Vincent P. Benitez’s examination of Paul McCartney’s solo music bears a succinct title, with little left to the imagination. The Words and Music of Paul McCartney: The Solo Years is not a biography (though it opens with a brief “Biographical Sketch”), nor a chronicle of McCartney’s work as a Beatle. Beginning with 1970’s McCartney and carrying through to 2007’s Memory Almost Full, Benitez’s text offers insight on nearly every album track released by his subject. Non-music majors may find themselves frequently consulting the book’s glossary, as Benitez’s primary interest is each song’s technical structure.
This makes the book nearly impossible to recommend for a casual McCartney fan. Though not without merit as a reference guide, the book provides very little context as it moves from one album to the next. Benitez painstakingly details the chord progressions of each song, going into further detail about cadences and modes. Eyes will glaze over, understandably so, for readers with little to no music theory background.
For those with a music background, all the detail probably won’t add up to an appreciably better understanding of McCartney as a composer. Benitez doesn’t build an overall thesis of McCartney’s methods. Rather than linking recurring motifs or singling out stylistic breakthroughs, Benitez dutifully progresses through the broad discography providing a paragraph or two for each song.
As Benitez points out in his introduction, there have been few serious studies of McCartney’s vast body of work. In fact, despite the relative inclusiveness of The Words and Music of Paul McCartney: The Solo Years, Benitez limited the scope by excluding several important aspects of McCartney’s discography. Non-album B-sides are almost entirely ignored (even in the case of 1993’s Off the Ground, which saw an entire album’s worth of additional material released on singles). Compositions written for other artists (often with heavy participation from McCartney) are similarly left out.
Benitez does, however, include fairly substantial analysis of McCartney’s major classical works, Liverpool Oratorio (1991), Standing Stone (1997), and Ecce Cor Meum (2006). These sections are easily the best in the book, as Benitez seems more comfortable writing about classical music. Since many fans of McCartney’s pop career often overlook these releases, the time spent discussing them is very welcome. Unfortunately there is a general lack of critical analysis — a problem that dogs the entirety of The Words and Music of Paul McCartney.