Jul 08

WINGS – “Mull Of Kintyre”/”Girls School”

FT + Popular102 comments • 7,005 views

#416, 4th December 1977

This has the slightly dubious distinction of being the first record I ever disliked. I barely knew about records at all, I was four and three quarters: so my cynicism started early, if you like. This one was inescapable – number one for nine weeks, two million sold, flattening the opposition through Christmas ’77 and then on into ’78. I didn’t know what number ones were but I guess I just got bored of “Mull” being around, its comforting lullaby sway pushing into even our pop-free household*. I remember not being able to figure out what a Mull was, or a Kintyre: I’d been reading the Hobbit, and the Narnia books, so I reckoned it was an honorific, like King, or Tarkaan. And this dark haired guy singing it, he’d be the Mull, then?

Actually he was royalty of a sort, though more bicycle monarchy than Sun King by this point: still doggedly insistent on Wings the band, not McCartney the brand. Wings were intermittently terrific, more often whimsically entertaining or a curate’s egg, rarely as dreary as this. “Mull Of Kintyre” doesn’t much sound like a Wings record, in fact – it was recorded during sessions for London Town, their most resolutely lightweight album, and would have stuck out there like an unaloft thumb. Macca has told and retold the story of how he assumed the dreamcaught melody for “Yesterday” was an unconscious borrow from a far more primal tune – but how much more timeless does the hymnal “Mull” sound? It obviously struck chords deep enough to smash the Beatles’, and anyone else’s, sales records: an unexpected climax to the year punk broke.

What do I think of it now? Like most of the really monolithic singles, it’s hard to listen to fresh. It’s certainly a sweet and sincere record, and the pipes – locally sourced – work well. But there’s no ache to it, no true sense of place, it evokes nothing but standard Highlands postcard imagery. The mood is soporific: only right at the end, when the Laird of Wings breaks into a “woooooo-ha!”, does anyone try and even hint that life in the Mull might ever be other than the gentle contemplation of simple beauties. Which, of course, was the appeal: in a guttering economy, a fractious country, a pop chart full of confusion, Wings delivered a record about opting out entirely, a hit of pure escapism. “Mull Of Kintyre” is a one-way ticket out of pop culture: though those left behind by its Tartan Rapture were about to enjoy years of astonishing musical plenty.

*oh yeah, “Girls School” – apparently this was treated as the A-Side in the US, but here “Mull” was a double-A-side in name only: I don’t think I’d ever heard “Girls School” until a year or so ago, and I’ve heard plenty of Wings. “Girls School” is much more typical of the band, though – the kind of McCartney song that kindly reviewers have always called “a rocker”, which is to say it is to rock as a jog round the park is to the Olympic 1000m. Since I have no especial concern with the rockingness of things, I quite like it. But it has no business influencing this score.



  1. 1
    Mark G on 18 Jul 2008 #

    We all went for the supposed alternate A side.

    Fighting a losing battle, we were.

    Right, now I’ve grabbed number one position, I EDIT and carry on…

    It seems odd to me that of all the Beatles, Macca has had the by far most successful after-career, but when his time comes, they’ll be playing “Hey Jude”, “Let it be” or any number of them ol’ Beatle tunes in rememberance. John had “Imagine”, George had “My Sweet Lord”. Paul’s may have had more post beatles hits than beatle ones, but their resonance hasn’t been anything like as robust.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 18 Jul 2008 #

    I’m no musician, but am I right in thinking that this is the easiest song to play to get to number one for many years? It’s followed me around a bit, even though I’m too young to remember it at the time; the only tune half-mastered in my best friend’s short-lived guitar lessons, or when I was in a youth theatre devised piece and we wanted to do a flashback memory scene of a character’s Scottish childhood and one of us could only just about play the recorder – “Oh, let’s just make the tune ‘Mull Of Kintyre'”

    Whether on the record or performed on any instrument it never does anything more than plod drearily, to these ears.

    I always think when I’m watching the promo film of this, and other Wings singles (the family McCartney gather the village together to entertain them around a bonfire, the McCartneys show us a film of their life together on tour, etc) that there’s something a bit decadent about all of this, all of this playing the role of the benevolent prince/ laird, in its way as much detached from the bonds of ordinary human contact as the debauched courts of the Stones or Zeppelin.

  3. 3
    mike on 18 Jul 2008 #

    #1 – So did Peel, who played “Girls School” approvingly on his show, with some comment about how “Paul has always been a rocker”.

    We called this “Muck of McCartney” at school. Others called it “Mulligans’ Tyres”. Coping strategies, y’see.

    I’ve never exactly warmed to the squall of the bagpipe, but give me “Amazing Grace” over this dirge any day.

  4. 4
    mike on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Am I right in thinking that this is the easiest song to play to get to number one for many years?

    Probably the easiest since “Amazing Grace”, which is a doddle on the old descant recorder.

  5. 5
    tim davidge on 18 Jul 2008 #

    One of the great mis-heard song lyrics: MULLIGAN’S TYRES

    #2 watch: Brighouse & Rastrick brass band, “Floral Dance”. While we’re on the subject of “tickets out of pop culture”, this latter is an old tune by pop standards. Notable performancess include that of the Australian singer Peter Dawson in the 1930s.

  6. 6
    vinylscot on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Being Scottish, I rather liked this when it came out. I don’t think anyone could doubt Paul McCartney’s (and, to a lesser extent, Denny Laine’s) sincerity in writing the song, and , geographical inaccuracies apart, it was a genuine attempt to write a love song to a beautiful place that he had very special feelings for.

    It is a simple song, to listen to, and to play (in as far as bagpipes can be easy to play), but that does not make it a bad song. Arriving just before Christmas, it would, of course, attract many thousands of once-a-year record buyers, buying singles for mum/dad/granny etc., etc, and this obviously helped it establish itself initially, but it stayed at number one right through January, so it must have had something.

    Maybe it did just strike a chord after the sh***y year we had had, and the arrival of p**k.

