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.