care with which its been put together and edited. As with a lot of McCartney’s solo work the display of cheery humility (multiple Maccas but all good sports) can be read as being a different form of egotism if you’re feeling ill-disposed towards him. I don’t think that I’d go that far.

    A pity that it couldn’t have been ‘Take It Away’. Or ‘No More Lonely Nights’.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2009 #

    #2 Watch: A week of Howard Jones’ ‘What Is Love?’

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    Conrad on 21 Jul 2009 #

    I recently noticed how similar the brilliant horn parts on the outro to “Take It Away” are to Jigsaw’s “Sky High”.

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    Taylor on 21 Jul 2009 #

    This is just slightly over the hill for me. My serious interest in Macca ends just after “Tug Of War” – the album, not the song so much – which is as weird and cold as his 70s stuff, but with generally better tunes. I haven’t heard the “Pipes Of Peace” LP for years, but I recall a mess of sap and non-funky funk; I think it’s the point where Paul McCartney becomes what people think of as Paul McCartney, if you know what I mean.

    Part of the appeal of his earlier solo records is their strangely alienated feeling, a not-rightness, even (especially) when aiming for loved-up warmth. “Pipes Of Peace” feels authentically cosy, rather than just cloying, and while I have a high McCartney tolerance I really can’t handle this one – or much of what came next.

  10. 10
    anto on 22 Jul 2009 #

    I remember this fondly from childhood so already have some affection for it, but listened to objectively I think it’s pretty good too.
    Easily the best of his post-Fab 4 number ones after the musical equivalent of a tin of shortbread and that one with Stevie Wonder
    Jeremy and Valerie was it?

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 22 Jul 2009 #

    Re 8: a mention of Jigsaw’s Sky High compels me to say RIP Clive Scott, who wrote it along with fellow Jigsaw-ee Des Dyer. They also wrote Who Do You Think You Are by Candlewick Green et cet. A classic, old school, Denmark Street pop song writer. I’ll also tip my hat to his Leave A little Love (also Candlewick Green) which, while not a hit, is similarly touched with greatness.

    I have a residual soft spot for Pipes Of Peace, partly (v rare for me) through the touching video – is its mateyness where the Thumbsaloft nickname originates? First listen in several years hasn’t done any damage to my affection for it. The complexity and of the melody on the opening lines alone is astonishing. It certainly feels closer to pre-rock Broadway than F***** or any other ’84 Popularistes, and sounds a heck of a lot less gooey than a forthcoming entry from his erstwhile duet partner.

    It sounds like McCartney’s actually worked for some time on the entire record – melodically, structurally, production-wise – in a way that gives it a similar feeling to Ram. Too often, he’s good enough to leave the job half-finished (Coming Up, Let ‘Em In, etc etc) and get away with it; I’d like to think this was a no.1 because he spent that extra bit of time on it. “Authentically cosy” it is, no bad thing in my book*.

    Oh, the Beach Boy/Frog Chorus harmonised finale is a sweet twist, too.

    *My Name Is Aram by William Saroyan

  12. 12
    TomLane on 22 Jul 2009 #

    This was the B-side of “So Bad” which in the U.S. was the followup to “Say Say Say”. But MTV played this when it came out, and that’s how most McCartney fans in America probably remember it. By the way “So Bad” peaked at #23. As somebody already posted, the video is more memorable than the song, but not a complete washout.

  13. 13
    logged out Tracer Hand on 22 Jul 2009 #

    I don’t think this did much in the US but I hated the album of the same name because it had “Say Say Say” on it, which I desperately wanted to have but which unfortunately came with lots of other songs without Michael Jackson on them. “Thriller” was the first – and for some time the only – album I’d bought, and getting stuck with “The Girl is Mine” instead of “SSS” felt like a cheap ploy to get me to buy an entire other album full of horrible dreck. No peace pipe for me – this album meant war against Paul McCartney forever.

