Seconds
Paul McCartney: Take It Away



stylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.

Start at 3:18, just after Paul’s sung his last line (“Faded flowers wait in the jar / Till the evening is complete”). That’s when that heavenly chorus comes in, just singing a cloud of “Ahhhhhh.” The voices in this mastery of overdubbing are simply Paul, Linda (of course), and 10cc’s Eric Stewart, but thanks to Stewart’s vocal arrangement may well be the most gorgeous piece of vocalization this side of the chorus closing 10cc’s own “I’m Not in Love.” It’s as ethereal as Cocteau Twins and as meaning-filled as anything Paul’s ever sung post-Beatles. If only these massed singers—and then, the horns come in!—were an entire album, it’d be the best album Macca’s never made. Alas.

That’s not the only lovely vocal moment in “Take It Away”; Stewart’s also responsible for the weaving “oooh’s” that embellish the rest of the song (again, the Paul-Linda-Eric triad), and we haven’t even discussed that this song features what may be one of Paul’s most confident, assured lead vocals ever. Compare any of his verses with his first chorus following a verse—he goes from sweet to tough, sounding as solid as Ashford & Simpson’s rock. This is the sound of a professional, someone who truly knows what he’s doing. I mean that only as the highest possible compliment.

Paul’s not the only professional who deserves credit for “Take It Away,” either. George Martin slid back behind the boards for Tug of War, Macca’s 1982 “comeback.” (No, he hadn’t really gone anywhere per sé, but it was his first #1 US album since ‘77’s Wings Over America—and, interestingly, his last top 10 until Flaming Pie 15 years later.) Martin polished every inch of Tug of War to a rich, buttery sheen, but none more than “Take It Away,” the album’s clear money shot, intentionally or not.

Martin makes Ringo (yes, Ringo) a better drummer, even if all he’s really required to do here is keep a sturdy 4/4; Martin brings out the best in Paul’s bass playing (that loping cod-reggae riff that opens the song—really!); and Martin’s a highly underrated pianist (he played on numerous Beatles singles, but did you know?), attacking the electric piano riff that underpins the proceedings with delightful gusto—delight you can hear in his playing. Credit Martin, as well, with the song’s superbly snazzy horns; “Take It Away” would be maybe 2/3 of its end sum without them.

Sirs Martin and McCartney must have known what they had here, because the joie de vivre of “Take It Away” is indisputable: its thundering (like horses) choruses, its whipped cream-fluffy bridge, the way it all comes together in utter, making-it-sound-so-simple perfection. And like all great singles it knows when to take its leave, fading out as the song approaches the 4:00 mark. If “Take It Away” doesn’t convince you of Paul’s genius as a solo artist—for the record, I’m not a particularly big Beatles fan—nothing ever will. This is, as they say, as good as it gets.


By: Thomas Inskeep
Published on: 2007-02-05
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