    I have to admit my own feelings for the song have slightly selfish reasons. At that time, I was regularly told I bore a resemblance to McCartney (although 18 years younger than him!), and, while I obviously protested vehemently, the video to this, with Mccartney in his green combat jacket wandering about, did rather accentuate the likeness (especially in the long shots). This did me no harm at all, and for the next couple of years, probably until after “Coming Up” I certainly played on it whenever I got the opportunity.

    This is still the biggest-selling non-charity single in the UK. I din’t think it wat THAT good, but I’d give it a 7.

  7. 7
    Mark G on 18 Jul 2008 #

    I first heard it as “Mother Kintyre” for what it’s worth.

  8. 8
    DJ Punctum on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Almost a full decade has now passed since “Hey Jude,” and what communal singalong is left for its author now? It is 1977, and the Silent Generation have looked in quiescent horror at a subsequent generation to whom they now know there is no talking – think of the unutterable gulf between, say, The Who By Numbers and Never Mind The Bollocks (so the reflext reaction of dismissing the Pistols as Who-lite will not, and never did, wash). So the Silent Generation are left with only one option; to sing for, and to, themselves. In America, over Christmas 1977, that took the form of “You Light Up My Life,” a song Patti Page might have sung a quarter-century previously, and now sung by the nice daughter of that nice, clean Pat Boone.

    “Mull Of Kintyre” hardly played in the States, and I doubt it was really meant to. McCartney himself has admitted that to “go punk” in ’77 would have been the saddest thing he could possibly have done; yet he had to do something – Lennon had retired to househusband status, while both George and Ringo didn’t seem to be anywhere much any more; in any case, one of 1977’s best-selling albums was The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl, which, with its ceaseless teen screams right at the front of the mix, burying the actual music, uncannily foresees the likes of the Mary Chain (though the really extreme stuff from that gig, and from the Shea Stadium ’66 farewell, remains the provenance of bootlegs only); and what’s more, selling two million copies of a Scottish bagpipe lullaby waltz was a punk rock gesture in itself – almost broke after the Apple fiasco in the early ’70s, McCartney initially had no choice but to pursue the lo-fi option; thus early solo albums like McCartney and Ram come across as a slightly more determined Ariel Pink. That subtle, thumbs-up-but-fuck-you-really approach seems to have persisted in McCartney’s work since; for every big budget triumph like Band On The Run and every nugget of beyond-AoR genius like “Silly Love Songs,” there are oddities like “Give Ireland Back To The Irish,” which he promptly followed up with “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” just because he could.

    Naturally, as it was intended, “Mull Of Kintyre” reached out not only to the Silent Generation, and the legion of lapsed Boomers who had reluctantly joined them, but to the generation which preceded them; at long last, the grannies, who had always viewed McCartney as a nice boy gone slightly wrong, were reassured. Hence its nine-week residency at number one over Christmas – it was, strictly speaking, a double A-side, but “Girls’ School,” one of McCartney’s duff, over-eager rockers, was never played, and with lyrics such as: “She gives them pills in a paper cup/And she knocks them on the head,” you can understand why – and its eventual status as the biggest-selling British single ever, the first to top two million sales (“She Loves You” had previously come closest, at 1.7 million), a total not to be bested for another seven years.

    My dad approved of the involvement of the massed pipes and drums of the Campbeltown Pipe Band – they even appeared with Paul, Linda and Denny, performing the song on the Mike Yarwood Christmas Special (!) on Christmas Day – though thought the song to be a ripoff of an unspecified ancient Caledonian refrain (but then that’s McCartney’s inadvertent genius, to write a song which sounds as though it’s been around forever) and blanched visibly at Macca’s Americanised pronunciation (“Oh mist rolling in FRAAAAM the sea”) and his admittedly silly hoedown whooping at the end; McCartney could never resist playing the over-eager scoutmaster.

    The song builds up from simple acoustic strumming; and the various other elements – harmonies, rhythm, Campbelltown Pipe Band, more voices on every chorus – are introduced systematically, so it sounds more organic than “Hey Jude”; there is no need for an extended outro, since its build is spread out more generously. The lyrics, though, are solidly backward-looking; instead of the friendly hand upon the next generation’s shoulder, McCartney reminisces about “the days I knew then,” “far have I travelled and much have I seen,” “nights when we sang like a heavenly choir,” “back where my memories remain.” It’s all about surrending any claim to the future (though the vision of “vast painted deserts, the sunsets on fire” seems to belong to Arizona rather than the Hebrides) about settling down, getting into bed with, the past. And although the record’s arrangement is characteristically ingenious – note the evolution from the impromptu slap on the side of his guitar which introduces the first chorus to the massed drum rolls which herald the final chorus – it’s a sentiment with which I could hardly empathise in a year which, for me, revealed so many previously unknowable art of genius, from Television and the Modern Lovers right through to the Buzzcocks and Wire; and so for me “Mull Of Kintyre” is too complacent in its own certainty to work as a meaningful 1977 record. The notion that it represented a decisive backwards glance can be reinforced by the fact that the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band’s straight-faced performance of the “Floral Dance” stayed behind it for six weeks at number two over the same period. But for truly meaningful low-key communal empathy in the music of 1977, you have to go to John Martyn’s wondrous “Small Hours” – recorded across several open Berkshire fields, near a lake and a train line at three in the morning, guitar, echoplex, Moog, birdsong, vocal mumbles, vibes, drum machine, nature and love nurturing each other in a manner of openness and healing which radiates so wonderfully and naturally three decades later.

  9. 9
    rosie on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Aaaaaargh! This is why punk had to happen!

    Oh, sorry, punk’s already been and gone. And this syrupy tosh managed to stay at the top for what seemed forever!

    At this time I’m feeling on a high, though, with the joys of having a house of our own at last. An end-of-terrace with, on account of the peculiar layout of many Hull streets, an unfeasible amount of garden. This song is one of a number (including the previous number one) indelibly associated with that particular rite of passage. It also goes with misty East-coast winter days and rides on the back of a motor-bike into Holderness and up to Brid. So I have a certain amount of affection for it.