  14. 14
    Steve Mannion on 22 Jul 2009 #

    Enjoyed the video a lot at the time. Besides ‘Say Say Say’ this was my introduction to Macca but I can’t remember any sense of ‘oh he used to be in the most famous band ever’ figuring in my thoughts until a few years later (maybe when George Harrison re-surfaced). Funny to think that he was enjoying his last run of huge hits here, never to return to the top 3 of the charts on his own – needed some bloody frogs to help him a year after this. Actually, looking at everyhit, it’s a little strange how many of his later singles peaked between 16 and 25. Even when he dies it’s hard to think of a solo song of his that could return to the top as opposed to the group stuff.

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 22 Jul 2009 #

    It might be a blessing for a singer not to have a My Sweet Lord/Imagine on their cv.

    If Man In The Mirror is anything to go by, I reckon the public will choose to remember the last remaining Beatles with Octopus’s Garden and When I’m 64.

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    Tom on 22 Jul 2009 #

    Maybe it’s something pop stars should specify in their will: “In the event of my death, the following songs are to receive promotion…”

  17. 17
    will on 22 Jul 2009 #

    I actually bought this at the time. I was 14 and going through my Beatles-nut stage which meant acquiring as many Fab-related records as I could, including solo singles. I don’t think I’ve played it for nearly 25 years.

    The video, I recall, was something of a big deal at the time, heavily trailed on TV and a big fuss made of the ‘special effects’ (Paul McCartney on one side and Paul McCartney on the other! Amazing!) But the song itself is all a bit ho-hum. I’d say 5 is quite generous.

  18. 18
    peter goodlaws on 22 Jul 2009 #

    I think it would be a bit harsh slamming this one, as it is clearly decent and well-meaning. Obviously it is preferable not to be advocating conflict but rather than to sponsor harmony, even if it is done in such a stomach-churningly cheesy way, it would in all liklihood have had Macca’s assassinated partner in peals of silvery laughter rather than in unspeakable outrage.

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    JonnyB on 22 Jul 2009 #

    I love this one, in a ‘when you’re in the mood’ sort of way, although I guess I agree with everyone about the lyrics. But then I suppose one thing I respect about Paul McCartney is that he has always been brave enough to be uncool.

    It’s a great introduction and coda, and I’m not sure that on the music front I could find anything that would mark it down. So I’ll disagree with Will at #17 and say that 5 seems a tad low.

  20. 20
    pink champale on 22 Jul 2009 #

    i loved ‘pipes of peace’ at the time, but can’t say i’m so fussed these days. it did however mark the start of my Year of Pop. as an eleven-year old (probably about the last age at which you can have a wholly uncomplicated relationship with the charts) it seemed to me in 1984 that all these monster hits represented music that had evolved to reach the point of perfection. looking at what we have to come, i can still see what i meant – to some extent this music is still my ideal of pop music, against which all else is measured. it probably helped that almost everything was at number one for *ages*, and a lot of it’s probably just to do with being that age, but i’ve never felt so connected, both as an individual, and as part of a peer group with what was at the top end of the charts. certainly pop in 1984 was public to a surely unprecedented degree – both in a “oh noes controversy” and a ‘behold this momentous event’ way. but more of all this later no doubt.

    (ever so slightly) more relevant to today, myself and some friends once invented a very excellent ‘pipes of peace’ drinking game. the rules were not complex. players stand in a circle passing round booze while singing “play the pipes of peace play the pipes of peace” in a mournful tone until no more booze can be found. for added pop bonus points the game was invented at a party on the infamous FRONTLINE. (though at the rather pleasant herne hill end, disappointingly).

  21. 21
    Rory on 22 Jul 2009 #

    Curious, really, that I never really latched onto this song, because I’d already had my first brush with the Beatles via a singles compilation released six months earlier, but the full-blown obsession really only took off later in 1984 when a friend taped me the White Album. I never even bought this album, which doesn’t seem any great loss, because I can’t see it standing up to 1968-vintage Paul; and yet somehow I ended up owning Give My Regards to Broad Street, which doesn’t stand up to Paul of almost any vintage.

