Paul McCartney’s “Run Devil Run” Reviewed
In which Paul McCartney tries not to cry after the death of his beloved wife and mother of his children Linda Eastman McCartney. A woman with whom, with the exception of the time he spent in a Jap prison for drug smuggling, Paul spent every night with from March 12, 1969 till her death nearly 30 years later, April 17th, 1998. Linda was the non platonic John Lennon.
Paul went into mourning for a year and when he returned to his career, he recorded Run Devil Run, live in the studio with a stellar backing band (David Gilmour and Mick Green on guitar, keyboardists Pete Wingfield and Geraint Watkins, drummers Ian Paice and Dave Mattacks, Paulie mostly on bass -he overdubbed some guitar parts later on. Chris Thomas, who produced the Sex Pistols’ first album among many others, co-produced what would be his 30th solo effort. Twelve old rocker covers, three new songs, and Paul McCartney’s 30th album stands as one of his greatest achievements.
Where to place it?
Run Devil Run
That’s where to place it.
Grieving, Paul mustered the old optimism by stepping backwards for a dip into the songs that made him who he is. Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson, Larry Williams, all covered and while this isn’t the first time McCartney has covered the greats by any stretch of the lexicon, he was a kid in Hamburg, a mess on Back In The USSR, and a bloated twit on Rockestra. And anyway, he covered them then because he loved them, but on Run Devil Run there is a sense of a statement on time and loss hidden, sometimes not hidden at all. A third of the way in, we get “Lonesome Town” followed by “Try Not To Cry,” two songs that clearly distill his feelings about the loss of his wife though unlike his following album Working Classical‘s “The Lovely Linda,” not a tribute to his late wife.
I had my eyes on Run Devil Run the moment I decided to work my way through his albums, back in August 2016. It was a favorite of mine from the day it was released and I would place it in my 100 best albums of all time. I stopped listening to it entirely eighteen months ago so I could hear with new ears. Which helped, without changing my initial assessment of the rocked out masterpiece I could hear how he manages such a tightrope. I thought it was an in memory of Linda recording, and opening the proceedings with Gene Vincent’s “Bluejean Bop” (“Bluejean baby with the big blue eyes”) seemed to confirm it. But it isn’t that, it is a testament to faith in rock and roll over heartbreak: it steps backwards not in nostalgia, rather as a marshalling of the strengths Paul needed to carry on, mourning but also transition, stepping backward to move forward,
The twelve rockers are mostly well known, “She Said Yeah” -a terrific take, as good as Georgie Fames cover. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” with accordion is a blast, and if the skiffle “Movie Magg” is a little too oddball it doesn’t constitute a disappointment. “Coquette” is the indomitable Fats Domino with a pounding piano, “Honey Hush” the second best cover in the set, “All Shook Up” is Presley one oh one and “I Got Stung” is taken Ramone’s fast yet it works anyway. All these songs work within the vacuum of a rocker rocking with his band, but the heart of the album brings you back to Linda. “Lonely Town” is one of the greatest moments in McCartney’s entire career. His voice is so sweet, sweeter than Ricky’s cowboy down low original, but he sings the entire song with a catch in his voice, it seems capable of breaking down at any moment, but it is also has strength,, the band performs a laid back country swing and the solo by Gilmore (?) is perfection. “Try Not To Cry” is an r&b stomping original but clearly “All day long I try not to cry over you” needs little interpretation. It is a sink in the middle of the swim. As though Linda is nearby, his memories are nearby, but they won’t take him far enough away. The howl of pain on “Try Not To Cry” is far from a victory. “No Other Baby” is like a door that opens and closes on his heart, it is Shadows like guitar 50s rock and roll which could have easily been played as a pure blues. McCartney wrote “What It Is” for Linda during her final year, “You are what it is that makes the world go round”. And finally, the third original “Run Devil Run” is a charge of positivity in the face of the loss of a loved one. The Devil won the battle and not the war.