In all honesty, Saturday Night Live very rarely catches my interest. Call me a relic if you must, but this has been the case since that original cast called it quits. Saturday Night Live just isn’t Saturday Night Live without Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, John Belushi; et cetera.
When watching television with my wife, I typically have about 15 seconds to decide whether a particular program will appeal to me. The reason? She surfs. This trait of hers has been driving me nuts for about 26 years, but on December 11, 2010, Paul McCartney and some other guy named Paul Rudd were plugging the latest episode of SNL to be aired that very night. The ex-Beatle was going to be the musical guest!
Sir Paul doesn’t make very many TV appearances, so I decided to check this segment of SNL out for myself. Sadly, those moptops from Liverpool are now down to two surviving members. I‘ve been a huge Beatles fan since my elementary school days of the 1960s. That being the case, I wasn’t about to pass up seeing the guy who made up one half of the greatest songwriting duo in history.
There is another title floating around here on Helium that asks whether aging rock superstars like Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones are too old to still be performing. On that subject, I described these artists as being timeless. After seeing McCartney’s SNL performance, I have since learned that time unfortunately has a way of setting one up for disappointment.
And now, for the unavoidable truth: It would seem that Paul McCartney, once gifted with one of the best voices ever heard in the rock and pop genres, can’t sing anymore.
To give credit where credit is due, one must not forget that the Cute Beatle is now 68 years old. He is still a great bass player. He has also done a superb job in ensuring his current band’s overall sound is eerily close in proximity to both the Beatles and Wings. But as for his singing? He can’t hit those high notes like he used to. His matured voice now routinely goes sharp and flat throughout those classic melody lines. The once-controlled Little Richard-like accents of screaming have been replaced with a sort of growling. In short, McCartney has succumbed to the same fate as many of his peers did as they became old enough to join the ranks of senior citizenship.
The first number of the night was “Jet,” an old Wings rocker. There seemed to be a problem with the sound mix. For about the first 30 seconds into the song, McCartney’s microphone wasn’t turned up loud enough. It’s quite possible that the other backup singers were having difficulty hearing themselves as well, for each of their harmonies were about a half-step apart. To a trained ear, such dissonance is well; excruciating.
By “Band On The Run,” the audio problems were seemingly resolved, but Sir Paul’s lead vocals were still no match in comparison to what he could have done even ten years ago. “A Day In The Life,” the third selection and a Beatles classic from the Sergeant. Pepper album, was just plain weird. If you’ve ever heard Paul Simon sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” you‘ll have an idea of where I’m coming from. With that said, McCartney was undoubtedly paying tribute to his fallen comrade John Lennon by singing his vocal parts, and this became very obvious when the band broke into “Give Peace a Chance.”
At the show’s end, the SNL crew talked McCartney into doing one more number to close things out. Finally, the band’s rendition of “Get Back” showed devoted Beatle fans that Sir Paul hasn’t totally lost it. In fact, he sounded great.
In light of my personal take of his SNL performance as having a success rate of 1 for 4, this critique may appear to suggest that Paul McCartney should hang it up, but this is not the case. Between his Beatles, Wings, and solo catalogs, there are lots of songs to choose from. There’s no question that audiences will continue to love Paul McCartney. Face it: someone of his stature could still sell out shows even if he or she had a horrible sinus infection.
Nevertheless, Paul should go through his entire repertoire and determine what his 68-year-old pipes can handle, that’s all.