Paul McCartney has been vilified by many music critics as the quintessential hack of the Beatles--lacking Lennon's fiery intellect, Harrison's beatific spirituality or Ringo's....well, lovable goofiness. What McCartney's critics often fail to understand is that the man, as he himself freely (and even happily) admits in one of the bountiful extras on this 3 DVD set, is a writer of pop hits, nothing more, nothing less (though he has, perhaps unwisely, been attempting to branch out into more "serious" concert fare). As McCartney describes his writing process in this extra, he repeatedly returns to the phrase "finding a tune," and that sums up his vast international appeal. While McCartney, lyrically at least, may be occasionally cringe-worthy with such efforts as "Silly Love Songs" or even the mangled English of "Live and Let Die" ("in this world in which we live in"), never rising to the philosophical grandeur of Lennon's "Imagine" or even Harrison's "Something," there is above all the simple and enduring appeal of his "tunes." And, boy, is this set full of tunes!
McCartney himself helped compile the over 40 videos included on the first two DVDs of this set, everything from "Maybe I'm Amazed", his first solo single, through 2005's "Fine Line." An incredible array of hits is featured, including "Say, Say, Say," "Ebony and Ivory," "My Love," "Coming Up," "Band on the Run" and "Wonderful Christmastime." The set also features a host of lesser-known but equally enjoyable songs like "C-Moon," "All My Trials," and "This One." What's fascinating to realize is that many of these "videos" were shot long before the MTV revolution, which in and of itself may point to McCartney's business prescience. From his baby-faced exuberance in the early 70s videos up through his pretty much the same baby-faced exuberance in the early 21st videos, even a casual viewer/listener will soon become overwhelmed by the simple fact that McCartney's music has become, to quote some easy listening radio format from days of yore, the soundtrack of our lives.
The videos themselves are obviously the product of their times--the pre-MTV efforts often play like (and are probably comprised of) home movies set to an exceptionally brilliant soundtrack. Linda McCartney is a featured player in all but a few of these efforts, and other family members pop up from time to time. While some of the now relatively ancient videos like "Say, Say, Say" seem amateurish and cheaply shot, others, like "Coming Up," are still goofily enjoyable (so maybe he does have Ringo's appeal after all) with Paul and Linda dressing up as various band members in a not so subtly named band called The Plastic Macs. This is a telling historical document on the history of the music video aside from any particular McCartney aspect--comparing the early 80s features with those of the last 10 years or so shows how much more sophisticated this art form has become over the past generation, a generation where McCartney's videos have rarely if ever been off the air.
The set also boasts frequent commentaries from McCartney on various aspects of the songs in question. While his insight can sometimes border on the banal (he states "I thought I'd have a go at writing a Christmas song, since that comes around once every year" on the "Wonderful Christmastime" commentary), he also is charmingly self-deprecating at times, as when he recalls Stevie Wonder taking him to task for not clapping on the beat during the recording of "Ebony and Ivory." He also understandably waxes nostalgic about his late wife Linda, who is such a frequent co-star in most of these videos, lending a bittersweet air to the viewing.
Disc Three is comprised of live concert footage, and features excerpts from McCartney's Rockshow, Unplugged and Glastonbury concerts, where he delves into both his Beatles and Wings repertoire, including a poignant "Yesterday" and raucous "Helter Skelter."
There's no denying that McCartney's seemingly effortlessly facile tunesmithing can lead people to believe he's shallow and, well, silly. But when listening to the grace of "Maybe I'm Amazed," or the underlying message of such seemingly surface-deep songs as "Tug of War," one realizes that while McCartney may be a victim of his own success, he is one of the major artists of our time. So for those who shun his silly love songs, I must ask--what's wrong with that? I want to know.
There's some brewing controversy on the presentation of these videos, all originally shot full frame. They have been remastered and rematted in enhanced 1.78:1 ratios. Some purists will be offended, but I for one found nothing egregious in the vertical shortening--it's obvious that a lot of care was taken to not lop off any important information on either the top or bottom of the image. That said, video quality is highly variant, depending on the source materials and age of the originals. Some of the "home movie" videos show a fair amount of grain and color loss, and even the early 80s MTV staples have a certain softness to them, while the videos from the last decade or so fare the best, as is to be expected. One caveat--while the videos, and even some extras, are 1.78:1 enhanced, occasionally an extra will pop back into full frame ratio, which means you need to have your viewing mode remote ready to make the switch.
The sound on this set is, quite simply, remarkable. Three audio options are available: a standard LPCM stereo, a Dolby 2.0 stereo (where McCartney's occasional commentaries reside), and a DTS 5.1 Surround mix, which, remarkably, manages to maintain a fair level of cohesion without the "concert hall" reverb that sometimes attends these remastering efforts. Separation is excellent and the remastered audio is wonderfully clear, with good reproduction across the entire range of frequencies.
This set is stuffed to the gills with excellent extras: aside from McCartney's commentaries, both the video discs offer both a Playlist and a Chronological feature, where you can choose to view the videos either as Paul would program them for a concert, or in their chronological order. Disc One also boasts several short features, including Wings performing "Junior's Farm," the cover photo shoot for "Band on the Run" (did you know Freud's grandson is on that cover?), as well as an alternate video of "Mull of Kintyre." Disc Two offers a couple of short features, as well as the fascinating full-length documentary "Creating Chaos at Abbey Road," for those who, like the storied young schoolgirl of old who asked McCartney what he did before forming Wings, want some more background information. Disc Three's extras include McCartney's Live Aid and Superbowl performances.
My older sisters (much, much older as I frequently goad them) were ripe for Beatlemania, so I grew up in the mid to late 60s with two screaming teenagers staring starry-eyed at pictures of "the cute one" (that would be Paul). The fact that McCartney has continued to wield such influence for close to 50 years now is a testament to his lasting legacy as a songwriter, if not the concert composer he has sought to become over the past several years. McCartney, even without his classic partnership with Lennon, will stand at the apex of 20-21st century songwriters, and this elegantly produced 3 DVD set is a fitting testimony to his achievements. This is a perfect gift set for any McCartney, Beatles, or Wings fan.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet