John Cherry,
Paul McCartney's Solo Music Career, 1970-2010:
Life, Love & a Sense of Child-like Wonder

(Peppertree Press, 2010)

John Cherry has been a Paul McCartney fan for decades. He has seen the man perform in person on more than two dozen occasions. He probably owns as many recordings as he can get his hands on. After he retired from regular employment, Cherry finally had the chance to pen a biographical tribute to his favorite musician called Better Than Lennon: The Music & Talent of Paul McCartney in 2009.

One online reviewer complained that the treatise was too short, that its print was too big and that a scrutiny of McCartney's individual song catalogue should have been included. This second book is Cherry's attempt to remedy that last omission.

The additional subtitle to this work reads: "An In-Depth Examination of the Best (and Worst) Songs from the World's Most Successful Singer/Songwriter." Basically, Cherry considers chronologically each McCartney album (with or without Wings) from McCartney (1970) to Electric Arguments (2008). (He deliberately omits the purely classical music ones, pleading unfamiliarity with the genre.) He provides some background information for the songwriting and the recording processes. He chats about guest musicians and instrumentations. He occasionally talks about the lyrics. He offers a bit of commentary on every song on every album. Sometimes the opinions are his alone; sometimes he adds quotes from the printed reviews of others. Cherry's "best" and "worst" designations are of his own devising. He includes his personal top 10 songs at the end of the book, without further explanation.

The only album I had available to test against his book was Band on the Run. I got out my vinyl and played and listened and read Cherry's comments. It had been a long, long while since I had heard that record from beginning to end. I had forgotten how much I liked "Bluebird" and "Let Me Roll It" and hated "Nineteen Hundred & Eighty-Five." Cherry gave me some new information to think about: like whether or not "Let Me Roll It" was written in Lennon's style, and the fact that Dustin Hoffman had a role to play in the creation of "Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)." I would rate his notes about average. My brief time spent reading them allowed me more minutes to listen to the music itself.

To his credit, Cherry doesn't like everything ever written by McCartney. However, he liked "Nineteen Hundred & Eighty-Five" and "Warm & Beautiful" enough to use the songs in his first and second wedding services, respectively. He obviously did some research in tracking down background details and album reviews. But he really only scratches the surface here. I found myself wanting more insights into McCartney's musicality, like favorite key signatures or chord progressions or pervading styles over the course of his career. As an example: I've always admired how the three "round" parts of the "Silly Love Songs" chorus fit together as complete chords on their sustained notes. Cherry evidently doesn't notice this phenomenon, for he does not mention it. And he quotes British Beatles fan and author John Blaney so much that some readers may be driven to locate the two books by Blaney that appear in the abbreviated bibliography at the end of the text.

Although the focus here is specifically on the music and not on biographical details, it's difficult to understand why Cherry mentions Linda McCartney's death only in passing and doesn't address the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison much at all. Surely events in McCartney's personal life would have affected his creative process and his artistic production. And Cherry absolutely never refers to his main character as "Sir Paul." I cannot imagine why he fails to honor his idol in that fashion.

The presentation itself is not without its share of glitches. Both song titles and album titles are set within quotation marks, making it difficult for those of us non-diehard fans to differentiate between the two. (Album titles should instead have been italicized, as per the industry standard.) A master list of those albums and their release dates would have been a welcome reference. The brief bibliography represents only Cherry's main sources and not all of the individual reviews cited throughout the text. Either the author or the editor had a rather casual grasp on apostrophe use, especially when coupled with plural possessives. And one of the four photographs on the cover shows Paul playing the guitar right-handed. Really? When would he have done that, and why?

In a way, Cherry's previous critic was correct when he referred to the print of Better Than Lennon as being too large. This follow-up book looks and reads like an undergraduate paper, with only 20 lines of double-spaced text appearing on each page. By comparison, books printed by traditional publishers usually contain between 30-40 single-spaced lines on their sheets. Finally, what is most missing here is a concluding chapter that provides a closing overview of McCartney's catalogue in its entirety, perhaps with an emphasis on recurring lyrical or musical themes. Even an author's summary on McCartney's position in the grander world of rock and popular music would have been a great way to wind up the analysis. Without such a synopsis, his album-by-album survey merely comes to a sudden stop.

It's admirable that John Cherry wants to share his passion, knowledge and opinions about Paul McCartney's music with the rest of us. This book is obviously one fan's labor of love, but it is hardly an "in-depth examination." It's really only a beginning.

And perhaps unfortunately for Cherry, a more comprehensive and academic treatment on the subject was published at about the same time. As I was winding up this review, I discovered Vincent P. Benitez's The Words & Music of Paul McCartney: The Solo Years (Praeger, 2010). In that volume, the Penn State music professor approaches (in quite readable prose) nearly the same material, but with much more depth. A side-by-side comparison of his Band on the Run analysis with Cherry's reveals more interpretations of the background stories as well as the additions of each cut's musical attributes, with key signatures and key changes and performance techniques (like capo placement on the guitar frets, for instance). He attends brilliantly to the chord progressions in "Silly Love Songs," as I had hoped. He takes on too the considerations of McCartney's classical music endeavors. At more than twice the price of the fan's book, Benitez's work is meaty and professional and offers more than twice as many lines of text on each page. McCartney aficionados can make their own choices between these two volumes.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

7 May 2011

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