    I know it was officially a double A-side but I don’t think I ever heard Girls School until the other day.

  10. 10
    jeff w on 18 Jul 2008 #

    For a long time my view on this was much the same as Tom’s (and Rosie’s!). And yes, its extended tenure at #1 contributed to my dislike.

    But I did a complete 180 on this when I bought the ‘Wingspan’ McCartney CD compilation cheap in the sales a few years ago. Now I think its quite majestic… well up until that “Yeeee-hah!” anyway, which ruins everything that’s preceded.

    MC is right to highlight the slow and systematic build in the arrangement. I also really like the use of bagpipes here (whereas I’m no fan of the Royal Scots Dragoons’ “Amazing Grace”), especially the way that the drone anticipates the first key change. In fact isn’t there a double key change, here? Or a key change and then a reversion to the original key? It’s almost as if Macca was deliberately setting out to make the epic-est of pop epics.

    There’s a nice running joke in the third Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel (the one about the Krikkit wars), where Arthur Dent ponders that the beautiful songs he hears sung by the Krikkiters are McCartney-esque. He imagines Paul singing one to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking “probably Essex”.

  11. 11
    Erithian on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Ah, Wings – the band the Beatles could have been…

    There’s a passage in “Life, the Universe and Everything” where Douglas Adams riffs on the Macca theme. Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast visit the planet Krikkit and hear its inhabitants “singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire on evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking probably Essex.” Later they sing “a sweet romantic ballad which would have netted McCartney Kent and Sussex and enabled him to put in a fair offer for Hampshire” – and the middle eight “would have had McCartney firmly consolidated in Winchester and gazing intently over the Test Valley to the rich pickings of the New Forest beyond.” I always associate this passage with “Mull of Kintyre” for some reason.

    As noted above, it was the first 2-million selling single in the UK, remains the fourth biggest seller of all time, and, given that “Bo Rhap’s” re-release which pushed it past the 2 million mark was for Aids charities, the biggest selling non-charity record of all time. And it’s absolutely perfect for Christmas, summoning up the nostalgia for “the days I knew then” which all of us return to at that time of year. I don’t know if other Popular commenters of my vintage feel the same, but there’s a definite shift in feel between the records that happened to be Number 1 at Christmas before we followed the charts, and the “Christmas Number 1s” beginning with Slade (or possibly Benny Hill) which take us back to our memories, whether our Christmases were idyllic or not.

    There was a saying that Michael Heseltine’s Conference speeches proved he knew how to find the Conservative Party’s clitoris (!) – well, Macca knew where to find the record-buying public’s collective G-spot with this, a song which sounds like it had always been around but just needed him to write it.

    Plus it’s a fully-realised vision. We all know the story of how Macca woke up one day with a melody in his head, wrote a lyric called “Scrambled Egg” then worked on it for a bit and it became “Yesterday”. Too many of his later songs stayed at what I call “the scrambled egg stage” (“Waterfalls”, anybody? – and “Dance Tonight” is scrambled egg on toast.) – but this was one he saw through to a conclusion and a deserved massive hit.

    This was the Top 3 that earned me that mention on the Gambo and Rice radio show – the Wogan-plugged “Floral Dance” at 2 and the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” at 3 for five whole weeks.

  12. 12
    Erithian on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Ha – mind-meld, Jeff!

  13. 13
    Adam T on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Is it wrong that the first thing that appeared in my mind when I read ‘Girls’ School’ was Lemmy Kilminster’s warty face, performing Please Don’t Touch (Valentine’s Day Massacre)with said rather scary band?

  14. 14
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jul 2008 #

    1: if there is any gianty big popstar i would like to sit down and quiz unmercifully it is mr mccartney
    2: and the topic would be THE CRAFT OF MELODY, and how a medodists males choices, what’s their good, what’s their bad, what’s their safe but dull, what’s their wild and risky?

    i don’t mind the intention of this song or its success: things i dislike all seem to be technical, a specialist’s snobbery (“specialist” in this case meaning i was a chorister at school, with all kinds of acquired small-bore expertise in the delivery of hymns, and a strong sense — a physical sense — of which hymntunes worked and which didn’t, as someone having to sing them, lots*: this tune is saggy and draggy, and the way the words fall across the tune, which i’d call enjambement if it were poetry, is just weirdly clumsy — “oh mist rolling in from the sea my desire [gasp] is always to there oh mull etc” — in regard to how breathing should structure the sense and etc) (so yes: i’d quiz him on technical matters, cz yes, he’s a master in this dead-centre stuff — except a self-taught and a wildly fallible master)

    *”hark! the herald angels sing” can fvck off for example, it has a completely unrealistically wide pitch-range and is exhausting and unpleasant to perform

  15. 15
    David Belbin on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Re DJP’s comments: John Martyn’s ‘Small Hours’. Now there’s a song worthy of a lengthy discussion. It exists in many versions, most notably the one DJP describes and another great live version on the recent double reissue of ‘One World’. But he also reused the tune for a song called ‘Annie’ which is on one of the voiceprint live Martyn albums and for another song, which he played on a BBC concert which I used to have on cassette. I can still recall the first verse, which sounded autobiographical ‘Grew up in a dirty town where they like to (something) tear you down/if you showed an easy side they took a knife and cut you wide’. The BBC then faded out the concert, so no full recording exists of what could have been the quintessential version…

    Sorry, highly irrelevant, but a lot more interesting than ‘Mull of Bloody Kintyre’.

  16. 16
    LondonLee on 18 Jul 2008 #

    God I hated this at the time. Listening to the new chart on a Tuesday lunchtime praying that it wouldn’t STILL be Number One, but there it was week after week, this awful dirge that just put my teeth on edge like someone dragging their nails down a blackboard. It was that painful to listen to, especially as it seemed to NEVER GO AWAY.

    I don’t mind it now though. Probably because I’m now as old and sentimental as Macca was then.