    The song strikes me now as standard solo McCartney fare, with musical call-backs to past glories (the faux mellotron) sitting alongside contemporary flourishes (is that R2D2 whistling a few notes?), all propping up a workmanlike tune. I can’t really get excited about it, unlike some other solo-Macca moments before and since. A middling 5.

    I quite like the video, though, which is another I’m pretty sure I’d never seen. He should have forgotten about Broad Street and made McCartney Goes Forth.

    It suddenly strikes me that I’m almost exactly the age Paul was when this hit number one. Oh God, now I’m going to have one of those what-had-you-done-by-this-age moments. He wrote workmanlike number ones, and I’m writing workmanlike blog comments.

  22. 22
    Venga on 22 Jul 2009 #

    #14 Mull of Kintyre would go back to No1 forever in the event of a McCartney croak. And I know what you’re thinking but come on, Wings is just another name for solo Macca.

  23. 23
    Conrad on 23 Jul 2009 #

    22, Yesterday surely?

  24. 24
    wichitalineman on 23 Jul 2009 #

    Re 20: That’s a great point. I was 8/9 in 73/74 and can vouch that records like See My Baby Jive, Leader Of The Gang, Tiger Feet and Gonna Make You A Star seemed like major events at the time, the most POP pop there had ever been; with records regularly flying in at no.1 (hadn’t happened for 4 years, wouldn’t happen for another 6) it must have felt that way to a lot of pop fans.

    But I would say that, wouldn’t I? It felt like the perfect time to be the age I was because it felt like pop was aimed directly at ME and my pre-teen contemporaries. I’d never questioned this before, but maybe I’d have felt the same way if I was 9 in 1960 or 1987, really stinky years for pop.

  25. 25
    Tom on 23 Jul 2009 #

    ’84 was my Year Of POP too – everything seemed either the most amazing thing ever or the most terrible thing ever and it mattered VERY MUCH which was winning.

    I kind of still feel this abt the year’s music though some things have switched sides since I was 11!

  26. 26
    Billy Smart on 23 Jul 2009 #

    Mm – I was eleven in 1984 and can report the same thing. Apart from the monumental scale of many of the number ones that year, and their prolonged tenures at the top, I think that there are other factors that encouraged this response in me; it was when I started habitualy listening to the Radio (Radio 1 and Capital) and it was when my interest was such that I started buying pop magazines. And thinking about it, the move from primary to secondary school may also have some bearing on the matter.

  27. 27
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 23 Jul 2009 #

    An interesting thing about these spasms of “this is the moment pop was utterly for-and-about me” is that they possibly don’t simply function interchangeably: for one demi-generation the concluded-average-age this occurs at is 9; for another it’s 15 — there’s an affective dance between the quality of the year considered without this response, and the nature of the response

    (which is why ken dodd’s “tears” is not “part of 1967”: who gets to decide the narrative, and when? when do the massed 9-yr-olds come enough of age that they get a decent chance to say OUR YEAR WAS THIS SHAPE… and when do they arrive to find that the massed 15-yr-olds already came of age, possibly six year earlier, POSSIBLY NOT, and already determined how the shape of the year was going to be seen)

    ^i need a spreadsheet and graphs to express this idea clearly i suspect

  28. 28
    pink champale on 23 Jul 2009 #

    when do the massed 9-yr-olds come enough of age that they get a decent chance to say OUR YEAR WAS THIS SHAPE?

    aha. they do this at the time, by buying the records that make the year the shape they celebrate, of course. hurrah! or they do in chartopia. the first record i ever bought was released in june 1985…

  29. 29
    wichitalineman on 23 Jul 2009 #

    1971 wasn’t Baby Jump-shaped, it has since transpired.

    Anybody got a “my pop year” that isn’t ’84 or ’73/’74? 1978 seems rather child-shaped (maybe why I loathed so many of the no.1s as I was all of 13).

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    Steve Mannion on 23 Jul 2009 #

    #24 I was 9 in 1987 and I can confirm that I thought pop music was awesome at the time (maybe not a great year for #1s but a couple of instant classics spring immediately to mind). I’m not sure when I started considering such concepts as ‘a bad year for pop’, probably only since the inception of the “blogosphere” ulp.

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