Paul McCartney was always a fairly progressive individual. While not terribly political, McCartney has supported more restrictive gun laws, has spoken out against Brexit, and has adopted the peace advocacy that his fellow Beatles also promoted. As a part of The Beatles, he and his bandmates refused to perform in segregated venues, and his continued advocacy for vegetarianism and animal welfare have placed him comfortably on the left side of the political divide.
This is all to say that McCartney doesn’t seem to harbour any explicit old-fashioned ideals, especially when it comes to gender relationships. But when it comes to goofy off the cuff lyrics, anything goes in the world of McCartney. Although it was meant at a lark, McCartney conceptualised the power dynamics and inappropriate workplace behaviour that was found in the story of ‘Temporary Secretary’, the heavily synthetic cut from his second solo album, McCartney II.
Looking back at the song in his recent book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, McCartney recalled the relative innocence of the song’s origins. “People often say ‘Oh, you work so hard,’ and I say, ‘We don’t work; we play.’ I try to keep that in the front of my brain when things are getting tiresome. ‘Jesus, we’ve worked too hard. No, we’ve played too hard.’ The idea of needing a secretary, but only a temporary one, just made me smile. So I played with the idea.”
What McCartney came up with was an inquiry to get a woman “strong and sweet fitting on my knee” who “cantata dictation and learn to smile”. McCartney might come off kind of sleazy out of context, but the entire song is just such an unserious bit of fun that McCartney spends most of the breakdown regarding the song’s instrumentation, not its lyrical message. Still, McCartney acknowledges that the song’s lyrics probably haven’t aged too well.
“Could you write a song like this today, with MeToo? I doubt it, and I wouldn’t want to,” he said. “But this was a different time, and the world has rightly progressed since then. Today, you’d think twice, if at all, before you’d suggest that you wanted to keep the secretary or assistant late at night. A good thing with this song, though, is that there’s nothing overtly sexual; it’s just very tongue-in-cheek.”
‘Temporary Secretary’ wasn’t the only song on the album that came with some raised eyebrows. The album also had an instrumental that McCartney described as “very Oriental” in the book The Beatles – The Dream is Over: Off The Record 2. He decided to name the track ‘Frozen Jap’, but later changed the title for the Japanese version of McCartney because the original was considered a slur. Both tracks are signs that, although McCartney didn’t have any malicious intent, he also didn’t have the most sense when it came to potentially sensitive issues.
Check out ‘Temporary Secretary’ down below.