  17. 17
    Lena on 18 Jul 2008 #

    As I wrote before I had to sing “You Light Up My Life” (as did all the other graduating 6th graders) in June ’78 and we rehearsed for weeks – mainly to make sure we sang the song as it was written, not the way Ms. Boone sang it. It wasn’t hard to sing, otherwise, whereas from what I remember this would be. (And yes, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is insane – not that I ever sang it, but the drawn-out up-and-down “Gloria!” certainly sounds exhausting. I’d rather sing “The First Noel.”)

  18. 18
    Erithian on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Indeed, it was finally deposed in the chart announced on Tuesday 31 January 1978, meaning it fell a day short of being the first Christmas number one ever to hold on at the top until the following February. For that mark to be achieved, for the first and only time so far, we had to wait another 15 years, for a song that I’m sure will have annoyed an awful lot of people just as much!

    BTW, p*nk lord, the poetry works better than in the Charlton Athletic version:
    “Valley, Floyd Road, oh mist rolling in from the Thames,
    My desire is only to be here, oh Valley, Floyd Road”
    – yet that too was a source of nostalgia during their 7-year exile at Palace and West Ham.

  19. 19
    grange85 on 18 Jul 2008 #

    I’m really fond of Mull of Kintyre and I think always have been – maybe there was a time in my life when I’d smugly and snobbily shrug it off but it’s one of those songs that I can’t understand the venomous response it inspires in some people. OK…there’s the bagpipes…and the [strum-tap-tap]…and the ridiculous video of the three of them sitting on a log in a misty studio while the pipe band marches by…

    But none of that bothers me and the mere fact that this is a love-song to home I can understand (I love “home” more than anywhere else) – I’d kill to have a place I can love as much as Paul loves his place. And for that reason, and for the utter majesty of the piece, and the fact that it happened when it did (proving that punk’s supposed popular music enema didn’t really mean all that much down at the coal face), I can’t help but enjoy it.

    I do spend almost every xmas defending “Wonderful Christmastime” so maybe I’m just a Macca apologist!

  20. 20
    mike on 18 Jul 2008 #

    #14 – Speaking as a former chorister myself, I bloody loved singing Hark The Herald! The only way to get round those high bits was to blast them out full throttle, and blast them out we jolly well did.

    Conversely, my least favourite piece was “In The Bleak Midwinter”. Moan – stone – snow on snow – zzzzz. A plodding, dreary dirge… just like “Mull Of Kintyre”, then!

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Kaw, ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, that must be one of the dubbiest-sounding mainstream hits ever. However quietly supermarkets and office parties play it, it still sounds incredibly sonorous and resonant.

  22. 22
    DJ Punctum on 18 Jul 2008 #

    I talk a little more about “Small Hours” in this typically misleadingly-titled piece:


  23. 23
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Jul 2008 #

    noooo! miiiike! “bleak midwinter” is the BEST CAROL EVAH! snow-on-snow action! water like a stone! ALL GOTH ALL THE TIME

  24. 24
    SteveM on 18 Jul 2008 #

    nowt to say here really except FULL SPEED AHEAD because ’78 looks a veritable vintage

  25. 25
    Erithian on 18 Jul 2008 #

    IIRC, wasn’t “Girls’ School” initially inspired by titles of porn films? “School Mistress”, “Oriental Princess” etc? Naughty Macca…

  26. 26
    mike on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Full Speed Ahead indeed; I’ve got my “Year is 1978” Smart Playlist blasting away on shuffle in readiness. Crown Heights Affair! Stiff Little Fingers! Charles Aznavour! XTC! I-AM-YOUR-AUTO-MATIC-LOVER! OK ready let’s do it!

  27. 27
    Erithian on 18 Jul 2008 #

    As explained above, we’re already a twelfth of the way through 1978 and I’m cowering at the prospect of mock O-levels…

  28. 28
    DJ Punctum on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Charles Aznavour – he’s strictly roots.

  29. 29
    Tom on 18 Jul 2008 #

    #28 – there’s full speed ahead and there’s 3 points on your blogging license! We’ve a poll to do first anyway.

  30. 30
    Dan R on 18 Jul 2008 #

    I really like this song. It became a hideous behemoth because of its run at the top and obviously McCartney’s laziness elsewhere can lead thoughtless types to assume that this is cheap songwriting by the absentee landlaird of his rock star island. But, as has already been observed, there is a special genius in being able to write a tune that simply MUST already exist, must ALWAYS have existed, and Macca has done it at least a dozen times. And why wouldn’t that lead you to complacency? If you turn your hand to any song style and carry off something compelling in it (‘Helter Skelter’, ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Paperback Writer’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ AND ‘The Frog Chorus’) wouldn’t you end up being lazy? if it takes no effort to jump the hurdle, why make an effort?

    Returning to a motif of the Baccara thread, here’s a song entirely devoid of irony. And it’s this that McCartney would become increasingly pilloried for. While the deeply fucked-up Lennon is prickly, sarcastic, vicious, always getting the piss-take in first, even when it comes to his own songs (but we’ll come to this in good time), McCartney hits his emotions unerringly. He’s done irony, of course, on the Sgt Pepper title track and in Paperback Writer, for example, but by and large his sight is fixed unblinkingly, unsquintingly, on the emotion. Few songwriters of the rock era are so convinced and convincing about the simplicity of love: that it is a good thing, that everyone should feel it, that the more of it there is the better the world would be. When Lennon sang ‘All You Need Is Love’, he HAD to couple the chorus with an ambiguously nihilistic verse. When McCartney sings ‘And I need love, like a garden needs a flower, like a raindrop needs a shower’ (on the above-maligned ‘Waterfalls’) he really believes it and he knows you believe it too. As love songs got more overtly sexualised, or became pastiche, McCartney’s sincerity was an obvious target for mockery – not helped by his teeth-grittingly relentless ordinary-bloke cheeriness (‘the Beatles were just a good little band’). The nearest McCartney gets to irony is pastiche, but even then it seems animated by sheer joy at musicmaking and an unselfconscious preparedness to try anything, whether it be Charleston-era swing in ‘Honey Pie’ or Mull of Kintyre’s near contemporary the orchestral album, Thrillington.

