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Music

Why 'We All Stand Together' is one Paul McCartney's strongest works

In the first years of the post-Wings wilderness, Paul McCartney underwent emotional turmoil as he bade farewell to one songwriter partner in Denny Laine, and came to realise the significance of a world without the other in John Lennon, so he spent much of the time hidden in his home, to focus on his marriage and children. Family was featuring more prominently in his life and work, and it was growing harder to hear a McCartney album that didn’t make a reference – oblique or otherwise – to the children that were playing outside his study.

A creature of habit, the songwriter busied himself by writing a collection of songs that showed his standing in life, eschewing the trappings and routines of rock for an outlet that was more introspective and palatable, every hook and riff done to embellish the vocals. He was growing more interested in catering to his peers, but his children were making an impression on his life, which was evident from his decision to write a script about Rupert The Bear, an anthropomorphic creature that was swiftly becoming one of England’s most enduring cartoon creations. A labour of love for the Wings frontman – he had been toying with the script since the 1970s – the film eventually materialised in 1984, a 13-minute vignette dripping with density and ambition.

McCartney recorded many of the voices, but recognising his limitations as an actor, he hired stalwarts Windsor Davies and June Whitfield to play the roles of Rupert’s parents, while the former Beatle played the scarf-wearing miscreant. He had little dialogue, wisely choosing to let the soundtrack do most of the heavy-lifting, and the short film features a truly dazzling sequence where frog and leaf join together to sing about their harmony in a world of splendid greenery. It was the perfect opportunity to air ‘We All Stand Together’, a sprawling chamber piece that saw the composer writing choral harmonies for the first time in his career.

Backed by flautist Elena Durán, The King’s Singers and the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, McCartney concocted a mosaic of sound, the voices wrapping around the strings and ornaments that helped bolster the sincerity of the track in question. Laced in orchestration and guided by the animation unfolding before them, the vocalists and musicians tipped their toes gently into the world of baroque, keenly understanding that this was not an area for rockstars to venture unguardedly.

Yet McCartney remained bullishly determined to give the operetta a go, giving his career a much-needed heft at a time when the trendy presses were writing him off as a tunesmith searching for a hummable melody.
It was easy to mock Rupert and The Frog Song, but ‘We All Stand Together’ is an incredible piece of work, making it one of the few operettas adults and children could enjoy.

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For younger listeners, there was a vibrancy to the words that they could relate to; for more discerning audience members, they could tip their hat at the middle aged-rocker as he ventured into more sophisticated territories; and for parents, it gave them a chance to reconnect with their youth, by virtue of a number written by a peer of theirs for his children.

Where the 1960s was a time of opportunity and the 1970s was a decade of truth, the 1980s proved to be a more rational time for artists, who were pivoting far from the extremes of the preceding decades, to write songs of a more considered and sensible nature. McCartney was enjoying his rebirth as a father figure, and he was clearly blown away by the reception the ‘We All Stand Together’ video received.

Rupert and The Frog Song received UK BAFTA (British Academy Award) for Best Animated Short Film, as the single nested respectably in the UK top three in 1984, before returning to the charts the following year. The song was that little bit too English to gravitate towards America, but he was never considered as culturally embarrassing in that country as he was in Britain. ‘We All Stand Together’ gave him some class and elegance and showed that he could age gracefully, without compromising the integrity of the intention of his work.

The single also proved a turning point for the bassist, as it was one of the last times he felt comfortable writing about his present station in life. He had started writing about his past glories on Tug of War – an album that bade farewell to Lennon and Laine – before wrapping himself in the comfort of nostalgia on Press to Play and Flowers In The Dirt.

Bolstered by Elvis Costello’s friendship, McCartney started introducing more Beatle songs into his live set, as he championed the virtues of his first band during the 1990s. In some ways, he didn’t have to: This was a composer of great invention, attack and certainty, and ‘We All Stand Together’ is as important an addition to the canon as anything he wrote in The Beatles or Wings.

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