This one divides people: For some, it’s Paul McCartney at his most dazzlingly inventive, while for others, it’s a simpering vignette that may have pinpointed the direction the bassist would take with Wings. There is no stronger possible indication of John Lennon’s dislike for the tune than the barbed interview he gave in 1980, in which he stated: “That’s another McCartney. Smells a mile away, doesn’t it? An attempt to write a single. It wasn’t a great piece”.
No doubt he found the central treatise to be overly simplistic, but that’s precisely the reason why the tune struck a chord in the hearts of so many. Returning to the theme in 1982 with ‘Ebony and Ivory‘, McCartney decided that the world benefitted from contrasts, contradictions, and alternative views. “It’s a song about everything and nothing,” McCartney revealed. “If you have black, you have to have white,” he added. Accompanied by Alistair Taylor, McCartney composed the piece on a harmonium. Although the melody was a rich atmosphere, the words were pedestrian, predictable, and occasionally trite. It wouldn’t be the last time McCartney would disappoint his fans with his words.
Nonetheless, the song was a UK smash and effortlessly hit the number one spot, by virtue of its tunefulness, melodiousness, and general good humour. What it also demonstrated was McCartney’s fluidity as a piano player, and he continued to write numbers for the instrument as the years grew on. Many of his most popular solo numbers – ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, ‘Back Seat of My Car’ and ‘No More Lonely Nights ‘- were geared for the piano, and McCartney held an understanding for the instrument his bandmates lacked. In the 2021 Peter Jackson series, Get Back, drummer Ringo Starr comments on McCartney’s ability, stating: “He’s so great”.
‘Hello, Goodbye’ features one of Starr’s more playful drum patterns. Bolstered by the enthusiasm, Starr serenades the listeners with an introductory cymbal splash, before resorting to the other aspects of the kit. Meticulously well-timed, Starr has the track mapped out in his head, and the vocalists – focused on the words in question – wash over his back pedals like three ghosts floating over a ceremonial dinner party.
Showing that it’s the rhythm that kept The Beatles rolling, McCartney enters with a wallopping bass, plucking out the notes, his mind focused on the harmony vocals George Harrison is set to lay down. Mirroring the falsettos as adeptly as he can, McCartney’s bass encapsulates the rising drama, but never at the expense of the vocals in question.
The same cannot be said for Harrison’s guitar, which plays second fiddle to violas and violins George Martin had set to accompany the piece. It works for the mosaic McCartney and Martin have set for the song, but one gets the sense that Harrison is aching to let his fingers loose and play. And then it happens during the coda, Harrison casts aside any inhibitions for a piercing guitar coda, brimming with animal flair. Behind the scenes, Harrison suffered the ignominy of losing some guitars in the final mix, which might explain the fracas between the two men during the Get Back sessions the following year. “We got fed up being sidemen for Paul,” said Lennon, a view Harrison undoubtedly shared.
Yet hats off to Lennon, who delivers a committed performance, both as a harmony singer and an organist. His voice adds needed cynicism, the organ brings theatre to the whimsical offering, and his presence elevates the piece from jaunty into something more concrete and worthy of The Beatles attention. Indeed, even when he disliked McCartney’s offerings, Lennon still gave it everything he had, and ‘Hello, Goodbye’ holds a pathos too often absent from the bassist’s solo offerings.
Hey la, hey hello ah!