    Mind you, if Philip Norman is to be believed, McCartney is a rapacious monster of avarice and deception, whose every thought is guided by cold financial calculation. If so, it is all the more remarkable that in his songwriting he is so elegantly transparent in his emotions. (I’m sure Philip Norman isn’t to be believed. I recall the first plank of his case against McCartney to rest on young Paul’s immediate response to the death of his mother: ‘What will we do with her money?’. That a biographer feels happy about turning the shocked words of a 14-year-old boy, hearing about the unexpected death of his own mother, against him says more about author than subject, I think.)

    As an aside, what always seems to me so utterly bizarre about Macca is that someone who’d written the songs he has would, you would think, appreciate that they are great songs and that everyone loves them. But in interviews he always seems to bizarrely needy: I have rarely seen him interviewed without him telling some story of a London taxi driver giving him the thumbs-up and saying ‘Pipes of Peace – top tune!’ But I suppose he really does just need love.

    And this song is no different. It is, to me, inconceivable to imagine Lennon trying to write a pastiche Scottish ballad without also wanting to fuck it up in some way. And that made Lennon great, of course (it’s so easy to fall into the trap of feeling you can only defend McCartney by attacking Lennon, and vice versa). McCartney’s love for the Mull of Kintyre is effortless and elegiac and SIMPLE (how many number ones had such a high proportion of single-syllable words? ‘Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen / Carry me back to the days I knew then / Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir / Of the life and the time of the Mull of Kintyre’ only one polysllabic word per line).

    My mum who had her teenage in the sixties was always scornful of the Beatles (she was a Stones fan) and held particular scorn for Paul McCartney, who she considered to embody the nonStones-yness of the Beatles. With the result that I first heard this song on Top of the Pops against the background of a chorus of booing. I hid my liking for the song which may also be why I feel rather passionate in my defence of it.

    And yes it was also the first song I picked out on the guitar.

  31. 31
    Billy Smart on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Mull of Kintyre’s singularly wide field of public reception is demonstrated by this being the first song to appear on Popular since ‘Two Little Boys’ that my mother would recognise! (and I think that there will only be two subsequent ones…)

  32. 32
    Tom on 18 Jul 2008 #

    I assume my Mum knows it too, mind you she was coping with a 5 month old baby at the time, which I guess is why I was plonked down in front of the telly enough to actually notice a pop hit.

  33. 33
    grange85 on 18 Jul 2008 #

    #30 Damn! I wish I’d written that – I’ve bookmarked it in delicious so I can point McCartney detractors towards it!

  34. 34
    Tom on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Yes, terrific post Dan R. – I sometimes think the thing I like most about Popular is being talked round (or potentially so) when I’ve doled out a low score.

  35. 35
    wichita lineman on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Paul may claim Yesterday to have some primal Summer Is A-Coming In source, but it has already had a couple of mentions on Popular. Answer Me by Frankie Laine/David Whitfield bears a fairly strong resemblance. Alma Cogan’s mum was probably playing it on the banjo just as he nodded off at one of her soirees…

    I guess when Yesterday charted in ’76 Paul must have thought he’d already written his Imagine/My Sweet Lord. I can’t believe he’d have thought this awful thing came close to any of those songs. Or Answer Me, for that matter.

    But then again, I have to agree with you Dan R, you’re entirely right about the ‘pre-existing song’ knack that Paul has. Does anyone else in modern pop have it? I remember Smash Hits reviewing McCartney II and Ian Cranna saying that there was barely any effort involved (5 out of 10). Waterfalls is simple and beautiful, yes, so why the heck should he try harder? And for my money, there was a lot more thought and originality in McCartney II than there was in Double Fantasy: Front Parlour could have come out on Static Caravan in the late nineties.

    Re 8: My Bloody Valentine sampled the Hollywood Bowl screams for the opening track on their Ecstasy mini-album in ’87, so close were they to the tinnitus-inducing mid-eighties zeitgeist.

  36. 36
    tim davidge on 18 Jul 2008 #

    re:#34 – there are lots of things on this blog over the years that have got 5,6,7,8,9 or even 10 alongside them which I don’t like, didn’t buy and even turn off when they come on the radio. That’s not because they’re bad, it’s because I just don’t happen to like them, which is not to say that they don’t work on their own terms. This is another one that works on its own terms, be they simplistic, nostalgic, sentimental, emotional or whatever.

  37. 37
    rosie on 18 Jul 2008 #

    Paul was the de facto first Beatle with a number one with Eleanor Rigby, surely?

  38. 38
    Doctor Casino on 18 Jul 2008 #

    From an American McCartney fan perspective, “Mull of Kintyre” is one of the weird, mystery songs that you only hear as curious additions to greatest hits albums or bonus cuts on CD reissues – others include “Hi Hi Hi,” “Give Ireland Back To The Irish,” and “Once Upon A Long Ago.” So it’s hard for me to entirely get inside a world where this song is a relentless pop force of which every man of woman born is nightmarishly sick from birth. To my ears, it’s lovely, certainly a bit simpering but not quite as banal in its phrasing as a postcard sentiment… there are some funny ideas in here, particularly the anthropomorphisation of the whole place (“the life and the times of the Mull of Kintyre”). “Sweep through the heather” is nice too.

    I’ve always found this one of McCartney’s easiest tunes to sing, so some items in the above discussion confuse me. But I’ve never had a real singer’s voice as such, and in general I get thrown trying to sing along with McCartney because he just goes too damn high. This goes down easy.

  39. 39
    crag on 18 Jul 2008 #

    can i just say this is probably the best thread on Popular i’ve read in living memory?Its stuff like this that makes me keep coming back here…
    I’ll just add that i’d give MOK a 7 -weirdly enough i always mentally link it, a song about finding contentment living in Scotland written by an English man, with Ferry Cross the Mersey- even as a Scot whos never lived in Liverpool its a song that always makes that me a bit blubsome with thoughts of “home”-a shame both songs are so site specific really…

  40. 40
    Martin Skidmore on 18 Jul 2008 #

    It occurs to me that I think I probably got an acceptance letter from Cambridge Uni while this was at #1, which might dispose me more favourably towards it if a) I hadn’t hated Cambridge and quit quickly and b) this were not a horrible record that I loathed from the start and more and more as it lingered for so long.

