I’ve once come up with a theory about how McCartney always is at his best when writing about something he really cares about, be it a person or a place. I think it’s then that he feels he should put more effort into his work, and not just place half-finished ideas in the middle of his albums. Such an example would be Penny Lane, where he takes a suburban London landscape and transforms it into an nostalgia-attached idyllic one. Or Hey Jude, which started as a consolation message to a kid and ended up a universal anthem for positivity.
And 1977’s ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, written by him and Denny Laine, definitely continues the tradition. Its lyrics describe the Scottish countryside with the same name, and, while I’m sure that it’s a fine landscape, it’s not the place itself that provides the magic. It’s Paul’s connection with it – or to be more exact, Paul’s undeniable love for it, so very well transposed into the melody, the lyrics and the general atmosphere. The way he sings “my desire is always to be here” is truly heartfelt, putting the place above anything else. I would normally be annoyed by a bunch of bagpipes starting to play in the middle of a song, but here, they’re so suitable for the longing atmosphere, that the effect is nothing short of hair-rising. Close your eyes, and you will feel only one step away from those “Dark distant mountains with valleys of green”.
But as I said, Paul’s own memories and the ways he expresses them are so powerful, that they transcend any particular landscape. The accent is not put on the Mull itself, but rather on those “smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain”. And that’s why the song instantly becomes very resonant. Just like ‘Penny Lane’, it can be about any place you want it to be. Just like ‘Hey Jude’, it can hold any personal significance you attach to it. And just like both of those songs, it is a timeless classic in my opinion, and a song whose meaning goes way beyond the “cute folk ditty” label that I’ve seen attached to it.
Categories: The Song In My Head Today