In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, inspired by Jack White’s new solo effort, we’re picking songs by solo acts that split from our favorite bands.
Nobody would accuse Paul McCartney of being an artist to rock out to. Even with The Beatles, he was known more for ruminative ballads and pop trifles than the band’s heavier tunes. And in his post-Beatles career, when his best-known singles included “Silly Love Songs” and “Band On The Run”? Forget it. To do anything heavy or dark enough to get really amped up about would require McCartney to brood, and he’s always seemed like the type of guy who tamps down his negative emotions in favor of a smile.
That’s not strictly accurate, though. Sure, McCartney’s image—both in public appearances and in the singles selected off his post-Beatles albums—was that of the charming lad with a quick wit, a social conscience, and an easy smile, but he could brood with the best of them. For evidence of this, look no further than 1976’s “Beware My Love,” off Wings At The Speed Of Sound. (The album and song are properly credited to Wings, rather than McCartney himself, but go with me here.) Sound came in the midst of a period when McCartney was being written off as something of a softie—this album also includes the aforementioned “Silly Love Songs”—and “Beware My Love” was never a single from the album. (It was, instead, the B-side to the solid “Let ’Em In,” an underrated McCartney single.) But its placement within a mostly jolly album seems to challenge anyone to say McCartney’s soft. It’s obsessive and paranoid, a song that starts in a major key and devolves into a minor key as quickly as it can. This is no longer a man who writes silly love songs.
Famously, the centerpiece of “Beware My Love” is McCartney telling the woman he loves—whom he’s been repeatedly entreating to “beware” the man she’s with (who will “take you under” and “bowl you over”)—that if she’s going to stay the course, he’ll have to go. But, he bitterly notes, “I’ll leave my message in my song.” And yet, as numerous critics have noted, there’s no message in “Beware My Love.” It’s just a bitter, dark fume at a woman who would dare to love another man, a man the singer believes beneath her.
Maybe the message is staring listeners in the face from the second they read the song title. McCartney is telling the woman not just to beware the man she’s with, but also to beware the singer himself. In addition, the singer seems almost to admonish himself to beware a woman who would so casually break his heart. The building intensity of the song—which continues to add musical elements until its crescendo peaks with McCartney wailing “the sound of his thunder!”—adds to this sense as well. To love someone is to invite heartbreak and never know when it’s about to arrive. Beware, then, not just the one you love (or the one she loves), but your very heart. Keep it locked away if you want to keep it safe. It’s no Iron Maiden, but for Paul McCartney? That’s pretty dark.