    1978 has some major good memories for me. I’m not sure whether I connect any of them to hits of the day – we’ll see as we get there, I guess.

  41. 41
    Waldo on 19 Jul 2008 #

    Take out “Girls School”. The Scottish Song (as unmentionable as The Scottish Play is in some quarters) was what this was all about and you couldn’t really expect a lad from a Lambeth high-rise without a splash of Scots in him (though plenty of Welsh and in later life plenty of scotch) to have anything to do with this train wreck, especially after what the sods did on the pitch at Wembley… (Was that YOU on top of the crossbar, young Marcello?!)

    I happen to think that McCartney is a genius with few equals as a composer, particularly as a balladeer. There is absolutley nothing wrong with “Ma Looking Tired” at all. It’s just them fucking bagpipes, a contraption (certainly no musical instrument) which generates a truly ungodly screetch, which I would gladly deem illegal south of the Tweed. Perhaps our current Prime Minister might contemplate introducing such a bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. That’s if he lasts that long!

  42. 42
    DJ Punctum on 19 Jul 2008 #


  43. 43
    DJ Punctum on 19 Jul 2008 #

    ..and no, it wisnae me.

  44. 44
    CarsmileSteve on 19 Jul 2008 #

    this is the first song i can remember which, considering i was two and a half at the time of its release, seems a little unlikely in retrospect. the thing is i had small toy banjo with a face of a tiger on the big round bit (technical term there) and so would sing “mull of kin-TIGER” whilst pretending to play it.

  45. 45
    Kat but logged out innit on 19 Jul 2008 #

    Re: easiness of playing – a certain 1980 #1 was in the first half of Learn To Play Keyboard Book 1, whilst Mull Of Kintyre was only in the appendix at the back. This might have just been because it was ADG instead of CDF though – M of K is definitely one for the first page of Learn To Play Guitar Book 1 though.

  46. 46
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jul 2008 #

    This was played over and over when I had to work an 8 hour shift for my holiday job at a petrol station on Boxing Day with only a radio to keep me company – the day when I decided to break up with my first girlfriend – so it tends to remind me of that more than anything. I don’t hate it but nor do I much care for it.
    John Martyn’s ‘Small hours’ is a different matter. I think I bought ‘One world’ along with Eno’s “Before and after science’ (complete with prints) on the strength of a review by Vivien Goldman in Sounds and was not disappointed.

  47. 47
    Billy Smart on 19 Jul 2008 #

    A few words of praise needed for ‘The Floral Dance’ here, I feel.

    As a backwards-looking tune, how much I prefer it to ‘Kintyre’. How it manages to surge and overflow from it’s precise structure, evoking and creating real delight. The band might have looked a bit severe on Top Of The Pops, but all the concentration goes into making the song glorious.

    And it really is one of the most completely overlooked huge-selling singles in British pop history. Nobody even makes jokes about it… The Terry Wogan version is better remembered!

    Thankfully we will have the chance to discuss another brilliant record featuring a brass band very soon, though…

  48. 48
    Doctor Casino on 19 Jul 2008 #

    Incidentally, I don’t think “Girls School” is all that bad, and it falls well on the side of genuine actual “rocker,” in the same vein as “Hi Hi Hi” or “Jet.” The content is stupid but it’s got a good hook (“Ahhhhh, what can the sisters do?”) and a nice twang on the riff. It’s just so blatantly a B-side – what exactly was the idea with having them placed equally? Did they really have no idea what a monster “Mull of Kintyre” was going to be? Or was the idea that “Girls School” would perform well in places outside the UK?

    Also – wasn’t there a bit of a tiff over the credit for this? I seem to remember it being one of the major bones of contention between McCartney and Denny Laine over the following few years.

  49. 49
    Matthew K on 21 Jul 2008 #

    A’course the reason McCartney has cranked out so many classic tunes is that his output with the Beatles was formative in most people’s experience of pop music, so that for a couple of generations “classic pop” means “resembling I Saw Her Standing There, Lady Madonna, Let it Be, Drive My Car, Fixing a Hole, etc etc etc.” Meaning that whenever he drags out another variation on the theme such as this, it has an epic and timeless feel to the melody.

  50. 50
    Waldo on 21 Jul 2008 #

    # 49 – I think there’s something in this. But you nevertheless have to have sufficient talent in the first place in order to to “drag out another variation on the theme”, and in any case, this technique is by no means peculiar to McCartney. Quite frankly, one could apply this to just about anyone. Even Mozart.

  51. 51
    Christopher Barbour on 21 Jul 2008 #

    I came to this one backwards, my first conscious hearing of it coming in early 1992. I knew the legend : awful mock-tartan dirge becomes biggest selling singe of all time and hogger of top spot for months and years. However, like other long-running number ones (including one at the pinnacle at that very moment) once I heard it, I realised that much of the criticism it had received was lazy.

    Big songs are big for a reason – the first two strums of Mull, as they crackled from a friend’s parents’ copy of Wings Greatest, told you just about everything you needed to know. If you liked that kind of thing, you would love it. I did and by the end of the opening verse it was already a deathless classic in my eyes.

    I would have bought a copy that afternoon, had the single still been available. (luckily all charity shops in Britain seem to be legally bound to stock a copy, very often without any sort of sleeve or protection. I suppose that fact tells its own story about the whereabouts of the 2 million copies…)

    Trufax : Dan Ackroyd bought the 2 millionth copy and Macca gave him a hamper of food to celebrate.

  52. 52
    vinylscot on 21 Jul 2008 #

    The thing that gets me about these long-running number ones –

    What makes someone suddenly decide to buy “Mull of Kintyre” (or whatever) when it’s already been number one for eight weeks?

    a) it took you eight weeks to decide that you liked it enough to buy it (I know songs can “grow on you”, but, eight weeks??)

    b) you never heard it until week eight

    c) you have been saving up for eight weeks, and only now can afford to “splash out”

    d) your first copy has been worn out/damaged/stolen/eaten by the dog

    e) none of the above

    Your theories would be welcome.

