If you wanted to, you could poke around online for about two minutes and come up with a fairly accurate list of songs Paul McCartney and his band will be playing in Cincinnati Thursday for the first major concert event at the Reds’ young Great American Ballpark. Actually, even the most casual fan could probably come up with 3/4 of the setlist off the top of their head. Despite the massive amount of classics in his catalog, there are some songs even Sir Paul knows (or thinks) he has to play.
While I confess I did Google “McCartney 2011 setlist,” I won’t spoil it for any concertgoers who might be reading and still want to be surprised. Though, really, there isn’t anything surprising at all about the recent sets, which seem to be in line with what the former Beatle has been performing on tour for the past several years.
Suffice to say, it’ll go a little something like this: Beatles hits, Wings hits, solo hits and something from his new album (aka potty break).
I’ve always contended that, in the great (impossible) “Best Band Ever” debate, The Beatles win automatically because their discography is practically flawless. Since the band only existed for 10 years (’60-’70), they didn’t have the chance to destroy their body of work’s off-the-charts “pure gold to pure shit” ratio like a lot of their peers. So those dozen classic albums (and a stunning amount of amazing non-album singles) stand frozen in time as the group’s legacy.
But that doesn’t mean that McCartney doesn’t have a few duds in his songbook. His post-Beatles work has been impressive, but, perhaps because he didn’t have ringers like John or George pitching in, there are considerably more lowlights.
Since most attending Thursday’s concert know what McCartney will play, here’s a not-exactly-handy-but-goofy guide to the songs he most certainly won’t perform, either because they’re awful or simply not appropriate for the setting. If he plays even one, I vow to stand on Fountain Square during lunchtime wearing only bright pink hotpants and matching “Ban Pete Rose From All Hall of Fames!” t-shirt.
• “Spies Like Us”
The title song of the 1985 “comedy” of the same name (starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd) is so hack-y, it sounds like the film producers called McCartney to ask for a song, he said, “What’s the movie title?," hung up and then called back five minutes later with the completed tune. (It wouldn’t be the last time he’d do this; see below.) Don’t get me started on the cornball “Spies Like Us” video, which is somehow even worse than the song.
• “Wonderful Christmastime”
Obviously, McCartney’s not likely to play a Christmas song in Cincinnati’s extra-muggy summertime heat. But even if the concert was Christmas Eve, this 1979 attempt at a “holiday classic,” like “Spies,” sounds like it was written in the time it takes to drink a cup of cocoa.
• ”The Girl is Mine”
While Paul usually pays tribute to his former Beatles bandmates during shows, it’s highly unlikely this particular collaborator, the late “King of Pop,” will receive the same treatment. This sappy, lightweight tune was the first single to be released off of Michael Jackson's historically successful Thriller album in 1982. Though it did well on the charts, “Girl” is widely considered to be one of the worse songs Jackson ever wrote.
• “Say, Say, Say”
This other “hit” collaboration with Michael Jackson was recorded prior to “Girl” but came out after, in 1983. McCartney had the honor of including this slightly less ridiculous track on one of his albums, Pipes of Peace. While certainly a better song that “Girl” (perhaps because McCartney actually had a hand in writing it), the chance of Paul busting this duet out with a Jacko stand-in like Corey Feldman is about the same as the chance he’ll player Slayer’s Reign in Blood album in its entirety. Jackson reportedly came up with his scheme to buy the Beatles' publishing rights around the same time this track was made. McCartney was never happy about that move by Jackson, so he probably doesn't want to drudge up those old memories.
• “We All Stand Together”
This song (often called “The Frog Song”) was written for the 1984 animated kid’s film, Rupert and the Frog Song (created by Paul and Linda), but it sounds like something even Raffi would have rejected for being “too lightweight.” McCartney can’t dismiss it with an “It’s just a kid’s song,” since he’d already proven himself to be a good writer of children’s music in The Beatles. If Paul decided to dust this one off and play it Thursday instead of, say, “Hey Jude” (or, hell, even “Junior’s Farm”), he wouldn't get out of the ballpark with all of his limbs attached.
• “Real Gone Dub Made In Manifest In The Vortex Of The Eternal Now”
Most people think John Lennon was the “experimental one” in The Beatles (see: “Revolution No. 9”), but Paul’s now been (somewhat quietly) creating electronic sonic art for longer than he was in The Beatles. After a couple of wildly adventurous (though under the radar) albums with producer Youth as The Fireman in the ’90s, McCartney created 2000’s Liverpool Sound Collage, a soundscape crafted largely from samples (including old Beatles’ studio chatter and bits from a McCartney Classical recording) and found sounds. This 16-plus minute track is from that project, which, oddly, scored a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album in 2001. Paul, obviously, ain’t touching this one Thursday. But that isn't going to stop me from yelling out the song title as a "request" the entire night.
• “Goodnight Princess”
Though not a “bad” song, this cut from McCartney’s soundtrack to his movie Give My Regards to Broad Street would be very difficult to pull off on Paul’s current tour because it’s a period-piece Swing-era Jazz number featuring an authentic-sounding Big Band. The film (written by and starring Paul) was a total flop, but the soundtrack, which featured music from throughout Paul’s career, went to No. 1 in the U.K. and sold enough to be certified Gold in the U.S.
• “Vanilla Sky”
Another one of McCartney’s commissioned works — this one for Cameron Crowe’s 2001 film of the same name — that sounds like it was written in less time than it takes to jot down a grocery list. Like with “Spies Like Us,” the song sounds forced and awkwardly shaped around the title phrase. Around the same time, McCartney released the 9/11 tribute song “Freedom,” which sounds remarkably similar and forced, leading me to believe that, during this period, Paul was just using some kind of songwriting software that spit out fully-realized songs after a few key words were entered.
• “Ebony and Ivory”
Even though it is one of his biggest hits, like the Michael Jackson collaborations, it’s doubtful Paul would ever perform this 1982 duet without his original singing partner, Stevie Wonder. Given the cornball lyrics used to deliver a message of racial harmony, McCartney might look at the song like the rest of us look at the horrible poetry we wrote in sixth grade. He should.
• “Sie Liebt Dich”
Despite being in a city with a lot of German heritage, there’s no chance in hell Paul plays this 1964 reworking of early Beatles hit “She Loves You,” featuring lyrics sung entirely in German at the request of the German division of their record company. Maybe if it was Oktoberfest …
Check back for post-concert coverage of Paul McCartney’s Great American Ballpark performance later this week.