Of all the books written about Paul McCartney’s career, not many of them focus solely on his music. In fact, most of them seem to dwell endlessly on his years as a member of The Beatles, giving short shrift to his 40-year (and counting) solo career. Even the ones that do attempt to provide equal time usually wind up dishing on McCartney’s personal life. John Cherry has taken a different approach, setting out to examine the man’s vast solo output in Paul McCartney’s Solo Music Career 1970-2010: Life, Love, and a Sense of Child-like Wonder, now available from Peppertree Press.
It’s no small task to provide critical analysis of four decades of music in just under 200 pages. Cherry has subtitled his book, “An In-Depth Examination of the Best (and worst) Songs from the World’s Most Successful Singer/Songwriter.” The eight chapters are arranged chronologically, beginning with McCartney’s 1970 debut album and carrying through to present-day. I commend Cherry for taking on such an ambitious process. His love and passion for McCartney’s music is in ample evidence. Unfortunately the promise of an “in-depth” examination leaves something to be desired.
As a primer for someone new to McCartney’s work, there is definitely some value in Cherry’s writing. No significant stone is left unturned, as he provides at least basic coverage for every release in the McCartney catalogue. What’s missing is a truly compelling evaluation of what works and what doesn’t on any given album. If I wasn’t already a card-carrying McCartney fan, I might’ve gotten more out of the book from a historical perspective. What I wanted was for Cherry to get deeper inside the music. Most of his critical analysis is relatively superficial, with a focus on merely describing the content of each album.
This isn’t John Cherry’s first book about McCartney’s music. In 2009, he published Better Than Lennon: The Music and Talent of Paul McCartney. An even slimmer volume at 128 pages, the book read much like a lengthy essay. The intent was to make a case for Paul McCartney being artistically superior to John Lennon, both during and after The Beatles. It’s a flawed premise at best, considering the obvious fact that McCartney has been able to continue developing as a writer and recording artist during the thirty years since Lennon’s murder. Moreover, Cherry based most of his “evidence” on record sales and Billboard chart positions. Commercial viability has no correlation to artistic value.
Paul McCartney’s Solo Music Career is a considerable improvement, but Cherry never really gets to the heart of McCartney’s strengths and flaws the way Simon Leng did in his similar exploration of George Harrison’s solo career, While My Guitar Gently Weeps:The Music of George Harrison. Leng delved deep and created a clear-eyed, nostalgia-free evaluation of his subject’s work. In both of Cherry’s books, he quotes liberally from a number of other sources, most often John Blaney’s Lennon and McCartney: Together Alone. More often than not, Cherry falls back on Blaney (and other writers) to cover the more in-depth parts of his analysis. I’ve read Blaney’s book and heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Lennon and McCartney’s work post-Beatles. But in this case, I wanted to know about what John Cherry specifically thinks.
Again, Cherry deserves recognition for putting the time and effort into chronicling the generally underrated body of work McCartney has crafted since 1970. For anyone who with gaps in their McCartney collection, this book will likely be useful in learning about his more obscure releases. More information about John Cherry and Paul McCartney’s Solo Music Career 1970-2010: Life, Love, and a Sense of Child-like Wonder can be found on the author’s official website.