  53. 53
    DJ Punctum on 21 Jul 2008 #

    f) It sold to people who don’t buy records

    g) slow post-Xmas/New Year sales turnover – no competition to unseat it

  54. 54
    Dan R on 21 Jul 2008 #


    h) it grew on some people


    i) some people don’t listen to radio much


    j) some people just don’t get it together to do stuff quickly

  55. 55
    Tom on 21 Jul 2008 #

    There’s no question that a song sounds different when it’s become part of the furniture – sometimes better. There are a few songs upcoming (quite far off in some cases) which grew into their No.1 status, others where a huge run became a millstone.

  56. 56
    Erithian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    A possible reason (k) for a long chart run, at least in the case of a double A-side, is coming under discussion in a few months’ time… (hop hop)

  57. 57
    katstevens on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Also with the whole Christmas-NY thing – dudes be getting record tokens/record players as xmas pressies/in the sales innit.

  58. 58
    jeff w on 21 Jul 2008 #

    This is of course as nothing to the mystery of why “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol is today still being downloaded in sufficient numbers to keep it in the Top 75 and who’s doing it. Maybe we could get iTunes to send out questionnaires.

  59. 59
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Let us not forget, ‘Chasing Cars’ has been voted the best song of all time by the listeners of Virgin FM. And who can argue with that?

  60. 60
    DJ Punctum on 21 Jul 2008 #

    I would. For a start, it’s not a song.

  61. 61
    vinylscot on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Some good theories there. I tried to make my point non-specific to “Mull”, with its obvious post-Christmas reasons, although it is on this thread. The “Chasing Cars” analogy illustrates my point – how can you possibly have got this far without having the track, and suddenly decide to “splash out?”

    (I can understand one, or maybe ten or twenty people thinking that in any given week, but with “Chasing Cars” it must still be in the high hundreds each week. I just don’t get it.)

  62. 62
    Brian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Sir Paul very much in the news in Canada lately.


  63. 63
    Mark G on 21 Jul 2008 #

    What do you mean, “it’s not a song”?

  64. 64
    Erithian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    I think we’ve discussed something similar fairly recently, but the download era has revived the phenomenon of singles/tracks taking their time to drop down the chart and hanging around the lower reaches for ages. “Mercy” is still top 40 nearly six months on, and “Valerie” and “Rockstar” hung around even longer. Anybody have their week-by-week chart careers to hand?

  65. 65
    Tom on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Why (questions of quality aside) do we find it surprising that people want to own Chasing Cars and don’t yet, whereas presumably we wouldn’t be surprised that people are still buying the Coldplay albums before this one?

    My guess is that the removal of physical stocking limits represented by the singles chart going download means that the diffusion curve of a hit single is now much more like that of a big hit album, i.e. a very very long ‘afterlife’ as the late majority and laggards buy it: previously these people simply wouldn’t have registered in singles sales, or would have gone and bought the album instead eventually.

  66. 66
    Dan R on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Here’s some guesswork. I would imagine that Chasing Cars is being bought largely by people in their thirties and upwards – it has that horribly adult sound to it – and those people will

    a. be less aware of release dates
    b. make record buying less of priority
    c. be less likely to listen to chart radio

    …than people in their teens and twenties.

    Which suggests that there are long slow chains of record purchases: someone hears a track a year later on Radio 2, spots it three months later in Zavvi; plays it to friends at a dinner party six months later; those friends then buy it another couple of months later.

    Whereas, a teen listener will often buy a single or album on first day of release; will download a song immediately after hearing it on a chart radio show; hear about a song from schoolfriends; check regularly on band websites; etc etc. All of which compresses the time greatly.

    So I’d imagine the long tail of a record’s purchasing pattern to also be an ageing demographic. I wonder if there’s any way of proving or disproving this?

  67. 67
    Brian on 21 Jul 2008 #

    Dan @ # 66.
    As a fifty-somthing ” Chasing Cars ” fan I can confirm that this is exactly how it can happen. Only slower in my case !

    Music also moves from media to media and that take time to drift across. My daughter and I saw Snow Patrol ” on TV on ” Live from Abbey Road ” and bought the CD.

    Also the number of songs that pop into films these days will sustain a top ten run. I don’t know of aexample, but it’s got happen.

    And also ad’s. 1234 by Fiest.

  68. 68
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I think we’re all aware of the mechanics behind renewed long chart runs for singles.

    What I’m concerned about is why this song? Why this, of all songs? Especially when it seems to me an utterly standard AoR drone bereft of any discernible melodic top line. What am I missing here? What’s the appeal? “Umbrella,” even “Rockstar” and “Valerie” – these are all understandable. But this colourless, characterless dirge?

    (definition of a “song” in my world = I can remember how the tune goes, including while the record is still playing)

  69. 69
    Billy Smart on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I think that the appeal of ‘Chasing Cars’ is that people find their own vulnerability, inarticulacy, and vague sort-of-like love feelings reflected in the lyrics, and the ‘tune’ carries a sense of seriousness that gives these feelings emotional weight.

  70. 70
    Mark G on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I can’t imagine that if Marc walks into a piano bar, and the dude/girl is playing a solo version of “Chasing cars” instrumentally, he won’t recognise the tune.

  71. 71
    Tom on 22 Jul 2008 #

    The only bit I can readily remember is the “if I lie here” bit. If I try to extrapolate from that I get Shed Seven’s “Chasing Rainbows” instead.

    What are SP’s album sales like? My hunch is a lot of people are buying this and nothing else by them, so as I said upthread the sales curve for the single turns out album-shaped.

  72. 72
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    The Eyes Open album’s done 107 weeks on the chart so far so punters seem to be going for both (which I also find strange – why not just get the album? It’s affordable enough at Tesco’s).

