Do me a favor
Can you imagine a world in which Paul McCartney is a popular recording artist? And I don’t mean popular in that just generally well regarded, “Prince is still as popular as ever!” way–I mean popular, not just with #1 albums and sold out tours, but with huge, monster hit singles. There were probably girls that listened to solo Paul McCartney. Young girls. You really know that The Beatles must’ve been the best band of all-time for Macca to even be allowed the time of day for his solo career, much less the consistent runaway success he achieved for pretty much the entirety of the 70s.
And believe me, I don’t mean this to insult the old duck–Paul McCartney is awesome, no question, in my mind every bit the equal of John or George in terms of classics, both with the band and without (Ringo, of course, is still miles ahead of the pack). But he’s awesome in the way that my 11th grade Physics teacher was awesome, or the way that the wheelchair trivia guy in Ghost World was awesome, or, of course, the way the entire cast and staff of Carpoolers is awesome. In other words, quirky, goofy, impossible to take seriously awesome. Old awesome. Listening to Paul McCartney’s solo or Wings stuff stuff is like deciding to eat lunch in the backyard instead of at the dinner table. Pleasant. Dignified. Aloof. Brilliant.
Nonetheless, when was the last time old awesome translated into hits? I mean, we’re talking about a guy who had a top 40 hit with a cover of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” .
A guy who mentions military ranks in several of his biggest songs. A guy who wrote smashes around phrases like “HAAAAANDS ACROSS THE WATER,” and around bad title puns like “Helen Wheels”. A guy who even acknowledged his critics in one of his biggest hits, but determined that this old dog didn’t need new tricks, and proclaimed “Heeeeeere I gooooooooooo AGAAAAAAAINNNNN!!!” Were 70s audiences really so burned out from the decade before that they decided that all they could handle was the most harmless music humanly possible?
Even for Macca, though, “Let ‘Em In” reaches new heights of inanity. The great majority of the lyrics are repeatings of this phrase:
Someone’s knocking at the door
Somebody’s rinign’ the bell
Do me a favor, open the door and let ’em in
There’s also a part where he lists the people who he wants to be let in:
Sister Suzie, Brother John
Martin Luther, Phil and Don
Brother Michael, Auntie Jin
Open the door and let ’em in
The amount of effort evident in the creation of these lyrics is truly stunning. This is not a short song, either–this is all there is to chew on for the song’s 5:11 duration. I mean, shit, check Wikipedia’s riveting commentary on the song’s lyrical content:
The lyrics include references to a list of Paul’s visiting friends and relatives: “Sister Suzy, Brother John, Martin Luther, Phil and Don, Brother Michael, Auntie Gin, Open the door and let ’em [them] in.”
In a later verse, “Brother Michael” is replaced by “Uncle Ernie.”
Like many other Wings songs, “Let ’em In” has been covered.
Anyway, the song is disturbingly hypnotic. Insanely catchy, too, but in a much, much less confrontational manner than something like the Vengaboys, or the New Pornographers. The pounding bass-like piano line in the background, the light shuffle of the drums, the crisp production–it’s insiduous. Listening to “Let ‘Em In” is like watching an ant crawl on the ground after getting one of the best pot buzzes of your life–something that shouldn’t be even close to interesting, but remains unmistakably captivating and even slightly profound nonetheless. It’s the way Seth Rogen describes You’ve Got Mail (his favorite movie, one of the only funny scenes in the whole show) in that episode of Undeclared–“It’s just pleasant. It’s like waves lapping against a shore.”
I found Billy Paul’s cover of “Let ‘Em In” while doing a research paper on Classic Philly Soul my Junior year (let’s hear it for college, huh?) and hoping to prove that Billy Paul had songs more worthwhile than “Me and Mrs. Jones”. Dunno if Billy’s version of the Macca standard is actually better than his signature song, but I certainly find it more interesting–and slightly less creepy, since the only times I ever hear “Me and Mrs. Jones” seem to be when the song’s being used for lamely humorous purposes on Comedy Central.
But it just astounds me the way that Billy Paul actually finds meaning in McCartney’s song. Paul takes the song’s central premise and somehow makes it a civil rights anthem–helped greatly by the innumerous MLK samples, which make the song feel like kind of a proto-“Come Together” (or at least a proto-“Cult of Personality”). Paul also changes the namecheck part to be all about real life black leaders of the time (though I’m not really sure if Louie Armstrong qualifies as such). McCartney also mentioned MLK in the original “Let ‘Em In,” so you could say the meaning was there all along, but when hearing it from Macca, you could never imagine that the phrase “open the door and let ’em in” could possibly be a plea for something as broad as racial equality. It doesn’t sound like it could be a plea for anything less narrow than “hey, get the door, will ya? TOUGH GUY?”
Once again, though, not that I’m complaining. I probably still ultimately prefer the McCartney version, just because its appeal is so singular among popular music–no other supposed rock star will ever seem as unconcerned with doing anything resembling the attitude of “rocking” again, I don’t think. Cvil rights is all well and good, but hey, sometimes some good company with older relatives is what really hits the spot.
(They’ll kill me if I write this much about Paul McCartney without mentioning them at least once, so please check out solidlittlerockjams.blogspot.com, which has probably reviewed seven new unreleased Macca albums in the time it took me to write this column)