    (Whereas long eighties singles chart runs like “Blue Monday” and “Don’t You Forget About Me” lasted so long mainly because the artists never included them on any of their albums apart from later compilations)

  73. 73
    Alan on 22 Jul 2008 #

    i’m glad we’ve got all that out of the way and finally got round to talking about snow patrol. chasing cars gets sound tracked a lot on the telly – the wedding in Gavin & Stacey, hollyoaks every other week, etc. so it drip feeds into ppl that way which is what keeps downloads on the boil. actually i bet it’s giving dj sammy a good run on the first dances at weddings.

  74. 74
    Matthew H on 22 Jul 2008 #

    “Why this song?” It’s television, isn’t it? ‘Chasing Cars’ is used ad infinitum at moments of great poignancy on the popular pot-boiling shows – starting with Grey’s Anatomy, I think; that was the appearance that first sent it shooting back up the chart. People who identify with the moment buy the record.


    Why the TV execs choose it, well, it snowballs, I guess.

  75. 75
    Matthew H on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Um, as Alan said.

  76. 76
    Matthew H on 22 Jul 2008 #

    And while I’m late for the party, I used to think ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ was ‘Mollocking Tyne’.

    I still like to think the Tyne mollocks.

  77. 77
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Ah, that explains it then. I’ve never watched Hollyoaks but I expect that accounts for quite a lot of this sort of thing.

  78. 78
    Alan on 22 Jul 2008 #

    also it gets a good boshing up at poptimism ;-)


  79. 79
    Dan R on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Now that’s more like it…

  80. 80
    Billy Smart on 22 Jul 2008 #

    DH Lawrence could have reviewed ‘Chasing Cars’;

    “Sentimentalism is the working-off on yourself of feelings you haven’t really got. We all want to have certain feelings: feelings of love, of passionate sex, of kindliness, and so forth. Very few people really feel love, or sex passion, or kindliness, or anything that goes at all deep. So the mass just fake these feelings inside themselves. Faked feelings! The world is all gummy with them. They are better than real feelings, because you can spit them out when you brush your teeth; and them tomorrow you can fake them afresh.”

  81. 81
    Tom on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Problem is, old DH wouldn’t have drawn a disctinction between that and 90% of the records we’d give a 10 to. Of course it’s “The mass” who have to rely on “fake feelings”, not DHL and whoever he’s trying to shag!

  82. 82
    Alan on 22 Jul 2008 #

    “the mass just fake these feelings inside themselves. Faked feelings!”

    what a nob

  83. 83
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    I’m not sure that he’s wrong.

  84. 84
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Oh hang on, I’ve just seen the Python travel agent sketch quoted on the other thread…

  85. 85
    Tom on 22 Jul 2008 #

    He’s not wrong in his description of what ‘sentimentality’ is, but his analysis of who it affects is idiotic.

    (He doesn’t, at least in this quote, make much analysis as to whether it’s a bad thing or not.)

  86. 86
    DJ Punctum on 22 Jul 2008 #

    We need a firmer definition of his mass, really.

  87. 87
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jul 2008 #

    apparantly these ubiquitous dirges are known as ‘wallpaper’ hits – although that seems like an insult to wallpaper – perhaps ‘anaglypta’ hit would be better. more details here:

  88. 88
    The Intl on 25 Jul 2008 #

    This reminds me of the baffling smash hits on the charts when I was a kid, the stuff you’d think “wtf?” before “wtf?” existed. “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes”, “Hello Dolly”, “Strangers In The Night”. Who bought this crap – parents? Yeah, probably, a lot of ’em. This one has an additional twist, being it was a Beatle Paul record. He almost recoups his losses on the rock side. ALMOST. I hate records like this, teary-eyed pub singalongs, football anthems,… come to yer senses. Stupid Paul at the ass-end of ’77 – figures.

  89. 89
    Malice Cooper on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Charity records and deaths aside, this is the biggest selling single of all time in the UK and that’s a horrible thought.I always wanted the bagpipes to suffocate Macca. They could have saved Heather the job

  90. 90
    Ian G Morris on 21 Mar 2009 #

    You were four and three quarters and you were reading THE HOBBIT?!?

  91. 91
    Tom on 21 Mar 2009 #

    Yes! I was a ridiculously precocious reader. I then tried to read Lord of the Rings at six, had a horrific nightmare about Gollum, and gave up.

  92. 92
    rosie on 21 Mar 2009 #

    90: Yeah – at four and three-quarters one should be on to something a little more sophisticated!

  93. 93
    Jonathan Bogart on 30 Apr 2009 #

    Surprised I hadn’t already done this.

    Effect of a) being American and b) not really listening to pop music until I was practically an adult:

    I do not know how this song goes. A faint wisp of “oh Mull of Kintyre” as the lowering end of a line floats by in my head, but I am not sure if it’s the right tune or simply one of those scraps of melody one sometimes attaches to well-known phrases. Based on the conventional wisdom, I may be lucky. Of course, ignorance is never a virtue….

  94. 94
    Girlschools00 on 28 Aug 2009 #

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  95. 95
    lonepilgrim on 28 Aug 2009 #

    re 94 – yeah, but what’s your take on Mull of Kintyre?

  96. 97
    Erithian on 24 Jan 2011 #

    and here’s the Floral Dance in the context of one of my favourite films. RIP Pete Postlethwaite.

  97. 98
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    In agreement with most everyone here: lazy, sentimental, wtf were the 2 million who bought it thinking blah blah blah – a generous 4.

  98. 99
    product technology on 9 Apr 2013 #

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  99. 100
    Lazarus on 14 Jun 2016 #

    I know he didn’t play on ‘Mull’ but here seems the appropriate place to say RIP Henry McCullough. His lovely, languid solo on ‘My Love’ perhaps his most memorable moment with the band.

  100. 101
    Patrick Oakley on 9 Apr 2021 #

    Tom is right. Mull of Kintyre is truly insipid stuff.

  101. 102
    Gareth Parker on 9 May 2021 #

    I would go along with Tom’s score of 2/10. A real chore to listen to, in my opinion.

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